Darryl Sutter, Kings and 2nd chances
L.A.'s coach was plucked from a ranch midseason and now is one win from a Cup
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The door to the auxiliary locker room swung open on a recent weekday morning, and in stepped the man who said goodbye to his 1,500-acre cattle ranch in mid-December, accepting an offer from an old friend to take over as coach of a struggling Los Angeles Kings team.Darryl Sutter took his place in front of the cameras and microphones, then paused to scan the eyes of those in attendance, almost as if searching for a certain person to pull from the crowd by the collar of their shirt. His eagle-eye stare burns with ferocity but also transmits a sense of honesty. He speaks the truth while looking you in the eye, even if it blows a hole in your pride.
However, after a gleeful 5-1-1 start, the Kings hit the skids. They went 8-11-3 over the next seven weeks, failing to score more than two goals in 17 of those games. The offense wasn't producing, the players weren't responding and something had to change.
When he got in, it was a pretty big change, if you compare him to Terry Murray. He wanted to be more aggressive, keeping guys accountable. We've seen it time and time again, when maybe some of the guys aren't going, he's not afraid to sit them for a couple minutes.” -- Kings center Anze Kopitar, on Darryl Sutter
After a 2-1 loss to the Dallas Stars on Dec. 10, against a goalie who was making his NHL debut, general manager Dean Lombardi made the difficult decision to fire Murray, a man who had instilled his defense-first philosophy to near-perfection but just couldn't light a fire under the team.Lombardi knew someone who might. He was the general manager when Sutter coached the San Jose Sharks from 1997 to 2003. They managed to win only two playoff rounds in their seven seasons together, but Lombardi sensed that Sutter might have the personality to wring the most from his talented but underachieving group. First, he had to make sure Sutter was interested. Sutter wasn't completely cut off from the hockey world while living on his ranch in rural Alberta; he knew what kind of talent the Kings had on the roster. They were built to go deep into the playoffs, stocked with a combination of burgeoning superstars, middle-aged veterans with Stanley Cup finals experience and role players who performed their tasks well. All that was needed was a little tough love. Murray was a teacher who liked to run drills. Sutter is a drill sergeant who knows how to teach but would rather leave that to his assistants. "When he got in, it was a pretty big change, if you compare him to Terry Murray," said Kings center Anze Kopitar. "He wanted to be more aggressive, keeping guys accountable. We've seen it time and time again, when maybe some of the guys aren't going, he's not afraid to sit them for a couple minutes."
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