The NHL is a copycat league. Once a few teams enjoyed success mining the AHL for head coaching talent, the herd followed to an almost comical degree. So even though it’s ludicrously unfair to ask this question, I cannot help but blurt it out anyway: do the Los Angeles Kings need a St. Louis Blues-style wake-up call?
Los Angeles Times beat writer Helene Elliott spoke of the possibility of a “jolt” coming on the heels of the Kings’ 4-2 loss to the surging San Jose Sharks. The thing is, GM Dean Lombardi doesn’t have a whole lot of obvious players to trade, unless he would opt to deal from his significant treasure chest of defensive prospects.
With that in mind, I cannot help but wonder if head coach Terry Murray will be the unfair scapegoat much like Davis Payne was in St. Louis. Let’s look at some of the factors that could justify the move – some of which might seem oddly similar to the Blues’ issues.
- A mediocre record: The Blues fired Payne at 6-7-0 while the Kings are 6-5-3. Los Angeles is on a five-game losing streak in which they’ve generated just two points. That’s a scary trend in a brutal Western Conference and a cutthroat Pacific Division.
- Limp offense: Murray’s Kings are scoring just 2.14 goals per game, the third worst total in the league. Some grimace that former Kings prospects such as Brian Boyle and Teddy Purcell’s offensive games have taken off once they left Los Angeles, too.
- A big batch of home games: The Blues will roll out the red carpet for Hitchcock with five games in St. Louis while the Kings’ next four games will come at home.
- Heightened expectations: While the Blues carry playoff aspirations, many (including certain PHT staffers) believed the Kings have the potential to go to the Stanley Cup finals.
Murray is a good coach who helped the Kings go from an unshaped mass to a playoff contender, but some might believe that they need a new voice to get that extra boost to the elite level.
Hopefully cooler heads will prevail, but there are enough similarities that the situation isn’t outside the realm of possibility. What would you do if you were in Lombardi’s situation?
In a way, it seems cruel and short-sighted that coaching jobs are so unstable in sports. There are even instances when that model of behavior is refuted by successful alternatives. The NFL’s gold standard franchise is probably the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that rarely changes its head coach. The Atlanta Braves experienced a staggering era of success with Bobby Cox. Of course, in the NHL, it’s all about Lindy Ruff in Buffalo and Barry Trotz in Nashville.
On the other hand, the salary cap era fosters the belief that quick turnarounds are just a coaching change away. Franchises probably look at situations like Dave Tippett turning around a moribund Phoenix Coyotes squad and assume that they can do it too.
There are some obvious coaches on the hot seat going into the 2011-12 season. People were calling for the head of Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson quite frequently last season, so another playoff-free season might do him in. After a Cinderella first year, the Colorado Avalanche’s 2010-11 meltdown puts third-year coach Joe Sacco in a tough position. Missing the playoffs for a third straight season might be a serious problem for Carolina Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice and for St. Louis Blues bench boss Davis Payne.
Yet it isn’t just about coaches of teams who haven’t made the playoffs very often. Success is a relative thing, so when Versus asked Ed Olczyk and Keith Jones about their choices for coaches on the hot seat, they chose two bosses of genuine contenders. At least one of the choices might surprise you.
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The way things are going for the Flames, it’s tougher to find a reason for optimism in Calgary than it is to find a beaming smile on a Sutter brother’s face.
Yet when it comes to the typical need to find a scapegoat, it seems like media members are focusing on the wrong unsmiling countenance. While rumors fly that Calgary Flames head coach Brent Sutter might be shown the door, the truth is that his brother (general manager Darryl Sutter) is the architect of the shambling wreck that is this franchise’s roster.
Looking at the Flames roster, it’s tough to be chipper about any outlook – long or short term. In the present, the team is stocked with high-priced players who are getting long in the tooth (from aging captain Jarome Iginla to floating mass Olli Jokinen). The short and long-term future isn’t much better, as they’re low on prospects and only own one draft choice in the top 100 spots this year.
When you spend the kind of money Calgary does on a roster that sits at the bottom of the Western Conference, it’s reasonable to wonder what kind of job the coach is doing. Yet, when it comes down to it, George Johnson of the Calgary Herald is right in resting most of the blame on Darryl instead of Brent Sutter.
Should they be better? Given the geriatric makeup, yes. Somewhat. Is that partly Brent Sutter’s fault? Of course. He’ll admit as much.
Yet it’s utterly astonishing how many times this requires repeating: The downfall is in construction, not coaching.
They’re old, expensive, set in their ways. One pick in the Top 100 this draft year. Outside of Mikael Backlund, their top “young” players are 27 (Mark Giordano, Jay Bouwmeester), 29 (Rene Bourque) and soon-to-be 29 (David Moss). Yessiree, now THERE’s a boy band that’ll top the charts!
Geez, people, roll out of bed and sniff the dark roast already.
Yet the ground is littered with casualties (the unfortunate Jim Playfair, the not-so-unfortunate Mike Keenan, assorted assistants — it’s always, apparently, a coaching deficiency) and Darryl Sutter still stands defiant, apparently as bulletproof as Eliot Ness’ flak jacket. Why? How?
There is plenty of value in ownership showing some loyalty and patience. After all, there’s enough randomness in sports that an “off” season can happen. Yet it seems like the Flames organization is stubborn in its support of Darryl alone.
It doesn’t take long to notice that the team is not structured to succeed much past the next few seasons. And considering their current results, the present isn’t much prettier than the future.
So, the question is: do you think that Brent, Darryl or both Sutter brothers should go? Personally, I think that the awkward familial connection means that they’re a package deal. Brent’s in a tough spot, but it would be strange to seem him work with a different GM. So perhaps it’s all or nothing, then?
Personally speaking, I would clean house and probably see what kind of value the team could get for Iginla and some of the other team’s older assets. At some point, someone with clear eyes will need to come forward and assess the clear reality of the situation: this is a team that should be in rebuild mode.
Darryl Sutter doesn’t seem like he’s that man.