When Dean Lombardi tapped Darryl Sutter to replace Terry Murray in December, the reviews weren’t overwhelmingly positive.
Many felt the Kings needed a fresher, more dynamic head coach to bring out the best of a talented group that inexplicably couldn’t put the puck in the net. Not Sutter, the GM’s buddy and epitome of old school.
Fast forward to the present and the Kings are two wins from their first Stanley Cup championship. Not surprisingly, it’s hard to find someone with anything bad to say about the guy behind the bench.
Los Angeles players were especially complimentary of their head coach this morning.
“His intensity is an intensity I haven’t encountered yet from a coaching standpoint,” said Dustin Penner. “It’s game time. The way he talks makes its way to the rest of the team, the way he talks, the way he teaches it, during practice, during the game.”
Willie Mitchell concurred.
“He’s been the ultimate as far as preparing the team,” said the veteran d-man. “I think that’s what we need. We’re quite a young team. We’re a young team. Being in L.A., being in the sun, walk outside, 75 degrees, sunny, nice. Sometimes it’s human nature to forget about what’s at hand.
“Like I said, he’s done a great job with the young guys, preparing them to play. That’s been a great reason for more consistency in our game.”
Looking back, Sutter’s reputation really took a hit for the decisions he made as general manager of the Flames. The Dion Phaneuf trade with Toronto that failed to return much of anything. Signing Matt Stajan to a four-year, $14 million contract. Jay Bouwmeester was a big free-agent acquisition that didn’t pan out as hoped. Calgary didn’t draft particularly well on his watch.
But as coach of the Flames, he went 107–73–26 and took them to the Stanley Cup finals in 2004. He left the bench in 2006 to focus on his duties as GM.
Sutter was asked today what he liked most about coaching.
“Game day, no question,” he answered. “I said that when I wasn’t coaching. Just like a player, best part’s game day. What is that line that Junior Seau said? Plays the game for nothing, gets paid to practice.”
It’s obvious his message has been received and taken to heart.
“Day one when he got here, the preparation, the mindset, how we need to be, where our attitude and heads need to be on game day when he came in,” said Jarret Stoll. “That was a big change for some guys.
“Not to say we weren’t prepared at all, but it just made us that much more of a prepared team throughout. We were ready to start games.”