Evaluation: Darryl Sutter
This season: 40-27-15 record, 16-4 in playoffs.
The good: The Kings were stuck in neutral when Sutter arrived. He jump-started them, and it wasn’t as much about style and system as it was about attitude. Under Terry Murray, the Kings had become a bit stale, and Sutter’s arrival — with his intense focus on preparation — opened players’ eyes and gave them something of a fresh start. Sutter thinks like a player and does everything he can in order to put his players in a position to succeed. He pushes them hard, and isn’t shy about being critical of them, but everything is does is designed to make the team better, even if it bruises some egos along the way.
The bad: It’s tough to nit-pick a coach who came in mid-season and won the Stanley Cup. The only question is, will the bloom come off the rose at some point? Sutter’s high-intensity approach was exactly what the Kings needed in order to get turned around in the short term, but will the players be as receptive to it in Year 2 (and beyond)? Coaches such as Sutter have a tendency to wear players down over the years, particularly if the roster remains static. As the Kings attempt to defend their Stanley Cup championship, Sutter will have to be ever-mindful of not letting complacency settle into the Kings.
Going forward: Life is full of surprises. There were a lot of nervous faces around the Kings’ locker room in December, when players learned that Sutter would be replacing Murray. By June, the players gushed with praise about Sutter and what he had done to help improve the team’s mindset, and credited him with the team’s turnaround. The “book’’ on Sutter is wrong. He’s not a monster. Far from it. He is, however, intensely dedicated to the idea of “team’’ and anything or anyone who stands in the way of that — whether it be an underperforming player or a reporter — is liable to incur a bit of his wrath.