Kings coach Darryl Sutter has 'sharpest hockey mind' around

Head coach Darryl Sutter is on the verge of winning his second Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles...

Head coach Darryl Sutter is on the verge of winning his second Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:40 PM ET

NEW YORK - When the phone call offering Darryl Sutter the opportunity to coach the Los Angeles Kings was first made, he made a rather quick decision.

He turned the job down.

“Probably the first thing I told him (Dean Lombardi) was, you’ve got a good coach,” said Sutter.

But Lombardi fired that coach, Terry Murray, replaced him with John Stevens on an interim basis, and ended up convincing Sutter to make his fourth NHL stop, the one that has changed him — and that he has changed — forever.

Whether it’s Wednesday or Friday night or whatever date, Sutter is about to win his second Stanley Cup as coach with the Los Angeles Kings. His second in four seasons. Probably should have been his third.

And those numbers by themselves are staggering.

But nowhere near as staggering as the Sutter family numbers that continue to astound more than three decades later.

A member of the Sutter family — one of the six hockey playing brothers — has played in or coached in 7,543 NHL games. That is truly unbelievable.

And that doesn’t count the years Duane was an assistant coach.

“And that doesn’t take into account the number of games we’ve taken as scouts, the number of games Duane, Richie and I have been involved in for player development,” said younger brother, Ron, who played for Darryl in San Jose.

Brent Sutter, with 1,111 games played, leads all Sutters in NHL games played. Ron follows with 1,093 games. Darryl leads in games coached, with 1,039, nine more than older brother, Brian.

Duane leads in Stanley Cups with four as part of the dynastic New York Islanders. Brent won two Cups. Darryl made it a seventh family Cup two years ago coaching the Kings. This year will bring the family number to eight.

It was always different for Darryl. He wasn’t a high draft pick like his brothers, he was taken in Round 11. He didn’t play long. His career was cut short by injury. He has coached the most and played the least, even though he once scored 40 goals. Brian leads all family members with 46 goals in a season; Brent leads with most points, 102.

“I’m so proud of those guys,” Darryl said.

And the feeling, in this case, is mutual.

“They all played longer than I did,” said a surprisingly retrospective Sutter. “I was forced into it at 29 years old. That’s what I did in order to stay in the game. I couldn’t play any more.

“I was the only one of my brothers who went up through the system, meaning coaching in the minors, coaching in the organization, advancing, being an assistant coach, being a head coach. That is still the way to be a coach for a long time and be a top coach.”

And that is what he has become.

The right coach for the right team at the right time. No one mentions him in the same breath as Mike Babcock, but maybe he should be mentioned.

He has been in Los Angeles three years; the Kings will play their 63rd playoff game for him Wednesday night. His country bumkin act may make for good television, but he’s nobody’s fool.

And while a segment of the hockey population tunes in to Don Cherry for entertainment, the Kings’ players watch the post-game Sutter press conferences for their own amusement.

“Darryl Sutter has the sharpest hockey mind of anyone I’ve been around,” said Jamie McLennan, the former NHL goalie who has played, coached and commentated on the game, offering a view not often heard on Sutter. “He has a sense of everything that’s going on. He sees things other people don’t see in a game.

“I was on the bench in Calgary when he was upstairs (and he was GM) and he would be on the headset to me, telling me things as they were happening. Sometimes I was amazed by his observations. I haven’t come across anyone who sees the game and all that’s going on the way he does.”

This is a terrific Los Angeles team. It has the championship pedigree with an all-world goaltender, Jonathan Quick; an all-world defencemen, Drew Doughty; an all-world pair of centres in Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter. But the attitude of the organization begins with Lombardi and is orchestrated by Sutter.

“The thing with Darryl is, every single player on the team is important,” said McLennan. “He doesn’t treat the six-minute player any differently than he treats the 24-minute player. If he believes Kyle Clifford is a fourth liner, he’s going to make sure he’s the best fourth liner he can be. And he challenges his best players to be better than the best players on the other teams.

“He used to do it with (Jarome) Iginla or (Miikka) Kiprusoff in Calgary. They were the stars and he pushed them harder than anyone else we had. Believe me, he will be as hard on Drew Doughty as he is on Kyle Clifford.”

And yet there is inside Sutter a certain humility, an understanding of the good fortune of coaching this team. He needed to coach in Chicago, San Jose and Calgary before he could win here. He needed to grow. He needed, more than anything, to understand defeat.

“Most players, coaches, trainers never get any chance, zero (at a Stanley Cup),” Sutter said.

His brother Brian played and coached in more than 1,800 NHL games, he never close to winning.

“So when you get the opportunity and I’ve been fortunate to be in quite a few of them, it’s always a testament to the group you have and to understand how tough it is.

“That’s why ... it’s hard to take on the whole challenge of what it is to win and the price you’ve got to pay and the sacrifice you’ve got to make. It’s something everybody wants to talk to you about. You got to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup and you get beat 2-1. The best and worst part of winning is until you’ve won it, you don’t really understand what this is. Then when you lose, you’re pretty close to understanding it.

“Anybody that’s never been in either of those positions, they’ll never understand it, never. That’s why (some teams) are happy to make the playoffs because they don’t understand the big goal part of it.”

Sutter understands. The resilience of the Kings, the ability to deal with anyone, comes from both players and coach.

“You can say one without the other, but Darryl has as good a feel for the pulse of the hockey team as anybody I’ve been around,” said brother, Ron. “He puts in the structure, but then it becomes the players’ game. He allows the players to play the game. And he has the right kind of leaders to be able to do it.

“When you look at what he’s done, though, it’s pretty special. Pretty special for him. Pretty special for our family.”


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