Nine years ago, the Kings were 13-12-4 when they fired coach Terry Murray. After four games with John Stevens behind the bench as interim coach, Los Angeles tapped Darryl Sutter, six seasons removed from his last job with the Flames, to return to the NHL and take the helm.
It worked brilliantly. Sutter led the Kings to a 25-13-11 finish, enough to squeak into the No. 8 seed in the West, right ahead of his old team, the Flames. The Kings upset the Canucks, swept the Blues, gentleman’s-swept the Coyotes, and finally beat the Devils to claim the first Stanley Cup in franchise history — to be followed by another one two years later.
What stuck out about Sutter was that, as much time as he’d had in the game, and as much time as he’d had away from the NHL, too, he seemed to exist in his own time and space, with no appetite for bullshit. This was plenty evident from his variety of facial expressions, which I spent some time chronicling on Tumblr (it was Tumblr long ago), as well as from his bluntness with the press.
After one of his first regular-season games, a February tilt against the Islanders that was Los Angeles’ tenth 2-1 loss of that season, Sutter paced into the hallway at Nassau Coliseum, and his assessment was straightforward: “No one died.”
Up 3-0 in the Western Conference Finals, Sutter was asked in a day-off press conference if the Kings were a team of destiny. “Destiny?” he replied. “What’s that?”
It was between Games 3 and 4 of the Cup Final that Sutter delivered the line that’s relevant again today, responding to a question about when he got the call to coach the Kings.
“I was in the barn. … I wasn’t shoveling shit. … I had earlier that day.”
That’s where the shit stays with Sutter, on the family farm in Viking, Alberta.
At the age of 62, and 29 years after his coaching debut in Chicago, Sutter is coming back off the farm, heading four hours southwest back to Calgary.
The Flames, despite putting a 7-3 hurting on the Senators behind Dillon Dube’s first career hat trick on Thursday night, fired Geoff Ward and replaced him with Sutter, on a contract reported by Pierre LeBrun to be through 2023.
If it feels like a long time since Sutter left Calgary after a first-round playoff loss in 2006, well, it has. But, much like Sutter, the Flames have been largely frozen in time. Since Sutter led Calgary to the Final (and a loss to the Lightning) in 2004, the Flames have won a combined two playoff series — the first round against the Canucks in 2015 and the best-of-five qualifier against the Jets in the bubble — under Jim Playfair, Mike Keenan, Sutter’s brother Brent, Bob Hartley, Glen Gulutzan, Bill Peters, and Ward.
The Flames are fifth in the North Division, two points behind the Canadiens, but having played two more games. They’re four points behind the rival Oilers, with a game in hand on Edmonton. And they’re ahead of only the dreadful Canucks and the Sicko Sens. In other words, it’s an uphill battle for Sutter, just as it was when he took over the Kings in 2012.
But maybe Sutter’s no-nonsense approach is just what the Flames are going to need. After all, solving their problems seems straightforward enough: Calgary allows the 10th-most shots on goal per game in the league and takes the 11th-fewest.
And if it doesn’t work, at least we’ll probably get a few more good quotes.