The prevailing analysis of why the Kings missed out on the playoffs is that they were simply physically exhausted, that so many deep postseason runs and shortened summers finally caught up to the team’s core. It’s a satisfying, unfalsifiable explanation, but the notion that this was a long, unhappy season is backed up by a New York Post report—largely confirmed by the GM—that the players erected a barricade to keep coach Darryl Sutter out of their locker room after a recent loss.
Slap Shots has been told by two sources that the Kings locked the door to their locker room following a defeat on the road within the last two weeks so that Sutter could not get in and deliver what the players apparently expected to be another in a series of lectures/tirades.
As the tale was told, after Sutter finally tracked down an arena operative to unlock the door, he was greeted by three heavy waste receptacles lined up as barricade to what had become an empty room.
At his season post-mortem press conference yesterday, Kings GM Dean Lombardi disputed only one part of the report: the date. Lombardi says it happened back in February, not in the past two weeks. He also claimed it happened in Tampa, which would have been the Kings’ first win of an eight-game winning streak—I’m not sure how that syncs with the players expecting a post-loss tirade from Sutter.
Believe who you want on the timing, but shifting it to February and to the most successful string of the Kings’ season allows Lombardi to paint the players-only meeting as a positive, constructive thing:
“ I could look at it and say, ‘That’s when we won eight in a row, so let’s do this more often.’ In terms of what actually happened, maybe (players) don’t have to go to that extreme, but theoretically I don’t have a problem with it. Here’s the thing, with where this team has to get to. If you look at what a coach’s number-one role is, it’s to give his team structure and detail. The emotion, in terms of getting that emotion to where it needs to be, if we’re going to be a top team it has to come from within the room...
“[T]hat’s essentially what you want to happen, your players take over your room and, `Stay out, coach. I don’t want to hear from you. We got it. Stay out.’ Because they know way more than we (coaches and management) do. You usually get more involved when they don’t know how to win. But they’ve been there. So that’s the way I look at it. In terms of trash cans or whatever, I’m not sure you have to send a message that way, but you look at the top players and they say, `We’ve got this one,’ and they go out and get it done.”
No matter the specific version of events, it probably isn’t that big a deal. It’s hard to find a team that doesn’t get fed up with its coach from time to time, especially when things aren’t going well on the ice, and players-only meetings are common things. This is a franchise that’s had so much success in recent years, and it’s natural to try to look for a reason this year’s edition fell short. But any pique directed at Sutter is more likely to be a symptom of this season’s frustrations than a cause.