Lombardi Gets His Man

Kings GM hires Darryl Sutter to take over the reins of an under-performing team

Tuesday, 12.20.2011 / 11:36 AM / Los Angeles Kings | News
By Rich Hammond
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Lombardi Gets His Man

More than five years later, Dean Lombardi’s wish came true.

Upon being hired as the Kings’ general manager in 2006, Lombardi stood behind a microphone and fielded a question. What type of qualities would he be looking for when choosing a new coach?

Given Lombardi’s tendency to give verbose answers to the simplest of questions, it seemed as though a 10-minute lecture might be in order. Instead, Lombardi answered quickly, without even pausing to think.

"Darryl," Lombardi said.

Darryl Sutter, at the time, served as coach of the Calgary Flames, so Lombardi couldn’t have him. But he wanted Sutter, or something as close to Sutter as possible. Lombardi, during his tenure as GM in San Jose, hired Sutter in 1997 and fired him only when it was clear that the Sharks needed a change in 2002.

Lombardi never lost his affection for Sutter, though. In conversations over the years, Lombardi often referenced things Sutter did or said. One got the sense that if the opportunity ever presented itself, if the Kings’ coaching job ever opened at a time when Sutter wasn’t otherwise occupied, the job would be his.

In 2006, when Lombardi hired Marc Crawford, Sutter was coaching the Flames. By 2008, when Lombardi replaced Crawford with Terry Murray, Sutter was the Flames’ GM. Finally, last week, the planets aligned.

After Lombardi made the difficult decision to fire Murray, after almost 3 1/2 seasons, there was no need for a search. Lombardi made the call to the sprawling farmland of Viking, Alberta, to the home of Sutter. Before long, the men had reached an agreement. Lombardi and Sutter would be paired once again. On Tuesday, the Kings officially announced Sutter’s hiring as their new full-time coach.

Lombardi is decidedly old-school, thus his kinship with Sutter, a coach known as one of the most demanding in the league over the past 20 years. To be certain, Sutter isn’t shy about letting his players know what he thinks of their performances, loudly, often and publicly.

"From what I hear from players, he’s a very passionate guy and he’s very intense,’’ Kings winger Justin Williams said. "I’m looking forward to a coach like that.’’

Sutter, 53, certainly has a reputation that precedes him, a long and mostly distinguished reputation.

After playing 406 NHL games, over parts of eight seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, Sutter retired as a player in 1987 and started his coaching climb the next season as an assistant with the Blackhawks, then as a head coach for two seasons in the minor-league International Hockey League.

Sutter returned to Chicago as associate coach for two seasons before, in 1992, at age 34, taking over as head coach. In three seasons, Sutter’s teams made the playoffs each time, and reached the conference finals in 1995, but he was dismissed, only to surface two years later under Lombardi in San Jose.

Hired in 1997, Sutter slowly and steadily improved the Sharks each season, but they could never get beyond the second round of the playoffs. Finally, early in the 2002-03 season, after a 9-12-2-1 start by the Sharks, Sutter was fired by Lombardi, who himself would be fired a few months later.

Sutter’s third act took place in Calgary, where he was hired shortly after being fired in San Jose and then, the following summer, took over as GM as well. In his first full season, the Flames made an improbable run to the Stanley Cup Finals. After his second season, Sutter moved upstairs to become the Flames’ full-time general manager. After an often-criticized run of moves, Sutter "resigned" 12 months ago.

Now, it’s the Kings, who are in desperate need of a spark after an underachieving start.

"I don’t really know much about him," defenseman Drew Doughty said. "I heard he’s a bit of a yeller and I think that’s a good thing. We need someone that’s going to push us, to get the best out of us every night, and I think he’s going to be a great fit for our team. I’m really excited for him to come along whenever he gets here."

Sutter is sure to bring some intensity to the Kings, but can he reach them in the correct way?

"The one thing he can rest assured," interim coach Stevens said, "is that we have some quality people here to build around. We’ve got a lot of good soldiers in the (locker) room there who are going to help us get out of this."