Of those who will be unrestricted free agents this summer, one prominent name has scarcely generated talk at all - save for a brief mention by Pierre LeBrun. With two championships under his belt, he is an intriguing figure who could garner a lot of attention in the offseason. Perhaps not as much as Mike Babcock did before he finally landed in Toronto, but no doubt Head Coach Darryl Sutter would not find himself waiting very long for another gig behind an NHL bench - should he even want one.
Sutter's contract with the Los Angeles Kings (unofficially) ended when the San Jose Sharks eliminated them with a 6-3 thumping in Game 5. During his tenure as Kings coach, Sutter has gone 186-112-45 in 343 regular season games, collecting two championship titles and guiding his team to a Western Conference Final berth.
The Viking, Alberta farmer has dazzled and entertained with his gruff exterior and impatience with reporters during mandatory post game pressers. His classic one-liners provide endless amusement even years later. As a coach, Sutter seems to have a good knack for understanding the delicate balance between on-ice practice, off-ice workouts and rest time for his players. When the team was healthy and functioning as a cohesive unit, they were a terrifying force to be reckoned with as evidenced by the amount of success garnered in less than three years under his watch. However, Sutter can be rigid in his methods and his hard checking style, while providing proven playoff success, was difficult for players to maintain throughout all 82 games in the regular season.
Concerns arose last year that the players were tiring of their head coach when the New York Post broke a story about Sutter getting locked out of the dressing room. Naturally, the whole incident was downplayed by players and General Manager Dean Lombardi, but the seed of doubt was at least planted.
Should Lombardi bring Sutter back for another season? If the so-called "jolly rancher" as fans have affectionately labeled him is keen, would it be wise of management to grant a contract extension to the man who brought the organization their first ever Stanley Cup after 40-plus years of drought? The average shelf life of an NHL coach is about 2.4 years. Sutter has nearly doubled the average tenure, so perhaps he's worn out his welcome. It could be possible his message is falling on deaf ears and he has lost the room. Or, as was suggested, the whole air of discontent could be overblown.
There is no doubt that Sutter is an excellent coach. He's a very smart man who is capable of out coaching anyone in a seven-game series. But his desire for big, slow veteran defenseman and hesitance to use young talent could hurtthe team in the long run. They have often looked silly compared to much faster teams, unable to keep up and frequently took a lot of stick penalties, out of place and attempting to slow down opposing players by hooking, holding, slashing or tripping.
Sutter's insistence on making young guys "earn it" also tends to hurt the team as they are frequently given short leashes and see little ice time, which makes it more difficult to work out the kinks in their game. That's not to say it isn't warranted sometimes as players coming up from the AHL tend to struggle - case in point, Jake Muzzin in February of 2013. The term "road apples" was used to politely describe Sutter's feelings towards a less than stellar performance by the rookie defenseman. Yet at the same token, budding stars such as Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson were instantly benched whenever they made a mistake in favor of veterans or grinders who usually didn't do much to warrant the extra ice time and didn't do much to help the team offensively.
Of course, this isn't a new phenomena or one solely attributable to Sutter. Many other head coaches around the league are guilty of under utilizing rookies while over relying on more experienced players. It is, however, one of the more frustrating aspects of Sutter's coaching style - at least from a fan standpoint.
Whoever minds the bench next season, whether it be Sutter or another coach, needs to be cognizant of the fact that old school methods are falling out of fashion for good reason and shouldn't hesitate to develop young talent in the NHL. How is that a team like the Arizona Coyotes (even considering their sky high shooting percentage this year) can make a playoff push for much of the year, even when suffering injuries or dressing inexperienced players? Yet when faced with injuries of their own, the Kings can't seem to overcome adversity. Maybe it is time for a new captain at the helm of the LA Kings.