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Is There Precedent for the Kings’ Darryl Sutter Decision?

Would LA dare fire a multiple Cup winner and their winningest coach ever? Let’s see what other teams did in this situation.

Los Angeles Kings v Minnesota Wild Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Kings might fire Darryl Sutter.

This isn’t based on any rumors, or whispers, or speculation. I don’t have sources. It’s stating the obvious at this point; the Kings, one of hockey’s elite teams for the first part of the decade, are starting down their second ninth-place finish in three years, and in a situation like this, fingers are going to be pointed at the coach. More to the point, though, coaching in the NHL is a business where longevity is the exception, not the norm. Case in point: Sutter is currently the third longest-tenured head coach in the NHL, and only eleven coaches have been at the helm of their current team for more than two seasons. (The below chart, and all other season counts and results, are from Hockey Reference.)

NHL Longest-Tenured Head Coaches

Team Coach Start Date
Team Coach Start Date
Chicago Blackhawks Joel Quenneville October 16, 2008
Arizona Coyotes Dave Tippett September 24, 2009
Los Angeles Kings Darryl Sutter December 17, 2011
Tampa Bay Lightning Jon Cooper March 25, 2013
Dallas Stars Lindy Ruff June 21, 2013
New York Rangers Alain Vigneault June 21, 2013
Winnipeg Jets Paul Maurice January 12, 2014
Nashville Predators Peter Laviolette May 6, 2014
Washington Capitals Barry Trotz May 26, 2014
Carolina Hurricanes Bill Peters June 19, 2014
Vancouver Canucks Willie Desjardins June 23, 2014

So the fact that Sutter has made it this far is impressive. It would seem like, given the high-turnover nature and the presence of two past head coaches on the bench, that letting Sutter go wouldn’t be too extreme. But let’s see what prior teams have done with coaches that have the resume of Darryl Sutter.

What happened to coaches who had...

... Five or more seasons coached with their current team?

Coaches in the last decade who have spent more than five years with a current team are as follows:

FIRED: Ken Hitchcock (2017), Lindy Ruff (2013), Barry Trotz (2014), John Tortorella (2008), John Tortorella again (2013), Peter Laviolette (2008), Alain Vigneault (2013), Claude Julien (2017), Randy Carlyle (2011), Bruce Boudreau (2011), Bruce Boudreau again (2016), Tom Renney (2009), Todd McLellan (2015), Craig MacTavish (2009), Dan Bylsma (2014), Jack Capuano (2017)

ACTIVE: Joel Quenneville, Darryl Sutter, Dave Tippett, Jon Cooper

LEFT FOR DIFFERENT TEAM: Mike Babcock (2015)

Notice which category is missing there: RETIRED. Not one long-tenured coach in the last ten years has retired before getting fired by their club. Ken Hitchcock came close; he announced that he’d make his sixth season his last, but was fired after 50 games. “I was three months from retirement!”

The ones that interest me, by the way, are the ones in bold. Those are all the Cup winners since 2004, aside from Mike Sullivan, who hasn’t hit five seasons behind the bench yet. Babcock and Quenneville are still chugging along, but five others got the axe. Here’s how long it took, and what it took, for each of them to get fired after they took their team to a Stanley Cup.

Tortorella: three seasons; two first-round exits, missed playoffs
Laviolette: three seasons; missed playoffs twice, 8th in conference when fired
Julien: six seasons after win; first-round exit, Cup Final loss, second-round exit, missed playoffs in consecutive seasons, 9th in conference when fired
Carlyle: four seasons; first-round exit, second-round exit, missed playoffs, first-round exit, 14th in conference when fired
Bylsma: five seasons; second-round exit, first-round exits, first-round exit, third-round sweep, second-round exit

Excluding Bylsma, Sutter’s recent history sounds pretty similar, no? He’d join the three-year club of Tortorella and Laviolette; Laviolette never returned to the playoffs, while Tortorella won three playoff games in two seasons before a hellish third season.

Of course, none of those guys won it all twice. We’ll go back to that later.

... Fifteen or more seasons as a head coach?

None of the Cup winners had 15 seasons under their belt upon departure, either. So this puts Sutter (in his 17th season as a head coach) in a more exclusive group. Here are the guys in the last decade who have changed jobs after 15+ years of coaching:

FIRED: Hitchcock, Ruff, Trotz, Ron Wilson, Paul Maurice, Jacques Martin, Marc Crawford, Terry Murray
RETIRED: Jacques Lemaire, Bryan Murray (became GM)

No Cup winners above, so I’m not sure how much precedent there is, but Lemaire retired after a division title and Murray retired after a conference title. Happy endings are tough.

... Multiple Stanley Cups?

Now here’s where we enter uncharted territory. Since the NHL expanded in 1967, here are the coaches to win multiple Stanley Cups:

  • Sutter and Quenneville are, of course, still coaching.
  • Scotty Bowman, Al Arbour, and Toe Blake retired after winning 3, 4, and 8 Cups with their teams.
  • Glen Sather switched to GM after four Cups in Edmonton.
  • Fred Shero switched teams, jumped ship to coach the Rangers three seasons after his back-to-back Cups in Philadelphia.

The last multiple-Cup winner to be fired by his organization, and the only one since the expansion: Toronto’s Punch Imlach, who followed up his fourth Stanley Cup in 1967 by missing the playoffs in 1968 and losing in the first round in 1969. (Imlach was also notoriously confrontational with his players and management; I assume this did not help his cause.)

Could Darryl meet the same fate? It depends on whether LA treats him like a multiple Cup winner and a future Hall of Famer, or a coach that won a championship then fell on hard times. There hasn’t been a recent NHL coach who fit both categories, and it may simply come down to whether Sutter can convince Dean Lombardi to park and ride for one last season.