Can there ever be too much yelling? (and other imponderables)

Rich Hammond did a comprehensive post on the pros and cons of Sutter. I was working on the same, but now I think I'll just glibly comment on his.

Sutter: Why it will (and won’t) work " LA Kings Insider

The only pertinent question about the Kings’ hiring of Darryl Sutter is, "Will it work?’’ Sutter [...] has enjoyed success at each of his three coaching stops, including a run to the Stanley Cup Finals with Calgary in 2006, but can he relate to today’s players and today’s game?

The Flames finals appearance was in 2004, not 2006. In the sense that today's players playing today's game are mostly either players he has seen as a coach, or players who were drafted during his tenure as a GM, I don't think this is even an issue. Maybe if Lombardi had hired Bob Pulford...

Below, I take a look at why the Sutter hiring might work, or might not work. I’ll give three arguments on each side, and let you decide for yourself…


1. Needed passion/discipline

When a player such as Drew Doughty notes that Sutter is known for being a "yeller,’’ and Doughty openly expresses excitement about playing for Sutter, that’s a good sign that it was time for a change.


2. Past success

Understandably, there were calls among a segment of the Kings’ fan base to hire a young, up-and-coming coach, someone with new ideas who might be able to relate to players better than a veteran coach.

"Relating" to the players is over-rated. And the thing about the "young hot-shot" fantasy is, it's non-specific. It's not like there's a name. It's just the dream that some cool guy will come in and have all the answers, and can be played by Russell Crowe in the movie.

But, at this point, the [...] window for winning is open now, and a team never knows how long that window will stay open. Sutter’s teams have only missed the playoffs once in his time as coach in Chicago, San Jose and Calgary. Sutter’s experience should pay off, and his reputation means he will have the players’ attention quickly.

I've been wondering if Terry Murray and Darryl Sutter aren't in fact both characters from a Mamet play. One snarly, one close-to-the-vest, but both practicing the same "religion."

3. Hungry to win again

Every former coach, even the most mild-mannered of coaches, has a bit of an ego, and thinks he could get behind the bench and win again if given the opportunity. Sutter didn’t go out on his own terms in Calgary.[...] Sutter [...] will want to cement a positive legacy for himself.

That's kind of a depressing point to put on Sutter's "plus" side. "Last time didn't end too well"? I would offer a few alternate "why it might work" points:

  • Murray to Sutter is not a change in philosophy, it's (as I argued previously) a change in how the philosophy is taught. The biggest difference between the two coaches is in personality type. Sometimes it takes a fresh point-of-view on old material for everyone to finally get how it was supposed to work in the first place.
  • Sutter's style of public speaking (and, I assume, this extends to his rapport with the players) is more direct than Murray's. Murray often sounded like he was saying a bunch of stuff he was supposed to say, even when we knew he meant it ("compete" etc.). Read Sutter's comments at the press conference today. It's like Terry Murray, God bless him, is our wise but boring uncle, and Sutter is the crazy uncle who slaps us around for not listening to what our boring uncle was trying to tell us. Or something.
  • Darryl Sutter was a captain before he was a coach and a GM. Maybe he'll teach Dustin Brown how not to be a generic platitude generator. A little more fire from him would be welcome.
  • Sutters are hockey royalty. There are only two Murrays. Nobody really knows how many Sutters there are.
  • Also, the Kings scorers -- even without the coaching change -- were/are likely to start scoring more than they have so far. It would be hard not to, since they are currently on pace to be the lowest scoring team in franchise history. The offense is likely to improve just by regressing to the mean, and that could make things look like the Sutter move "worked" when it was to some degree coincidental.
  • The same can be said for Doughty getting his sea-legs, and players coming back from injuries. These factors will have a huge impact on whether the Sutter hire is seen as boom or bust.
  • Killer instinct: my hope is that, when the Kings find themselves in a playoff series with a chance to put a team away, Sutter will be better than Murray at keeping the team from throwing it all away.


1. Out of touch? In the past, Sutter’s teams have been known for their grit and their tenacity, their willingness to slow the game down and grind teams into submission. Has that style of hockey gone the way of the dinosaur, though?

In a word: no. Bruce Boudreau how that whole run-and-gun thing has worked out. A goal-against prevented is still as valuable as a goal-for. Not as exciting, but just as valuable.

Almost all of Sutter’s success took place before the 2004-05 NHL lockout, before rule changes opened up — for a while, at least — the offensive game by limiting obstruction.

Sutter's team used obstruction to their advantage because it was available to them. The trap, meanwhile, is alive and well. The more things change...

2. Too much yelling?

[...] Coaches with "passion’’ — a polite word for "coaches who like to yell a lot’’ — can often have short-term success but also often wear out their welcome when players get tired of being berated for every mistake.

As opposed to just being benched or scratched for every mistake? Having been coached by a lot of yellers, my opinion is that the players respect criticism (even loud criticism) if it's consistent and fairly meted out. Because then you know where you stand and you know what's expected, not just of you, but of everyone. Terry Murray may not be a yeller, but he was if anything more prone to inconsistently-applied benchings (e.g. Alex Frolov, Alexei Ponikarovky, not Dustin Brown, etc.). If Sutter is loud but fair, no one will care about the volume.

This isn’t the old NHL. Players have huge contracts, and star players with long-term contracts know they arguably have more security than the coach. Can Sutter push the right buttons with the 21st-century players?

I seem to recall some pretty huge contracts before the lock-out, the salary roll-back and the cap. Not to mention the fact that celebrity players getting their disciplinarian coaches replaced has been going on since even before Gretzky got tired of Robbie Ftorek. This argument would work if we were talking about the 60s, when players had to have off-season jobs to make ends meet. But it's not like Darryl Sutter has been cryogenically frozen for forty years. He was a GM last season.

3. Too late?

Yes, there are still 49 games remaining in the regular season, but the Kings are in a hole. To reach 95 points — usually a reliable number for making the playoffs — they would need 61 points in their final 49 games, the equivalent of a 30-19-1 finish. Impossible? No. Easy? No.

I think 98 points ought to be the target. And who said it should be easy? If the Kings are as good as everyone thought, 30-15-4 is totally doable.

Sutter will need time to learn the strengths and weaknesses of his players, and time to make whatever adjustments he feels are appropriate. That will take time, in January, to sort out, and the Kings spend almost all of February on the road. Even if Sutter pushes all the correct buttons, he still faces an uphill battle to turn things around.

If the Kings could play their last 49 games all on the road, that would be okay by me.