Player X Gives Us: Out With The Old, In With The Old – Is It Bottom Yet?
Player X is one of Surly & Scribe’s readers. His comments caught my attention because I noticed a hockey acumen that went beyond the basics of the game. He recently submitted this article to me for consideration. I read it. I agree with some of his points. I disagree with others. The article is long but it is a quick read and well worth the short investment of time. Read it, absorb it and tell Player X your thoughts on his outlook of the Darryl Sutter era.
Hello, my name is X, and I am…a Kings fan. I have had this affliction since 1985, but it started taking over my life in 1993. I have had a few brief recoveries in the past when I could ignore the team for short stretches of time, but I was only fooling myself. I have to admit I am powerless over this addiction because I just keep falling back into the hell-pit of addiction.
Last Saturday night, after the Detroit game, was a real low point for me, but I doubt whether it will be a low point for this team. The recipe for my depression goulash contained the following ingredients:
We lose to Detroit in a close game but come up just two field goals short.
I watch 24/7 and see Simmonds flat-out insult Los Angeles by saying Philly is a much better hockey town and he’s really glad to have been traded. What’s worse is, it is obviously not just the typical pabulum quote in a press scrum. He meant it.
I watch how Laviolette and Tortorella talk to their teams, and I see their commitment and passion and it makes me feel just plain sad for my team. These guys are serious, their brains are fast-twitch muscles, and they are not afraid to say negative things to their players straight and to the point, in the player’s face and in the press.
I see Ed Snider, the actual freakin’ owner of the Flyers, in person dedicating a youth skate rink and then I think of Tim Leiweke strong-arming the city council for Anschutz’s latest half-billion religious tribute to the almighty…dollar.
Then, I read Babcock’s quotes to an L.A. reporter before a Kings game, saying team’s all think they should win the Cup but some have no business thinking so, and that organizations don’t really understand how far away they are from winning it until they go through the process of doing so. That means the Kings have no idea whether they are actually close or not. The Kings don’t know, because they can’t know, but still, every organization has to win the first time, right? Take Anaheim, for example….er wait, never mind. Too depressing.
I see all these things, and I ponder, and it becomes obvious, by comparison. The Kings are not yet worthy of being called a serious organ-eye-zation. The Kings are not a threat. The Kings are really, really trying, but they are just not there yet.
As I sit, drowning in my metaphorical Hungarian stew…or is Goulash a soup? I do what men do; I try to fix it. I try to figure it out. Why, oh why, do the Kings just SUCK? And I have one word for it. I do not contend that one word can turn this scow onto a course toward the harbor of success, but I can cover just about every problem with one simple concept: Accountability. The Kings lack actual personal and organizational accountability.
The cliché would be that accountability has to start at the top, and apparently it just did with the firing of Terry Murray. But Murray is a middleman; he can neither skate nor trade. Yes, he bears responsibility, but only in a shared percentage as one of the leaders of this team.
For me, accountability is primarily an individual trait, but it must be collectively administered. Players need to police themselves and foster an atmosphere of commitment. Coaches need to police themselves and their players. A General Manager needs to police himself, his coaches and his players. The Guvnah Leiweke needs to lay low and make only the huge decisions, such as GM firing and payroll limits. His impact on accountability is usually only implied, or deferred, until matters are so grave that a total reset is needed. Can we be far from that point?
If players need to police themselves, then we start with the leaders. Dustin Brown is, despite the volume of outcry, a very good captain, in my opinion. His play is his example, he is very outspoken at times in public, especially lately, and it cannot be known how vocal he is in private. His work ethic is beyond question, his play has improved every year, his heart and mind are in the game at all times. The only question is whether he has the will of an Yzerman or Messier, both of whom had a quiet stare that bespoke of severed limbs and locked cellar doors. Is that “fire” there?
By virtue of position and salary, we look at Anze. Without dispute, Anze Kopitar is doing everything for this team. His play, his skill and his work ethic deserve full marks. The only question for Anze is how good can he be with top-flight skill on the OTHER lines. But, Anze does not hit, he checks. He does more than enough, but if I could ask more of Anze, it would be for him to add some nasty to his game. Again, is that “fire” there?
Drew Doughty, by virtue of salary, must be considered a leader. He has loads of skill. But his head is not always in the game. This guy has no idea that sometimes, there is some serious shit going on. Laughing on the bench when the team is getting creamed, giggling with opposing team members between whistles, bopping to the arena tunes on the bench mid-period… Doughty has gone from looking and acting like the village idiot with a simpleton’s grin to now just being the bored kid at a funeral popping bubble gum during the eulogy. These things bleed into his on-ice demeanor, also. Doughty watches his passes, is playing rover on a team that desperately requires structure, takes bad penalties, is god-awful on power play carry/entry and is nearly as bad as a PP quarterback, and on and on. His D-zone coverage has regular and recurring lapses, his outlet passes are only decent, and for some reason he is always upright and off-balance when trying to stop someone in the corners. He rarely maintains full engagement; his defensive play can best be described as someone who jabs at it. If you watch him, you will see he has a habit of stopping movement, standing upright and still after every few seconds. If there is a “fire” in Doughty, it probably has more to do with marshmallows and ‘Smores than a compulsive need for victory.
Roughly only half this team is playing at all well. Mike Richards, Matt Greene, Willie Mitchell, Jack Johnson, sometimes Simon Gagne and lately Dustin Penner, these guys are playing well, and I do not question their commitment (Penner LATELY, I said).
All the other players seem to be waiting for their collective balls to drop. Justin Williams has exhibited less testosterone than a member of the Vienna Boys Choir; he avoids contact at all costs, is incapable of carrying the puck without circling like a riderless Sea-Doo even thru center ice and only skates thru the box on his way out of the zone toward a shift change. Trevor Lewis had to be benched for many games before he grasped the idea that he was expected to actually create contact with opposing players; “…get out there and cause some mild chafing, Trevor.” Brad Richardson, who I love as a player, even Brad Richardson is becoming inept at anything but hurry up and almost get there; he is starting to look like another Brian Willsie. Westgarth and Fraser have some real chemistry; oil and water. And anyway, who the hell is Fraser? Why do we have a Hunter? When was the last time Hunter bagged a kill? Stoll is enigmatic, like a sci-fi character that only takes on the character of those around him; when the team sucks, Stoll sucks. He cares, his bottom is better than many others’ top, but it must be said this is a terrible year so far for Stoll. Andre Loktionov has exhibited zero percent of the purported puck-wizardry and has been a negative factor overall in every aspect of his involvement. The guy has had quality linemates both when he was at wing and at center and he still only has 2 points and zero goals. Do not cry to me about his not getting PP time, either, my accountability rubric yields him none and deservedly so. Scuderi has mastered the “shove it down the boards no matter what” play; he was totally befuddled against Detroit when he had the puck with open ice in the O-zone right down the middle with no Red Wing above the circles or in his shooting lane. His decision was not to take that ice and close in for a shot, or god forbid even contemplate doing so and then beating a guy for an even better shot. No, Scuderi had a golden opportunity to drill one from close in the middle and that is why he passed it to a covered Doughty for a bad-angle shot into a gaggle of bodies.
Let me sum up the players by saying I do not see the fostering of an atmosphere of personal accountability. I see a cluster-sutt of undisciplined individuals with limited offensive play-making vocabulary allowed to perimeter-dance in predictable comfort zones of unproductive busy-work. I see a roster of the correct number of low-dollar guys, but even they are not playing to their pay, and a group of high-dollar guys that have turned into head cases.
Stevens, and Murray, are to put it kindly, rather mild-mannered. The only fire there is, that Murray was actually fired. As for accountability, it seems the prime directive on this team is to not ruffle the feathers of their precious songbirds. I have seen zero accountability enforced toward the players from the coaching staff. As an example, last night when the Kings had the game at 3 to 1 with Kings momentum, Johnson made a perfect outlet zip-pass to Trevor Lewis at our blue line. Murray had bastardized our entire breakout system all year long using the edict to “get the puck to the forwards quickly,” and when Johnson does exactly that Lewis is just not ready for it. He flubs the pass, and that turnover leads to a transition scramble from which the Kings never recovered until it was in their net. A few minutes later, Trevor Lewis is out there on the first unit of a power play. What am I missing here? I am missing accountability.
And how is this situation addressed by the General Manager? A team is lost at sea, and Lombardi drops the compass overboard and pokes a hole in their life raft. Then, he summons the Coast Guard in the person of Daryl Sutter. Sutter, former Calgary coach and GM and also nose-swallower-in-training, is gruff and tough, and supposedly gets the most out of his players. He has a good record as a coach, was one goal away from a Stanley Cup with sub-par skill level, and relies on a defensive mindset and hard work to win games.
I can see the thinking here: Lombardi sees a team that is under-performing and brings in an ass-kicker. Lombardi sees a team built on and good at (reads “used to be good at but not recently”) defensive structure and hires a coach well versed in a very similar structure. Lombardi sees a team without fire and passion and brings in a guy who is not a deep thinker but who is willing to get angry and loud about losing in hopes of creating that fire.
As a tough bastard, who is familiar with the team’s most familiar mode of play, Sutter, ostensibly, would seem to be a great candidate to provide the accountability I see lacking. Or is he?
One of my problems with the Sutter is that this team already knows defense; Sutter does not have much room to improve the defense, nor much need to improve it. The area that is lacking is offense, the under-performance is offense, the players that have any capacity to improve are the top scoring forwards. To whatever degree possible, the checkers could also benefit from the trickle-down effect of enhanced offensive play. Is Sutter the man for that job?
Another problem with the Sutter is that building “fire” based on fear is a sham. It is external to a player, not internal. The player is not trying to be his best; he is trying to meet the coach’s standard to avoid harsh discipline. It seems counter-intuitive to an “us against them” attitude that includes the entire organization. Instead, it seems like overly harsh tactics would create a players-versus-coaches mentality. Instead of creating an accord of commitment self-enforced by a group with a common goal, Sutter runs the risk of basing the team’s future on a fundamental discord where the ultimate leader is not spiritually in the trenches with his troops.
So, is this the bottom? I fear not.