The Dutch Perspective: The Kings’ Head Coaches

… In listening to S&S’s most recent podcast, there was a period of discussion involving the current Kings’ coach, Darryl Sutter, and the man he replaced, Terry Murray. The discussion, as I heard it, seemed to favor Sutter over Murray. I think it’s completely impossible at this stage to make a valid comparison between Murray and Sutter as head coaches, and I’ve said time and again that neither one’s been any better or more efficient than the other.

When Murray first went to the playoffs with the Kings in 2010, the team was almost completely made up of guys who were getting their first taste of playoff experience. Quick was not the top-five goalie then that he is now; in fact, he was close to bottom-five in the league two years ago. And yet, Murray’s 2010 Kings were an inch or two away in OT of game 1 from sweeping the first two games in Vancouver.

Last season, the Kings were missing their best player in the playoffs, and their most effective offensive line had Brad Richardson at center. Again, a very different team and a very different scenario. And yet, the Kings were once again an OT away from sweeping the first two games on the road.

Murray’s Kings this season started out with the burden of unrealistic expectations from the first day of training camp. The team was woefully short up front, and Murray was forced to win games with shit like Ethan Moreau and Trent Hunter on his roster. Dustin Penner was on the top six, where he was ineffective offensively. Drew Doughty was injured and struggling, and Murray had no say in Drew feeling the apparent effects early on of missing training camp. And yet, before the trade deadline, the Kings had arguably played better for Murray than they had played for Sutter.

Murray’s record: 12-14-3, 64 goals scored, 65 goals allowed, 16 games vs. playoff teams (55%)
Sutter’s record: 10-11-6, 53 goals scored, 47 goals allowed, 12 games vs. playoff teams (44%)

Not exactly inspiring results turned in by either guy, if you ask me. And then, the trade deadline happened. The Kings (finally) addressed the glaring flaw in their roster and dealt a defenseman, something they had in surplus, for a top six forward, something they desperately needed. Instead of looking to Moreau and Hunter to bolster their depth, the Kings dipped into Manchester and brought up Dwight King and Jordan Nolan. Penner was able to be dropped to the third line, where he became a far more effective player. With enough games under his belt, Doughty’s play was turning the corner. Finally, the team’s expectations weren’t out of line. “The Time Is NOW” had been replaced with “Let’s Simply Get In The Playoffs In Any Way Possible.”

Kings’ record since trade deadline: 11-6-4, 63 goals scored, 42 goals allowed, 13 games vs. playoff teams (62%)

I don’t believe that the success achieved during the stretch run was a product of better coaching as much as it was simply a product of better personnel. I don’t buy that Murray couldn’t have led the same team to similar results. While Sutter’s coaching style seems on the surface to be more appealing than Murray’s was, the real changes in the gameplan and with game preparation have been minimal in my eyes. It’s much more effective to have a shot mentality when it’s Jeff Carter manning the gun instead of Trent Hunter. The Kings’ roster, at least in the short term, is deeper and more solid than it’s been in years.

Now, we’re looking at a scenario where the Kings have swept the first two postseason games on the road, and simply need to win two of the next five potential games to win their first playoff series in eleven years. Three of those five potential games are at home – and yet, that’s the real trick here, isn’t it? The Kings have shown they can win on the road in the playoffs, with a record of 5-3 away from L.A. since 2010. But, can they win at home, where they’ve been 1-5 during the same span?

To me, Darryl Sutter will not have distinguished himself as a head coach unless he can find a way to coax positive results from this team at Staples Center. I’m not all that concerned about the atmosphere; I know the Kings’ fans will bring it, just as they have the past two years. The Kings’ home playoff slump has not been a product of insufficient enthusiasm, it has been a product of insufficient experience and insufficient execution. Now that the Kings have the experience, will they provide the execution? I think that the next two (and possibly three) home games will determine the legacy of not only Sutter, but also of Dean Lombardi – to say nothing of those key players who have been in Los Angeles for the last several years. From my perspective, it’s all on the line right now.



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20 replies

  1. Superb take here. Bravo.

  2. “The real changes in the gameplan and with game preparation have been minimal in my eyes.”

    That is because you choose to downplay them. It’s easy to look at intensity and motivation from a coach as “minimal” when you put little stock in either. It’s just as easy to look at the x’s and o’s of the game in regroups, zone entries, the role of the F3 on the forecheck, the activation of the D1, just to name a few, and the team’s increased level of intensity with a lead as being insignificant. It’s easy to forget that Murray had talent at his disposal but that talent could not succeed here and yet thrived elsewhere. It’s easy because that is simply a choice. It is more accurate to say the team is better coached and better assembled because it is not strictly one or the other but that wouldn’t fit well into what is easy.

    I would like other readers to chime in on this because this article is relevant and timely regardless of my disagreement with its conclusions.

    • That is because you choose to downplay them. It’s easy to look at intensity and motivation from a coach as “minimal” when you put little stock in either. It’s just as easy to look at the x’s and o’s of the game in regroups, zone entries, the role of the F3 on the forecheck, the activation of the D1, just to name a few, and the team’s increased level of intensity with a lead as being insignificant.

      … It’s two sides of a coin. You say I downplay them, I say you exaggerate them. It’s that simple.

      • Stating it is both is not an exaggeration. Stating it is one and not the other is. You can’t exaggerate balance, only a tilt.

        • … I didn’t highlight your entire post. I went out of my way, as I always do, to highlight a specific passage. In that passage, I believe you are somewhat exaggerating the Kings’ aggressiveness in certain aspects of the game, and tremendously exaggerating the increased level of intensity with a lead.

    • What I’ve noticed is they’ve stopped retreating on 50/50 pucks in the O and neutral zones.
      D1 is given a little more freedom. And to keep it short, they’ve stopped retreating into sit back and protect mode. Plus, they aren’t waiting 10min into the game to get the feel. I see them trying to set the tone.

      • … Well, they’ve been more aggressive in their puck pursuit, a small but not insignificant change. As for 50/50s, the Kings have always aggressively pursued those, as Murray preached puck possession incessantly. Big difference between pursuing a puck that’s on an opponent’s stick and pursuing a loose one.

        I never have believed the Kings were ever consciously “waiting” to get a feel for the game, at all, and I certainly don’t believe that was what they were instructed to do by the coaches when Murray was here, or incorporated into his game plan. You’re making it sound as if Murray specifically didn’t want the Kings to score, yet before the trade deadline, the Kings were scoring fewer goals for Sutter than they were for Murray. I believe the problem all along was a lack of personnel and talent FAR more than it was a lack of coaching.

  3. I like what JT has to say, some interesting points.

    I do think Sutter has proven himself a better coach than TM based off a short sample size.

    Next year will validate or negate my belief.

    I still don’t think Sutter is the guy we need going forward, only because of the small sample size of his games and the fact I thought we needed a new philosophy behind the bench of not just being a defensive team that scores once in a while, but a well balanced machine that can do both (kind of like we are now).

  4. I think you make some good points but there are some things that aren’t seen on stat sheets. For instance, if Terry Murray isn’t able to inspire the Kings then maybe thats why they don’t win those games in OT. The arguments you are making are just as impossible to back up as any argument that Surly or Scribe has made. It comes down to opinion.

    So in my opinion, to me it looks like they are playing with a fire in their belly that they did not have before. The sample size has been too small to compare the two coaches by stats and I agree with your analysis of the different kinds of teams that they coached. But I know that you must have gone to games when Terry Murray was coach and when Sutter was coach and witnessed a difference. The difference in energy has been unreal on the ice. They were dead out there with Murray and they could rarely get the home fans excited. Now they are diving after pucks and it really feels like they are leaving their hearts out on the ice. While this hasn’t necessarily translated into the more wins that we would all want to see, I think that it makes differences in certain points in the season (e.g. stretch run, playoff run).

    I’m an econ major so I know when arguing stats I can never PROVE anything (hint: neither can you). I can only show correlation.

    • I also think that if you leave Murray in and don’t hire Sutter (but still pick up Carter) the Kings miss the playoffs. Not even necessarily because Sutter is a better coach but the players had given up on Murray and they needed a kick in the ass before they were going to start winning.

    • I’ve read quote after quote about Sutter and how he expects so much more from all the players and that if they don’t bring it, they hear about it. They also talk a lot about how Sutter is a much better motivator than Murray. Motivation, in my opinion, is very important with this team (and any team, or person, really).

      … I think there’s another factor at play here, especially with the ties that the Kings were putting up early on, right after the hiring of Murray. The factor is shock, the factor that always comes into play when a head coach is replaced. The shock of knowing that if the coach can be replaced, a few of the players could certainly be replaced as well.

      As for all the sugar and spice about Murray’s coaching tactics, I don’t really concern myself with it because I know the players aren’t going to come out and say anything negative about him to the media.

  5. I liked this article a lot even if I don’t necessarily agree with all the points. I think there has been a marked change with Sutter that can’t be expressed on paper. In the last few days, I’ve read quote after quote about Sutter and how he expects so much more from all the players and that if they don’t bring it, they hear about it. They also talk a lot about how Sutter is a much better motivator than Murray. Motivation, in my opinion, is very important with this team (and any team, or person, really).

    Please keep in mind that I say all this without watching the amount of games that I normally do. I was able to attend two games this season (one in preseason and one just a couple weeks ago). In the preseason game, I saw the Kings the way they always were. Warm ups looked the same, players looked the same, demeanor looked the same. I saw a different team a couple weeks ago. During warm ups, they looked like they were enjoying themselves; liking what they do. Does this mean they didn’t like what they did before? No. But, I think it’s something that is worth pointing out.

    I also agree with kingsfaninportland that we need a coach that believes in balance and I’m not sold on Sutter for that position. However, it is my hope, that I am incorrect on this one and Sutter and the Kings will prove me wrong with the Cup.

  6. i wouldn’t quite call J.T. a Negative Nancy……

    However, I think “Cautiously Optimistic Karen” is perfect.

  7. “The real changes in the gameplan and with game preparation have been minimal in my eyes.”

    I look at the commentary in two parts. First record comparisions. Then personal.
    OT losses are what they are, losses. Look at them that way and neither coach has much to offer the bride. The one difference, improved goals/game. As Dutch alludes, somewhat gray…but not entireley. This is where Scribe’s comments make sense.

    A two man forecheck (often with two men behind the goal line) and pinching D has made a big difference. Heck just the D only was amazing…imagine, each pairing was an O/D with the O never being used.

    Certainly there were a large number of odd man rushes against when first initiated but it all settled in by the final St. Louis game.

    I don’t feel Sutter is a great coach, however the house cleaning (Moreau and Hunter) was a timely key, as was moving Penner to a line where he could be short shifted to match his stamina.

    I like that Sutter makes an effort to match lines. But its the small things. Not taking advantage of time outs or utilizing team building moments (shutout string), that type of thing. A Hitchcock, Bowman or Trotz would never miss those calls.

  8. You’re pushing an open door with me, Dutch.

    I was not among the Murray-haters and knew he wasn’t the real problem during the grim part of the season. He had to deal with the materials at hand, and those materials did not include what Sutter now has at his disposal. Each coach has taken a team to the finals. And those who regularly condemn Murray for his ineptitude in the offensive game forget that he put together the Legion of Doom. As you say, it’s the personnel on ice that matter.

    Murray — and Lombardi — took a team that was for years a video game for other teams to build up their offensive stats and turned it into a more-than-respectable defensive squad. That’s what got us into the playoffs.

    What I find crazy is that once the Kings have reached the playoffs they sparkled in that very area — the power play — where all the fans were hollering for Jamie Kompon’s balls to be roasted on a spit. And they’ve under-performed — certainly against San Jose last year — in the one place where we thought we were safe — five-on-five defense. (Though citing last year is not exactly fair, since Kopi was missed more on defense against San Jose than he was on offense.)

    Your final point — that it’s all on the line now — is grim, but true. I hate to look at it that way, since another disappointment — especially after being up two-to-nothing — will really send me to the seppuku dagger.

    • … I’d also go so far as to say that Murray’s approach of “I’m gonna treat these guys as men, as professionals, and stress execution more than motivation” worked better with some guys than Sutter’s “I’ll make it MY business to motivate them” approach. Not everyone on the team has the same personality. Some tactics and approaches work better for certain guys than they do for others. I don’t believe there is a right way to do things, here. Answers are going to vary.

  9. It may be the wrong time to compare the two overall, but one things for sure: sutter has this team peaking and at the right time. I’m pretty sure murray couldn’t have done this right now, although he did lay the framework for a defensive mindset and he should be credited for that.

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