The Final Interview: Darryl Sutter on the How and Why of Being Fired, plus What Lies Ahead

When all was said and done, Darryl Sutter remained Darryl Sutter right up until the very end… and even beyond.

Just days removed from being fired in Los Angeles, he was back in a very familiar setting – about an hour outside of downtown, watching the Kings AHL affiliate in Ontario. Unlike previous visits, which provided the dual purpose of scouting potential future players and watching his son, this trip was all about the latter. Trailing 3-2 late in the third period, Brett delivered too; scoring the game-tying goal. Perhaps true to the theme of the week, there was no happy ending, though. The Reign would go on to a 4-3 shootout loss, and soon thereafter, we caught up with Sutter.

Right out of the gates, we wanted to know if he was disappointed with how his tenure came to a close with the Kings.

“It’s not really the end of it,” he said, which was somewhat confusing. “Last year wasn’t disappointing; it was a 100-point year. You know what, they have a new General Manager and want new coaches; good luck, all the best.”

Experts say there are five stages to grief and/or loss, beginning with Stage 1: Denial. Next, things morph into Stage 2: Anger.

“The team just had the best six years in their illustrious career and everybody should be immensely… I was hired by Dean Lombardi, not by anybody else,” LA’s former coach would go on to say.

While Sutter certainly helped bring respectability to the Kings franchise, and permanently raised the level of expectation, he also alienated many, including several prominent members of the Kings locker room and management.

Several sources have told us, Lombardi wanted to terminate Sutter in the summer of 2015, following the Kings missing the playoffs. However, AEG owner Phil Anschutz wasn’t on board with the plan and the two decided to let Sutter ride out the final year of his contract (the 2015-16 season) – feeling he had earned that respect and it was worth seeing what would happen the following campaign. When the Kings were bounced from the playoffs in round one about 12 months later, it made for some fairly strained times in Los Angeles. Lombardi and his management team – along with ownership – wrestled with the decision of what to do next with Sutter. Eventually, he was offered a contract extension.

While there are several layers of interesting tidbits in this portion of the narrative, one curious element has always been our understanding that there was some sort of a handshake deal between Sutter and Lombardi. Call it a Gentleman’s Agreement, used in-part to coax him out of retirement in 2011; whereby Lombardi would never fire Sutter. It would be the coach who could write his own script when it eventually came time for him to step away from behind the Kings bench.

“You have to remember, in our business,” Sutter began, when we asked about the existence of such an agreement between him and Lombardi. “That really has nothing to do with it. Dean didn’t fire me. They brought in a new General Manager. If I was the new General Manager, I would hire a new coach. I was a General Manager [in Calgary] too. Los Angeles is a great organization and hopefully they get the opportunity to win another championship sometime.”

Not content with that reply, we tried asking the question again – did such a deal exist?

“I couldn’t tell you,” he said, reverting back into coach form; as if we had just asked who his starting goaltender was going to be that evening.

Regardless, of how the firing went down, has he had any time to process what went wrong since the Cup victory in 2014, missing the playoffs twice in three years, or maybe even just went wrong with this year’s team?

“Yeah,” he remarked without any hesitation. “Jonathan Quick got hurt. Tyler Toffoli got hurt. Everybody talks about scoring, but you have to remember – this team scored more goals this year than they did the first year they won the Cup. It’s just that our goals went down the last two years. We lost two or three guys who are good goal scorers. You just don’t replace them. Part of winning Stanley Cups is, don’t plug kids in because you don’t draft high enough. When you win Cups, you’re picking late.”

There is a lot to detangle in there, some of which we’ll get to in later articles. For now, note this – the loss of Quick this season cannot be measured in purely stats. He is one of the most competitive guys inside the locker room and is a true leader among the current group of players. Add in what Matt Greene brings to that room, and two key guys were not there to help support Anze Kopitar during what could easily be described as a transitional leadership year. Don’t underestimate how much that impacted what you saw on the ice, and more importantly, what was going on behind closed doors to get them ready for each game.

Toffoli’s time out of the lineup most definitely took goals off the board. However, the team’s scoring issues were deeper rooted; so much so that there isn’t a concise way to summarize that topic. And, yes, they did win two Stanley Cups using Sutter’s defensive-first approach.

Circling back to the topic at hand, many saw last year’s contract extension as Sutter winning again. This wasn’t about a final score flashing on a scoreboard or a trophy being raised. Instead, he was going to finally put his ultimate stamp on the team. Dustin Brown would no longer be captain, as the two had long been feuding privately – largely over disagreements regarding Brown’s performance on the ice. Publicly, both tried to play nice last summer, talking extensively about their relationship and trying to find some common ground.

Like so many things surrounding the Kings in recent times, Sutter’s firing wasn’t a singular issue. It wasn’t about a lack of scoring. It wasn’t about Brown. It wasn’t about losing the room.

It was simply time and everybody knew it. Heck, perhaps it could have even been predicted.

Sutter spent five-plus seasons coaching in Chicago. He spent five-plus seasons behind the bench in San Jose. His five-plus seasons in Calgary included time spent as coach and General Manager.

Guess how long he was in Los Angeles.

You already know; five-plus seasons.

“We talked the next day [after the season ended],” Sutter said, when we asked how quickly he knew his fate as the Kings bench-boss. “I talked to [Luc] Robitaille, [Rob] Blake, then over the last couple of days, Mr. Anschutz and Dan Beckerman [CEO of AEG].”

It doesn’t even sound like there was much bargaining, which usually doesn’t come until Stage 3 anyway.

Were there any conversations about him staying on or was it immediately a notification of his services no longer being needed?

“You’d have to talk to them,” he said quickly, and it was obvious he was ready for the next question.

Let’s forget Step 4: Depression. Maybe we can be optimists here and put a new spin on things.

Besides the two Stanley Cups, what are a few of your favorite memories in Los Angeles?

“I don’t look at it like that,” he quipped, in true Darryl Sutter form, appearing to twist an easy question into something more complex. “We went to Conference Finals, we had a 100-point season. It’s really quite spectacular. Other than two or three years when Wayne Gretzky was in Los Angeles, the best five or six years have been the last five or six. That’s pretty cool.”

He even bucked the trend when asked about the possibility of coaching again. Many close to the situation believe he’s coached his last NHL game. Sutter once had talked about never wanting to come back, and the fact he did so was only because of his relationship with Lombardi. Having worked together in San Jose, yet never really winning anything, they had some unfinished business of sorts.

Today is different. He’s rewritten any concerns about his legacy. Any doubts surrounding his greatness have long-been erased via the two Stanley Cups he helped bring to Los Angeles. His status as one of the legendary coaches of the game is firmly intact.

How about it then, what does the future hold – will he coach again or is this the end?

“I wasn’t really looking for…” Sutter remarked, likely referring to when Lombardi called him up in 2011. “I’m not going out soliciting. I have one of the best records in the history of the National Hockey League. If somebody is getting ready to win, that’s what they do; you hire really good coaches when you’re getting ready to win. Until you’re doing that, you don’t.”

Speaking of the last time he wasn’t really looking for a job…

At a December 2011 press conference, following Lombardi formally introducing Sutter to local media, we chatted with the then-GM off to the side, in one of his typical informal scrums after those type of gatherings. This was often where he shared the most valuable nuggets of information and pure quotes that were pure gems; way better stuff than he usually provided when the cameras were on. That particular afternoon, at a hotel conference room, just blocks from the team’s training facility in El Segundo, the most memorable moment of our conversation came in the form of Lombardi emphatically repeating that Sutter was not the man most believed he was. Further, Lombardi implored us to ignore what had previously heard or read about the new Kings coach. Be patient with him, Lombardi instructed; over time, you will see how different he truly is compared to the way most people paint him publicly. That was the advice.

In our dealings with him, Sutter, in fact, turned out to be both while coaching in Los Angeles. He was the overly-driven, maniacal task master who had an insane library of hockey knowledge at his constant fingertips. He was also surly if he didn’t like your question, to the point of being downright rude. Conversely, he was funny – very funny, in fact – and usually when you least expected it. He was quirky. He was shy. He was socially awkward. And he was patient, especially one-one-one. Some of the best moments with him are the ones that shouldn’t really be publicly shared. They are the little taps he would give or the little winks he would offer. One thing became apparent with each passing interaction. He wasn’t the man who was ran out of Calgary. He was much, much more complex.

And the perfect epitome of Sutter, the man who always kept us on our toes, may have been the beginning of our final interaction. He made eye contact from 20-feet across the room, then proceed to make a beeline over, with a huge smile. Opening pleasantries, which could have easily been awkward, were some of the kindest words we’ve shared. He extended his hand and genuinely asked how things were going, coming from a place of caring, not just idle chit-chat.

Eventually, we recorded an interview, gathering his thoughts, as shared above. Moments later, he exited a side door of Citizen’s Business Bank Arena, and as he passed a small group of fans waiting for several of the Reign players, one of them yelled out, ‘We still love you, Darryl’ – to which he quickly replied, ‘Peace.’

Yes, coach. Peace.

Love you or loath you, or some combination of both, we are approaching Stage 5: Acceptance as one. After all, everybody needs to eventually get there on this issue, right?

Peace to you. Peace to Chris (who some would argue was the lone highlight at Staples Center many nights the past few months). Peace to the entire Sutter family back home in Alberta; they have all given so much to the game we love.

Peace out, Darryl.

It was a memorable ride.

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Comments

  1. Karen Beran says:

    Awesome, John! Thank you.

  2. Ilya Polyakov says:

    No man as talented as Sutter is simple, therefor complex sometimes even weird answers. I thought ( obviously an armature’s opinion) that he is/was a great coach and his knowledge of the game is imminence, but sooner or later we all have to realize that the progress outpaces our experience and step aside to enjoy the success of our successors.

  3. Great article to send Coach off. Thanks to DS for a great ride and MM for always putting things into perspective.

  4. Nice Johnny Boy – We’ll cheer him again in 5 years when they have the 10 year reunion. He won 2 cups and most of us can die in peace. A true champion.

  5. Joe Radosti says:

    I’d love for the Rangers to get him.

  6. Still the best coach in hockey. Could you imagine the Dodgers firing Tommy Lasorda after missing the playoffs 2 consecutive years? Been a Kings fan since 1969-70 season. First time I have felt so negative about a front office decision. Best to Darryl. No Stanley Cups in L.A. without him.

  7. Born hockey says:

    Great work. Lombardi made some mistakes and with injuries, trades for what turned out to be rentals, left Sutter short of talent. When you sign Sekera and Lucic, the chances to resign them are much better after a deep playoff run, bonding experience. Didn’t happen , the team got tired physically and mentally after playing so many games with Sutters tough robotic style.
    All said it would have been better for the owners to take the heat from Kings fans and give D and D a chance to right the ship, a process begun with incorporating younger players. Kings fans lack the knowledge to understand that winning a cup took 45 years and a masterful gm and coach. These fans clamored for the to fire these guys. Most have never laced up skates and did not grow up in a hockey family. They are relative newbies. So now we have a rookie GM to sort out the kings and fans. Lamoring for a new hotshot coach, and none out there nhl ready. Hope to hell they keep Stevens or we will be playoffless longer. So the newbies fans clamoring has put us in a precarious position to fail. Its now the fans fault, their impatience to see what a zenith the kings were on despite a few years where the winning formula did not quite work. But now they have gotten the formula dismissed it may take longer than 45 years to get another winner. Rest in peace, short sighted , failing to understand history and hockey newbie entitled cup won fans. 2062 is the year they win again.

  8. Steve Newton says:

    A very heartwarming (yet still somber/sad) read. Makes me miss his quirks all the more.

    May the LAK rise and shine again to a 3rd Cup, and may we never, ever, forget the legacy and memories that Darryl and Dean brought to our joyously-tear-filled eyes and Championship-filled hearts.

  9. ross ladrillo says:

    excellent work as usual, John.

  10. Jake Goehring says:

    Sutter will always be my favorite Kings coach. I’ve been watching this team pushing 40 years now. No matter what happens, Daryl led the Kings to their first 2 Cups. For me, that cements Coach Sutter. I wish him nothing but the best from here. And as for Chris, as far as I’m concerned, he’s got a permanent spot as a King. That kid is so uplifting, so passionate, so honest, he just leaks enthusiasm.
    Excellent piece. I looking forward to reading more tidbits about the chat with DS along the way.

    Peace, Daryl. I don’t care what anyone says, you’ll always be a King to so many of us here in LA.

    “We fly at 11.”

  11. sealbeach740 says:

    Flight at 11:00.
    Sums it up!

  12. Kings are threw. They should of kept Sutter and Lombardi on till they resigned on their own accord. How fcking disrespectful. Fires 2 guys that brought the Kings their best 6 years ever. Front office people are morons. Blake will never win them a Cup, and either will Robitalle. Kings back to being cellar dwellers like old times. This wouldn’t of happened if Kings never won Cup. But now the front office crap thinks they have a higher bar and firing Sutter and Lombardi is gonna solve their problems. Firing Sutter is like firing Scotty Bowman from Detroit, you just don’t do that. Horrible decision and Kings will never win a Cup again. Should of kept Sutter till his contact expired at least. Owner is a moron. A disrespectful moron at that.

    Anyone who thinks Sutter should be fired is an imbecile too. Lombardi and Sutter win 2 Cups for these clowns and that’s how they are thanked. Fck you Anschutz, you as#hole. Kings will suck under Blake and Robitalle now.

    • Blake and Robitalle are traders and should never be trusted as being loyal to the
      Kings! Deserted team to go play for cup contenders. Traders.

    • Cody Warner says:

      1. You obviously believe LAK would be better if DL/DS were still in fold, but it would have been better for them to have never won so that DL/DS would still be there? Not sure that follows any logic. Chances are you wouldn’t be so up in arms if the 2 cups never showed up, products of work partially done by DL/DS.
      2. How many years did Scotty Bowman miss the playoffs while coaching the Red Wings? 0. He was also there for 9 seasons, won 3 cups on 4 SCF trips. Not to mention his 5 previous SC championships as a coach before arriving in DET. Extremely poor comparison.

      • You obviously think Kings could of won cups without sutter and Lombardi.

        Kings would still be joke of NHL without those guys. Remember, quick missed whole season and that’s why Kings are out.

  13. Hope the Caps scoop up Sutter after we lose this first round series. Seems like he can take a franchise to the next level pretty well, eh?

  14. Chris Kerhulas says:

    As a lifelong Kings fan I have only profound appreciation for the coach who finally brought us the Stanley Cup. I wear a jersey with his name on the back. In a league withe greatest season to season roster and coaching changes he will be a King forever. Thanks coach.

  15. Anaheim Kings Fan says:

    Great article on Coach Sutter. Also, I have to note the refreshing comments left regarding this piece in general and Coach Sutter in particular. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who appreciated Coach Sutter’s wonderful post-game interviews and who feels we owe him deep respect for what he accomplished here, bringing us two Cups in short order. I can’t tell you how frustrating it was to read comment after comment on the LA Kings Insider blog from “fans” calling for Sutter’s firing all season long. It particularly irks me to imagine their smugness when the unfortunate firing took place.

    Sutter will live in my memory for uttering what will undoubtedly become one of the most celebrated quotes in LAK history. Down three games to none to the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, who can forget his post-game comment: “We won’t go away quietly. That’s for sure.” They did not.

    Anyway, you’ve earned a new reader, Mayor’s Manor, based on the sanity of your reader’s comments alone!

    • Yup, all the hate and passionate “fire the coach” rants on LA Kings Insider was pretty sickening. I too had deep respect for the man, and not only was he my all-time favorite king’s coach, he was also one of the best ever. Sometimes I missed some games but I always read his post-game interviews.

      “You know what…[they] want new coaches; good luck, all the best.” This sounds eerily like Willie Mitchell’s last interview when he learned his services wasn’t going to be retained, “you want to prove some people wrong…” To these ears, that screamed “So you think you can do better without me?” And they are both right…we can’t and we won’t. Coach was just playing the hand he was dealt. How can you be accused of losing the room when most every player had statistically their best seasons ever in a King’s uniform? Yeah, I’m gonna miss him.

  16. It was time for Sutter to move on along with Dean who had both lost their way and team… The Kings won 2 Cups Despite them not because of them… Sutter mismanaged the talent along with team, in 2012 they were red hot taking like 3-0 leads in every series before making the Devils get closer than they should with a 40 year old goalie instead of a Gaborik Rangers team who would have been much tougher like 2014 was… Maybe if they didn’t ditch Avery they would have got past the Devils in the SCF though their coach was really the issue making players block shots only to get hurt…

    Sutter in 2013 played a 1 armed washed up too slow RR (Regehr) over like Muzzin or Martinez among other left shooting D… He was awful, dragged down their best D-man in Drew costing them any shot to win a second cup as they would have otherwise. Letting Mike Richards come back too early from the concussion along with painkillers was another major mistake… This year he had Nolan on the ice while team was down by 1 goal too many times…

    2014 Sutter nearly cost them the cup by playing Nolan over like Pearson… I think he even gave Tyler issues getting on the ice over scrubs… So his stubborn arrogant attitude made him unable to continue to prosper and grow…

    That said Dean was the biggest BUST problem costing them both their jobs and futures… Kings lost almost all the trades Dean made Long Term even if a few paid off short term… Carter is the best contract they have, yet Flyers are guys who signed him… Dean handed the worst contracts in NHL to Brown along with Kopitar who isn’t a super star or a star at this point in time only fading fast and injury prone…

    Last few years were some real bad trades… Team was knocking on desks to trade to get Zykov who scored a King style goal in his first NHL this year… While they had Iginla at like 40ish instead of a hungry young player in his prime to compete for ice time. Really trading him for Versteeg in his baseball ignorance on a team you gtotta be this tall to ride this ride was only going to fail… Constant trades of right handed shooting D-men trying to play two lefty shots were other issues. You had McKeown or so, Miller who was fastest skater/hardest shot AHL All Star for Lucic along with Jones really? IF they traded Quick they would have got a better return while having a better starter in goal who isn’t injury prone… Quick had injuries from over use by sutter ignorant ways when he should have been playing 48 games max… In 2012 it was the back, in 2014 it was like a broken wrist which explained his subpar play…

    Not adjusting to reality you need 3-5 goals a game tom compete/win in the changing league… Trying to win 2-1 or whatever, Sharks get 2 goal lead then try to play leftist losers only to get beat down… When they won game prior 7-0 showing how you need to play at this point in time. Gaborik playing in World Cup was dumb, Carter bows out has best year on Kings… Quick should have never been playing in that, then Bishop should have been starter from point of trade till end of year in every game but back to backs.

    Not trading for Boyle from Tampa who would have really helped in PK/matchups at 6’7. Then not grabbing a guy like a Cody Franson or something to give a right shot D.. Forbort blew a game they needed to win not clearing with less than a minute left vs. like Coyotes who beat them twice down stretch. King having to get traded for the insane contract of 2.5M for 4 years to the washed up injury prone Greene who gave what he had left in 2014… Instead of letting him leave in glory he has become an anchor baby at best.

    Giving money to Brown instead of Justin Mr. Game 7 Williams was another costly mistake… You want to pay brown give him 2 years 12M, then 8 years at 23M… Instead this will be his last season in Kings before getting bought out. I knew when he signed that contract after this season he would be bought out from breaking down the numbers. Gaborik was a trade to compensate for the busted trade they did with like Bernier for that forward I wont even name to disgrace the sight… I knew when Toronto traded for Boyle they had the post season for sure edging out Islanders unless Boston fell bad.

    Jeff Carter is the main reason Kings have any Cups so he is the Real Great One never forget that. Stevens stayed loyal, he deserves to be coach, Blake won Cup with Manchester in Final season he should be GM. Even the Voynov deal was 100K too much which cost them players and games. The paying for what people did the past instead of the current talent or future… RR making 3M a year was not based in reality for a bum left shooting D… You pay right shooting D since they are a lot rarer to find a Drew compared to a Muzzin, Martinez, McNabb, and others.

    IN 4-6 years Kopitar will be gone, paying 10M a year more money in cap than Great 8, Crosby, Malkin, Stamkos, guys who can score 40+ goals and 100+ points… You are better off with two good players at 10M combined like Tyler and Pearson. Be glad the Kings were down 3-0 to Sharks of all teams before Sutter would mismanage to force game 7’s :). I used all the magic I had to make sure the Kings would win 2 cups. Kings have not really made a decent trade or move long term since the Gaborik trade in actual reality. Dean mismanaged money, got dead cap, over payed all the washed up players with an owner that let him pay max cash.

    I seen the same story with Sutter/Dean from San Jose trading their best of the 3 goalies to even make a Calgary Flames… His system was bad then, though Gelinas excelled they did get robbed by NHL wanting Florida to win a cup. The team choked this year, they should have beat out Nashville or Blues if nothing else. Yet we all know they would lose by him sticking with Quick who wasn’t going to win anything whether its Olympics, World Cup, or Stanley. Kings got another Cup after he was heavily paid so it worked out better than his other contracts. All the 8 year Kings contracts Dean signed players to just about were busts. Brown wont finish his out, Kopitar, I don’t blame him on Richards since Flyers along with NHL changing after lockout were main factors.

    You need to play young players to contribute, not have 2 left shooting D like Sharks/Kings who both flamed out fast. That Muzzin/Martinez pair was awful, what sane person thinks Sutter/Dean were going to improve? I know without doubt neither of them will ever win another Stanley Cup as Coach or GM again. This should have been a Detroit Red Wings franchise that made Post Season for like 20 years in a row. Instead they let Sharks get a real deal goalie to even make them a Post Season team or a threat for nothing… You lose Lucic, Jones, Miller all for no value, yet people still support Dean? Lucic was a mistake, he hurt them, they were not bad at left wing, then they move an off shooting guy Gaborik to right win after he won a cup playing LW :)? Frolov was one of my favorite players I think he was an off shooting winger too… Kings didn’t win anything with him, its Steve Garvey to Keith Hernandez to anybody that can grasp it.

    Sutter is the type of guy only useful to a team for a few years before they get sick of him etc. Look at how Vancouver went form winning division with their coach to a joke… Kings were lucky to beat him with Rangers who had no business making cup but for the parent of St. Louis helping propel them with emotion. They were the easiest team Kings beat in 2014, every Western Team they defeated would have crushed Rangers in 5 or 6. Look at how Ducks picked up like Eaves who gets 30+ goals on like a 1M deal. Great Teams sign players real cheap who have big years, Kings bets signing they stabbed in back Setoguchi right before the team tanked. Gilbert was dumped who was a right handed shot D-man that was dumped. Purcell was buried in minors even when he scored he never saw his time back here. IF he traded for a RW instead of Lucic maybe both of them would still have their jobs… Even if he ditched Greene, let Miller play in NHL they would have been 100% better off.

    Post 2014 Gaborik trade Dean didn’t make 1 more or deal that was good long term or short. Sekera was great on Carolina as a left D, I always liked him… Though I knew that was a bad idea/move unless they planned to keep him as a LD not try to play him as a RD even so it was sketchy. I was more upset when they traded King than firing Dean and Sutter. A few Sutters banked where my mom worked years ago so I don’t hate him even though he is akin to a muppet :). Maybe he is one of those balcony guys always with an attitude or negative slant ;). Vegas will win a Cup before LA ever comes close is the real legacy they left a loaded team that should have 4 cups by now ;).

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