Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter has become a bit of a folk hero in recent years thanks to his combination of on-ice success and media scrum deadpan, but apparently his players weren't too jazzed about his act in February.
In a story brought to light by the New York Post's Larry Brooks and confirmed by Kings GM Dean Lombardi, the Kings locked Sutter out of the dressing room in Tampa Bay in February, hoping to prevent the coach from ranting at them.
Lombardi, who could not confirm Brooks' detail that the players barricaded the door with garbage bins as well, tried to put a positive spin on the incident in speaking with Orange County Register reporter Rich Hammond:
"I could look at it and say, `That’s when we won eight in a row, so let’s do this more often.’ In terms of what actually happened, maybe (players) don’t have to go to that extreme, but theoretically I don’t have a problem with it."
Lombardi, who built the Kings into a two-time Stanley Cup champion outfit, went on to say that the coach's job is to provide structure and detail. Emotion, according to him, should come from within the room.
Well, there were certainly emotions involved in that incident, but I'm not sure they were positive ones (and in fairness to Lombardi, he also voiced concern over the scene). Sure, maybe this becomes water under the bridge once the players come back from an unusually long summer for them in Los Angeles, but these aren't the Original Six days in the NHL when coaches were practically gods in snappy hats.
Just look at what happened to Paul MacLean in Ottawa: he went from Jack Adams winner in 2013 to fired in 2014. According to Sens GM Bryan Murray, the players had felt MacLean has become too hardline after his trophy win and that they wanted the "old Paul" back. But he wasn't coming back and Murray had to drop the axe in what is looking like a master stroke: replacement Dave Cameron managed to steer Ottawa back on path and the Senators dashed their way into an almost inconceivable playoff berth.
Now, Sutter has something MacLean did not: two Cup rings as bench boss of his boys. But I'm sure he also recognizes the oft-cited quip that you can't fire all the players these days, so the coach often takes the fall. Were there mitigating factors in the Kings' fall this season? It appears so, yes. Slava Voynov's criminal proceedings had an effect both on and off the ice and since Los Angeles tended to sneak into the playoffs even when the team would go on to win it all, the margin of error finally caught up to the Kings.
Dating way back to the All-Star Game in Columbus, franchise stalwarts such as Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar admitted to me that the team just wasn't showing up as a full unit every night and they struggled in the wins column as a result.
So what happens from here? I would imagine it's up to Sutter. There are clearly some wounds to be tended to in Los Angeles and I don't think it's even a matter of the players being too sensitive, but more so Sutter knowing the temperature of the room better.
Just as players are constantly striving to be better, coaches should work on their games as well. Sutter is a winner and his family has never been associated with slacking off, so this shouldn't be a problem. But being locked out of your own room must have been some wake-up call.
Update: The Kings have a story up that says the incident happened in Tampa after previous road losses in other cities. The Kings beat the Lightning that game, so it is unlikely the "scuffle" happened post-game, but that fact is still unclear.