Happy New Year…and Happy New Darryl Sutter, too!
I guess Sutter…aka Dr. Freddy Venkman…is proving many of his naysayers (like yours truly) wrong early on. Here I thought the Kings were hiring an ol’ timer, whom prosthelytized outdated coaching techniques that only offered more bark than bite. I thought at this time, Sutter would have most of his underachievers on double-unsecret probation, spraying expletives abound, as he would be wont to outwardly grapple with his decision to take over the team last month.
However, he’s been nothing but the contrary to what we thought he would be, (I can hear former NFL coach Dennis Green’s infamous press conference tirade echo inside my hallowed chamber as I write this). He’s got the Kings playing inspired hockey, often getting full-60/65 minute efforts from them. The team has still yet to lose in regulation under his guidance, going 4-0-3 in Sutter’s 7 games thus far. He’s been gentle and kind. Positive and encouraging. He’s offered hands-on, in-game instructions, often putting his arm around a player as he gives them direction, like a proud father pushing his son to do right.
And now he’s going outside-the-box to summon the opinions of former Kings legend and NHL great, Bernie Nicholls, to contribute at the team’s practices to help add…well…whatever the team is lacking offensively at this point. Here’s how Sutter answered L.A. Kings Insider’s Rich Hammond when asked about adding Nicholls as a guest at the team’s practice today and why now.
“He’s a good resource to have, you know? We’re still trying to find our way, to contribute more individually, offensively. I coached him in Chicago and San Jose and I obviously know what he can offer. He’s in town and available, so it’s nice to have that,” said Sutter.
When asked by Hammond as for how long he plans on having Nicholls around, Sutter responded “Yeah, I’d like him to watch a couple games. He knows some of the young guys. He can help them a little bit.’’
Sutter even hinted about getting another former Kings player and assistant coach, Nelson Emerson, involved sometime in the near future. “When he’s (Emerson) available and not on the road, he can help us. It’s good to have.’’
I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised by all this, since Sutter asked Nicholls to assist him in San Jose back when the good doctor was the bench boss at the Shark Tank. However, it never led to a permanent position for Nicholls with the Sharks. This time around, according to Hammond, Nicholls seems to want to leave his options open and might be willing to assume a role as a full-time consultant.
“I love consulting. Coming in and working with these guys, doing whatever it is, I really enjoy that part. Being involved, player-wise and stuff like that, it’s really good,” said Nicholls. “On the blackboard, on the video and stuff, I don’t know if I like that that much. The other guys do a real good job. If I can just be kind of hands-on, player-wise, that way, I like that part.’’
Kings leading scorer and assistant captain Anze Kopitar seemed to take a liking to Nicholls presence today. “It’s a two-way conversation. Obviously he’s trying to give me some pointers, and through those pointers I kind of try to respond and tell him what I see on the ice, if the plays are there or not,” said Kopitar. “If you have a conversation like that with Bernie, or anybody, it always helps and always gives you something to think about and try in a game.’’
Regardless if Nicholls can help out or not, it’s very refreshing to see that Sutter has changed his own game since taking over the coaching duties by using tactics one would think someone who’s younger, perhaps with less experience, would want to utilize. In fact, Sutter previously had called the Kings power play “awesome”, even though the team has been near the bottom of the league in that department all year long, currently ranked 25th with an abysmal 13.9% success rate.
Sutter used that same adjective to describe how it feels to have such highly-regarded former players available at his disposal. “It’s awesome to have those guys that you’re comfortable with and that know the game. Why not? Why not use that resource when you have it? … It’s not about having the blinders on. It’s about using everything you can.’’
One would then wonder what lies in the future for not only Nicholls, but current Kings assistant and power play coach, Jamie Kompon. Still, there’s little reason to suspect that the team would make another bench coach change during mid-season by inviting the replacement to work alongside the current person they have in charge of the man-advantage. That would be slimy, inappropriate and uncharacteristic for upper management to do.
The Kings have long been considered a classy organization around the league. I just don’t see them taking this disrespectful approach if they had thoughts about replacing Kompon with Nicholls. If anything happens to Kompon, you would have to think at this point it would take place after the season is over.
But the Kings need a ton of help on offense and Sutter realizes that adding a well-respected former player to the fray, like the offensively gifted Nicholls, can only add more motivation for the group. “Darryl just wanted me to talk to the guys, individually or just talk to them, encourage them or, if I have any input, give it to them.” said Nicholls. “For the most part, I think they’re playing great. If I can say anything to help them or create something, I’d be more than happy to do that.’’
Speaking of being happy, I’m pleased as punch to admit that I was wrong about Sutter’s hiring thus far, as he seems to have reinvented himself for the better. Let’s hope this new found enthusiasm inside the locker room, on the ice and on the blogosphere continues to last past the honeymoon phase of Sutter’s regime – a period that’s nearing its end, as we enter the new year and the second half of the season.