Sutter proving worth as coach
Head Coach Darryl Sutter of the Los Angeles Kings reacts after the goal of Henrik Sedin #33 of the Vancouver Canucks to take a 3-1 lead during the third period at Staples Center on April 18, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. Harry How/Getty Images/AFP
Willie Mitchell didn't need to call around to get a scouting report on Darryl Sutter.
Mitchell's friends gave him the 4-1-1 without prompting on what life would be like when Sutter took over the Los Angeles Kings' coaching reins in December.
"I got a couple of texts from guys telling me what he was like," Mitchell recalled with a laugh.
He wouldn't divulge the contents, but rest assured the opinions would have been glowing from some players and scathing from others.
However, no matter how anybody feels about Sutter's personality traits or the job he did as GM of the Calgary Flames for seven-and-a-half years, nobody can possibly argue his abilities as a coach.
When Sutter took over the Kings, they were floundering with a 15-14-4 record. Guiding the talented squad to the playoffs was one achievement, but it almost pales in comparison to what the Kings have done to the regular season-champion and Stanley Cup favourite Vancouver Canucks in the opening round of the playoffs.
Sutter, whose biggest moments behind the bench came while coaching the Flames to Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup final, may have had all kinds of great and awful moments as GM, but is obviously in his element behind the bench.
"He's a great coach and the guys in here will say the same thing. With his intensity, it's almost like he still wants to play the game. We feed off that," said Kings forward Colin Fraser, who spent four years playing for Brent Sutter with the WHL's Red Deer Rebels. "He's a simple coach, doesn't complicate things. You just have to go out there play hard and do your best."
Before taking over the Kings, Sutter hadn't been behind a bench since the Flames were ousted by the Anaheim Ducks in the opening round of the 2006 playoffs.
But, he still has his touch as a coach and remains the same old person to deal with.
The sharp wit and sarcastim when dealing with the media remains a calling card. For example, when asked if he had seen the Bridgestone television commercial featuring Kings defenceman Drew Doughty, Sutter remarked "I told him I need tires for my tractor. Hey, it might mean the difference of two or three minutes in a game."
That surliness is front and centre when he believes a bad question has been asked. Likewise, he's often the contrarian and loves to play the "underdog" card.
More importantly, though, he still pushes his players' buttons.
Whenever praise comes toward goalie Jonathan Quick, Sutter will point out the Kings netminder must push to be an elite netminder on a consistent basis. He's pushed Doughty very hard to be a complete, Norris-worthy defenceman.
As to be expected, the top players in his control, such as Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar, aren't immune from his wrath when they're not up to snuff.
"He's a really intense guy, certainly different from Terry Murray," Kopitar said. "He's more fiery, much more intense. It seems like he always wants to be on the ice with us and has fun. It's nice to have a guy like that around you because it rubs off on all the players."
But as much as everyone wants to complain about Sutter being a defence-only coach, the Kings have become a more offensively successful squad since he first took over and implemented an uptempo style that suits the young and talented Kings.
"I think he's allowed our skill players to be more creative with the puck, but still be accountable defensively," Mitchell explained. "It took a while for everyone to adjust, but we've scored more goals since he's come here."
One last thing. Sutter is big on a team's identity, but that's an area he's waiting to see develop in Los Angeles.
"It's younger top players that are still trying to forge their own identities," Sutter said. "You're not trying to change their identities. You're trying to make sure they do it as a group, and you rely on your five or six veterans to guide it.
"You just want to get them to do it all together."
On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak