The Kings stunned the hockey world when they failed to qualify for the playoffs this year, after winning the Stanley Cup just one season earlier. The Kings weren’t done making headlines just yet — General Manager Dean Lombardi went into full-on damage control mode after reports of hostilities between LA Coach Darryl Sutter and the players began to surface in the press. He confirmed that the team had ‘kept’ Sutter from entering the locker room after an away game against the Tampa Bay Lightning:
“Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi on Sunday confirmed an earlier report that his players kept Coach Darryl Sutter out of the dressing room after a game. The New York Post reported that the team locked Sutter out recently and barricaded the door with trash receptacles.
Lombardi met with reporters at the team’s offices in El Segundo for a season-ending session and though he confirmed part of the story, he disputed other elements. It happened, he said, after a game at Tampa Bay on Feb. 7, not in the last two weeks.
Tensions were particularly high on that long trip, which included a trip to the White House. Sutter was also bothered by the presence of an Epix television crew following the team on the Road to the Stadium Series and curtailed access. Lombardi said he was not troubled by what was perceived as a sign of disconnect between the coach and his players.
“No. And here’s why. I could look at it and say that’s when we won eight in a row, so let’s do it more often,” Lombardi said. “In terms of what actually happened, maybe you don’t have to go that extreme.
“Theoretically, I have no problem with it.”
The defending Stanley Cup champion Kings missed the playoffs for the first time since 2009. They are the first team to win a title and miss the playoffs since Carolina did so in 2007.
“The players, essentially, you want in charge of your room,” Lombardi said. “Maybe the way to do it was: ‘We don’t need to hear from you now, we’ve got it.’ Maybe you don’t have to go to that extreme.” [LA Times]
Darryl Sutter took to the press shortly after the story broke to lash out against the NY Post (the paper that originally broke the story)
“And at least externally they said this was the culture that has been created by Sutter. Where players can hold themselves accountable and hash points out with each other. Los Angeles, which has won two of the last three Stanley Cups, became the first defending champ to not qualify for the postseason since 2007.
“We didn’t really have that prior to Darryl quite honestly,” captain Dustin Brown said. “He’s demanding, but in return we become more demanding of each other. There’s disagreements that happen. It’s the nature of being competitive, but it has done it good so far.”
What makes this seem different? It’s the fact that in the report, and this part was confirmed by Lombardi, that trash receptacles barricaded the door of the team’s dressing room. Also, the fact that Lombardi confirmed it, instead of opting to not comment added juice to the story.
Sutter scoffed at it and noted, as a hockey lifer, he’s seen it happen before.
“I did it as a captain, I did it as a coach, I did it as a general manager, and I totally get it. I totally understand that,” he said. “And when you have a group that’s used to being so successful, that’s why they’re so successful.”
Later, Sutter again went for the body punch on the Post, charging that the paper and the reporter who wrote the story didn’t understand what goes on with the Kings or their locker room culture.
And when a reporter mentioned that this ‘hashing things out behind closed doors like a family’ type thing was also was part and parcel of growing up with brothers, Sutter said, “Part-and-parcel of somebody from New York who doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and giving it to somebody else who doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and then it takes somebody who knows what they’re talking about, either a player or a coach to explain to those people so they understand.” [Puck Daddy]
Lombardi’s excuse for this behavior — and Sutter’s out-of-the-blue witch hunt against the Post — are all absurd responses to this very basic example of insubordination. Dustin Brown pulling Sutter aside and saying “Hey, let us hammer this out by ourselves, sit this one out if you don’t mind” would be an appropriate way to practice this players-keeping-themselves-accountable philosophy, not constructing a trashcan barracade to keep him out. How embarrassed do you think Sutter was to have to fetch arena staff to give him access to his own locker room? It’s childish behavior, and the organization shouldn’t have tolerated it when it happened, and certainly shouldn’t be defending it now that it’s become public.
All professional sports organizations have systematic conflicts between coaches and players. It’s inevitable. No one is faulting the Kings for this — athletes have money and egos, and coaches are often fall out of touch and harm the development and success of their teams. The point everyone seems to be missing here is that Sutter is being paid to manage this group, and he’s failed. The players sent a clear message that this locker room does not belong to him. Why shouldn’t we take that on face value? They’ve also demonstrated that when the chips are down and it really matters, they’ll cut their coaching staff completely out of the picture. Lombardi and Sutter are well within their rights to say that the outside world doesn’t understand their locker room — sure, but don’t try to convince us that this is professional or acceptable behavior. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sutter behind a different bench next season, after it’s all said and done. The core has pushed him out, so get rid of the core, or get rid of the coach. I think we all know which option is the easiest.