Occasionally, the game of hockey produces a figure upon whom both so-called “analytics” types and the mainstream media are in 100% agreement. Darryl Sutter is one such figure.
Sutter’s reputation in mainstream hockey circles is rivaled only by a precious few coaches in the National Hockey League. He’s known as a student of the game and a master in the art of motivation. He’s also a member of what might as well be hockey’s royal family.
As a player, Sutter played just over 400 NHL games and had a few productive seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks. As a coach, he led an underdog team all the way to the Stanley Cup Final not once, but twice. Once in 2004, behind the Calgary Flames bench, and again in 2012, after replacing Terry Murray as the Los Angeles’ Kings bench boss midway through the 2011-12 season.
Canucks fans know the end of that story all too well. Sutter went on to coach the Kings into a period of dominance, winning the cup as an eighth seed for the first and only time in NHL history.
A look at the underlying numbers tells us more or less the same story. Sutter took the Kings from a middling possession team to essentially the best corsi team of the past five or so years:
The two Stanley Cups the Kings won with Sutter at the helm speak for themselves. While it’s undeniable Dean Lombardi built a strong team in L.A., those teams were built more on sound defensive structure than they were on elite skill. Since Sutter took over from Murray partway through the 2011-12 season, no team has conceded less shots per sixty minutes at even-strength than the Kings. From a purely shot-share standpoint, Sutter’s Kings have been the second-best team of the modern era behind only the late-2000s Detroit Red Wings.
Some would argue this has come at a price, however. While the Kings have been an absurdly strong shot and scoring-chance suppression team under Sutter, they’ve also been the league’s worst team by even-strength shooting percentage over the past five and a half seasons since Sutter took over in Los Angeles. For someone with a reputation as a defense-first coach, that’s not a great look, but it may very well be more of a reflection on the Kings’ roster than it is on Sutter himself. Even in their heyday, the Kings struggled at times to score goals, and instead of addressing what was clearly their biggest issue at this year’s trade deadline, Kings GM Dean Lombardi acquired goaltender Ben Bishop as a backup for Jonathan Quick.
Where there’s smoke there’s fire, however. Dating back to his days in San Jose, Sutter’s teams have generally been below league-average in goal production, though not significantly so. Again, it’s difficult to know to what degree this has been out of necessity given that he’s never really coached an offensive dynamo. It’s fair to point out that any complaints about offensive production levied at a coach with Sutter’s pedigree seem like nitpicking.
Still, his reputation for stifling offense is likely part of the reason Sutter isn’t really considered to be in the running for the Canucks’ head coaching gig. In fact, he may not be in the running for any gig, as he alluded to in an interview with John Hoven of Mayor’s Manor:
“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.”
Given Sutter’s comments, it seems unlikely that the Canucks will look to Sutter as a possible future Head Coach. While I get the sense that the Canucks would be interested in his services, I don’t imagine the feelings are mutual. He’s simply got nothing left to prove, and unless the Canucks are prepared to lock Sutter up to an absurd amount of money, it’s difficult to see a fit.
It’s a shame, too. For my money, Sutter is likely the best coach on the market by a country mile. If the Canucks were interested in approaching their rebuild in Toronto Maple Leafs-esque fashion, Sutter may very well have been the perfect coach to get locked up early. I just don’t see thing unfolding that way, unfortunately.
I get the sense that the Canucks are looking for some new blood. Sutter is many things, but that he is not.