Sutter's L.A. decision, big ice, and the NHL's shootout sickness

Thursday December 15th, 2011

Darryl Sutter has salvaged struggling teams as a coach, but his firebreathing approach takes a toll. (David E. Klutho/SI)

By Stu Hackel

UPDATED, DEC. 24: It appears that former Flames coach and GM Darryl Sutter has now decided to join the Kings as their new bench boss, according to Rich Hammond, who is the club’s official blogger. All that is preventing Sutter from taking over is immigration issues that are expected to be ironed out early this week, when it will become official. Is this a good hire?

Not according to Eric Francis of The Calgary Sun. Francis notes that when Sutter took over coaching the Sharks in the late '90s under then-GM Dean Lombardi, the team's record improved for five consecutive seasons. Then, when Sutter took over as the Flames' coach, he turned that franchise around as well, "pushing a rag-tag bunch of muckers to within one game of the Stanley Cup Final in 2004."

But Francis adds, "In Calgary, his act as a miserable taskmaster who couldn’t differentiate between winning and being a human being, wore thin with the players who were thrilled he finally booted himself upstairs to be GM.

"The question is, can his ball-breaking, reign-of-terror approach work in today’s NHL?

"Most think it can’t since the players make too much money, wield too much influence and need to be treated with more respect — something Sutter rarely afforded any of the people who worked around him, on or off the ice. What’s more, can a man who has been away from the NHL completely for a year simply jump back in and be effective?

"It’s clearly a desperate act for Lombardi who has already gone through two coaches and is on the hook should his latest hire fail."

Francis allows that people can change. Whether Darryl Sutter can change should he take the Kings job would be the big issue for that team's future.

HEADACHE REMEDY? As a postscript to Wednesday's story on the new spike in NHL concussions, the Wild's Guillaume Latendresse, who missed 15 games with concussion symptoms, is out of the lineup again after just one full game back.

Sidelined since Nov. 10, Latendresse came back on Tuesday against the Jets and scored Minnesota's only goal in a 2-1 loss on a 5-on-3 power play. But he pulled himself out of the game  against Chicago on Wednesday night after the first period.

When talk turns to what can be done to help prevent concussions, one suggestion that is frequently aired is to make the rink bigger, as it is in Europe. But that opinion isn't shared by one veteran hockey figure who has both NHL and European experience.

Sergio Momesso, who played over 700 NHL games and four seasons in Germany, told TSN Radio 990 in Montreal on Thursday morning that he didnt' think expansion of the ice surface was the solution for the kind of hockey that NHL fans are accustomed to seeing.

"I know one thing about the bigger ice surfaces," he said, "you don't play as physical. That's for sure, because there's so much room and you get to avoid checks. And also, the game is not as fast. You would think it would be faster with the bigger ice; it's not. The puck moves quicker here, it has to because the rink is so small. And it's much more physical because there's less room to maneuver."

Incidentally, the first-place overall Wild are suddenly getting slammed with injuries. Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who has missed extensive time during his career due to concussions, was slammed into the boards in Winnipeg by Zach Bogosian on this play that got the Jets defenseman nailed with a major and a game misconduct for boarding.

Bouchard's nose was broken and he cut his mouth. He didn't play against the Blackhawks. Captain Mikko Koivu also suffered a leg injury in that game and Devin Setoguchi is also out with a knee injury.

SHOOTOUT SHENANIGANS: Patrick Kane wowed with this postgame skills competition maneuver in Minnesota on Wednesday night:

No one doubts that Kane is an exceptional world-class talent and deserves every compliment he receives and more for his amazing skill. But as we've said many times before, this gimmick isn't how a hockey game should be decided.

What Kane did is something players do in practice, not during a game. The original concept behind the penalty shot, the origin of the shootout, was to replicate a scoring chance lost due to a foul on the shooting player, not to create a carnival stunt. What currently happens in a shootout attempt like Kane's is unlike anything that happens in regulation or overtime action. Kane couldn't have done that during a game; he wouldn't have the time to slow down and make his 15 dizzying moves without being caught. So why decide the game with something that isn't ordinarily in the game?

The answer now is the same it's always been: It's a crowd pleaser. No one will dispute that. But it's still bogus.

We rarely draw parallels between what happens in the NHL and other sports, but this one is valid: MLB wouldn't stop a tied ballgame for a home run derby, the NBA wouldn't decide an outcome with a free-throw shooting contest, and the NFL wouldn't settle a tie with a field goal competition.

We've got no illusions. The NHL most likely won't abandon this farce. Even though the GMs have had serious thoughts on different approaches -- most recently a 3-on-3 OT session after the 4-on-4, which would be more crowd-pleasing and satisfying from a competitive standpoint than the shootout -- Gary Bettman, who championed the shootout, would have to get behind it. Would he? I wouldn't bet on it.

But let's take the advice of HBO 24/7 breakout-star-in-the making Ilya Bryzgalov, ponder the larger universe a bit and not worry about it too much.

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