Darryl Sutter ran his first practice on behalf of his new team, the Los Angeles Kings today, and maybe the best news he received all day was that centre Mike Richards was finally available, cleared to practise and likely ready to play again soon after missing most of December with a suspected concussion.
The Kings' spiral down the Western Conference standings coincided with Richards's injury and ultimately cost long-time coach Terry Murray his job four games ago. After John Stevens filled in an interim basis - and will be retained as an assistant, in the short term anyway - Sutter will officially coach his first game Thursday night against the Anaheim Ducks, after almost a five-year absence from the NHL coaching ranks.
However, Sutter suggested Wednesday at a post-practice press conference that in his mind, he hasn't been away at all.
"Every game you watch, you instinctively coach," said Sutter, who was the Calgary Flames' full-time general manager since the end of the 2006-07 season, and hired Jim Playfair, Mike Keenan and then brother Brent to succeed him behind the bench. "It's the hardest thing to do; that (coaching from the press box) was always one of my hardest things to separate out."
Sutter spoke for about 20 minutes and it was his familiar stream-of-consciousness delivery. He would interrupt himself in mid-thought, head off into a different direction and then sometimes, circle back to his original point.
Sutter suggested that following his departure from the Flames organization last year just after Christmas, he always had it mind to coach again, but only if it was the right fit, for him and his family.
His closest ties in the NHL were with the Kings, given that he and general manager Dean Lombardi worked together for half-a-dozen years in San Jose. Sutter did not expect to see the Kings' job open up because he figured they were a quality team ("I didn't expect the Los Angeles Kings to be looking for a head coach, that's for sure - just because of the type of team that they have.") Sutter reiterated that assertion over and over - that the Kings were a good team that ran into a bad patch for a couple of weeks. Nor was he all that stressed that they'd scored two goals or fewer in virtually every game for the past month to slip to 30th place in the NHL in overall goal-scoring.
"This league is a 3-2 league, it's not a 5-2 or a 5-4 league," said Sutter, who said a team could be successful "from being good defenders and not spending as much time in your own zone, but spending more time in the offensive zone and controlling the neutral zones. There's lots of parts to it; it's not just because we haven't scored a lot of goals.
Asked about his coaching philosophy, Sutter said he intended to be "honest and firm" and try to "get the most" out of his players.
"You hear about overachievers and underachievers. Overachieving is just getting the most out of yourself and I think that's something I can help a lot of guys with. There are a lot of young guys that have a lot of growth going forward and for the rest of their careers - and there's a veteran group that we have to push to help our younger players get better."