EL SEGUNDO, CA — Much has been made of the April 11, 2015 story in the New York Post, which reported that Los Angeles Kings players locked head coach Darryl Sutter out of their dressing room after a road loss “within the last two weeks.”
After their 4-1 win over the San Jose Sharks on April 11, the Kings’ final game of the 2014-15 season, several players flatly denied the claims made in the New York Post story.
But since then, we have learned that the incident did happen, just not the way the New York Post reported it, and evidence suggests that the whole thing is, as renowned English playwright William Shakespeare wrote…
…Much Ado About Nothing.
“It’s factually inaccurate,” Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi told the media during an informal press conference on April 12. “The timing is wrong. It happened in Tampa [last February], not last week.”
Did the players barricade the door with “three heavy waste receptacles,” as described in the New York Post story?
“I don’t know if it got that far,” said Lombardi. “It happened in Tampa. This was just brought to my attention yesterday, in terms of that part, so I guess it’s fair to say there was a little scuffle in Tampa.”
On April 13, after the players finished with end-of-the-season medical exams, forward and captain Dustin Brown totally downplayed the incident.
“It’s really been blown out of proportion, quite honestly,” said Brown. “It wasn’t even that big of a deal when it happened. It was just us being a group of guys going through it together. Sometimes, that’s what you need.”
“Players and coaches are going to disagree from time to time,” added Brown. “I guess if you’re always agreeing, if you’re always saying ‘OK,’ you’re probably not winning.”
Brown indicated that the players’ relationship with Sutter is as strong as it ever was because communication is not a one-way street with him.
“The thing with Darryl is that he pushes us, but he allows us to push back,” Brown emphasized. “I think, ultimately, that’s what creates a winning environment. We didn’t have that here prior to Darryl, quite honestly.”
“He’s demanding, but in turn, we become more demanding of each other,” Brown added. “Again, there’s disagreements that happen. It’s the nature of being competitive. But it’s done us good so far.”
As reported in this space last October, the team culture, which includes the players being in control of their dressing room, not the coaches or management, was a critical factor in their success, and Brown chalked this incident up to the fact that the players do indeed control things in their dressing room.
“I’ve had conversations with Dean, not [specifically] about that [incident], but about us taking control of the room,” said Brown. “Those are conversations I’ve had with him four or five years prior to Darryl being here. Ultimately, you get to that point where the players own the room. That’s ultimately what Dean wants.”
“We’ve had this group here that’s kind of taken control of it,” added Brown. “It’s just part of the process if you’re a competitive, winning team. It’s a two-way street, having that push back.”
Brown noted that firm, but mild dust-ups happen more than one might think.
“I think it happens quite a bit, but again, this locker room thing has been blown completely out of proportion,” he said. “It happens all the time, and it’s not always player-coach. Sometimes, it’s player-player. Again, it comes back to demanding more from each other, and sometimes you don’t necessarily want to hear it, but it’s something that needs to be said.”
“There’s moments on the bench, or in the room after games, when players have it out,” he added. “But at the end of the day, that’s probably healthy because keeping it in means you’re consistently having problems.”
Despite the occasional flare-ups, the team culture is strong enough to keep everyone together and focused.
“We’re pretty good with that,” Brown noted. “We’re open and honest with each other. We can get on each other, but then, go have a beer. It happens a lot, but it happens behind closed doors, and it happens for a reason. It’s not because one guy doesn’t like another. It’s because we’re trying to win.”
“At the end of the day, it’s about the twenty guys in the room.”
Brown’s words are music to Lombardi’s ears.
“I could look at [the incident] and say, ‘that’s when we won eight in a row, so let’s do this more often.’ In terms of what actually happened, maybe [players)] don’t have to go to that extreme, but theoretically I don’t have a problem with it,” said Lombardi. “Here’s the thing, with where this team has to get to. If you look at what a coach’s number-one role is, it’s to give his team structure and detail. The emotion, in terms of getting that emotion to where it needs to be, if we’re going to be a top team it has to come from within the room. With it, at times, the coach, obviously, still has to have some ability [to talk]. So we’re, at times, a part of raising the emotion. Obviously, one of the problems this year was just that, that for whatever reason, we weren’t where we needed to be, mentally.”
“That said, I don’t know if I like the way it happened, but if you look at great teams, the perfect example is [retired New York Yankees shortstop] Derek Jeter. When [former Yankees manager] Joe Torre was ready to blow or something, Jeter would walk in the room and go, ‘whoa, whoa, whoa, I got this one, stay out, and don’t be losing it.’ You see this with top players all the time,” added Lombardi. “The players, essentially, you want [to be] in charge of your room.”
“Maybe the way to do it was, ‘We don’t need to hear from you now. We’ve got it,’ and go out and get it done. Maybe you don’t have to go to that extreme. But the point is, what happened there, that’s what needs to happen. The players need to take over the room emotionally, and if they want to go in there and say, ‘Coach, stay out, I’ve got this one. We know how to win,’ I’ve got no problem with that.”
As he mentioned, Lombardi did indicate that perhaps there was a better way to do it, this time.
“Maybe [you] don’t want to do it with garbage cans,” he said. “But if we’re going to be a top team, your best players have to take over the emotion of your room…there are enough players in that room who have won. The problem you would have had before is credibility. When Jeter tells Torre, ‘I’ve got this one, stay out,’ well, you better listen to that guy. He’s won four championships.”
“There’s guys in there now with two championships,” he added. “They’re qualified to do that now. You might not have said that four years ago: ‘Hey, no, you’re not ready for this.’ But they’re ready for that. They know where they’ve got to be, so the irony is, that’s essentially what you want to happen, your players take over your room and, ‘Stay out, coach. I don’t want to hear from you. We’ve got it. Stay out,’ because they know way more than we [coaches and management] do. You usually get more involved when they don’t know how to win. But they’ve been there, so that’s the way I look at it. In terms of trash cans or whatever, I’m not sure you have to send a message that way, but you look at the top players and they say, ‘We’ve got this one,’ and they go out and get it done. The irony is, it happened and then we went on one of our best streaks.”
As for Darryl Sutter, he also stressed that the incident had no real significance.
“It’s part and parcel of somebody from New York who doesn’t know what they’re talking about, then you give it to somebody else who doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and it takes somebody who knows what they’re talking about, either a player or a coach, to explain to those people so they understand and so they know what they shouldn’t have said,” said Sutter. “I think the guys who follow us every day get a pretty good handle on that.”
“The biggest part of anything, in terms of players having meetings, or coaches and players having meetings is keeping the media out of those meetings,” added Sutter. “If you look at where we were on that trip, that was part of us making a movie for the NHL, and we talked about being a little too open.”
When asked about Brown’s comments regarding players “having it out,” as Brown put it, Sutter indicated that this was important.
“It should happen,” Sutter stressed. “Do you close the door and talk to your family? [Do you talk privately]? Sometimes [it’s] veteran players by themselves, [other times it’s] veteran players with younger players. I did that as a captain, I did that as a coach, I did that as a manager. I totally get it. I totally understand that. We have a group that’s used to being so successful, and that’s why they’re so successful.”
Consider The Source
It should come as no surprise that the New York Post story had more holes in it than a pound of Swiss Cheese. After all, the Post is not a traditional newspaper like the New York Times, Washington Post, or the Los Angeles Times. Rather, it is a tabloid that, like most tabloids, stretches the truth, or worse, creates their own version of it. That appears to be exactly what the New York Post did in this case.
Related Stories On Dean Lombardi, Team Culture
- Dean Lombardi Says “It Ain’t Me.” But How Much Credit Does LA Kings GM Really Deserve For His Team’s Success?
- A Look Back At Dean Lombardi’s Plan To Build The LA Kings Into A Perennial Stanley Cup Contender
- LA Kings: It May Not Be About Dean Lombardi Now, But At One Time, It Was
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