After last night's debacle, the only way this season could get any worse for the Los Angeles Kings is if three of the four teams trailing them in the West move ahead of them in the standings. Both Edmonton and Colorado sit just one point behind the Kings whereas Anaheim and Columbus still have some catching up to do.


I say only three of the four teams because if all four teams in the West catch and overtake Los Angeles in the standings then at least the Kings have a great shot at the first-overall pick in the draft in June. But is that really much consolation? After all, at this point in their rebuilding phase, drafting high is, for all intents and purposes, passe. Besides, unlike most years, there is no clear-cut #1 although, in fairness, it is still only December.


Back to the present, though. Despite a strong start to the season, the Kings have fallen on hard times. This is a case of no one person deserving the blame, although the axe did fall on head coach Terry Murray, who looked as if he lost control of his team and, by watching him behind the bench, it just seemed as if he lost interest, like many of his players.


Since John Stevens took over as the interim, things haven't improved. The Kings did pick up a win on Thursday night but, with all due respect to their opponent, Columbus is the worst team in the league. Also, the Kings had nothing going through the first forty minutes as they were able to score two quick third-period goals.


John Stevens' stint as head coach, however, will come to an end this week as the team has signed Darryl Sutter to be their next head coach as he expects to make his debut this coming Thursday when his new team hosts Anaheim.


At this point, all Kings fans can do is hold onto hope that their new coach will make a difference, even if it's for just for the short-term. Sutter's track record isn't much better than Terry Murray's but no one can deny how each of his teams have improved once he took over the reins behind the bench.


When Sutter was hired by the Chicago Blackhawks as their next head coach following the 1991-92, he had big shoes to fill as the recently-departed Mike Keenan had guided the team to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1973. Nevertheless, Sutter guided the Hawks to first in the Norris Division in 1992-93 with 106 points, 19 better than the previous season. Also, even though, they scored six fewer goals in Sutter's first year than they did the previous season, Chicago's 230 goals in '92-'93 was a league-best.


After his time in Chicago wrapped up, Sutter was then hired by the San Jose Sharks for the 1997-98 season. Sutter was taking over a team that had missed the playoffs the previous two seasons. In Sutter's first year, the Sharks went from 7th in the Pacific to 4th and made the playoffs. Their 78 points was a 16-point improvement from the previous season and they allowed 62 fewer goals, as well. Although the Sharks couldn't get past the second round of the playoffs under Sutter, they did improve in each of his first five seasons, including their first division win in franchise history in 2001-02.


In Calgary, as he took over during the 2002-03 season, the Flames failed to make the playoffs for the first time for the 7th straight season. The next season, however, was a fresh new beginning as Sutter guided Calgary to a 94-point season (19 better than the previous year) and not only did he help them win their first playoff round since winning the Cup in 1989 but he guided them all the way to Stanley Cup Final where they fell one game short, losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning.


As far as wondering how he'll manage in the long-term picture of the Los Angeles Kings, many aren't so optimistic. However, both the Sharks and Flames have become much better teams after Sutter coached them. Whether that's directly related to Sutter or not is unclear but at least it's something to think about.


Right now, all the Kings and their fans have to hold onto is hope because with everything else going wrong, what is there to turn to?


Darryl Sutter will arrive in Los Angeles with a huge mess on his hands and it will be up to him to right the ship this season and even next season. I certainly hope GM Dean Lombardi knows what he's doing because if Sutter's presence won't make a difference, then the only job Lombardi is going to have to worry about is his own.




Photo: Courtesy of Leah Hennel, Calgary Herald