'Not an easy decision'
Slumping Sharks sack Sutter, assistant coachesPosted: Sunday December 01, 2002 7:22 PM
Updated: Sunday December 01, 2002 10:43 PM
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- The San Jose Sharks fired coach Darryl Sutter and assistants Lorne Molleken and Rich Preston on Sunday in a dramatic shakeup of the slumping team.
Doug Wilson, the Sharks' director of pro development, and scout Cap Raeder will run the team until a new head coach is hired. Raeder will be the nominal head coach, though general manager Dean Lombardi doesn't expect his search to last more than a few days.
The Sharks are off to a terrible 8-12-2-2 start, putting them 13th in the Western Conference and last in the Pacific Division, which they won last season before losing the conference semifinals in seven games to Colorado.
Lombardi agonized over the decision before firing Sutter, a friend and a respected coach who had led the Sharks to five consecutive seasons of improved point totals while helping to transform them from a laughingstock into a Stanley Cup contender.
"It's not an easy decision to make when you've had a track record with a person for a long period of time," said Lombardi, who hired Sutter in 1997 to give some respectability to the Sharks. "I don't think you can sum it up as any one thing. That's why these decisions are never easy."
Among current NHL coaches, only Carolina's Paul Maurice, Ottawa's Jacques Martin and St. Louis' Joel Quenneville have been with their clubs longer. Sutter, the fifth coach in Sharks history, is the team's career leader in wins, winning percentage and games coached.
San Jose became a consistent winner in Sutter's tenure, but he couldn't do much this season with an underachieving club that's been one of the NHL's most surprising disappointments.
Following Saturday night's 3-2 home loss to Phoenix, Sutter ran the Sharks' practice on Sunday morning before he was fired in a brief meeting with Lombardi.
"Neither of us said very much," Lombardi said. "I think in something like this, it's got to hurt. Hopefully we can talk later. He's going to go through a lot of spectrums of emotion."
The Sharks' next game is Tuesday night in Phoenix, followed by a four-game homestand. Lombardi plans to meet with the players on Monday morning.
San Jose got off to a slow start while goalie Evgeni Nabokov and defenseman Brad Stuart held out, but their returns haven't helped the Sharks' poor play on both ends. The Sharks have struggled to score, and they've allowed more goals than any Western Conference team except Phoenix.
"When we brought Darryl in, he did what we asked him to do," team president and owner Greg Jamison said. "Unfortunately, we determined that a change was necessary. There is still a lot of hockey to be played this season."
The Sharks retained goaltending coach Warren Strelow.
Sutter finished with a 192-182-60 mark and five straight playoff appearances since taking over in 1997 -- but even while Sutter helped the Sharks become a contender, some wondered if he was the right type of coach for a young, speedy team with plenty of offensive talent.
Sutter stresses a disciplined, two-way brand of hockey that didn't make much use of star goal-scorer Teemu Selanne last season, and most of the Sharks' younger players have taken several years to develop into contributors under Sutter's veteran-oriented lead. In particular, Sutter's constant criticism of defenseman Jeff Jillson this season might have eroded the second-year pro's confidence.
Sutter's flinty demeanor also made him a fairly unapproachable leadership figure, though most of his players praised his attention to detail and his fairness.
"In this day and age, going five or six years is an accomplishment," Lombardi said. "I hate to say it, but it is. I don't know if you can look at personality when I see an industry where this is almost the standard."
Sutter coached the Chicago Blackhawks for three seasons from
1992-95 and reached the playoffs each year. He also never missed
the postseason during his eight seasons as an NHL player with the