SAN JOSE, Calif. - Darryl Sutter coached the San Jose Sharks to the best seasons in franchise history. When the Sharks stumbled out of the gate this fall, Sutter's five seasons of hard work weren't enough to save his job.
The Sharks fired Sutter and assistants Lorne Molleken and Rich Preston on Sunday in a dramatic shakeup of the struggling team. Pro scout Cap Raeder and team executive Doug Wilson will run the Sharks until a new head coach is hired - likely within a few days, general manager Dean Lombardi said.
Among current NHL coaches, only Carolina's Paul Maurice, Ottawa's Jacques Martin and St. Louis' Joel Quenneville have been with their clubs longer than Sutter. He's the team's career leader in wins, winning percentage and games coached - but his profession is governed on results, and San Jose's results have been terrible this season.
"There's no doubt that we have to look at everything, and it starts with myself," Lombardi said. "We all have to share responsibility. ... It's not an easy decision to make when you've had a track record with a person for a long period of time.
"I don't think you can sum it up as any one thing. That's why these decisions are never easy."
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 biggest disappointments.
The Sharks are 8-12-2-2, 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.
Following Saturday night's 3-2 home loss to Phoenix, Sutter ran the Sharks' practice 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.
San Jose got off to a slow start while goalie Evgeni Nabokov and defenseman Brad Stuart held out, but their returns haven't helped improve the team's 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 goalie coach Warren Strelow, who works with the team's minor league goalies and mentors Nabokov extensively.
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 Blackhawks.