Earlier this week the Calgary Flames fired head coach Glen Gulutzan along with assistants Dave Cameron and Paul Jerrard. And though they missed the playoffs by 11 points, on paper the Flames still look like a team set up to contend as soon as next season.
Even the dismissed head coach agrees.
“The only real regret for me is that I think it’s a great group, there’s great people here, it’s a great city and now I’m not going to be a part of a team moving forward that I think is going to be a real strong team in the years to come,” Gulutzan told the Calgary Sun. “Their best players are their young players, and I think that’s a good recipe. I think Tre (GM Brad Treliving) has done a heck of a job, to be honest with you, with managing the cap. So I think they’re going to be poised for success for a long time here.”
Each of Calgary’s top five blueliners are signed for at least another two seasons, with 34-year-old captain Mark Giordano locked in for the longest, through 2021-22. Likewise, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are signed for the long-term and Matthew Tkachuk is likely to follow a year from now when he becomes an RFA. The highest-paid Flames players make $6.75 million against the cap, which is great star value compared to some other teams that fancy themselves Cup contenders.
The blue line and goaltending prospect pipelines appear strong, which could even give Treliving some trade options this off-season to upgrade the roster, most notably the need for a scorer on the second forward line.
So whoever replaces Gulutzan will arrive with immediate expectations to win and compete with the league’s best, especially playing out of a Pacific Division that looks wide open for the taking.
There is no shortage of head coaching candidates for the Flames to choose from, but given Gulutzan was a rather under-the-radar hiring with just two years of NHL head coaching experience when he arrived in Alberta, the Flames seem more likely to go with someone who has a longer resume rather than promoting an AHL boss.
“I think having experience in this league is critical,” Treliving said of what he’s looking for in a new head coach. “I think knowing the league is an important aspect, but defining it we haven’t got to yet.
“There’s candidates that have coached in the league…there’s lots of candidates. There’s candidates maybe still working.”
Here are five potential replacements for Gulutzan:
Though Peters is still under contract with the Carolina Hurricanes, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported last month that the coach had an out-clause this off-season. Last Saturday, Friedman followed up that the Hurricanes coach was now free to test the market.
“We mentioned a couple weeks ago that Carolina coach Bill Peters has an option open in his contract to leave,” Friedman explained on Hockey Night in Canada. “That is on right now. There was some belief it was a seven-day option that would’ve closed potentially as soon as today, but I think that’s been extended and he remains to have the ability to look around if he wants to leave the Hurricanes.”
Peters is a native of Three Hills, Alta., and comes from the Mike Babcock school of coaching. Peters served as an assistant under Babcock first with the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs in the ’90s and then on the Detroit Red Wings bench from 2011-14 before leaving to take the Hurricanes job.
All indications are that Peters is less of a “players’ coach” than Gulutzan was, but he preaches puck possession and the Hurricanes had the best CF% at 5-on-5 this season, per Corsica.Hockey. That didn’t translate into a ton of goals — Carolina’s offence was 23rd this season — but working with a Flames roster that, theoretically, has more scoring power and is likely to bounce back from their own shooting percentage woes, could bring positive results.
Peters has just as many years experience as an NHL head coach as Gulutzan without a playoff appearance to date, so the question is if he would be different enough from the coach Calgary just let go of.
When it comes to experience, few will be able to match what the ex-Rangers coach brings to the table.
With 648 career wins in the regular season, Vigneault is tied for 10th with Paul Maurice and Ron Wilson on the all-time list and is 24 wins behind Mike Keenan for ninth. His first NHL head coaching gig was with the Montreal Canadiens in 1997 and since then he’s spent 12 years between Vancouver and the New York Rangers. In 15 full seasons as the head man behind an NHL bench, Vigneault’s teams have missed the playoffs just four times. He’s reached three conference finals, two Stanley Cup finals, but has never won the ultimate prize.
After Vigneault was let go by the Rangers, MSG executive chairman Jim Dolan acknowledged Vigneault was a good coach for a contending team, but maybe not for one going into the kind of rebuild the Rangers are facing.
“I think Alain was a great coach, but a great coach for a developed team,” Dolan told the New York Post. “Even though he probably didn’t mean to, he sort of affirmed that himself when he talked after the last game about how he didn’t have the players this year.
“He was probably correct, but the next coach is going to have to be able to take the players we have, the young guys we have, and get them to the next level. I liked what I saw in the young guys and so did the staff.”
Another option for experience, what Sutter has that no one else on this list does is a Stanley Cup ring as a head coach — and he’s got two of them.
The 14th-winningest coach in NHL history with 634, Sutter got his first head coaching job in the NHL with Chicago in 1992 and most recently was with the Los Angeles Kings, who he always had at the top of the league rankings in puck possession metrics. Sutter, of course, also has history with the Flames, for whom he served as head coach in the last two years before the 2004-05 lockout and the one season following it. He reached one Stanley Cup final with the Flames before the game opened up in 2006.
There’s definitely a connection with the Viking, Alta., native, but is it the right fit? Although Sutter won two Stanley Cups in Los Angeles, his teams missed the playoffs in two of his last three seasons there and were knocked out in just five games in Round 1 by San Jose in his last post-season appearance. While his teams were Corsi gods, they struggled to score goals at the end and leaned on a heavy hockey style that seems to directly translate to success less and less in the NHL today.
Sutter is a throwback coach who can be hard on his players, which the Kings reportedly got tired of. How would that kind of hard-assery go over with this Flames group?
The redder his face gets, the closer Bruce Boudreau’s teams come to elimination.
Boudreau is another coach who comes with plenty of experience, sitting 24th on the all-time wins list accumulated with Washington, Anaheim and Minnesota. The good thing here is that Boudreau’s teams usually don’t struggle to score and, aside from a couple down years in Anaheim, his team’s power plays generally do well. Both of these are areas in which the Flames must improve in 2018-19.
The down side is that Boudreau’s teams always seem to underperform in the playoffs and his record in Game 7s is memorable in how awful it is. Boudreau has never missed the playoffs with a team he coached from beginning to end, but he’s only moved past the second round once. That was with Anaheim in 2015 when, you guessed it, they lost in Game 7 to Chicago.
Boudreau is, of course, still coaching the Minnesota Wild and may never be available to the Flames at all. But as the Wild trail Winnipeg 3-1 in their series, Boudreau’s name is often floated as one on the hot seat. If they’re dismissed from the playoffs in five games for the second straight season, Minnesota management could decide to go in a different direction again.
The 63-year-old looks like a good bet to get the Flames back on track and into the playoffs, but can he get them much further than that?
Like Boudreau, Trotz is still coaching as his Washington Capitals trail the Columbus Bue Jackets 2-1 in a series that has had three OT finishes. Also like Boudreau, Trotz has a horrendous record in Game 7s and his teams often falter in the playoffs.
While most of Trotz’s first years behind an NHL bench were spent building up an expansion Nashville Predators franchise, GM David Poile eventually iced a team good enough to get into the playoffs more often than not, but one that just couldn’t get over the hump. After 15 years with Nashville and seven playoff appearances, the team went in a different direction and Trotz moved to the Capitals, an organization that was supposed to be further along and in a better spot to contend.
But, so far, Trotz hasn’t been able to get his second team past Round 2 either. Regular-season success has been there with three Metropolitan Division titles and two Presidents’ Trophies under Trotz, but in the post-season they are a .500 team. Brian MacLellan was a lame duck GM before inking a contract extension a few weeks ago, but that security wasn’t extended to the coach. Trotz is still without a new deal, which leaves everyone assuming that, if the Caps bow out early again, the coach will be scapegoated.
The same questions about Boudreau’s fit with Calgary could be asked about Trotz: can he do with Calgary what he hasn’t done yet in his career and go on a couple nice, long playoff runs?