Obvious where Flames’ off-season changes will likely start

Eric Francis joins Hockey Central at Noon to discuss what derailed the Calgary Flames late in the season.

It’s pretty obvious in Calgary where the long list of off-season changes are likely to start.

When a team underachieves to the degree the Flames have, the fall guy almost always ends up being the coach.

Given the face-plant that has seen the Flames tumble out of the playoff race with three wins in their last 12 games, it’s unlikely Glen Gulutzan is going to be around for his third season behind Calgary’s bench.

For an organization that should clearly be on the upswing, the fact that the team is in the midst of taking a giant step backwards is a troubling development nobody could have seen coming two months ago.

Mike Smith’s all-world goaltending in the first half masked many of the Flames deficiencies, and with Smith’s struggles and injury after the all-star break the team has been exposed as one in need of a major cultural shift.

Gulutzan himself identified four months back that the Flames had to overcome a "fear of failure" that has seen them falter all year long when the games matter most.

It happened in all four games of their playoff sweep against Anaheim last year and repeatedly down this year’s stretch drive where the team has lost its last four "must-wins" by a combined 14 goals.


Sitting in a playoff spot less than a month ago, the Flames woke up Friday in 11th place in the West and nine points out (they’d lose all playoff tiebreakers) of a playoff spot.

They’re now just nine points up on the Oilers, with whom they share a similar minus-22 goal differential.

A player-friendly coach who came in as the anti-Bob Hartley, Gulutzan’s ousting wouldn’t sit well with most of the players who genuinely like him.

Too bad, as they were the ones who may very well have played their coach out of a job.

This is on them.

"I think he’s an easy guy to approach as a player," said captain Mark Giordano, when asked to describe Gulutzan’s style.

"He’s a really forward thinker in the mental side of the game. He’s really aware. He always seems to have a good read on the room and the feel of the room and what we need.

"He just helps you as a player to get that mental edge.

I still think as a team and as a league we have a long way to go, but Gully is really advanced in that. I really enjoy it."

Is he too friendly with the lads?

"No. There’s none of that," said Giordano.

"Sometimes there’s that misconception. He holds guys accountable. We have a lot of video and you’ve seen a few times this year he hasn’t been too happy out there with us. That starts with him but then it’s on us to hold one another accountable."

They haven’t done a very good job of that of late, as the club’s focus offensively has strayed, saying nothing of the massive defensive lapses costing them games.

One of the biggest indictments of the current coaching staff is the team’s pop-gun power play, which sits 27th in the NHL at 16.9 per cent.

Given the weapons at his disposal, assistant coach Dave Cameron should have been able to get more out of a group that was 15th the year before.

It took Cameron and Gulutzan far too long to figure out Matthew Tkachuk needed more ice time and was the perfect fit on the top power-play unit.

The coach also shoulders some of the blame for the team’s horrific home record – the league’s third worst at 15-18-4 – as he has more control of matchups and should be able to dictate more than when on the road. They’ve won just three of their last 14 at the Dome.

One of the many troubling stats illustrating the Flames’ fragility shows a stunning 22 times this year the opposition scored twice in a two-minute span.

When it rained it too often poured on a team that was unable to muster up the fortitude to recover from a bad break, a bad goal or a bad penalty down the stretch.

Especially of late, the Flames would often be outshooting and out-chancing an opponent for long stretches before a goal against saw the tide turn too quickly.

Some suggest Gulutzan should have used timeouts more often to calm the troops down, which is easier said than done in a league in which a timeout is saved to challenge a goal potentially scored on an offside.

In a league in which every team strives for consistency, the Flames were anything but, spending the last two years on wild swings in momentum, piecing together good and bad streaks.

A classy man who is great with the media, well-liked around the league and a real pro, Gulutzan just hasn’t been able to get out of this club what is needed moving forward.

If he is kept on for the third and final year of his deal, you can bet he’ll have a short leash next fall.

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If he isn’t here, brace for a long list of rumoured candidates like Dave Tippett, Willie Desjardins and even Darryl Sutter to be looked at by GM Brad Treliving.

Several other teams may also be considering a coaching change, potentially making Joel Quenneville, Alberta native Bill Peters, Alain Vigneault or Todd McLellan available.

Treliving inherited Hartley and, two years later, made Gulutzan his first coaching hire.

This is, no doubt, a tough decision for Treliving, as his working relationship with Gulutzan, by several accounts, is solid, and the coach represents the city and the team well.

A good man, a solid coach and an impressive stick-tosser, Gulutzan just doesn’t seem to be the fit this team needs right now.

At least he hasn’t been thus far.

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