Minutes after Thursday’s post-game press release announced Darryl Sutter was returning to coach the Calgary Flames, a front office source succinctly summed up the rationale.
“This group needs a wake-up,” he said.
Not many GMs get to go through four coaches in less than seven years. Then again, not many GMs have overseen a group of players as temperamental as these Flames.
Just a few days after Milan Lucic made an emphatic case for not blaming coach Geoff Ward for the team’s latest woes, Brad Treliving relieved him of his duties.
He did so less than an hour after the Flames pieced together a 7-3 win over Ottawa that married execution with work ethic and accountability.
Those last two traits have been absent for an alarming number of Flames games this year, opening the door for a man whose career has revolved around both. As a player, coach and GM, Darryl Sutter has seen hard work and accountability as the backbone of his success in hockey.
The man who guided Calgary to within two goals of a Stanley Cup in 2004, is back. Boy, is this group in for a rude awakening.
He’s not just a stopgap measure, as Sportsnet has confirmed he’s here on a three-year deal.
An ownership group that has long been hesitant to spend big money on a coach will do exactly that in a year in which losses are already expected to be in excess of $60 million.
After all, Sutter doesn’t come cheap. What he comes with is a no-B.S. approach that will quickly help management determine which players are the problem here.
For years, Treliving has been trying to find different ways for coaches to tap into the potential of this team. He fired Bob Hartley in 2016 for being too hard on a room that had tuned the coach out. He then fired Glen Gulutzan for being too chummy with the lads.
Bill Peters took more of a hard line with the players, but his act was wearing thin before Akim Aliu stepped forward with racism allegations that ended his time in Calgary. Ward stepped in and preached an open-door policy with players, soliciting input from them as he made decisions on everything from lines to days off.
It worked at first, turning around what looked like a lost season last year, before getting even more buy-in from the team in the bubble.
Alas, this year has been a disaster, as the team has become the NHL’s most unpredictable bunch, based largely around a suspect work ethic.
Given the respect he gave players and the approach he took with them, Ward deserved better from the players. Despite compiling a 35-26-5 record, Ward has been in the crosshairs of most Flames fans who blame him for the wild inconsistency of this group. They have been beating the drum for weeks to have a proven coach like Bruce Boudreau or Gerard Gallant come in.
Few considered the possibility of a Sutter return, even though his familiarity with the city and organization makes him a logical candidate.
The idea is that the team’s uneven approach ends now with Sutter, the club’s 18th head coach, considering he’s coached here before. Owner of a winning record in 15 of 18 seasons behind the bench, the two-time Stanley Cup winner in L.A. took the Flames to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final his first full year in Cowtown.
Is this team capable of a similar turnaround? Well, for starters, it’s more talented than the group Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff carried on their backs.
Now the 62-year-old is heading back into town from his farm in Viking, where he told Sportsnet several years ago he was finished with coaching and had no intention of returning. He said last year his role as an advisor with Anaheim suited him fine.
And then, as Treliving searched for someone he could count on fixing what ails his team, he reached out to Sutter.
It would have been an easy sell with ownership, who were forever grateful for Sutter’s ability to transform and revitalize a sinking franchise first as a coach, then as GM from 2002 to 2010.
The 17th-winningest coach in NHL lore is here because his demands on players are non-negotiable.
Players who’ve played for Sutter have forever said they didn’t particularly enjoy their time under him, but understood he generally got the best out of teams. Sutter’s approach certainly softened ever so slightly when he left Calgary and joined the Kings. But the reason you bring him in is obvious.
He will change the culture in Calgary, where being tight-knit hasn’t necessarily served the lads well. And it won’t take long for the players to understand that.
A press conference via Zoom at 11 a.m. MT Friday will spell it all out.
Loud and clear.