NASHVILLE - As entertaining as the Calgary Flames have been this season, the real show starts roughly 10 minutes after the final horn.
That’s when The Darryl Sutter Show hits the airwaves.
While often not a long program, his post-game quips, pot-shots, put-downs and observations have been known to steal the spotlight from the game, creating a life of their own on social media.
It’s the perfect venue for the NHL’s most unique coach to send messages to players, management, media, the opposition and occasionally the medical staff, with a dry, told-you-so delivery that has everyone guessing – and occasionally giggling - from night to night.
It's must-see TV for Flames fans.
Local media-types have long ago shrugged off being pawns and pinatas in Sutter’s gab game, as the insights - and insults - he offers up often make for good copy.
Albertans haven’t looked forward to pressers this much since Deena Hinshaw’s daily pandemic updates.
“We used to race to get undressed in Los Angeles and get into the players’ lounge, sit on the couch and flick on the TV because you never knew what was going to come out of him,” said retired defenceman Robyn Regehr, who played for Sutter in Calgary and L.A.
“His facial expressions are the best. Heaven forbid a reporter who he didn’t like asked a bad question, then it got really entertaining. I loved them. Still do.”
Although unpredictability is key to his desire to keep his players off-balance, a pattern has clearly emerged this season that generally sees the Jolly Rancher hardest on his squad following wins.
Even harder when a player dares to enjoy some individual success.
Still, given his penchant for dispensing hints of encouragement following losses, Calgary scribes have generally agreed the first question after every outing should be a simple: “what were your thoughts.”
Predicting his path from there is pure folly, making it a ratings bonanza in a world where live-streaming and Twitter get his one-liners out immediately.
Those in attendance who’ve stopped being offended or frustrated by his dismissive, short, calculated responses know there’s plenty to learn from a man who has been one of game’s most impactful coaches for over 30 years now.
A master manipulator, he uses his post and pre-game pulpit like a conductor uses his wand.
The game isn’t complete until he puts a punctuation mark on it with his spin.
And he knows it, playing the media like a fiddle with his pointed critiques and messaging delivered in folksy farmer-speak.
“I could have done it in five minutes,” said Sutter earlier this year over frustrations at the prolonged period of time it took to stitch up Erik Gudbranson’s severed tongue.
“I sew horses and cows in ten minutes.”
He slaughters others in less time than that, including the media who are often in his crosshairs.
Viewers and listeners love that.
“People literally cannot get enough of Darryl at any point,” said radio broadcast host Pat Steinberg from Sportsnet 960 The Fan, who runs the coach’s comments in their entirety after every game.
“Postgame, we start getting texts immediately as to when he’s coming on, especially if it’s a tough loss or something weird happened in the game. Listeners love hearing him on off days. And I get it. You learn something when he talks, he’s funny, and a lot of the time he says a lot without using a ton of words.”
Count upper management as some of the very few who don’t savor the frankness and unpredictability of Sutter's availabilities, as they are not immune from jabs over what the low-talking coach sees as shortfalls in how things were run in the past.
He insists he is not as disinterested in the exercise as he appears.
“Ya, it’s not that,” said Sutter, 63, when asked if he found pressers to be a painful part of the gig.
“In Calgary we’re in a hockey market, so I think our biggest responsibility is to give our fans the best information you can. Doesn’t matter if it’s your opinion or their opinion, our job is to give the best message you can, instead of opinions."
“But the other thing that is really important is I protect the players. When you’re in other markets you get somebody asking you questions that has never watched the game.”
Another dig at the media.
He can’t help himself.
On The Sutter Show there are no segues, just a matter-of-fact dissemination of information from a coach who has always insisted on giving his version of the straight goods.
Although the stone-faced farmer hasn’t played in 35 years, he’s still the league leader in deflections, often cutting off questions so he can move things in a different direction.
“There’s a method to what he’s doing,” said Regehr.
“I remember we played Anaheim in the playoffs one year and John Gibson was a good goalie who played really well the first couple games. Someone asked Darryl about him and he said. ‘he’s the best I’ve ever seen,’ with a straight face, to play a little mind game with that. He knows the players will see that and start believing a little too much in the hype.”
Indeed, everything is calculated, like the time he responded to a question about Johnny Gaudreau’s 500th game by saying, “Hopefully he has more energy than his 499th.”
Not surprisingly, he did.
“Darryl is really good at challenging players,” said Regehr.
“Sometimes it’s a direct challenge in the dressing room to their face, but other times it’s an indirect challenge and he will use the media. It’s just another tool in the tool kit for him to press buttons with. I think he’s definitely honed that skill over time.”
When he reacted to a heated exchange between teammates in practice with: “We need some of them guys that are pillow fighting to do a little bit of that,” you can bet several players wondered if he was talking about them.
“I think he likes to keep people guessing, for sure,” said Regehr.
“He doesn’t like people around him to be comfortable. He equates being comfortable to complacency.”
Sutter said his decision to send assistant coaches in his stead after some games has nothing to do with frustration or message-sending, but insists he believes it’s part of their learning.
“It keeps them sharp,” said Sutter.
“It used to be a league rule of 20 minutes with the coach, or something like that, and I’d always get in s--- for it. So I said, ‘Bob Berry, Paul Baxter, Rico (Rich Preston) – you guys go do it."
"What’s the point in it if I’m just going to say, ‘yes or no?’ After the game I’d rather just get it done. Any time else I’d rather give them everything I can.”
With both barrels.
After clinching the division last week, he did his best to remind players, as always, they’ve accomplished nothing just yet.
“I’ve won lots of em,” he said, before pointing skyward.
“It goes up there and you get nothing for it.”
Asked about stopping a practice several times to correct players, Sutter had a simple explanation.
“It’s like teaching kids how to drive. You want it done right, or else you’re just gonna wreck the car.”
Then there was the line that went league-wide when he suggested, “If you are a wild card team I sure as hell don’t want to play Colorado in the first round, because it’s going to be a waste of eight days.”
Even when his pressers last under two minutes, and he isn’t in the taking mood, it’s never a waste to tune in.
You never know when The Sutter Show will have the coach trending again.