Darryl Sutter should be the Jack Adams favourite, but what he craves is playoff success

Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter leans in to talk to his players during a time-out during third period of NHL hockey action against the Ottawa Senators, in Ottawa on Monday, March 22, 2021. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

Given what Darryl Sutter has done to dramatically transform the Calgary Flames into Stanley Cup contenders, there’s only one choice for the Jack Adams Award this season.

But don’t tell him that. 

“I’m not into that stuff,” grumbled the 63-year-old, quite predictably. “You know me better than that.

“It’s a regular season award. The only regular season award I’d be interested in is the (William) Jennings (for the stingiest goalie tandem). That’s a good one. That’s a team award.”

What Sutter craves is springtime success, something his club is well positioned to chase as the NHL’s hottest club the last seven weeks.

That wouldn’t have been possible without the mid-season hiring of Sutter just over a year ago.

Since then he’s brought structure and accountability, which have resulted in a consistency that has the 36-16-7 Flames five points up on their closest competitor in the Pacific division.  

It’s the same sort of turnaround he previously authored in Calgary in the early 2000’s, followed by a stint in Los Angeles where his formula instantly led the Kings to two Stanley Cups.

Lord Stanley’s is the only hardware he’s ever cared to chase in his coaching career, which includes a 685-498-101 record and three trips to the Final.

Despite being on the cusp of moving into 11th place all-time in coaching wins and games coached, he’s never won the award for the bench boss “as judged to have contributed the most to his team’s success.”

With all due respect to Andrew Brunette in Florida, Gerard Gallant in New York and Bruce Boudreau in Vancouver, none have played a more significant role in their team’s success than Sutter.  

Anyone who has ever seen his press conferences is well aware how he might feel about the opinion of the NHL broadcasters who vote on the award.

“It shouldn’t be a popular vote,” said Sutter, whose brother Brian has won it, as has his hero, Al Arbour, and former coach, Bob Pulford. 

“In the end coaches are judged on games coached, wins, losses, playoff games, playoff wins, Stanley Cups. That’s how they’re judged in a career. That’s how they should be judged in a season too.”

Pausing before breaking into a grin, Sutter asked reporters about the man the award is named after.

“Do you know who Jack Adams was?” asked Sutter.

“He was a miserable old guy. Gordie Howe always talked about Jack Adams.”

A fascinating observation from a man who is, well, set in his ways.

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Adams was a rugged player, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1959 as a player.  He led Detroit to seven Stanley Cup wins over a 36-year coaching/management stint in Detroit where the fiery coach of more than 1,000 NHL games essentially compiled a .500 record.

He was known for refusing to let players get complacent.

“In this business you can’t be satisfied. That’s the bottom line,” said Sutter, who does wonders to help prepare players to focus nightly.  

“I hate losing more than I like winning, and if you don’t think like that you’re always dwelling. If you’re not trying to get better somebody else is, and that means as an individual and as a team.”

The Flames have gone from missing the playoffs as a wildly inconsistent squad, to leading the Pacific division as the NHL’s hottest outfit the last seven weeks.

“The only reason we get talked about is because we’re not supposed to be as good as where we are at,” he smiled. “It goes back to, ‘are you worried about being too high or low?’ None of that should be with our team at all. 

“That just tells you what you have to do every day. Anybody who is comfortable or cozy right now, you won’t last long.”It’s a point he hammers home daily, keeping players on task, in the moment and forced to continue bringing their best, without compromise.

“We were able to establish our foundation in training camp and that first long road trip, so we always have that to fall back on,” said Sutter.

“You can’t fall back on who is going to score or who didn’t score or are we going to trade chances – it doesn’t work that way.“You’ve got to be realistic and I’m very realistic with that. I understand the league and I know teams. I know what it’s going to take and I know how it breaks down analytics and data we need to stay on course with that. If we stay on course with that it will give us a chance to win games.”

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