If not Darryl, then who?

2009 NHL Entry Draft, Rounds 2-7

Some want Calgary Flames General Manager Darryl Sutter to be sent packing after a disappointing season. Some believe it would be too hasty to make a change, and at least another year is appropriate. And some are still rocking the "In Sutter We Trust" T-shirts.

This piece isn’t here to debate any one side… but what if the Flames did decide to go in a new direction? Just who is the right choice to step in as Darryl’s replacement? And who are the candidates?

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To set the table, the GM position seems to be going in a similar direction as the Head Coach position. A lot of NHL teams are fine with hiring fresh, young guys for the bench boss position. From Joe Sacco and Todd Richards to Bruce Boudreau, Cory Clouston and Dan Bylsma, it’s all about new blood in the coaching ranks.

One look at the Northwest Division, and the same conclusion could be made at General Manager. Every team currently boasts a first-time GM, although Calgary’s Sutter is probably not thought as such with his tenure. However, Vancouver’s Mike Gillis, Steve Tambellini in Edmonton, Colorado’s Greg Sherman and Minnesota’s Chuck Fletcher are all finishing either their first or second year at the helm.

With that being said, here’s who I can think of in the event a change was made. This has been compiled from suggestions and scuttlebutt from emailers, phone calls and just straight up media speculation.

Brent Sutter – Hey, they’ve gone the coach-GM route before. Brent has been in a player evaluation role before, with the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels and coaching Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships. It would be quite the leap for Brent, who just finished his third year at the NHL coaching level. He hasn’t stopped being involved with the Rebels, so his knowledge of the junior ranks is still there.

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Jim Nill – The current Assistant General Manager in Detroit has been thrown around as a potential replacement for numerous different positions, including the one here. Why not? He’s been a huge part of the development system of the Red Wings since joining the team in 1994, and continues to work very closely with their AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids. His knowledge of North American and European prospects is very strong, and the number of Detroit drafted and developed players on their team right now is fairly good proof. He’s paid his dues in scouting and in the assistant role, and seems more than qualified for any GM job.

Steve Yzerman – There was a rumour (and I stress RUMOUR) that Yzerman was linked to the Flames job. It was total unsubstantiated speculation and kind of took on a life of its own from there. But it’s an interesting name to throw out there regardless. Yzerman currently serves as Detroit’s Vice President and Alternate Governor, and many believe he’s being groomed to take over for Ken Holland whenever the incumbent GM decides to step down. Yzerman just finished fronting Team Canada’s Olympic selection in Vancouver, and we all remember how that turned out.

Jay Feaster – This one kind of comes out of left field, but why not? The former Tampa Bay Lightning GM resigned in July of 2008 and has seemingly removed himself from the hockey world, at least in an affiliated sense. Feaster is currently blogging with The Hockey News, so it’s not as if he’s not up with what’s going on. I always liked the way he went about business, though.

Who knows if any change will be made at the GM position for Calgary, and if there is, none of these candidates may even be accurate. But I thought I’d throw them out there as the discussion rages on.

  • RCN

    I have a feeling that your Feaster suggestion may take some heat. There’s been some very negative articles out there toward Feaster (from Kent and/or Jonathan Willis, I forget)…

    Four other’s I’d like considered (likely ahead of the four you’ve mentioned):

    1. Ron Hextall (VP/Assistant GM, LA Kings) – Hextall is in his fourth season with the Kings as Vice President/Assistant General Manager. He also serves as General Manager of the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, the Kings’ primary affiliate.
    Hextall, 45 (5/3/64), assists President/General Manager Dean Lombardi in all facets of the Kings Hockey Operations department, including contract negotiations and player personnel, and overseeing the organization’s top prospects.

    2. Paul Fenton (VP/Assistant GM, Nashville Predators) – Fenton is now in his 12th season with the Predators and his fourth as assistant general manager. After serving as the director of player personnel for the Predators’ first eight seasons, Fenton was promoted to assistant general manager on June 5, 2006.

    Fenton oversees the Predators’ amateur player development, manages the team’s professional and amateur scouting staff and advises General Manager David Poile on all player trades and signings. He has been in charge of all player acquisitions since joining the Predators and has managed the club’s Entry Draft efforts since 2003. Fenton also serves as general manager of the Predators’ primary developmental affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League.
    3. David McNab (Senior VP of Hockey Operations, Anaheim Ducks) – An original member of the Ducks, McNab was promoted to Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations for the club on Nov. 18, 2008. He is now in his 32nd year in the NHL and 17th with Anaheim. McNab previously served as Anaheim’s Assistant General Manager for 14 seasons. His duties include overseeing all aspects of player development, having an expertise on the new Collective Bargaining Agreement and its relationship to the salary cap in the NHL, contract and arbitration negotiation, player evaluation and scouting.
    4. Dave Nonis (Senior VP of Hockey Operations, Toronto Maple Leafs) – Nonis was named the Toronto Maple Leafs’ senior vice president of hockey operations on December 6, 2008. Nonis, 42, most recently was the Anaheim Ducks’ senior advisor of hockey operations and held that position since June 20, 2008. For the past four years he was senior vice president and general manager of the Vancouver Canucks. He joined the Canucks in 1998 as senior vice president, director of hockey operations after serving four seasons as the National Hockey League’s manager of hockey operations. With the NHL, Nonis helped craft the 1994 Collective Bargaining Agreement and worked with the league’s arbitration team, assisting clubs in preparing for arbitration, researching salaries and interpreting contract language.

    … and perhaps maybe Doug Wilson 😉

    **All quotes taken from each NHL team’s website**

    • Again…this is just a list of the guys people have brought up on the phone lines and on email. I like Feaster as a guy…or at least liked how he conducted himself, that might cloud my judgement. But he’s been brought up numerous times by people.

      The other 3 have gotten much more in terms of speculation. I’m not a Nonis fan myself, but I really like the Hextall suggestion.

        • That is a great thing to have on your resume.

          You did say you’d take any 4 of the guys you mentioned before the 4 original ones…the only one I take issue with is Nill. I don’t know how you can’t say he’s more than deserving of a real shot at this point.

          • RCN

            Indeed, Jim Nill would deserve consideration. Of the 4 you’ve mentioned, he’s easily the most qualified (maybe even more so than the guys I’ve mentioned). I think I’d still prefer Hextall or Fenton, though.

            **BTW, nice article topic… was thinking of taking a look at this one, too. Perhaps if it looks like Darryl is out and we have more time to speculate on a replacement, we can take a more in-depth look at some other potential candidates**

  • First of all, Darryl should get AT LEAST another year to produce better results. In 6 seasons with 5 playoff appearances w/ 1 finals appearance (7 games).

    Second of all, the aforementioned Jim Nill (Red Wings) or David Conte (Devils) would be strong choices if Darryl was to be replaced.

    • Although, as Kent and walkinvisible have illustrated before, there are criticisms of Sutter while the Flames were a consistent playoff team.

      To me, you don’t give him one more year…you either say you’re sticking with him longterm or you go in a different direction.

      • I follow you Steinberg, that’s just my take. I take into account the results more than the methods, as I’m sure his bosses do too. After all it is a business, the Flames are a hot ticket, and playoff gates bring in big $$$. I’m advocating giving the guy AT LEAST one more year (ie/ 2-3 more years).

        Why make a rash decision either way? Why would you fire a guy that is a proven winner? On your other extreme, why would you stay with him longer (if the Flames dont make the playoffs for the next couple seasons) and continue a losing tradition? It seems like a knee-jerk type of decision to decide either one extreme or the other.

        To be honest, I’ve be a supporter of Darryl on these forums ever since most bloggers have been calling for his head. I want him to stay. But, why no discussion on David Conte (NJ) as a potential GM?

        • I hear you, and to be honest, I still can’t confidently say I believe one thing should happen or another. There are some really strong arguments on both sides.

          As for Conte, yeah, he’s got the same type of pedigree as Nill…I wonder why he hasn’t got the same type of chatter? I remember The Hockey News did a great write-up on him…that was probably 10 years ago now.

      • I’ve got loads of respect for Darryl. The Flames have a 259-176 regular season record and 25-27 playoff record since 2003-04. 5 out of 6 yrs in playoffs and a GAME 7 CUP run is good for now in my books. Compare that with the previous 6 years of 175-224 regular season record with ZERO playoff appearances. That being said, if by 2013-14 the Flames are still making first round playoff exits or missing the playoffs, questions should definately be raised.

        • I’ve got respect for Darryl as a coach but I’m not really inclined to give him much GM credit. Drafting has been an issue throughout his tenure and relatedly player development hasn’t produced much. His trading record is spotty (at best) and his signings have been just ok, I’ve yet to see him squeeze any value out of his UFA/extension signings (Kipper aside and even then only because of the frontloading loophole that needs to be closed in the next CBA). That’s not to say that he’s drastically overpaid (with a few exceptions) but he’s never really

          Most annoyingly he never takes any ownership in the teams problems. With Daz it’s always someone elses fault. Accountability should start at the top.

          Just making the playoffs isn’t enough. I thank Darryl for his service but I think his time has come.

          • I UNDERSTAND, you don’t agree with how Darryl goes about his business. But the issue at hand is RESULTS, not if you like the guy or approve of every decision he has made.

            The FACTS are…

            In 6 Sutter seasons the Flames:
            1. …have a 259-176 regular season record.
            2. …have a 25-27 playoff record (5 of 6 years in playoffs w/1 game 7 Stanley Cup run).

            In the 6 seasons prior to Sutter the Flames:
            1. …had a 175-224 regular season record.
            2. …had ZERO playoff appearances.

            Please, I’m all ears, I’m interested in how these results and the improvement he brought can be refuted.

          • He managed to help the team achieve great success in 2004. Since then the roster has almost completely changed, he dumps good contracts, grabs bad ones, etc. The identity that he has formed for the Flames isn’t working for them anymore (and hasn’t really since the cup run). He has a habit of signing players to bloated contracts (Phanuef, Bouwmeester, even Stajan to a lesser extent).

            Honestly, what Sutter did for the Flames to make them a competitive team was sign Kipprusoff. That’s it. Everything else he’s done has been a wash at best. The 2004 Flames team had spunk, to be sure, but if you put an average goaltender in there they probably don’t make it past the first or second round. You put an average goaltender in this year and the Flames would’ve been hanging with the Oilers somewhere below 20th place. Sutter made one, ONE really good move that caused everyone to call him the saviour of the Flames.

            So if you want to keep riding the guy’s jock because he signed one of the best goaltenders of the past decade and then screwed with the rest of the team in a one-step-forward-one-step-back manner for six years, I suppose that’s your prerogative.

  • Balthazar

    IF the Flames make a change, and I think that’s a big IF (thus the caps) cuz I’ll bet on no change coming…

    The GM is obvioulsy the key hire, but what the Flames may need is substantial reorg of hockey operations:

    GM (sets the culture)
    Assist GM/ Cap-ologist. (The math man)
    Head Scout (commits to talent /euro scouting)

    Who’s to say that any change will result in a substantial improvement? Do you select someone from a winning tradition (NJ, SJ or Det?) or a person with a philosophy?

    In any case it’s a challenge, and IF there were a change this summer the new GM will have a tough hand to play next year.

    • @walkinvisible

      A friend of mine always makes a good point when talking about a possible new GM. There seems to be a track record of new, inexperienced GM’s joining a team and making early mistakes.

      I wish I had the email my friend sent me, because there were some really good examples which I can’t remember off the top of my head.

  • RCN

    @ balthazar might have a point, in that i’ve heard some speculation that michael holditch, not daz, was the real culprit in last year’s cap fiasco.

    i’ve also noticed that recently michael holditch went from vice president/cfo of the calgary flames to senior vice president/assistant GM…. this is problematic to me, for some reason.

    i’ve definitely said that, while i want darryl gone i am also troubled by his potential replacement; i would hate my life if a guy like bryan murray or glen sather ended up at the wheel of my team…. *shudder*



    why would you proliferate this Steve Yzerman nonsense?

    not too sure how any of the aforementioned are an upgrade on Darryl Sutter. But then again if flames fans and media are so hell bent on sending this team into the abyss of ‘re-building’ then sure, Jay Feaster is a good idea.

    • I’m not proliferating anything. Yzerman has been linked to many jobs, not just this one, because he’s a young executive who now has the fame of helping select a gold medal winning Olympic team. The amount of emails I got about him BEFORE any rumours or articles came about will speak to that.

      None of the 4 names I threw around came from me brainstorming…they came from email and phone traffic I received. So is Feaster silly on the list? Yeah, but he’s been brought up, so I decided to put it in this piece.

      • Gretzky and lowe have done that before too but does anyone want them on their management team?

        I’m so sick of people saying “look at what [whoever] did with the olympics/WJC”. I’d bet that I could put together an olympic team of a WJC team that would be competitive.

        • I fully agree with rubbertrout (re: Gretz and Lowe). If I give you a list of the top 55 Canadian players, it would be pretty tough to screw up. Yeah yeah, Torino, Torino, regardless, if you’re given the (arguably) top talent the world, it would be pretty tough to screw that up.

          I have an issue with Stevie Y being the Flames GM, 1) I cannot believe that he would join a team other than the only one he’s known his whole professional career and 2) I still feel stung by the work Doug Risebrough did (who, is incidentally, now a “pro scout” for the Rangers.)

          I personally think that Daz has next year until the all-star break to show that this team is not the sad sack it was this year and if by that time the general sentiment around town is not one of positive forward movement, a change might be expected. I imagine a full front office sweep. However, through it all, I like Daz and I like King.

          This debate of “if not Daz, then who?” is a good one and who cares if Steinberg is/might be plucking these out of the air? It’s better than debating what went wrong or moaning about how bad the future is going to be (when do the machines take over?).

          I would have to imagine that Jim Nill would be a slam dunk out of anyone listed in the post or comments and I swear, if Feaster is even considered for the job, you can bet I’m selling everything I own with a Flames logo on it and becoming an Oilers fan.

          • I think I got about 6 or 7 emails on Feaster, which I did think was kind of odd, because I had never even thought about him. Maybe the “he’s a former GM on the sidelines” argument was what they were going with.

        • Again, nowhere did I say “this would be a good choice because…” The 4 names I put down are the 4 that have gotten the most discussion on the show and via email.

          I don’t think putting together an Olympic roster full of all-stars qualifies you to run an NHL club. If Yzerman were a candidate for any job, it would be from his work in Detroit.

          • Isnt that the same trap that led to Brent Sutter and Jbo? It almost seems that in recent times the flames have jumped at the opportunity to be first in line for the coveted, Jokinen strikes me as being a similar situation. He was the big fish and Darryl got him. JBO and Brent… the same.
            No issue with the execution but it strikes me that others speak glowingly of the prospects and Darryl moves hell and high water to make it happen, like it was his idea originally. and conclusively it hasnt been.

            Hard to explain but in essence, Darryl lacks original thought and strikes me as being reactionary rather than creative.

            A question.

            We heard from the pompous foghorn that if Darryl goes he goes. Does the reverse hold true in your opinion?

          • RCN

            Ya, I wonder if there’s any way Darryl moves up a la Kevin Lowe & Don Waddell… if so, who would HE pick to replace him as GM. A link back to San Jose & Chicago, maybe Doug Wilson (if he should be fired)? Or is there no chance they bump Darryl up?

          • Doug Wilson would be good. I cant see Sutter D deferring to anyone, in fact his meddling in the coaching/ room chemistry etc. was a failing I perceived in the teams… pre Brent.

            Reread the original post….. havent seen many of those In Sutter We Trust t’s being rocked….. Kingers wife might have one in lieu of Lingerie (when she wants the big dudes A game) but thats pure speculation on my part.

            Steinberg…. sorry to place you in a “take a run at King” position with my question. I realize that his head nod can grant or deny you access in an instant….. something I didnt factor in. I shall refrain from placing you in such positions.
            I cant stand the guy…… just so we are clear. That probably did not need clarification….LOL

          • Ha, don’t worry about that man.

            From what I’ve been able to gather, it seems there is a belief that both King and D Sutter are joined at the hip. So, if the Flames were to make a decision to go in a different direction, I think there’s a pretty good chance it would work both ways.

  • RCN

    Interesting tidbit’s from Elliotte Friedman’s weekly must-read ’30 Thoughts’…

    12. When Jarome Iginla was asked what would happen if the Flames wanted to move him, he said this: “If they don’t want me here and they want to move in a direction or rebuild or believed they could do better, I would look at it. Absolutely.” Reaction around the league: He wants to go.

    13. Really didn’t like the exit media conference from Ken King and Darryl Sutter. King basically saying fans are happy because 97 per cent of season ticket holders put down deposits to renew is horribly condescending and out-of-touch. Put it this way: I don’t think the Maple Leafs – who get accused of that thinking more than any other team – would say that.

    14. As for the GM, one of his former players watched his performance, and said, “That’s got to be an act.” Sutter is certainly stubborn and doesn’t handle criticism very well, but the player said the man who coached him “is nothing like that,” saying Sutter is a brilliant motivator, great when kids are around and unfailingly supportive if, God forbid, you run into a family problem.


  • What I’ve been hearing, IF, IF Darryl is shown the door, Jim Nill is #1 on the list. Steve Yzerman, while the sexy pick he would maybe come over as an AGM with the future to become GM when Jim goes up to the President.

  • About Nill, rumor has it he wants to be a GM but also wants a good situation. In a hockey market and a team that could use his special skills, SCOUTING. Hello Calgary stinks at it. I understand that getting both him and Stevie Y would be a near impossibility. If I had to choose between the two, Jim would be it.

    • Honestly, if a change were to be made, Yzerman couldn’t be a real consideration if Nill were in the mix. Nill has the pedigree and experience, plus has solid relationships with the rest of the league. Yzerman still seems to inexperienced.

  • Balthazar


    I understand your point. The team has been better by far in the past 6 years than the 6 before then. That said, I think the Daz has taken the team as far as he can.

    I think there has to be a new vision to take the team forward.

  • Balthazar

    The team has been basically the same every year. Maybe slightly different problems but never really a contender. 6 years is ample time to make a team into a contender. The bottom line is until the flames fix their drafting problems and scouting in-competencies they are doomed. Why is it that there poor drafts have been ongoing for it seems like 2 decades now? I’m of the opinion that Darryl doesn’t know talent based on picking Tim Erickson in the first round last year. He was Awful in the world juniors and i’m sure wont be a an NHL player. Chucko, another brutal pick. I watched him play in junior A and he didn’t have the offensive flare then so why draft him? Bad picks=bad team. Oh and Backlund, maybe and i mean maybe a 2nd line center. Basically a Stajan in the making.