Darryl Sutter: The Bad

So, last week, I put up the first piece on Calgary Flames GM Darryl Sutter in a "The Good, The Bad, The Ugly" series… I put up three examples, and I’m sure there are more. Well, now on to part two, as I’ll throw out three examples that I believe fit in the "bad" category. In this case, I’ll classify bad as deals that were made that didn’t look terrible to start, but certainly don’t look great now. And then later this week, it’s the ugly portion. Again, these are just three examples that I came up with, you may think they fit in a different category or would like to add your own. So lets go…

Olli Jokinen Part 1 turns into Olli Jokinen Part 2

Ahhh yes, this one was too easy. I put this in the "bad" category because, personally, I don’t begrudge Darryl Sutter one bit for making this move. Fans and experts alike had been clamoring for the Flames to go out and acquire a "Number 1 Centre" for years, and the name Olli Jokinen had been linked to this team for quite some time before the deal was made. When Jokinen moved to Phoenix in the summer of 2008, the Flames were in hot pursuit, but were not willing to pay Florida’s price. This time, the price wasn’t as high, so Sutter and the Flames jumped.

The deal went down on Deadline Day 2009, March 4th. The Flames sent forwards Matthew Lombardi and Brandon Prust along with a first round pick (which turned out to be #13 overall in 2010) to Phoenix in exchange for Jokinen and a 2009 third round pick. At the time, most Flames fans were over the moon on this one, as Jokinen was finally here! His first game affirmed the belief! 3 goals in a blowout in Philly…how can this go wrong? Well, unfortunately, it did.

Maybe you and I as outside observers were guilty of being too enamored with Jokinen, because of all the hype surrounding him one day being a member of the Flames. Maybe Darrly Sutter was guilty of not investigating some of the locker room rumours that followed him from Florida to Phoenix and eventually to Cowtown. But even with these admissions of guilt, nobody saw Jokinen becoming the pariah he became here. The remainder of the 2008-09 season was okay for #21, as he put up 15 points in 19 regular season games while adding five more in a six game series loss to Chicago. But this past season was a different story.

With a full training camp, the expectations were high, and rightfully so. Just two seasons removed from a 30 goal year, playing with Jarome Iginla full time was going to be huge. And after a slow start, that looked about right, thanks to a 10-2-2- month of November for Calgary; a month where Jokinen put up 14 points. Jokinen spent most of the 11th month playing with Iginla and Jamie Lundmark, and things were going good. But, just like the team, things took a nosedive when the calendar turned…Jokinen had 35 points in 56 games with the Flames this season. 20 of them came in 26 October and November games. In the 30 that followed, he had just 15. So, with it clearly not working, Jokinen was traded along with Prust to the New York Rangers in exchange for forwards Chris Higgins and Ales Kotalik. Part of this deal may or may not show up in the "ugly" portion of this series.

Bye Bye Cammelleri

I guess this kind of plays part in parcel with the previous one, as in a lot of ways, the trade for Jokinen spelled the end for Mike Cammalleri as a member of the Calgary Flames. Cammalleri was acquired at the 2008 draft, as Calgary did some wheeling and dealing that day: trading the 17th overall pick to LA in exchange for Cammalleri and trading Alex Tanguay along with a fifth rounder to Montreal in exchange for a 2008 first round pick (which would eventually turn into #23 overall) and a 2009 second rounder.

It was a pretty good season for Cammalleri in a Flames jersey, putting up a career high 39 goals and 82 points that season, finding some real chemisty with captain Jarome Iginla. However, many were disappointed with Cammalleri’s postseason performance, as the Flames were dispatched in six games by the Chicago Blackhawks. In those six games, Mike was able to put up just one goal and three points. Criticism was fair, but as we know, one playoffs does not make a player and/or a career.

The desire was stated by Cammalleri publicly following the season that he would like to return. On FAN 960 airwaves on Wednesday, Craig Conroy confirmed that. However, whether there was a firm decision made or not, the GM Sutter and the Flames didn’t do enough to retain him. So, instead, Cammalleri took a five year deal with the Montreal Canadiens, and continues playing postseason hockey right now (13 points in ten playoff games).

At the time, it wasn’t catastrophe, because there was some pretty exciting things surrounding the Flames at the time. Sutter had gone out and acquired Jay Bouwmeester in a trade with Florida, and signed shortly thereafter, creating a ton of excitement. Darryl’s brother Brent was brought in along with a whole new, young, fresh coaching staff that many were excited about. It wasn’t until the realities of this season started sinking in around, say, late December that the lack of Cammalleri really started to sink in. At least for most.

Well, now after all of us watched 82 games of Flames hockey, I don’t think there’s a Flames fan with a pulse that doesn’t look at this one as a mistake. Seeing Cammalleri shoot the lights out in the postseason after an injury shortened regular season makes this worse I think. And the guy was so good for us media hacks! Sad times. The worst part is, had the Flames signed Cammalleri, this would have been in the "good" category, no doubt.

The Draft

This one is tough, because I realize how fickle drafting is, and in a lot of ways, it really is a crap shoot. But there is no denying the Calgary Flames have not been able to use the draft as a building tool as effectively as othe teams have in Darryl Sutter’s tenure. To be fair, that was also true in the tenure of Craig Button and Al Coates. I also put this here because it isn’t just the players picked for Calgary, it’s also the management of their picks before actually using them.

There are some simple facts here that will help paint the picture. In looking at Calgary’s final roster following their final game on April 10th, only five players (5!) had been drafted by this team. Those would be David Moss (7th round), Eric Nystrom (1st round), Mikael Backlund (1st round), Brett Sutter (6th round), and Adam Pardy (6th round). Even more telling? Only three of those players were drafted by Sutter, as both Moss and Nystrom came before his time in Calgary. That’s not pretty.

Another fact? Of the seven drafts Sutter presided over, the Flames were without a second round pick for five of them (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009). If Sutter runs the upcoming draft in Los Angeles, that will be a sixth time the Flames will be without a second round pick.

Sutter has had seven first round picks and to this point, only two of them have played more than five NHL games. Mikael Backlund (who, granted, has turned out to be pretty darn good) and Dion Phaneuf, who is no longer a member of the team. Kris Chucko (2004) has played two NHL games while Matt Pelech (2005) has been in five games. I don’t know if you fault the Flames or Sutter for not having Tim Erixon (2009) or Greg Nemisz (2008) play meaningful roles, and Leland Irving (2006) is behind Miikka Kiprusoff. But it does point to a bit of a trend.

Now, to be fair, I think you can make the argument that things have been better over the last three or four years. Players like Backlund, Nemisz, Erixon, John Negrin, Lance Buoma and Ryan Howse have the makings of future players on the big team. I also think it’s unfair to start looking at other players that were drafted before or after Calgary picked, because sometimes I think that’s unfair. And it’s not as if Calgary’s draft record is the ONLY team in the NHL that has drafted poorly. But it is something that has not been the strongest suit of the Flames since Darryl Sutter took the helm.

  • I think the worst Sutter tendency has been to acquire, sign and overpay veterans in support roles. Wayne Primeau, Marcus Nilson, Jim Vandermeer, Anders Eriksson, Steve Staios are just some recent examples.

    EDIT – unless, of course, you’re going to stick this kind of stuff into “the ugly”, which I fully support.

    • I third.

      But as to the content…

      “Now, to be fair, I think you can make the argument that things have been better over the last three or four years. Players like Backlund, Nemisz, Erixon, John Negrin, Lance Buoma and Ryan Howse have the makings of future players on the big team.”

      Honestly, though are you sure that you’re not just able to make that argument because they’re so new that the hindsight that we have in those who came before isn’t there yet with the newer picks?

      “I also think it’s unfair to start looking at other players that were drafted before or after Calgary picked, because sometimes I think that’s unfair.”

      So… you think it’s unfair because you think that’s unfair? Not a lot of insight in that sentence. I think it’s entirely fair to judge what Sutter got relative to what he could have had (within reason).

      • “So… you think it’s unfair because you think that’s unfair? Not a lot of insight in that sentence. I think it’s entirely fair to judge what Sutter got relative to what he could have had (within reason).”

        Yeah, fair enough, ha…not a lot of insight there at all.

        As DC said, the reason I think it’s been a little better is because there might be a little reason to actually say “hmmm, I wonder if this junior production will carry over to higher levels.”

        I don’t know if we ever said that with, say, Chucko.

  • D C

    Those draft picks are putting up decent numbers and are a big part in their junior teams. That’s why I think Steinberg is trying to say that the draft has gotten a little better. Again, I’m not saying that they are going to be NHLers for sure, but they have a good upside rather than a Chucko.

  • orange chair

    The following draft picks are since Sutter started as GM. Now I know that Darryl isn’t soley responsible for the following but the scouts making the recommendations need to be seriously reviewed.

    2003 draft Dion Phaneuf ok we’ll give him that one Next pick: Tim Ramholt; defencmen taken after this doozy? Matt Carle, Shea Weber, Shane O’Brien. Next pick: Ryan Donally Who?? Good question. Taken after him: Lee Stempniak, Joe Pavelski, John Mitchell The other Flame drafts that year are no names with a total of 11 NHL games.

    2004 First Pick: Kris Chucko, maybe but not likely a future NHL’er. 18 points in 41 games this year in the AHL. 5 picks later Mike Green goes to Washington. Picks after that include: Dave Bolland (center), David Booth, Brandon Dubinsky (another center, hello Iggy), David Krejci(another center, hello Iggy), Next pick is Brandon Prust, I like him but here are some others that might put the puck in the net, and he is not here anymore. Johan Franzen, Tyler Kennedy, Ryan Callahan, Kris Versteeg, Troy Brouwer, Mark Streit (they were over in Swiss land looking at Ramholt you would think they might have seen this guy)

    2005 Matt Pelech ( might be early to tell but) other defencemen after him:Vlasic in San Jose, Kristopher Letang, Kris Russell, Keith Yandle, Center after Pelech that would look good with Iggy, Paul Stastny.

    2006 Leland Irving was the first pick. Some with good potential that the Flames passed on: Milan Lucic seems to be adapting to the NHL ok, Blake Geoffrion has some genetics behind him and he won the hoby baker award this year.

    2007 still has some time before judging Sutter’s legacy of great picks. Backlund could be ok.

    2008 Greg Nemisz looks ok but the next two picks in the draft were: Tyler Ennis who just had a good series against Boston and John Carlson he scored the OT winner against Canada in the WJ this year and played in the playoffs with Wash. Calgary’s next pick, Mitch Wahl (we’ll see, he is very solid with Spokane), right after him Phoenix picks Jared Staal. Hmmm his brothers seem to be doing pretty good in the NHL.

    2009 of course it is too early to judge but here are some musings. Tim Erixon 7 points in 45 games in the Swedish league 10 picks later Ryan O’Reilly who had 26 points with the Colorado Avalanche of the National Hockey League.

  • I agree with K man.

    No advance in the playoffs since 2004, no playoffs this year, no real prospects on note, no draft picks in the first 2 rounds, Oli, ….. What more proof do the owners need that it is time for change before Sutter drags the franchise down even further?

  • I hope that the Flames at least take a look at Kisio if they are going to start searching for a GM. He would be a great fit since he is already familiar with the organization, and he has done a spectacular job with the Hitmen. If they keep Sutter (at least until Christmas) then I hope they could get Kisio as an assistant GM and groom him for the top spot.

    • Grant F

      Or maybe it’s time to bring in an experienced GM.

      Risebrough to Coates to Button to Sutter….four straight rookie NHL GMs learning on the job and I dare say making mistakes.

      And those tenures cover the bulk of a two decade stretch that produced one playoff campaign beyond the 1st round. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why.

      • Grant F

        Was Sutter a rookie GM? I thought he was GM in San Jose before coming to Calgary?

        It wouldn’t bother me to see them bring in an experienced GM but who is on the market right now? Besides, by the silence at the Dome it appears Sutter is staying put, so shopping for an assistant GM may be more of a reality.

        • Grant F

          Nope – he was just a bench boss down in Cali.

          There are some guys out there with some experience – Jay Feaster, Doug Armstrong, Dave Nonis – and perhaps you also look at guys that have experience as Assistant GMs in strong organizations.

          I’d like to see someone with a track record come in if a change is in the cards. Most rookie GMs make mistakes, and some of them can be quite damaging (cough Riser cough).

  • Grant F

    There is no question that the draft record is ugly. We can try to identify the reasons – but ultimately you have to produce results.

    But something I’d like to know about is the make-up of the current scouting staff.

    I’ve heard it mentioned a few times that the scouting team has undergone changes in the last few years. But I don’t know what those changes are.

    We can find the current Flames scouting team here: http://flames.nhl.com/club/page.htm?id=58266

    But how long have all those gents been with the organization. I don’t know.

    My point is – has the organization already taken steps to improve their draft record by switching up their personnel.

    Certainly there seems to have been a shift in overall philosophy in the last few drafts – with a greater emphasis on skill.

    If indeed there have been changes, and a shift in philosophy has been made, does Sutter deserve more time to produce?

  • I wonder if the silence from the Dome does in fact mean that nothing is happening.

    One of the most interesting things I took from the end of the year press conference with King and Sutter was a question asked about how other teams have assistant GM’s and a larger inner circle of hockey operations, whereas with the Flames, it seems to be Sutter on an island.

    Sutter’s response was interesting, saying that “we’re looking at it.” Maybe it’s me being a media clown reading too much in and looking for a story…but I wondered if maybe that was a small admission that the way decisions are made needs to be changed, and that some of the past decisions could have been aided by another voice or two.

    Who knows if that is the case, and maybe Sutter’s response meant nothing…but if it is the case, it would extend to drafting as well.