Flames Coaching Contender: Mike Sullivan


In a column in Friday’s Calgary Herald, the venerable George Johnson mentioned that the Flames have been rather mum about the coaching search, theorizing that they’re waiting for the New York Rangers to be bounced from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The reasoning being that Rangers assistant coach Mike Sullivan It’s not a bad theory.

Blast From the Past

If you’re a Flames fan, you probably vaguely remember Mike Sullivan as one of the bright spots of some thoroughly mediocre teams of the mid-1990s. A very capable two-way player, Sullivan’s work on the penalty kill was rather impressive – topping off with three short-handed goals in 1996-97. On the whole, Sullivan was relied upon as a bottom-six defensive role player with varying results. Notably, he was a -42 with the 1992-93 San Jose Sharks. He played 709 games with San Jose, Calgary, Boston and Phoenix before retiring and becoming a coach.

While some players take some time to transition to coaching, Sullivan took to it rather quickly. He immediately became a head coach with the AHL’s Providence Bruins, winning 41 games before being brought up to the NHL as an assistant late in the season. Somewhat surprisingly, he was made the head coach in Boston in his second year as a professional coach. It was probably too much, too soon, and he only coached the Bruins for two years (the years before and after the lock-out) before being turfed in the off-season.

Since then, Sullivan has seemingly been laying in wait for another opportunity at an NHL job. He was an assistant coach for a year in Tampa Bay, hired in part by now-Flames general manager Jay Feaster. Most recently, he’s been an assistant for three seasons in Manhattan.

Way of the Future?

In a lot of ways, Mike Sullivan is similar to Troy Ward. Both are college educated. Both played hockey, although Sullivan played in the NHL. Both have been assistants in the NHL (Sullivan has been there more often and more recently). In addition, Sullivan has international experience as a player (the 1987 World Juniors) and an assistant coach (the 2006 Olympics).

He’s also younger than Ward.

Hiring Sullivan would send a lot of the same messages to the players (and the league) that hiring Ward would, as well as having the added benefit of bringing in an established head coach with previous NHL experience.

If the Flames aren’t actively considering Mike Sullivan as a contender for the head coaching gig, they probably should. He’s been quite successful as a coach, even in a situation in Boston that probably wasn’t ideal. That said, the New York Rangers likely know how good Sullivan is – that’s why they’re employing him – and it’s yet to be seen if they’re willing to let him head to another team, even if it is Calgary.

  • RKD

    It’s a two man race between Ward and Sullivan. The big advantage Sullivan has is his NHL experience. However, we have seen guys like Guy Boucher come in and have success.

  • loudogYYC

    I think Sullivan and Ward as a coaching duo would be awesome. Sure, Ward has been coaching longer and he’s considered a front runner, but why would he scoff at an assistant coach position in the NHL just one year after being an assistant coach in the AHL.

    I hope Feaster can get this done. Sullivan and Ward would bring some accountability to this team.

  • everton fc

    Sully knows the city, the market here. Has a past w/Feaster…

    Would Ward want to be an NHL assistant here? Would it be wiser to convinve Ward to stay on the farm, developing the likes of Reinhart, Ferland, and so on? Perhaps…

    Of course, Feaster does have the deep connection to Hartley, and if he goes to Hartley, I get a sense the fanbase will be peeved…

    A young coach like Sullivan… Ward… Would send the rigth message. Whether either of them is the answer, remains to be seen. I am still not convinced the combo-platter of Feaster and Weisbrod is a good one. Time will tell. I hope I’m wrong, but…

    See contract offer to Richards as evidence…

  • Parallex

    Can anyone describe his coaching style in detail (i.e. more in-depth then “Defense First”, “Players Coach”, “Hardass” and all the other cliche adjectives)?

    How does he match lines?

    Does he use zone start as a line assignment determiner?

    Do his teams use a dump-and-chase entry or do they try to carry it in?

    Does he ride one goalie or does he share the workload?

    How often (if at all) does he dress a goon?

    What kind of forecheck do his teams use(1-2-2 etc)?

    A description of his teams on the powerplay?

    • Has to say since his head coaching gigs pre-dates all those stats. We’d have to ask someone who was a Bruins fan back then to describe his systems.

      His 2005-06 Bruins dressed Dan Lacouture for 55 games. He averaged about 6 minutes a night. Otherwise the club was goon free.

  • Colin.S

    I’d be okay with this hire. If we don’t trade Iggy or Kipper this summer I think Sullivan is the better hire, but if we trade one of Iggy/Kipper, than we should hire Ward since he has more experience with our own youth. I would be fine either way though

  • Colin.S

    100% agree with G. Johnson, if we haven’t really even started the coaching search in honest, it’s because Sullivan is at the top of the list. And honestly I’d rather him over Ward, because that would keep Ward in abby for probably at least a year if not more.

      • On the contrary, I would just like to see a few good ole Canucks at the head. We have a Yankee who never knew hockey existed till his law firm gave him the Rochester American account, another who spent most of his life in the NBA, another granted is a great guy, but not sure how good he is on the management side. While Albertans/Calgarians are probably closest to Americans we still would like to see our coach who could one day coach Team Canada. Also i’m afraid Americans is all Feaster knows. Plus I like conspiracy theories. Honestly though lets get the best coach who will motivate the players to play to their best.

  • I agree he’s a solid candidate and I’d rather Ward stayed in the AHL for now.

    Either way, I’m of the opinion that the Flames need to give their next head coach a 5 year deal just to make a statement. “This is our man, he’s not going anywhere, fall in line or get out.”