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.