121Glen Gulutzan
Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn / USA Today Sports

Why Glen Gulutzan and his staff might get fired

Glen Gulutzan has coached the Calgary Flames for two full seasons. He’s an engaging speaker and a very cerebral, astute person. Moreover, he’s a part of a new wave of young hockey coaches bringing open minds and new ideas to the coaching ranks.

Gulutzan is a man with many positive qualities that can lend themselves to coaching success. Unfortunately, the events of the past 82 games and the very specific challenges they were unable to overcome make it extremely difficult to justify keeping him or his staff behind the bench of the Flames beyond this point. It seems extremely likely that there will be coaching changes for the organization going forward.

Player usage

Every coach and coaching staff has players that they seemingly play too much. For Gulutzan and company, there was an over-reliance on a struggling T.J. Brodie at even strength (he played more than any other Flame, an average of 30 seconds per game more than Mark Giordano). There was also a general hesitance for much of the season to use Brett Kulak very much, to the point where the Flames essentially became a two-pairing team at certain points in games and stapled Kulak and Michael Stone to the bench. Gulutzan also seemed to be hesitant to shorten his bench in close games, often rolling the third and even fourth lines late in tight games.

The reliance on Brodie also speaks to a stubbornness regarding the effectiveness of Brodie and Travis Hamonic as a pairing. The pairing wasn’t a great fit for much of the season, but the coaching staff stuck with it regardless of results. Brodie spent 87% of his even strength ice time with Hamonic, robbing the coaching staff of potential chances to try them out with other partners; the only significant time Brodie spent with another partner was his stint with Stone when Hamonic was injured.

The team’s special teams deployments have been a bit… weird. Despite being some of the team’s most productive even strength scorers, it took forever – and some injuries – for Dougie Hamilton and Matthew Tkachuk to factor into the first unit power play. All due respect to the players, but it’s really weird for two bottom six players like Kris Versteeg and Troy Brouwer to spend so much time playing on the power play when their scoring numbers at even strength are so rough. The penalty killing units haven’t been as wonky, but there’s arguably been an over-reliance on Matt Stajan and Brouwer as a unit when Mark Jankowski and Garnet Hathaway showed some promise in those roles down the stretch. It’s also a bit strange that Tkachuk, Hamilton and Sam Bennett never really factored into the overtime deployments until well into the season.

Systems and structure

For a team that spent so much time and effort building up its defensive group, the Flames sure have been bad in their own end during the past season. Looking at their possession metrics – Corsi, Fenwick, shots, scoring chances, high-danger chances – they’re an average suppression team that’s been challenged with some bad luck. However, you can make an argument that a lot of their “bad luck” has been exacerbated by some really rough transition work. The Flames have routinely failed to make quick transition passes and get out of their zone with momentum, often losing the puck inside their own blueline and having to scramble. Their neutral zone game has been fine, but far too often they’ve made life tough on themselves by stretching their forwards into the neutral zone for passes way too early and allowing the other team to intercept passes and get additional scoring chances.

How can a power play that features several gifted offensive players be so bad? Feast your eyes on the Flames, who somehow seemed less able to gain the offensive zone and create pressure on the power play than at even strength. The team really struggled throughout the season to consistently gain the offensive zone and set up shop. When they did gain the zone, they were excellent at generating scoring chances – they were third in both chances and high-danger chances per 60 minutes – but not at scoring goals. They finished the season 29th in power play percentage overall despite being among the league’s leaders in power play time.

The penalty kill was decent this season. They were around the middle of the pack in terms of suppressing Corsi, Fenwick and shots, but they weren’t as good at shutting down scoring chances or high-danger chances. The PK units in general seemed a lot less aggressive this season than last, seemingly content to react rather than to pressure. That’s definitely a conscious change from last season, and it’s one that made the units arguably less effective – they allowed more chances and scoring chances per 60 this season than they did last season.

Intangibles

Way back in 2014-15, the Flames were a team playing with house money. Nobody expected much out of them after they finished bottom five in the NHL the season prior, so they played loose hockey. They also found themselves on the happy side of several improbable third period comebacks, to the point where Sportsnet 960’s Derek Wills dubbed them the “Find A Way Flames.” They consistently played like a team that was waiting for something good to happen. Quite often, something good did happen – granted, it was followed by a massive correction of their team-wide percentages the following season.

The 2017-18 Flames are the spiritual inverse of the “Find A Way Flames.” I’ve called them the “Charlie Brown Flames,” in that they’re perpetually trying (but failing) to kick the football. They’re a team that really, really deflates when they get down one goal (and even moreso when down a pair). It’s not a phenomenon exclusive to this season, though. I wrote about it last January:

As you would expect, the Flames get more puck possession when they’re down because of score effects: a team that’s winning a game sits back a bit and doesn’t pursue the puck as actively. However, both the Flames goaltending (90.77%) and shooting (5.11%) are atrocious. It’s unclear whether the Flames simply give up on the game at the point they go down two goals and give up high-danger chances against and settle for low-danger chances for, but those two aspects of their game are strangely awful.

We’re going to dig into it during our post-mortem during the next few weeks, but the team utterly deflating over each of the past two seasons when down a goal or two is on the coaching staff and the team’s leadership.

Other “intangible” challenges the Flames faced this season include David Rittich losing his consistency and composure during Mike Smith’s one month injury absence – resulting in the club rotating through him and Jon Gillies when they desperately needed wins – and a general lack of in-game tactical or lineup adjustments, aside from those forced by injuries. (The in-game adjustments tended to be along the lines of “Oh, a winger is injured, so it’s time to double-shift Matthew Tkachuk or Johnny Gaudreau.”)

It’s time for a change

Two questions come to mind when I try to assess the work done by the current coaching staff. Did Brad Treliving do everything he could to address the team’s deficiencies over the summer? And has Gulutzan’s coaching staff done everything they can to elevate the pieces they’ve been given and maximize their output?

After the Flames were swept by Anaheim, the big criticisms of the team’s composition were their goaltending and their defensive depth. Treliving went and shipped out a ton of assets – including the team’s first three picks in this year’s entry draft – to bring in Smith and Hamonic and to re-up Stone. It’s hard to argue that Treliving didn’t do a lot.

But for a team with as many talented players on it, that spent the type of assets they spent to put together this lineup, the number and type of problems they’ve had really spell out that they need to change something. They can’t fire the team, so the coaching staff seems like the most obvious way to do that.

The Flames have lots of cap space. They have effectively every key piece of their core group signed through 2019-20, aside from perhaps Tkachuk. They have two years to maximize the output from this core group before big contracts expire and they have to deal with the Seattle expansion draft. Based on the results we’ve seen to this point, they probably need some kind of new coaching staff to do that.

    • ChinookArchYYC

      Disagree.
      Pike wrote a well organized and thoughtful article detailing the decision at hand about coaching in Calgary.
      Elliot Freeman also wonders in his 31 Thoughts about Gulutzan’s future. I’m really curious to see if Bill Peters replaces GG. Only his CAR team had a better CF% and worse PDO this last season than the Flames.

  • iggyrocks

    the flames may have generated chances on the pp but they never seemed like dangerous chances. Having Gaudreau on the top left side is the dumbest thing ever, first off he doesnt shoot hard enough, and why not have someone on their off-wing who can 1 time the puck. It seemed like unless Tkachuk was out there we had no net presence at all. Then there was Brouwer, if he isn’t going to get his slow ass in front of the net and play tough he is useless. It took till January before Hamilton finally got on the top PP and then we seen a little better success. As the article stated this is all on the coaches, they tried to shuffle 1 or 2 players around on the PP but never once changed the set up of the pp.

    • Beer League Coach

      Brouwer, arghh!! He is almost as useful as a jock strap that is missing that little piece of moulded plastic. And that is on a good night for him. Other nights he is even worse. He should be bought out immediately and put the money that is saved by this toward a forward who can at least keep up to the pace of the game.

      I liked the signing of GG as head coach when he was first hired. His record as a head coach was quite good. In 16 playoff series over the years his team won 10 series. That is a .625 win %. However, the results of the past 2 seasons are not acceptable. His player deployment and lack of in-game adjustments indicate that he must go. He could be another of those guys who were a successful coach in the minors or junior hockey and bombed out in the NHL. Don Hay is a good example of that type of coach.

    • iggyrocks

      also to add to this is his reluctance to change up the lines. He refused to break up Johnny and Mony, and the Backlund line. First line is too soft, could they not move Johnny, Tkachuk or Bennet to the right side? To me this is more what lines should of looked like, i would even be good with flip flopping Ferland and Frolik below
      Johnny-Mony- Tkachuk
      Bennet-Backlund-Frolik
      Frolik-Jankowski-Ferland
      Lazar-Stajan/Shore-Hathaway

    • The Doctor

      Iggyrocks I couldn’t agree more with your first sentence. The Flames are the poster children for the difference between scoring chances on paper versus in reality. Way way too many of our so-called scoring chances were shots that were right at the opposing goalie when he could see the puck perfectly etc. We had far too few dangerous one timers, cross ice feeds and so on.

    • Having Gaudreau in the top left side is just like when Willie Desjardins had Sven Baertschi sneaking in from the point for a cross-ice backdoor feed. It worked for a few games when we had Vrbata but teams figured that out pretty quick and were able to shut it down. But instead of adapting, WD just kept doing the same thing with a different (left-shot) winger. Clearly, GG only has plays from WD’s (pathetic) playbook.

  • Big Ell

    As head coach, GG has 146 Wins and 125 losses with 4 playoff losses in four years. He is below mediocre, he is experienced and has had a shot, 1 playoffs in 4 years is all that needs to be said.

  • Director772

    You left out Goalie mismanagement, Smith played too many games and our backup wasn’t given the time needed to develop the confidence in his game and most importantly confidence from the coaching staff.
    This IMHO could be the biggest failing point of all. We didn’t have good tending when we needed it tie most!

    • Joeyhere

      Judging by all he “cheers” you got I think Pike should amend the article to including a reference to GG’s over use of Smith and failure to let Rittich learn more by playing when he was more in the grove

      But then over use of some players (Brower) and underuse of others (Hamilton) suggests that is one of GGs consistent faults

  • BringtheFire 2.0

    To be fair, I wouldn’t play Sam in OT either.

    I think the impression I get is summed up when you mentioned that something has to change and you can’t fire the team. Really, Brad’s going nowhere so the only real change available is to the coaching staff.

    A well-timed, thoughtful and fair analysis. Smooth and pro as always, Ryan.

    Keep it classy.

  • Craigster

    Thanks for this article Ryan. I liked the hbire at the time, and really wanted this to work for all the reasons you stated in your first paragraph.
    I was surprised by some of the decisions, especially where he/they refused to change things up. He/they seemed to bet stuck on an “it should work, so let’s keep it this way” mentality. However, many coaches in the NHL make questionable deployments that leave fans scratching their heads.
    The biggest surprised I had was the team’s fragility, and that’s not entirely on the coach. I believe Treliving put a lot of stock in the leadership group’s experience (Gio, Brouwer,Stajan), which led him to believe a relatively inexperienced coach (or a coach with a softer personality) would work. It didn’t.
    This team has had success in the past with coaches that were essentially the pulse of the team (Sutter, Hartley). They seemed to keep the teams at an even keel (never too high or low), and never allowed for excuses in losses (i.e. injuries, officiating), in fact they used these as rallying points.
    I don’t see this in GG, which is the main reason why I think he has to go. I think he makes a great assistant or associate coach, but just doesn’t have the intangibles to keep the team rowing the boat in the same direction.

  • Special K

    Why Glen Gulutzan and his staff might get fired
    1. Good leaders make the people around them good leaders.
    2.This team has no identity. The identity of the team is dictated by the coach and the leadership group. When I watch this team I am never know what I am going to get.
    3.Being ready to play in first periods and in big games. This is also dictated by the coach and leadership group. Good leaders make the people around them good leaders.
    4.Player usage… there are so many examples of players being used in positions that did not help themselves or the team. Brouwer and his PP time, Brodie for 50 games being on the first powerplay and struggling terribly, using Smith in too many games and not determining earlier or trying to solidify the back-up role. Usage of Stewart on the first line??
    5.Playing favorites, there seems to be different rules for different players.
    This one is personal opinion and I have never spoken to the GG but when I listen to him on the radio or TV engaging is not a descriptive I would use, more likely wet noodle.
    I think Tre will fire him and assistant coaches, but he should have done it at Christmas and this team might have made the playoffs this year.

    • rusty_shakleforde

      I agree re the leadership stuff 1000%. I think Gio is a great leader, in the players side of this. But who after that?? Brower? Stajan? Smith? Tkachuck, JG will be there soon. Mony is maybe on his way. Hopefully Ferly and Janks step it up soon.
      But lack of leadership in the coaching staff is inexcusable. That is literally half of their job posting

  • Derzie

    This post is the equivalent to the NHL All Star game: something to inform casual fans as to what’s happening. Well written but stating the obvious. I interpret ‘might’ in the headline as “Brad may need to go too if he thinks these coaches should stay”

  • oilcanboyd

    Who will get Fired FIRST? GG or McLelland? Chia did not give McL a vote of confidence either. No wonder with the high expectations, generational player, high draft picks and well below average results this season.

    • GG. Bob Nicholson is a FOK (Friend of Katz or friend of Kevin). As are the 3 stooges Lowe ,MacTavish, and Scott Howson, Nicholson hired by Katz so FOK, Chia hired by Nicholson so FOK, T Mac hired by Chia so FOK. FOK’s do not get fired EVER although they claimed to have fired Howson, but he was being paid all along. Ralph Krueger and Todd Nelson were not FOK’s so they were outright dismissed (or used as scapegoats for FOK’s) Tenure for failure. Only team I have ever seen that fires the GM but saddles the new one with the old one as a condition of employment even though the old one failed miserably along with the other two stooges. GG is Dallas Eakins 2.0. As an Oiler fan (getting hard just to type that after the bs move along , nothing to see here press conferences in Edmonton) the sooner you ditch Tin Tin the better for your franchise. Eakins knocked us back by about two years, and keeping these idiots employed has set us further back with a generational talent on the roster. If anything they will be shunted upstairs to room with Katz’s live Ken doll collection from the 80’S who also failed miserably at their jobs. The Flames will probably go through another 5 head coaches before anyone in Oilerville is actually held accountable if ever.

  • Rocket66

    I used to wonder why oilers fans kept suporting the crazy bs that went on with that organization.
    Here I am today wondering the same about the flames I haven’t always agreed with the way things were done. But this year has really made me lose interest
    As far as gg and all coaching staff goes. Firing should be a no brainer and not sure why it’s even up for discussion

  • redwhiteblack

    GG has to go. Some fans argue the flip side that GG has made progression in possession metrics and that a new coach may disrupt that. We need a leader that has passion and engages commitment in every area. That is fundamental coaching and it is clearly missing. GG has to go.

    • The Doctor

      We made progress in possession metrics under GG’s first season and I remember that that was a clear reason cited for firing Hartley and hiring GG. But this season all the other things that are wrong with GG came home to roost. If I were in a boardroom discussing this and somebody said we should keep him because our possession metrics are good, I would hurl my coffee mug at that person.

  • Bob's Hockey Stick

    It shouldn’t be a matter of might get axed. But when will the canning commence. And how many people will be willing to drive GG to the airport or city limits. How’s that saying goes ? Ahem, GG we thank you for your service but you have failed this team for the last time. We believe you will accomplish many great things in your career, but your time here is done. Your Fired. You lose…Good Day Sir!.

  • BendingCorners

    The brass signaled their intentions before the season ended. The only reason to keep Gulutzan is if the players told Treliving, “We really love the guy and he makes us better”. I think he will be fired, along with Cameron.

    • FL?MES

      So if the guys want summer vacation he stays and if they want to play for the cup or their their next contract he goes? Seems like an odd and narrow way to make a decision like this, no?

  • Trevy

    This team, on paper, was supposedly improved upon compared to last years version. If GG somehow managed to bring last years team to the playoffs, surely in his second year he should of improved on that. That’s the whole goal of players, coaches and management, is to constantly improve. Instead we took a giant step back, again, with a supposed improved team. You can come up with any excuse you want, but the bottom line is not only did we not reach the playoffs, instead we regressed. Even Anaheim went through a rash of injuries for most of the season and made it to the playoffs. There is no second guessing here. GG and company are clearly not the right personnel to run or take this team to the next level and will be dismissed. First positive hint is that some GM’s are already declaring their respective coaches as safe for next season. Tre has not yet announced that and I don’t expect it either

    • canadian1967

      Can we please stop saying “should of”???!!!
      Please please please use the proper contraction of “should’be” or even type out the proper words “should have”.
      There simply is no such F-ng term as “should of”. If you think there is; then your teachers should all be joining GG at Service Canada.

  • Iggyfan2001

    I’ve been hearing a lot of Gulutzan does or doesn’t deserve to get fired talk or “Is Gulutzan a good Coach?” talk lately. All of that is less relevant than this question: “Are there coaches available that are willing to coach the flames that make this team better than with Gulutzan coaching them?” To me, the answer is invariably yes. Give me Darryl Sutter or Dave Tippett.

    • BringtheFire 2.0

      There was a mailbag that dealt with Tippett maybe not being the best. Also, I don’t think the coach that FN commenters want is available to Calgary. Because of money and organizational reputation, I can see coaches not wanting to come here.

      • Iggyfan2001

        yeah maybe on the Tippett front. But I feel with the talent on the roster, the job is tantalizing enough that a lot of coaches would want to come in. And I think Darryl would jump on his horse in viking and ride all the way down here for a chance to coach the flames. Trotz is the other guy I’d love the flames to look at if he does lose his job in DC.

  • I should be GM

    Why is Gully still here?

    Is Harvey available to be the new coach next year? I think it would be an upgrade.

    Hopefully Gully is signing autographs in the EI office within the week…

  • Korcan

    GG’s biggest problem appeared to me to be a general lack of fear/respect from the players (nice-guy syndrome?). He seemed unable to get them to respond. For example, you would never have seen Daryl Sutter throw his stick into the stands trying to motivate the boys, because he didn’t need to; had he ever done so, we would have have witnessed 25 skaters each standing in their own little yellow puddle on the ice — that’s a General. GG’s a Second Lieutenant at best.

  • Rockmorton65

    While I’m against it, there are some who think GG will get until Christmas to turn things around. The key for me is Cameron. If we had league average special teams, I think we are a playoff team. Not a contender, for sure, but we would have made the dance. If Cameron is still here at the start of the season, I will lose a ton of respect for the Flames management.

  • buts

    Great article Ryan…..you could have wrote the same article in December. How about an article on why GG is still employed. Is BT that blind? My answer to that is his ego is in the way. Which brings me to think that we should be scared of an ego that can’t admit to making a mistake. BT is a good contract negotiator but can he access coach’s, talent? I’m thinking he’s not the one to lead us to a cup.

    • Rockmorton65

      That’s a lot of assuming in one paragraph.

      “BT has a huge ego”
      “BT won’t admit a mistake”
      Therefore, BT is a bad GM.

      I have faith he will make the necessary changes. Just not in a knee jerk reaction kind of way. A new coaching staff doesn’t need to be in place until training camp, or about 5 months from now. Just because he’s not appeasing the fans right away doesn’t make him a bad GM.

      For the record, I DO believe this is BT’s most important summer as a GM. The clock has officially started running