Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter doesn’t make decisions randomly

Photo credit:Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Middleton
1 year ago
I know, I know. What’s going on? Why am I defending this guy? Well, I’ll explain.
I want to start this piece by saying that, even though I’m writing this article, it’s not because I think Flames head coach Darryl Sutter is doing a good job this season. He’s not. There are plenty of mistakes that I could point toward, and even with a single-digit number of games remaining (and the signing of another young and talented player that isn’t necessarily big or hit-first mentality), there’s still the threat that mistakes could keep happening. So, I don’t want any of you readers misconstruing this piece as a defence for Sutter and his actions over the course of this season.
However, I do want to dig into the narrative surrounding coaching decisions, specifically one of the ones that Sutter made in the third period of an almost must-win game against the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Flames were down one goal against the team currently sitting at the top of the Western Conference, and after the fourth line was deployed with the goalie pulled early, it was the choice to keep Jonathan Huberdeau (and Walker Duehr) off the ice that set Twitter aflame (no pun intended).
In total, Huberdeau played 14 seconds with the extra attacker, and when a team is paying a player $84 million, one might expect that he would be on the ice in the most important parts of a game.
The common argument is, “what has he done to deserve that time on ice? He hasn’t produced this season.” While that might be true, Huberdeau is still a threat, particularly with his passing, and having a player as objectively skilled as he is on the bench against a very strong defensive team doesn’t make much sense to many, as it shouldn’t.
While Flames Twitter (and even hockey reporters from around the league) were keying in on this peculiar decision from the former Stanley Cup-winning head coach, he was busy giving an answer.
The reason why Huberdeau wasn’t on the ice in those last couple of minutes against a very strong team in the West? The fact that none of this was happening on the fly, and the Flames had been bad in the face-off circle to that point. On the night, the Flames won only 41 percent of their face-offs, and there was going to be an offensive zone draw, which Sutter felt he had more suitable personnel for the situation.
All of this brings me to my overall point: even though we may disagree with decisions, that doesn’t mean that they were made without any thought.
As I mentioned, Sutter is a former Stanley Cup-winning head coach with the Los Angeles Kings. He may be a bit prickly around the edges, and his quiet manner, along with some of his comments, may come off as him not caring, but there are still reasons why he makes decisions. None of us is a fly on the wall, even though I’m sure most of us would like to be one, so we won’t get a straight-up answer as to what’s going on or listen in on what he’s saying to a player like Jakob Pelletier or Huberdeau. So it’s important to remember that these decisions are not made because Sutter decided to spin a wheel or flip a coin.
The same goes for any coach across the league. Some are better at their jobs than others, but every single one has an explanation for the moves that they make on a game-to-game basis. By all means, disagree with them, but I think it’s important to remember that if there was a decision made without a thought process behind it, it would be even more obvious when questions were asked than if there was a decision made without a thought process.
So, the moral of the story, disagree with any decision you see fit when it comes to Sutter. He’s made his fair share of mistakes this season. But don’t forget that there are still methods to the madness.

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