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How experienced have previous Calgary Flames head coaches been?

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Photo credit:Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
11 months ago
Behind general managers, head coaches have probably the second-most important jobs on National Hockey League clubs. The Calgary Flames will be hiring a new head coach this off-season after Darryl Sutter’s departure.
But what have Flames’ head coaches looked like in the past in terms of their experience and age profiles? As we also did with past GMs, we delved into the demographics to look for trends.

Age

As we saw with general managers, there’s been a good amount of variability in terms of the age of Flames head coaches (calculated as of the date of their first game coached in the role). The average has been 46 years, 184 days old.
Here’s the rundown, from youngest to oldest:
  • Doug Risebrough (1990): 36 years, 8 months, 6 days
  • Greg Gilbert (2001): 39 years, 1 month, 21 days
  • Brian Sutter (1997): 40 years, 11 months, 25 days
  • Bernie Geoffrion (1972): 41 years, 7 months, 25 days
  • Jim Playfair (2006): 42 years, 4 months, 14 days
  • Al MacNeil (1979): 44 years, 14 days
  • Darryl Sutter* (2003): 44 years, 4 months, 11 days
  • Terry Crisp (1987): 44 years, 4 months, 11 days
  • Fred Creighton (1975): 44 years, 7 months, 13 days
  • Dave King (1992): 44 years, 9 months, 15 days
  • Glen Gulutzan (2016): 45 years, 2 months, 1 day
  • Don Hay (2000): 46 years, 7 months, 23 days
  • Brent Sutter (2009): 47 years, 3 months, 22 days
  • Pierre Page (1995): 47 years, 5 months, 8 days
  • Bob Johnson (1982): 51 years, 7 months, 2 days
  • Bob Hartley (2012): 52 years, 4 months, 12 days
  • Bill Peters (2018): 53 years, 8 months, 21 days
  • Geoff Ward* (2019): 57 years, 9 months, 23 days
  • Mike Keenan (2007): 57 years, 11 months, 14 days
(* – For Sutter, we’re looking at when he was first hired. For Ward, we’re counting as of his first game as coach after Peters’ resignation.)
Obviously, there’s a ton of variation among these coaches in terms of age, and you can see at times the club seemed to bounce between extremes in terms of ages.
Looking at the three internal candidates to potentially become the next head coach: Mitch Love would be 39 when the 2023-24 season begins, Ryan Huska would be 48, and Kirk Muller would be 57.

Playing experience

We’ve all heard the murmurs that it’s important for a head coach to have playing experience because they need to be able to press the right buttons with their players – and having the experience of being in the trenches would, in theory, lend insight and credibility.
Generally-speaking, Flames head coaches have either had fairly lengthy NHL careers or no NHL experience whatsoever as players. Darryl Sutter, Brent Sutter, Brian Sutter, Risebrough, Gilbert, Crisp and MacNeil all had significant runs in the big-time. Heck, Geoffrion was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972, shortly before he started coaching in Atlanta.
Gulutzan, Playfair, Hay and Creighton all played minor-pro, but didn’t make it to the NHL. Keenan played in junior. Page, Johnson and Peters all played in college. Ward, Hartley and King had no significant playing experience.
Of the potential internal options: Muller played 19 seasons in the NHL. Love and Huska both played in minor-pro, with Huska getting into a single NHL game.

Coaching experience

Historically, the Flames have skewed heavily towards coaches who have previously been bench bosses at the NHL level. Darryl Sutter, Peters, Gulutzan, Hartley, Brent Sutter, Keenan, Hay, Brian Sutter, Page, Geoffrion and MacNeil had all coached in the NHL before being hired by the Flames. (Disclaimer: Hay, Geoffrion and MacNeil only coached a season apiece, but it still counts.)
The next-best thing to being an NHL head coach previously is experience as an NHL assistant coach. Ward, Playfair, Gilbert, Risebrough and Crisp had all spent time as assistants before being hired by the Flames as head coach. Playfair and Crisp had also spent a good amount of time of head coach for the Flames’ minor league affiliates before moving up.
Finally, a trio of coaches joined the Flames with no previous experience behind an NHL bench, whether as a head or assistant coach: King, Johnson and Creighton. (Creighton had been the coach of the Flames’ minor league affiliate, though.)
Of the possible internal options: Muller has been an NHL head coach, Huska has been an NHL assistant coach for several years, while Love has yet to step behind an NHL bench in either capacity.

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