Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Nikita Zadorov on former Calgary Flames coach Darryl Sutter: ‘There were difficulties’
9 months ago
In an article published on sport24 and translated from Russian into English, we got to hear some interesting things from Calgary Flames defenceman Nikita Zadorov. He talked about Russia, his off-season, along with his plans to keep up to speed, and then, he delved into the regular season, including some reasons why the team didn’t have as good of a season as they might have liked and the relations between the players and the former head coach, Darryl Sutter.
Zadorov had the best year of his career in terms of the box score statistics: goals, assists, and points. However, none of that is of any importance to Zadorov, who said that not making playoffs was the biggest disappointment of the season. As far as why the Flames didn’t make the playoffs, Zadorov diagnosed that problem.
“In the first six games, there were five wins and one loss. Then a series of home games, we all lost. After the All-Star break and bye week, we won 70% of the matches, but that wasn’t enough for us, the other teams played very well,” Zadorov said. “I think we had the strongest division in the league with Edmonton, Los Angeles, Vegas, and Seattle. Very good teams. It’s a thing in the NHL that sometimes it’s harder to get into the playoffs than it is to win the Stanley Cup.”
One thing that might have gone unnoticed this season that had an effect on the players was the kind of travel they dealt with throughout the season. Shifting through multiple time zones within a week’s span can take a toll on the body of even the most fit professional athletes, which, in turn, can affect the results of games.
“The calendar was terrible this year. We flew to New York, played three matches, and flew back five hours, plus two hours difference. It turned out [we] lost seven hours. We played at home, and then again to the East, to Florida. It was all physically unsettling, no recovery,” Zadorov said. “We played in Arizona and Vegas, then we came home for one game, and then we flew away again, this time to Dallas, and then to Los Angeles. For some reason, they could not combine the two exits. The stupidity is complete. Previously, a person made a calendar, but now an algorithm. And matches at 8 o’clock in the evening – laughter. By the third period, you are already falling asleep.”
Along the way, in 2023, there were some key wins and key losses that lead to the demise of the Flames at the end of the regular season, and when asked which games may have cost them their playoff spot, the answer was one that probably won’t shock any of you readers.
“I think the key defeat is at home to Chicago. That’s why we didn’t make it to the playoffs. We lost three games in total, and this is the worst team in the league,” Zadorov said. “We lost at home to Anaheim, and Philadelphia, and lost to Boston when we moved them many times over. We lost to Ottawa, leading 3-1 – we scored two goals two minutes before the end. 17 losses in overtime – that says a lot. If at least half of them were won, then this is already +8 points. We would easily be in the playoffs. We lost the matches we should have taken.”
Speaking of those 17 overtime losses, it was the most by a team in 2023 (one more than the San Jose Sharks), and a couple of different results could have changed the course of the Flames season. According to Zadorov, it wasn’t just that the Flames lost those overtime games, but it was the way they lost them or the way that the players were deployed that might have been a factor in the season’s result and the firing of the head coach.
“Overtime is your top players. This is skill, the puck kept, hockey IQ: you have to be cunning somewhere, somewhere a little smarter than your opponent,” Zadorov said. “Our players who went into overtime did not follow the setup. Maybe they didn’t have confidence because of the coach’s attitude. Many factors played.”
Zadorov mentioned that he enjoyed playing under Sutter, but there were some difficulties as well. It’s interesting the way that he described how this past season’s team didn’t fit the kind of style that Sutter has coined and the 2021-22 team did, pointing to the roster overturn and the leaders in the locker room being different. Going from Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau to Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar is a big change.
“90% of the information I can not tell you. But I will say that we had some difficulties. I liked Darryl, he made me a better player. I enjoyed playing under him. I will say this: at the moment he did not fit our team. Last year, Sutter was the perfect coach for Calgary; this season the leaders have changed, and he did not suit them. They did not find mutual understanding. When you invest $50-80 million in players, you make a choice in their favor.”
Over the last three seasons of his career, Zadorov has been making his way around the Western Conference. From the Colorado Avalanche, to the Chicago Blackhawks, and now with the Flames, there hasn’t been many calm and relaxing off-seasons for the Russian defenceman. With the consistent questions regarding who will be the next general manager and head coach in Calgary, there’s still some stress to be felt, but the hope for Zadorov is that everything will calm down as time moves on.
“I’m tired of worrying. I worry every year. Either I left Colorado, then I left Chicago, then I don’t have a contract,” Zadorov said. “My wife and I are already laughing, we hope that at least this summer will be calm. The last six years have not been like this. We are in touch with the guys, the management keeps us informed.”
As far as the future of the Flames goes, Zadorov isn’t sure what is going to happen, but he doesn’t want much to change. Unfortunately, some change is inevitable considering the salary cap and the amount of money the Flames are going to owe to the big name players they decide to keep around, but there appears to be a strong belief from Zadorov that they can be a Stanley Cup contender.
“Next year, seven people, including me, are running out of contracts, so it is not clear what they will do with all of us,” Zadorov said. “I hope there will be no restructuring, and we do not need it. We have enough good players, and we can return to be contenders next season. Let’s spend the summer right.”
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