What should the Calgary Flames do with Darryl Sutter?
Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
8 months ago
This has been one of, if not the most disappointing season in Calgary Flames history. The Flames had the fourth-highest odds of winning the Stanley Cup heading into this season according to some gambling sites. The new additions of Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri and MacKenzie Weegar were going to make Flames fans forget about Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau. This team was supposed to be better suited for playoff hockey.
But we are now at the point where the Flames have a less than 10% chance at making the playoffs according to public models that track playoff probabilities.
One of the people to blame for this unsuccessful season is Flames head coach Darryl Sutter. That’s not to say that this season is all on his shoulders. It’s definitely not. But he has played a major role in it going the way it has.
This begs the question, what should the Flames do with Sutter at the end of this season? Let’s look at some reasons to keep Sutter, and to move on from the coach at the end of the season.
Reasons to keep Sutter
There is no denying that Sutter is a future Hockey Hall of Famer as a coach. He has had tremendous success everywhere he has coached. Whether that was getting below average Blackhawks and Sharks teams to the playoffs. Guiding Calgary to an improbable run to the 2004 Stanley Cup final. Winning two Stanley Cups with the Los Angeles Kings. Or leading the Flames to their best season as a franchise since the 1990s in 2021-22.
A big reason for his success has been his understanding of the game and his tactics.
Based on the numbers, it is clear that Sutter’s system of shot volume, puck possession, tight checking and man on man system in their defensive zone is working.
At 5-on-5, Calgary ranks first in shot attempts, fifth in expected goals for, eighth in scoring chances for, and ninth in goals scored. Calgary does struggle to generate high danger chances as they rank 16th in that category. But that has more to do with the talent level of the roster than Darryl’s system in my opinion.
On defence, Calgary ranks second in shot attempts against, fourth in scoring chances against, and sixth in expected goals against.
Those numbers should make the Flames a top ten team in the NHL, sitting comfortably in a playoff position.
Elements out of Sutter’s control
The Flames have had a lot of bad luck this season. Let’s start with their ability to finish chances. How many times have we seen a Flames player miss a wide open net? Or hit the post or crossbar? How many times have we seen botched odd man rushes? A lot of this stuff comes down to the players not executing at a high enough level this season.
Then there is the issue of goaltending. The Flames goaltending has been atrocious for the vast majority of the season. Calgary ranks 29th in save percentage as a tandem.
58 goalies have played at least 1,000 minutes in all situations this season. Here is where Jacob Markstrom and Dan Vladar rank in some goaltending metrics in all situations:
|Save %||GAA||GSAA||HDSV %||Shutouts|
|Markstrom||0.889% (52nd)||2.98 (32nd)||-19.66 (52nd)||0.812% (35th)||1|
|Vladar||0.893% (45th)||2.91 (27th)||-7.15 (43rd)||0.842% (15th)||0|
Sutter can’t strap on the goalie pads and make saves for his team. The team in front of the goaltending tandem has been strong only giving up the seventh fewest high danger scoring opportunities at 5-on-5.
Roster construction has been another issue with this franchise since the 1990s. Who puts together the roster? That would be the general manager. Calgary’s roster is deep and has a lot of good hockey players. The main issue is that there are no great or elite players in the Flames lineup.
You need to have elite, game breaking talent on your roster if you are going to have any success in the NHL. Look at the success that was had under Sutter last season. 14 players including both goalies had career years thanks in large part to the elite play of Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk.
Calgary thought they might have had an elite player in Jonathan Huberdeau, but unfortunately he has not come close to meeting expectations this season.
Flames’ track record of hiring head coaches
Another thing for Flames fans to consider is the track record the Flames organization has of hiring head coaches. You could make the argument that Sutter is the best head coach this team has had since Terry Crisp. Only one Flames coach has lasted more than three seasons behind the Flames bench since the 1980’s. It was Bob Hartley from 2012-2016. Do fans trust the Flames front office to hire a long term, high quality coach?
Finally, Sutter signed a two year extension at the beginning of the season. Will Murray Edwards want to pay Sutter millions of dollars not to coach his team for the next two seasons? That’ll be something the Flames ownership group will have to consider when making this decision.
Reasons to fire Sutter
Relationship with the players and management
The main reason to move on from Sutter would be the negative, and at times dysfunctional work environment that he has fostered this season. I don’t think you can lead a group of young people in 2023 the way Sutter seems to be doing so right now. You have to be more communicative, you have to be more positive and you have to show more empathy,
That negative environment has reportedly caused tension within the Flames locker room. Reporters and media members with close ties to the Flames organization have publicly talked about how there is a divide between the players and the head coach. They’ve also talked about how Sutter and Treliving have not been on the same page all season.
It’s clear that Nazem Kadri and Jonathan Huberdeau do not have the best relationship with the head coach. There are a lot of others who likely feel the same way but haven’t gone public with their opinions.
There is the odd player who enjoys playing for Sutter, like Tyler Toffoli as an example. But who wouldn’t not like a coach that helped you win a Stanley Cup back in 2014? Toffoli seems to be the exception, not the rule in this case.
There have been a number of lineup decisions that have raised eye brows in the city of Calgary this season.
- Splitting up the lines after early season success in October
- Putting Milan Lucic on a line with Nazem Kadri and Jonathan Huberdeau
- Refusing to put together Mangiapane-Backlund-Coleman for the majority of the season
- Refusing to play young players consistently (Phillips, Pelletier, Duehr)
- Keeping Trevor Lewis and Milan Lucic as mainstays in the lineup
The Flames have not iced their most optimal lineup at times this season. And you could make the argument that it might have cost them some points in the standings.
Handling of the media
Sutter has not done a great job handling the media this season, particularly in the first half of the season. He had his infamous Jonathan Huberdeau “taking a shit” comment. And then the Jacob Pelletier comments after his first NHL game (“What number is he?”). That is the kind of stuff that can upset a locker room. On top of all that, he has given a lot of unnecessary, sarcastic, rude answers to questions the media has asked this season. They are just trying to do their job and he hasn’t made it easy on them at times.
Those are the main reasons to consider keeping or firing Sutter at the end of this season. Will they keep him around and try to repair fractured relationships he has with key players? Or is it time to move in a new direction and bring in a more player friendly coach?
Interesting times ahead for this organization.
What do you think the Flames should do with Darryl Sutter? Let us know in the comments section!
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