Who is the best Calgary Flames head coach ever?
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
By Ryan Pike12 days ago
Over the 50 seasons that the Calgary Flames franchise has completed, they’ve had some ups, some downs, and a lot of different coaches. Even if you exclude interim coaches like Guy Charron and Ryan Huska, the Flames have had 20 permanent bench bosses – 21 if you include Darryl Sutter twice.
Which coaches were the best? We’ve attempted to rank ’em.
Here’s the wild thing about the Flames: their success, represented by banners hanging from the Saddledome’s rafters, has all come under just five of their 20 head coaches.
5. Dave King
A coach’s coach, King had been behind the bench for 20 years by the time he joined the Flames in 1992-93. A Hockey Canada fixture, he was lured to the NHL by the Flames in an effort to help the club turn things around after a couple disappointing seasons. (When he arrived, the Flames were just three years removed from a Stanley Cup parade.)
In the regular season, King had great success: the Flames won the Pacific Division’s pennant in both 1993-94 and 1994-95. In the post-season? They lost in the first round, in seven games, in each of those seasons, which contributed to the two sides parting ways after his initial contract expired.
4. Al MacNeil
After over a decade in the Montreal Canadiens organization, the Flames lured MacNeil to be their head coach in 1979. He spent a year in Atlanta and two seasons in Calgary, and even after moving on from being head coach he’s been a fixture in the Flames organization ever since. (He’s still an informal consultant despite not having a full-time role, as he’s got a wealth of experience and success under his belt.)
MacNeil was a steady hand on the wheel as the Flames experienced their relocation, and that steady hand led the Flames to two playoff round victories in 1980-81, their first season in Calgary. (Yes, having Kent Nilsson helped, too.) The Flames were swept the following season by Vancouver and decided to shake up their coaching staff, which resulted in MacNeil’s reassignment to other duties. He briefly returned behind the bench in 2002-03 after the club dismissed Greg Gilbert, coaching for a couple weeks before Darryl Sutter was hired.
3. Terry Crisp
After the departure of Bob Johnson to join USA Hockey, Crisp (the AHL head coach in Moncton) was promoted to the top NHL job. He coached for three seasons. Under his watch, the team won two Presidents’ Trophies, a Stanley Cup and five playoff rounds.
Yes, he inherited a heck of a team that was maturing quite well and seemed prime for success. But plenty of coaches have inherited seemingly can’t-miss rosters and, well, contributed to them finding ways to miss. Crisp helped his team find ways to win.
2. Darryl Sutter
The franchise leader in regular season games coached and won, Sutter served as head coach for two stints: he coached part of 2002-03 and all of 2003-04 and 2005-06 before resigning to focus on his general manager duties. He rejoined the team midway through the 2020-21 season and coached all of 2021-22 and 2022-23 before being relieved of his duties.
With Sutter behind the bench, the Flames won their division in 2005-06 and 2021-22, and won four playoff rounds – three in 2003-04 and one in 2021-22. Does his style wear on players? Sure. Does that mean he has a short shelf life as a coach? Perhaps. But does he have undeniable success as a coach? Definitely.
1. Bob Johnson
When the Flames needed to establish a new culture after their arrival from Atlanta, they heavily recruited University of Wisconsin fixture “Badger” Bob Johnson to set the club’s direction. In five seasons with the Flames, Johnson really helped to cement what it meant to be a Flame and set a standard on and off the ice.
Under Johnson, the Flames matured from a scrappy up-and-comer into a bonafide contender that could go toe-to-toe with some of the league’s very best teams. The club’s first-ever trip to a Stanley Cup Final was under Johnson, and while Sutter has an edge over him in terms of regular season longevity and success, Johnson has the edge in the post-season.
Who do you think is the best Flames head coach ever? Let us know in the comments!
Recent articles from Ryan Pike