For many residing in southern Alberta, the 2004 Stanley Cup Final was fairly traumatic. The Calgary Flames came within a single goal of winning the championship, only to lose in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
If you think it’s haunted you, just think of how it’s lingered with new Flames head coach Darryl Sutter. Speaking with the media on Friday morning, he made it abundantly clear why he’s been lured back to coaching from his Viking, Alberta farm.
“It’s unfinished business,” said Sutter. “It’s still really clear in my mind. Losing in the Stanley Cup Final with the team and thinking about it on the flight home from Tampa, about the players and the owners and how much that resonated with me, how much it’s in my mindset.”
Sutter was frequently complimentary towards the group general manager Brad Treliving has assembled during his remarks. He didn’t get into too many names, but cited a nucleus of nine or 10 players who he considers to be top NHL players as one of the appeals of taking the position.
Treliving thanked exiting coach Geoff Ward for his service. He called Ward “a great man” and noted that letting “good people go is a miserable side of the business.” But he also noted the challenges of making roster moves in the current climate and made it clear that this was a card he felt he had to play.
There’s certain times that are required for patience, and there’s certain times that require action. And in watching our team over the past several days, weeks, I felt strongly that this time, right now, was a time for action. We’ve been under-performing. We’ve been inconsistent. And for us to be able to bring in Darryl, in my mind one of our game’s greatest coaches, most successful coaches, and the biggest strengths I can see from Darryl are his ability to be very clear. The clarity he provides players in terms of their roles, the expectations and the standards of the organization, and if you look back at his track record, he maximizes player performance.
Treliving noted that Sutter will arrive in Calgary on Monday after clearing the league’s protocols and taking care of a few personal matters. He’ll take over running practice on Tuesday. In the interim, assistant coach Ryan Huska will run the bench for Saturday’s game in Edmonton and Sunday’s game in Calgary against Ottawa. No other coaching staff changes are being made.
If you want to put on your tinfoil hat and figure out how far back this was in the works, the NHL’s quarantine protocols for Canadian players involves a seven day quarantine with testing on days 1, 3, 4 and 7. If all tests are negative, the player can join the team for day 8. Presuming Sutter is required to do a similar quarantine – the NHL’s regulations are a bit vague on that – then this move dates back to last Sunday or Monday. Treliving noted that he had talked to Sutter in the past but this time things lined up for everybody. The deal came together “over the past few days.”
For those keeping track, Sutter is the fifth coach for Treliving as GM (and the fifth coach for many of the team’s core players). According to Treliving, the hiring of a coach like Sutter – whose three-year contract was neither confirmed or denied by the GM – is aimed to stop the coaching churn.
“The message to the players is the coach they’ve got now isn’t going anywhere,” said Treliving. “And it’s now on the players to perform… I just felt strongly over the course of the last little bit that our team was under-performing. It needed this change. This change was required. Not only was a change required, Darryl was required. We needed Darryl. This team needs Darryl and what he can bring.”
Sutter referenced emphasizing a team mentality several times. He made his mindset towards his new/old gig pretty clear when discussing his close relationship with the Flames’ ownership over the years.
“It’s like I have a debt to play to them guys. We’re going to win a Stanley Cup for them.”