I’ve covered the Calgary Flames for over a decade. This year’s edition, on paper, is probably the deepest and best accumulation of players they’ve had since I’ve started on the beat. But for whatever reason, they’re also one of the most inconsistent groups in the league.
Late Thursday night, general manager Brad Treliving decided to make a big chance by bringing in two-time Stanley Cup winning coach Darryl Sutter to guide the team.
So why did Sutter get brought in? Speaking to Sportsnet’s Eric Francis prior to the move, Treliving provided a bit of insight into some frustrations he – and many who follow the team – had with the group:
If you had an identity for our team, we’re an inconsistent team… That’s not usually the identity you draw up. When I say inconsistency, I’m talking about the highs and the lows. You’re not going to have your ‘A’ game every night. Good teams have a good ‘B’ game where they can have success some nights, playing air-tight defensively and being good on special teams. Our problem is we’ve got an ‘A’ game and a ‘D’ game.
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Expect that to change under Sutter. He’s been described as a demanding coach. He’s tough. He pushes players. He demands structure and discipline. Some of his former players don’t exactly love him, but he’s got a track record of success behind the bench. He’s won two Stanley Cups, and (in)famously led the Flames within inches of another.
Under Treliving, the Flames have had two “tough” coaches (Bob Hartley and Bill Peters) and two “nice” coaches (Glen Gulutzan and Geoff Ward). Some of the logic behind hiring a “player’s coach” in the past stemmed from the team having a veteran core who had spent time together – Mark Giordano, Mikael Backlund, Sean Monahan and the rest – and under an established core the coach can focus on tactics and leave the locker room alone to manage itself.
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But under the current era of the club, both “tough” and “nice” coaches alike have seemingly been tuned out by the players. All due respect to his predecessors, but Sutter won’t be tuned out. He might eventually wear out his welcome with his motivational tactics, but he won’t be ignored by his players.
On the ice, expect an emphasis on discipline, pace and structure. The 2003-04 Flames, arguably the most overachieving group in team history, managed to get to a Stanley Cup Final by playing with pace and structure. The 2020-21 vintage is high on talent, but could become something really memorable with those other ingredients added.
Sutter is the fifth head coach for Treliving as GM. In the past, the Flames have been criticized for not shelling out big bucks for established, high-end coaches – part of a pattern of “half-measures” the club has made in various other areas.
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Here’s what former managing editor Ari Yanover wrote back in 2017:
A half measure is when you recognize you have to do something, so you do just that: something. You make a move. It may seem like it makes a difference, and technically it does because, well, things are different now. But they aren’t really.
The Flames made a big move this off-season by spending big to bring in Jacob Markstrom. And now, they’ve made a similarly big move in hiring Sutter. It might not be a perfect move and there are risks involved, but it feels like the organization pushing a lot of chips to the middle of the table. These aren’t half-measures. They’re big changes.
We’re about to find out what this hockey club is really capable of.