Shots fired. The target was the Calgary Flames. Specifically, it seems, head coach Darryl Sutter.
The shooter was NHL agent Allan Walsh, who represents the team’s biggest disappointment to date this season — Jonathan Huberdeau.
Flames GM Brad Treliving brought Huberdeau aboard in the blockbuster Matthew Tkachuk trade last summer, seemingly salvaging an impossible situation after Johnny Gaudreau abandoned the Flames in free agency and Tkachuk expressed his intentions of departing in similar fashion.
Without even playing a single game with the Flames, Huberdeau inked the richest deal in franchise history — an eight-year commitment worth $84 million that kicks in next season.
The move paired a 115-point player with the reigning coach of the year.
But 52 games into the marriage, it’s clear this is not a match made in heaven.
"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result," Walsh Tweeted after the Calgary Flames’ 5-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night.
"Also, negativity sucks the joy right out of players."
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. Also, negativity sucks the joy right out of players. cc: @NHLFlames
— Allan Walsh (@walsha) February 17, 2023
On pace for a record drop from 115 to 55 points in a season, Huberdeau has struggled in Calgary. Some of that may be the pressure he puts on himself, the new environment and teammates after more than a decade in Florida, the spotlight in Canada, the system … or the relationship with the coach, and the environment Sutter creates.
Losing is never fun. Under Sutter — at least from conversations with players following his previous time in Calgary — it can be unbearably dark. That’s not to say this year’s team is feeling the same way. But it seems like at least one of them is.
The Flames have fallen to 1-2-2 since the all-star break. At 25-19-11 on the year, they’re in a tight battle for one of the wildcard spots in the Western Conference. Sutter’s reputation in times of struggle is one of darkness. And this season has been a struggle unlike any in his coaching career. Despite the fact they’re far from out of the playoff hunt, the Flames are playing well below expectations — those of others, and their own.
Calgary Flames defenceman Chris Tanev said it bet after Thursday’s loss, “We’ve been a rollercoaster all year. Good one game, suck the next. Good one game, suck the next.”
This latest, loss, however, was one of those potential season backbreakers. And Saturday’s response could define this team for the foreseeable future.
They sucked. In the last one. If they suck in the next, it may be impossible for GM Brad Treliving to ignore.
Especially after a tweet like Walsh’s.
Not that Treliving has much in the way of options. Ownership wanted to bring Sutter back. Treliving has already extended that contract for another two seasons, even though his own deal expires this summer. As a lame-duck GM, he’s a bit at the whim of ownership. He has no choice but to declare publicly his faith in the current players. With Huberdeau's lengthy extension kicking in next year and Sutter on deck for two more years, Treliving's easiest path is his own exit.
Before that, he may have no choice but to be a buyer at the NHL trade deadline even if he believes selling for the sake of the future is a better course of action.
The one thing that’s almost certain is the Flames can’t continue down their current path unchanged.
Nobody is having any fun with the status quo.