It’s a dilemma, all right. The Darryl Sutter-coached Calgary Flames are struggling this season, on the outside of the playoff picture looking in with just 10 games left in their schedule.
Rumour has it there are players in the Flames dressing room unhappy with the way Sutter coaches the team, including top-liners both new to the team this campaign and those whose contracts will expire soon.
The answer is simple then, right? Fire the coach?
Nope. Not even close.
The Flames signed Sutter to a two-year contract extension in October that runs through the 2024-25 season.
And surely you remember why: He guided the Flames to a Pacific Division title last year and won the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top coach.
Still, a coach doesn’t necessarily control player movement. There certainly was that for the Flames over the summer, with their top two scorers in Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk — each coming off career years — saying goodbye to Calgary.
To say it hasn’t gone smoothly is an understatement, with both Huberdeau and Kadri enduring offensive downturns in 2022-23, especially when compared to their sterling points performances the year before in Florida and Colorado, respectively.
Huberdeau’s 48 points through 69 games puts him tied for 117th in NHL scoring. Last season, he scored 115 points in 80 games to finish second in the scoring race.
Kadri has played all 72 games and has one more point than Huberdeau at 49. Last season with the Avalanche, he enjoyed his best NHL points total with 87.
The Flames are averaging 3.13 goals per game this year heading into Wednesday night action, good for 17th among NHL teams. Last season, they averaged 3.55, food for fifth.
The general manager is responsible for the makeup of the team. That’s the department of Brad Treliving, whose own contract is up at season’s end.
If you asked Flames fans last summer how he performed on the free agency and trade fronts in the wake of the Gaudreau and Tkachuk drama,
many most would’ve told you they were as pleased as Hawaiian Punch with how it turned out given how quickly it all went down.
Those same fans were also just fine, thank you, with the Sutter contract extension on the eve of the season. Winning record, Jack Adams and all that.
Obviously, things don’t always go as expected.
I know I didn’t have ‘Flames outside playoff picture with 10 games to go’ on my bingo card. You probably didn’t, either.
But here we are.
I know I wouldn’t want to be majority owner Murray Edwards right now. Well, a part of me would. I’m sure he lives comfortably and doesn’t have to wear two pairs of socks around the house like I do all winter.
But that guy’s got some significant decisions to make for all of the above reasons, mostly centring around the future of the Flames’ architect — who some would say has made the most of his team’s situation — and of the coach who suddenly seems like yesterday’s man a year after he could do no wrong.
I assume Sutter is getting paid more than the league minimum for coaches, too, whatever that’s worth.
Complicated? A bit. It always comes down to money, though. Whether the Flames make expensive front-office changes in the off-season depends on whether they’re prepared to eat some or not.
The Sutter extension coming when it did, coupled with the uncertain future for Treliving, could be an indication that the coach could be here for the long haul, at least the next two seasons following this one.
The Flames sure do like their Sutters, after all.
Now, whether they could justify making him GM on top of being coach, well, I'm not so sure the fan base would be OK with that. Surely Edwards and Co. wouldn't be so bold to give the 64-year-old carte blanche for a second time in team history.
If my name was Murray, I'd start clean. I'd sell a few pairs of my socks to buy out that contract, if that's what it took. Clean house. Start the process of knitting together the next winning hockey staff and squad.
I know: Easy to say, hard to do. Decisions are hard. Cliches are easy but borne from repeated truths: it's harder to fire players, easier to fire the coach.