Hot Talk: The Darryl Sutter Question. Should he stay with Flames or go?
‘I think when you change that many core pieces, the entire personality of the locker-room shifts. And this year’s room apparently did not like the Sutter vibe.’
Craig Ellingson: What are the Calgary Flames going to do about Darryl Sutter?
Suggestions that have been floating around for months now indicate some players aren’t happy with him as head coach.
And obviously, the team missed the NHL playoffs.
This was an unthinkable position a year ago, though, with the Flames one of the top teams in the league, finishing first in the Pacific Division, getting to the second round of the playoffs, Sutter winning the Jack Adams Award as the league’s top coach.
Even with Calgary losing Johnny Gaudreau to free agency and trading Matthew Tkachuk, the team still added Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri and MacKenzie Weegar to the roster.
The Flames gave Sutter a contract extension worth a reported $4 million a year starting in 2023-24, too.
Things were looking up at the start of this season, with many considering the team a contender again like the year before.
Steve Macfarlane: I think when you change that many core pieces, the entire personality of the locker-room shifts. And this year’s room apparently did not like the Sutter vibe.
Who knows, maybe that also factored into some of events of last summer. Certainly in Tkachuk’s case there were some subtle comments made about his useage.
Sutter tinkered early and I think made some poorly chosen public comments that didn’t sit well with the group, and now you have a divide with at least a few players reportedly voicing that they’re not interested in playing for Sutter any longer than they have to.
Craig: ‘Any longer than they have to’: You’re not talking about Huberdeau or Kadri, then — both are locked up contractually for a few years yet — you’re speaking of players such as Mikael Backlund and Elias Lindholm, who are set to become free agents in the not-too-distant future.
Steve: There are a lot of guys who have one more year on their contract and two of the biggest were extremely non-committal or worse in their public interviews. So imagine what the behind-the-scenes exit interviews were like for Lindholm and Backlund.
That said, I also believe that one of those new core players said he’s not interested in playing under Sutter in spite of his long-term deal … whatever that ‘bluff’ may be worth.
It’s all a bit speculative but there were enough signs of discourse during the year, and the departure of the GM and the reports that he wanted to fire the coach but wasn’t allowed to sort of gives you a pretty strong circumstantial case to work with.
Craig: Of course the circumstances around Sutter getting a contract extension while GM Brad Treliving opted not to accept one says something, too, about how things are being run at the Saddledome.
Of course, an owner is allowed to run things as he sees fit, but people hired to make hockey decisions want to be trusted to make calls.
Perhaps it was Treliving’s time to move on anyway, but hey, there are only 32 GM jobs in the NHL.
For someone to walk away from one as opposed to being fired is uncommon.
Steve: Definitely an unspoken statement. I think there were many factors that probably contributed to Treliving’s desire to move on but that situation with the coach/owner/GM is messy.
Treliving is pretty highly regarded around the league and knows he’ll have work when he wants it so it says a lot to walk away from something he invested nearly a decade ‘building’.
Craig: My gut feeling is Sutter isn’t going anywhere, at least not to start next season.
They’ve invested millions in him as coach. I don’t imagine ownership simply wants to flush that investment away.
That would mean whoever they hire as GM has to be OK with having Sutter as bench boss for at least one season, I’d wager, if not two.
The Flames haven’t yet reaped additional revenue from a new arena and district, after all.
Steve: I saw a great line from someone on Twitter about that. If the owners had $40M handy to put down on the arena what’s another $8M to buy out Sutter?
What a position to put a new GM in. ‘Here, do what you want but leave the coach alone.’
I can’t imagine anyone with a sense of pride wanting to join a franchise in that situation.
But if they were willing to let Treliving walk over it, then maybe they’ll keep looking until they find their lackey.