Darryl Sutter inherited a mess. The Calgary Flames head coach came in midway through the 2021 season and noticed immediately the conditioning was abysmal.
At least by NHL standards.
The message last summer was clear – train harder than ever.
Despite a Pacific Division title and second-round playoff appearance, the message wasn’t much different this summer.
“Get 10 per cent better,” Sutter said during his radio interview on Sportsnet 960 this week.
“They really worked hard at it last summer and now they’re working hard at it again.”
Many of the Calgary Flames players are already trickling back into town. Some hitting the ice for informal practice sessions. They saw the results of their hard work last year. It translated into a nearly a dozen career highs.
“They were one of the poorest-trained teams in the league coming into last season,” Sutter said. “The biggest surprise I’d ever seen was when I came halfway through the year … the team’s conditioning.
“They became a slow team because of that.”
Flames career years came from training effort
The veteran taskmaster set expectations as players departed without a playoff appearance. They took their challenge seriously.
Because of the effort they put in, the Calgary Flames commanded respect from the rest of the league, posting a new season high for points (111) in the post-lockout era.
The regular-season banner doesn’t mean much in the big picture. For Sutter – and for the players – it’s about what happens in the playoffs. But there were strides made last year in both areas. And the division title was all the proof needed for the players to buckle down again after their playoff loss to the Edmonton Oilers.
“Those kids that had career years last year just wasn’t by accident or because of philosophy. It’s because they trained a lot different, trained a lot harder to be faster players,” Sutter said. “They played the right way and were rewarded for it.
“And we think there’s still improvement there. And with that improvement, then skillsets become more noticeable.”
With training camp fitness testing just weeks away, we’ll soon find out who set the bar.