Urgency. If there’s one word to describe Calgary Flames bench boss Darryl Sutter’s cerebral approach to coaching, that’s the one that comes to mind.
Urgency is created every day. It doesn’t matter what situation the Flames are in. It’s how he wants the team to play ever shift – as if it’s their most important of the season yet. Because, in his mind, it is.
His team is leading the Pacific Division, boasts a thrilling goal differential and arguably the best top trio in the NHL.
A handful of Calgary Flames could win awards a couple of months from now. Johnny Gaudreau is in the hunt for the Art Ross and should be a Hart finalist.
Jacob Markstrom and Dan Vladar have a shot at sharing the Jennings for least goals against, and Markstrom will be right up there in the Vezina conversation.
Elias Lindholm should get a lot of Selke votes, but linemates Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk are equally worthy.
And Sutter himself is a frontrunner for the Jack Adams as coach of the year.
But none of those awards are as important as the ultimate prize – the Stanley Cup.
Maintaining the underdog mentality
And despite their impressive regular-season rankings, Sutter won’t let anyone inside or outside the locker-room believe the Calgary Flames should be favourites.
“You’re going to be an underdog. That’s a fact,” Sutter said on Wednesday. “As an organization, you’ve had zero success. For a long time. So you’re going to be an underdog, whoever you play.”
He’s not wrong. Since he guided them to the Stanley Cup final in 2004, things have been rough. First-round exits in four straight years following the lockout. Five straight years without playoff appearances came next.
In fact, aside from the 2004 run, the Calgary Flames have won just one playoff series (2015) since their Stanley Cup victory in 1989 (excluding that weird pandemic playoff play-in in 2020).
The underdog urgency isn’t a new tactic. In fact, it was that us-against-the-world mentality that brought them to within one win of a second Stanley Cup in ’04.
Post-lockout, the Flames were favourites, winning the Pacific Division in 2006 but falling to the Anaheim Ducks in Sutter’s last season as head coach in Calgary before he went to the GM office full-time.
Avoiding the Avalanche – until the conference final
Now, he’s looking to combine a division title while keeping the underdog tag intact. Seems like an oxymoron, but the tactic seems to be working in the locker-room so far.
“Every night we don’t play we lose ground. Every night,” Sutter stressed while talking about the importance of finishing as high in the standings as possible for a more favourable matchup.
“You’re going to have to play Colorado as a wildcard and you’ll get the shit kicked out of you. I’m not interested in that. You want to finish as high as you can.”
Two points in games like Thursday night’s against the Los Angeles Kings, the team currently closest in the Pacific Division rearview, will be important to make sure that happens.