VANCOUVER - JANUARY 7:  Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter argues a call with a referee during their NHL game against the Vancouver Canucks at General Motors Place on January 7, 2006 in Vancouver, Canada.  The Canucks defeated the Flanes 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

The Calgary Flames were eliminated from playoff contention last night with a loss to the Sharks and an Avalanche win over Vancouver.  There are a couple of games left to play, but their season is for all but over at this point, and that’s prompted criticism of the Sutter-run team.  Darryl Sutter has burned through a series of coaches in his time as general manager: himself, Jim Playfair, Mike Keenan, and now has his brother Brent Sutter in the office.  By the time a manager has gone through that many coaches, it becomes difficult to pass the blame on to them.

Sutter’s had a bold season, but not a good one; moves sending away Olli Jokinen and Dion Phaneuf don’t look so good in retrospect.  Kent Wilson put it this way:

There’s been injuries to some useful players down the stretch here (Glencross, Higgins and Langkow), but that’s not enough to explain the degree to which the team has failed to control the puck since they returned from the break. My view isn’t toward the post-season, which I consider irrelevant at this point, but to next year since this roster is all but locked up heading into 2010-2011. The fact that the organization has managed to up it’s cap commitment in the final quarter of the season and somehow get worse is, I think, a fairly powerful indictment of some of the decision makers.


Wilson certainly isn’t alone in that assessment, and the fallout has already started – both in the blogosphere (actually it’s been going for a while there) and in the mainstream media.  George Johnson of the Calgary Herald was damning in his assessment of Sutter’s work running the team:

Darryl Sutter’s blueprint has clearly failed. Spectacularly. With Iginla looking jaded, stale and fully deserving of a legitimate shot at a Stanley Cup before he’s done, he’s better-than-even-money to be moved this off-season. Meaning the grand plan concocted following the unexpected, inspirational playoff run of 2004 has come to nothing. The time has arrived to blow it up and start afresh.

After four coaching changes in five seasons, a continuing alteration of the supporting cast, the salary cap maxed out and a lot of middling talent signed to long-term deals, this is Sutter’s mess.

The GM should be squarely in the cross-hairs.

What had seemed so promising in the summer turned so sour. They snared their coach of choice, Brent Sutter, under controversial – some might imply underhanded – circumstances. Signed the plumb free-agent defenceman, Bouwmeester, on the market for major bucks. Promised an already doubting public that, after four consecutive first-round playoff pratfalls, this year would be different.

Instead, it wound up being worse.


Johnson has support.  Tim Wharnsby suggests that it may be time for “wholesale changes” in the front office.  Eric Duhatschek is predicting an organizational review by ownership.  Damien Cox was vicious in his take on Sutter and his trades this season, and expects “major repercussions”.

It’s not surprising to see such attacks in the press; Sutter has seemingly gone out of his way to belittle and alienate the men who cover his team during his time in Calgary, but it isn’t entirely undeserved, either.  The Flames have fallen away from the team they have were when Sutter first took over, right before the lockout.  To recap, here’s what they’ve done since he became general manager in 2003-04.  Results from 2009-10 aren’t complete yet, naturally:

Season Points Goal Diff. Playoff Results
2003-04 94 +24 Lost in Finals
2005-06 103 +18 Lost in Round 1
2006-07 96 +32 Lost in Round 1
2007-08 94 +2 Lost in Round 1
2008-09 98 +6 Lost in Round 1
2009-10 89* -1* Missed Playoffs


To be sure, there are some impressive results there, and if this were the spring of 2007 we wouldn’t be describing Sutter as on the bubble.  Sutter fired Playfair at the end of 2007 and installed Keenan, but unless Keenan had a Miikka Kiprusoff voodoo doll somewhere it probably isn’t fair to blame him for the drop-off in goal differential those years; those two seasons Kiprusoff was not himself, managing a 0.906 and 0.903 SV% (he’s rebounded to 0.920 this season).

This season is disappointing because it had so much potential.  Kiprusoff returned to form, Sutter had his preferred head coach (his brother) and was able to pull off not one but two blockbuster trades.  Despite that, the Flames have hit their lowest ebb since he took over as G.M.

Sutter’s a fairly smart hockey man, despite his unfortunate demeanour and the team’s failings this season.  But he’s consistently made crucial mistakes and as a result the team has gotten worse, little bits at a time until this season.  This isn’t a team that needs to be blown up and re-started, but it probably does need a different man at the top – a man less willing to scapegoat his coaches and more willing to address the issues on the roster.

That said, Sutter’s going to get another hockey job.  This would have been a playoff team in the Eastern Conference, and while there are more than a few warts (the Staios and Toskala trades, for example) as a whole his body of work is impressive.  But it’s time for a different direction in Calgary.

Comments (13)

  1. I think it’s inevitable now that Sutter is fired. This is a canadian market and unless your losing but seeing the team getting younger and drafting new talent with promises of a better future. Like the Maple Leafs and Oilers. It’s just not acceptable to be losing. Of course things aren’t totally hopeless for the Flames tough but not hopeless. Just look at what Bryan Murray has done in Ottawa. When he took over the years of winning and trying to get the cup had left the prospect cupboard bear. And had a roster right up against the cap and losing. Since then he’s revamped the prospects with names like Karlsson, Cowen, Wieroch and Lehner just to name a few. And has managed to get pull off a few good but also a few bad trades to get his team into the post season when they were suppose to finish well outside of it.

  2. I disagree about the toskala trade- that was the one trade I’m not annoyed about as a flames fan. He may not have been great, but he was adequate, which Mcbackup wasn’t in Calgary. Its easy to say they should have kept curtis after the past couple weeks in Anaheim, but I’m more apt to say he’s been playing out of his head there then he was in a bad situation in Calgary.

    Other then that though, I believe the Sutter family’s control of the team needs to come to an end. The Kotalik trade was easily the worst trade made by any team this year. The Phaneuf trade, though I’m not as harsh as most on, was in retrospect probably best saved for the summer. The Stajan signing was questionable and even signing a popular player who has produced well as a Flame in Rene Bourque proved controversial because of the questionable length. Considering the one trade I’m not frustrated about was probably the most minor, (seeing as toskala is off the books, and mcbackup wasn’t exactly a star) and the rest are all poor decisions at the very least, I have to think Daz is on the way out..

  3. Is it just me or did this team stop hitting? Over the last few weeks it came to me that the Flames didnt look as tough physically to play against. Perhaps it goes back further but from the two major trades they made it seemed to distract me from that observation. I would be curious to know what you think JW.

    At any rate, everything has a shelf life and i think that Sutter and his style have to go.

  4. the sutters will be let go and the Hunters will be coming in, they have shown that year in year out they can win, and compete no matter the talent level of there teams, they would be great in calgary, and the dale hunter has also shown that he can light a fire under players so maybe he can get iggy going again

  5. Darryl will be gone but not for long he could even have a new team by the end of summer. That being said the trade that seemed to sum up “he’s finished” was the Jokinen trade it was awful in all repsects. It would have been much better for him to have held on to him once he had made the leafs trade. With the pressure off of him to be #1 he may have been alot better. That being said the flames look like the bruins of the west to me, a little better defensively then most but with zero offence outside a couple of guys. Face it its time for them to start moving some peices for prospects.

  6. Conroy made an interesting observation the other day while defending Jarome Iginla. After the Chicago game he said something to the effect that they had “Toews, Sharp, Hossa, Campbell, Seabrooke…oh and Kane, we have Jarome.” Which got me thinking; most of the really good teams in the NHL have at least two or three “superstars” on their roster (with exception to Washington). Jarome couldn’t possibly do it all like he’s done in the past. The game has changed and he isn’t getting any younger. Those trades Sutter made were in the wrong direction. Phaneuf should have gotten us one really good forward straight up instead of a package of middle weights. And that Ranger deal was absolutely horrible.

  7. BTW, I was talking about skaters when referring to “superstars”. I realize Kipper is a superstar goalie but he can’t score ‘em, only stop ‘em. Oh, and Bouwmeester may get paid like one but he didnt show us that he can be one yet. He might just be the biggest disappointment of all.

  8. Flames springtime collapses have hit epidemic proportions . Scary to see it , considering all the talent that seems to grace them most every season . Jinx ? Next step probably managerial alignment .

  9. Alberta’s Pro hockey teams should fire their management teams en mass. The Oilers and Flames have mishandled everything since the cuffs were taken off and both teams were allowed to spend in the new cap era of the NHL. Sutter’s puzzling moves, such as Jokinen for Kotalik and Higgins and the Phaneuf deal were terrible. Sutter should have looked to move Phaneuf to a team that still had a first or at least a second round pick. Instead he got some middling forwards that would not be able to help Jarome Iginla.

  10. get rid of Sutter , convince Lankow,Kotalick,Stajan,Regher,Staois,Sarich to retire ……start over
    or – keep the Sutter’s , trade Iggy to Detroit for the “mule” , Cleary and a 7th and reunite – SHREK and Donkey.

  11. @Matte Black

    How is Washington an “exception” to your proposed “superstar” rule? Unless I’ve mistaken you it seems you’re saying they only have Ovechkin as a lone superstar; I think you can make a pretty strong case in saying Backstrom, Green, and Semin can be classified in you definition of a superstar. I think those four players perfectly fit your definition of an elite teams needs, if not exceding it.

  12. I can’t argue with why Daryl is a target, I feel that some of his previous steals maybe led him (and others) to think he’s got the Midas touch. I dont mind the phanuef trade, his contract was long and high, and the risk was that he would be worth less in the off season, but i do think that it should have either been for some big bang talent or prospects, middle talent is a bit like saying your not sure if your charging forward or rebuilding. With Jokinen should have been for something up front with potential, we were going to lose him (like we care) this summer, it might as well been for a few more backlunds, something to keep the team moving forward. The one blessing of being out of the playoffs at the deadline is that you know you dont need to make a push for the trades, but sutter just seemed to be waffling on strategy all year long for his acquisitions.

  13. On the flip side, could someone please explain why the veterens on the team cant pull it together and provide some leadership, sack the gm or the coach or the assistants or whover if those are the issue, (us fans never really know what goes on behind closed doors or whos pissed of at who), but its an effort of futility if next year its the same half hearted, lacklustre effort. The issue between now and 04 simply comes down to heart, the cup run team was the brave little toaster, this year was more like casey at the plate, every lame skid was treated like, well we have time, and then we just ran out and when we were on the wire, they couldnt come up with nearly any effort at all. The cause of the zero effort is what truly needs to be addressed

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