Darryl Sutter's hiring signals expectations for Flames are as high as the Rocky Mountains

·4 min read
Darryl Sutter, shown in this 2017 file photo, won the Stanley Cup with the L.A. Kings in 2012 and 2014, and previously coached the Calgary Flames from 2002 until resigning in 2006. (File/Getty Images - image credit)
Darryl Sutter, shown in this 2017 file photo, won the Stanley Cup with the L.A. Kings in 2012 and 2014, and previously coached the Calgary Flames from 2002 until resigning in 2006. (File/Getty Images - image credit)

Mark Giordano, Milan Lucic and Mikael Backlund provided an impromptu scouting report Friday on the new sheriff behind the bench for the Calgary Flames, Darryl Sutter.

Reporting for duty at the Scotiabank Saddledome just got a whole lot tougher under the rule of the man Calgarians jokingly call the "Jolly Rancher".

"Most guys know exactly what Darryl's all about," said Giordano, who played for Sutter as a rookie in 2005-06. "He's a proven winner. ... If you're not going to listen to a guy who's a proven winner like that, you shouldn't be in the game."

The daily grind under Sutter is hard, Lucic said. And the expectations? They're as high as the peaks of the nearby Rocky Mountains.

"He just wants the best out of you," said Lucic, who played for Sutter in Los Angeles in 2015/16.

"Buckle up."

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Calgary general manager Brad Treliving fired former head coach Geoff Ward Thursday after the Flames beat the Ottawa Senators 7-3 and moved to .500 on the season. The switch is generally welcomed by Flames fans longing to return to the glory days when Sutter led Calgary to Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Final.

Approaching the midway point of this shortened season, the underachieving Flames (11-11-2) sit fifth in the North Division – two points out of a playoff spot.

"I think that this team has as good an opportunity as anybody to make the playoffs and do well in the playoffs," Sutter said in his first Zoom news conference with reporters from the family farm in Viking, Alta. "In order to be a playoff team, you need to play playoff hockey every night.

"We're going to get this straightened out and get the most out of everybody."

The Flames are blessed with impressive talent up front in Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk. They have one of the league's top goalies in Jacob Markstrom. The defence – while lacking in star power – is anchored by Giordano, a former Norris Trophy winner, cagey veteran Chris Tanev, and the promising Rasmus Andersson.

But the Flames are wildly inconsistent and too often look like a team that's more there to collect paycheques rather than do whatever it takes to win.

Expect that to change under Sutter – immediately.

"Your job as a manager is to take your cues from the team," Treliving said. "I knew we needed to make a change, and there was only one guy we needed to have...This team needs Darryl and what he can bring."

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Sutter brings a career head coaching record of 634-467-101-83 with Chicago, San Jose, Calgary, and Los Angeles. He led the Kings to Stanley Cup titles in 2012 and 2014 and posted a winning record in 15-of-18 seasons.

"He's one of the sharpest minds that's stood behind the bench in our league and has had the ability to extract the very best out of every individual," Treliving said. "It's not easy, but the players will always know where they stand."

The job as Flames head coach is a perilous one, especially in recent times. Bob Hartley, Glen Gulutzan, Bill Peters, and Ward have cycled through the position over the last five years.

In leaving his cows and the farm behind, Sutter signed a three-year-deal to join the Flames.

The message from Treliving is clear: this is no stopgap measure.

"There are five or six really good players who started their career here and have been here through all the coaches," Sutter said. "What's important for them to know now is I'm here with them and I'm going to stick with them.

"They need stability and leadership from that same coach for a long time."

The question remains how the Flames will respond to the change in leadership style. The sudden switch – to the authoritarian Sutter from the collegial Ward – promises to be jarring.

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The Flames play Saturday in Edmonton and Sunday at home against Ottawa. Assistant coach Ryan Huska will run the bench for both games, with Sutter adhering to league-mandated COVID-19 protocols

Sutter is expected to run his first practice Tuesday at the Saddledome.

"It's not going to be easy," Backlund said. "it's going to be a lot of work, and he expects us all to compete on a day-to-day basis.

"He's coming in to win and nothing else is good enough."