The Calgary Flames have fired head coach Darryl Sutter, the team announced on Monday.
Sutter, now 64, was just a couple months away from his two-year, $8.6-million extension kicking in. Interim general manager Don Maloney, however, made it clear that "everything" would be reviewed following a disappointing 2022-23 campaign which saw the team miss the playoffs amid a tumultuous year.
This news only adds to an offseason of uncertainty for the Flames, as Maloney was handed the "interim GM" tag after Brad Treliving and the team parted ways a couple weeks ago. With the 2023 NHL Draft scheduled to begin on June 28, the Flames have time to get some ducks in a row (including perhaps keeping Maloney as GM), but the bottom line is they face plenty of crucial decisions as another franchise-shifting offseason looms in Calgary.
Sutter was seemingly at odds with Flames players, management
Ultimately, Sutter’s second stint as Flames head coach lasted 194 regular-season contests after he replaced Geoff Ward with 30 games remaining in the 2020-21 season.
The past two seasons showed how quickly things can change in the NHL, and maybe how rapidly relationships can fall apart — though it’s fair to wonder if things fractured even amid perceived success.
Just a season ago in 2021-22, the Flames put together a fantastic 50-21-11 record (111 points in 82 games), winning the Pacific Division and earning Sutter a justified Jack Adams Award as the NHL's top coach. The Flames fell to the Oilers in a memorable “Battle of Alberta” in the second round that spring.
Next, the Flames endured a shockingly tumultuous offseason, with Johnny Gaudreau leaving via free agency and Matthew Tkachuk asking for a trade before getting sent to Florida. Perhaps both star players would have left no matter what — it could just be they simply didn’t want to stay in Calgary long-term. Yet the crusty nature of Sutter (example: how he reacted to Jakob Pelletier’s debut) inspires at least some thoughts that his presence may have also played a factor in those departures.
Either way, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported that "a deteriorating relationship with Sutter played a major role" in Treliving’s decision to leave behind almost a decade of work as Flames GM after a disappointing 2022-23 campaign.
Naturally, if the issues only existed between Sutter and a departing GM, he’d likely still be in place. There were plenty of rumblings that players wanted Sutter out, and Jonathan Huberdeau at least made not-so-subtle comments about a long-awaited return to his more natural left wing position late last season.
Huberdeau expanded on being back on the left:
“I’ve always played left wing. It just makes sense. I like to open up my hips so I can see the ice way more than when I’m on my backhand. I feel I close my shoulder and I can’t see the ice as much (on the right).” #Flames
— Pat Steinberg (@Fan960Steinberg) March 11, 2023
Broadly speaking, you can summarize Sutter as a coach who installed a strong, defensive-minded system, but who often clashed with the players asked to institute such a gameplan. It’s possible there were certain drawbacks to his old-school leanings, too — particularly in a league where scoring has been skyrocketing.
If you have the roster to do /that/ when you're tied, you ought not to settle for /that/ when you're up one. pic.twitter.com/nZHA9AX11W
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) May 1, 2023
Future unclear for both Sutter and Flames
It’s unclear if the 64-year-old Sutter — who won two Stanley Cups during the early-mid 2010s with the dynastic LA Kings — will have interest in coaching in the NHL again, or if there will be a team that believes his structure is worth whatever strife comes with it. It’s also unclear which direction the Flames will go in 2023-24, from both coaching and team-building perspectives.
Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin, Tyler Toffoli, Mikael Backlund and other key players all enter contract years, with many of those players destined for significant raises. Do you decide to run it all back for one more season, and let the chips fall where they may? Would it instead be wise to move one or more for a smaller “retool,” or go more drastic with a rebuild that would involve trading several key pieces?
Whether it’s Maloney or a different GM making those choices, they all factor into how the Flames would approach a search for a new coach. Players might rejoice at Sutter’s departure, but the hard work and difficult choices remain.