Darryl Sutter must be feeling pretty let down by his family today, after their National Lampoon’s Arizona Vacation experience the past two days.
First, his kid – Flames spare-part forward Brett Sutter – gets arrested for assault in a barroom brawl in Phoenix. Then his kid brother – Flames coach Brent – shows just how badly he’s mishandling his troops in a downright depressing 5-4 loss to the Coyotes.
What was clear from both incidents is what massively negative influences the Sutters have become. Maybe it’s time to get rid of a few of them.
The kid, Brett, is an easy one. Send him back to the minors. He hasn’t been playing much anyway, and this sort of undisciplined off-ice activity – on a team that plays a woefully undisciplined game anyway – deserves action. Send a message. Send him down. Maybe he can better learn how to handle his liquor in the pubs of lovely Abbotsford, B.C.
The coach is obviously a much bigger deal. But Brent Sutter showed for 60 minutes last night that he no longer has a clue what he’s doing. Every time something went wrong, he started fiddling around with lines – one bad shift and the next time on the ice, you’d be playing with someone different. It didn’t matter that the Flames were in this game throughout much of it, Sutter couldn’t leave well enough alone. Meanwhile, he paces behind the bench, scowling, shaking his head, cursing under his breath, at everthing that doesn’t go his way, like some little pouting 10-year-old.
Listen, nimrod – for whatever reason, you coach a team with a collectively fragile psyche. It needs to be pumped up, it needs to have some confidence instilled in it. Night after night, you are deflating it, knocking every ounce of confidence out of it. Guys look scared to do anything on the ice, lest they be benched or demoted to the fourth line. you have everyone playing passive, frightened, shaky hockey.
The biggest case in point: The Captain. Jarome Iginla, mired in the worst slump of his illustrious career, had another lousy night – zero points, zero shots, minus-4, could have made the Canadian Olympic Just-Standing-There Team on the Coyotes’ first and forth goals – but the coach’s treatment of the face of the franchise was a disgrace. Dropping him to the forth line, pulling him off the power play, benching him for the final minutes when the Flames were still attempting a comeback. How, exactly, does it help your best player break out of a scoring slump by sitting him on the bench, playing him with fourth-line plumbers and keeping him off the power play?
It would be one thing if it were just Iginla, but players up and down the lineup are struggling. Bouwmeester continues to make big mistakes (Phoenix’s second goal was all his to wear). Jokinen can’t score. Stajan can’t score. Tanguay and Morrison are struggling. White and Giordano look tentative. No one is hitting. And the coach is grasping at straws, panicking, abandoning his game plan and his line combinations the second anything goes wrong.
I know I have a habit of jumping on the “fire the coach” bandwagon. I know I said I’d reserve judgement until at least 15 games into the season. But now we’re 15 games into the season, the Flames are frustratingly mediocre, and all the problems and the underperformances of last season under Brent Sutter’s leadership are still there this season. When a bunch of previously good hockey players are repeatedly and consistently playing below their capabilities – all at the same time, and over the space of half of one season and the first 15 games of the next – it simply can’t be the players who are all to blame. At some point – and I’m saying, that point is NOW – you have to recognize that the coach has become a big part of the problem.
Darryl Sutter has some tough decisions to make. He could trade away Iginla, if he believes the Big Guy has lost it, and maybe even get good value for him. But this would be a massively unpopular (indeed, lynchable) action in Calgary, where Iginla is loved and the Sutters, well, are not. (Not anymore, anyway.) And it hardly addresses the problem, because Iginla is not the only guy in the lineup struggling, and that’s been the case for roughly 10 months now.
No, Darryl Sutter’s real choice is much clearer-cut. Make his little brother walk the plank, and take over behind the bench himself. It might be his only chance to salvage his own job, which – it’s clear again this season – he has done badly, making questionable player and coaching personnel decisions that have turned a good team very bad in a very short time.
Fire your brother, or wait for your bosses to fire you both. And soon. That’s what it’s come down to.
Like I said, not a great family vacation.