Brent Sutter’s departure as Flames head coach was mostly inevitable, given the team’s lack of success in his tenure. Most teams in the NHL change coaches on a regular basis, more so than most other professional sports on the continent. For a veteran team like the Flames that expects success, three consecutive non-playoff years wasn’t going to cut it.
In discussions with others, I’ve come across several different reactions to the firing. Most fans were in favor of it- the team’s lack of success was seen as a reflection of his coaching style, and not the talent that the team had. Though my initial reaction agreed, I found myself pondering it more in the days that followed.
The NHL is a results based business, and the Flames’ results under Sutter’s watch are unfortunately telling. No playoffs in three years on a team that’s clearly built to win now doesn’t look good on the performance review. And as I commented to someone who didn’t agree with Sutter’s firing, “it’s easier to fire the coach than the whole team.”
The Flames, as they’re current constructed, are a fringe playoff team, if everything breaks right. There are a lot of big names, but for a lot of those names, their fame outstrips their production at this point of their career. There’s not a ton of youth in the pipeline (How excited was everyone when Sven Baertschi and Akim Aliu showed a pulse?), and the cap situation is grim going forward.
Should Sutter be held responsible for the composition of the team? Did his system take full advantage of what talent the Flames did have? Neither of those are cut and dried questions. To paraphrase a Bill Parcells saying, Sutter prepared the meal, but he didn’t buy the groceries. There were certain players who thrived under Sutter (Most notably Curtis Glencross), but it did seem like the system didn’t fit all the parts they had. So Sutter can bear some of the blame. There’s no question, though, that some Flames underperformed- and isn’t that as much on the players as the coach?
Now, to embark on some wild speculation. Darren Dreger of TSN speculated that Sutter leaving was mutual, and due to a disagreement with Jay Feaster and ownership over the direction of the team. It’s hard to know exactly what that means, but based on what we’ve seen this year, it does seem as if the Flames front office is continuing to build for the now, and not committing to a tear-it-all-down rebuild. Would Sutter have been? It’s hard to say. But if we believe the front office is committed to staying the course, then Sutter disagreeing is at least a tacit endorsement for a rebuild.
Does the ownership believe that they’ll continue to sell tickets as they’re currently constructed? Are stars more important than sustainable success? To say nothing of the continued discussion on Jay Feaster, and whether he’s the man to guide the Flames’ player acquisition over the next several years. I tend to think that the Flames as currently constructed have run their course, and am in favor of a rebuild. At one point, I thought that would have meant letting Brent Sutter go. Knowing that the deposed coach might have thought the same as I do, I wonder if letting him go was the right call.