With the Calgary Flames fighting for their playoff lives entering their 75th game of the season, the narrative of this season has been missed opportunity. No record has changed more than that of Darryl Sutter – going from last season’s unfinished business to this year’s public enemy #1.
For Flames fans, last year was a breath of fresh air. Darryl Sutter was back at the helm of the Calgary Flames after a coaching carousel that had seen eight coaches in 14 years. With a core of Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, and others, the Flames coach guided them to one of their best seasons in recent memory, finishing first in the division and sixth overall.
Despite a disappointing season finale against Edmonton in the second round, there was still reason for optimism heading into the 2022-2023 season. However, the Flames fanbase has turned against him this season. So, what’s the deal? and how did we end up here? Most importantly, what should we do for the following season? Let’s take a look at Darryl Sutter’s 2022-2023 season so far and its gripes.
Calgary Flames: The Young Players
This one should be fairly self-explanatory, as Sutter is well-known for it. His unwillingness to play young players has caused friction between himself, management, and Flames fans everywhere. There have been numerous instances of players being played with subpar lines or not being played at all during crucial points in the season.
The Flames were struggling to score goals and be productive when Adam Ruzicka made his debut on November 1st against Seattle. He responded with 17 points in his first 20 games, ranking among the Flames’ top scorers. As the odd man out, Sutter responded with less ice time, lower-quality linemates, and a lot of scratches.
He’s played 24 games and has a grand total of 3 points since his ice time was reduced for the first time on December 16th, but he’s also been reduced to a 4th line-checking role. How can you blame him for having his self-esteem shattered?
Another person in a similar situation is Matthew Phillips. The Flames’ scoring has been an issue all season, and fans rejoiced when they finally called up the AHL’s leading goal scorer to the big club. He finally got his chance to play against Toronto after sitting out a few games. He was sent down again after two games with less than ten minutes of ice time and hasn’t seen the big club since. He was never given a fair chance, but he’s still lighting up the AHL with 66 points, good for fifth in the league.
Even though Jakob Pelletier has risen to prominence and achieved (some) success, he is now relegated to the press box. You may wonder who he is sitting for. That brings me to my next point: overplaying veterans.
Calgary Flames: Overplaying Veterans
Sutter is obsessed with his veterans and will insert them into the lineup whenever possible, in addition to his unwillingness to play young talent. This is evident in players like Milan Lucic, who has spent more time in the top six than I’d like to admit. Aside from being a consistent starter, his 181 minutes on Huberdeau’s wing make him his most frequent partner.
Yes, you read that correctly. This season, Huberdeau has played more minutes with Lucic on his wing than anyone else. It’s not his fault because he doesn’t make coaching decisions, but it’s perplexing.
When you factor in Sutter’s reliance on rolling lines to win hockey games, this philosophy is flawed because every line you play has to be good. If Lucic and company are on the line, they will almost certainly be run over by the opposition. Especially if you’re in a situation where you need to score a goal with two minutes remaining and that line is always on the ice. Darryl appears to have too much faith in a portion of the Flames’ roster that should see limited ice, which is a major issue.
Calgary Flames: Player Friction
Oh, where do I even begin? Sutter has been on a rollercoaster with his players this year, from the Jonathan Huberdeau comment about why he left the bench to joking about Jakob Pelletier’s name and number, and his antics haven’t gone unnoticed. Players have taken subtle shots in media quotes on multiple occasions, and reporters like Elliot Friedman have heard similar.
There’s a lot more we could talk about, including Jacob Markstrom’s usage, but I think the best thing to talk about is who could potentially replace him. Sutter is an outstanding coach, in my opinion. He’s one of the few in the league who can influence systems, and he’s had success in Calgary in getting players to play his way. This season, the Flames are an analytic darling, but they can’t buy a goal and can’t get a save, which is a recipe for disaster.
If Sutter is fired and the Flames are taken over by another coach, they must make the right decision and hire someone who fits in with the team. Who might that be? I believe there is someone right under their noses.
Calgary Flames: Mitch Love
Mitch Love is the current head coach of the AHL Calgary Wranglers and previously coached the WHL Saskatoon Blades. He has an incredible record of 90-31-10 since joining the Heat and has led the team to the conference finals. Prospects in the system have not only played for him and understand his system, but he has a winning record anywhere he has coached.
Want your voice heard? Join the Flame For Thought team!
The transition would be easier than most, and I believe he would do an excellent job of repairing relationships between the new stars, Huberdeau and Kadri, that appear to have been strained under Sutter. Perhaps it’s time to turn to their homegrown and reigning AHL coach of the year for help.