With the Calgary Flames struggling to begin the season and currently sitting at 9-9-1 and outside the playoffs, questions regarding their coaching have arose. Geoff Ward has certainly made some puzzling decisions so far this season and is arguably one of the reasons the Flames have started the year so poorly. Many fans have begun calling for Ward to be fired and a new coach be brought in to right the ship before it’s too late, with many suggesting Ward never should’ve been given the job in the first place.
Going into the offseason, there were calls for the Flames to finally bring in a high profile coach like Gerrard Gallant or Bruce Boudreau to help this core finally reach its potential. Instead the Flames kept Ward and promoted him after serving as the interim coach last season.
Now that the team has started the year so slow, questions have been raised regarding the Flames’ history of head coaches and whether the team has a history of hiring inexperienced coaches. Let’s take a look at the results for every Flames head coach since the turn of the century, and where they are now.
Don Hay (2000-2001)
Regular Season Record (68) 23-28-13-4 (.463 Win%)
Playoff Record – N/A
Before being named head coach of the Flames, Don Hay had limited experience at the NHL level. He did have a ton of success in the WHL before being hired by the Flames though. Hay won two President’s Cup titles and two Memorial Cup titles in the WHL with the Kamloops Blazers between 1986-1995.
His first NHL job came as an assistant coach with the Flames during the 1995-96 season. The next season he was hired as the Phoenix Coyotes head coach for the 1996-97 season but was fired after just one year with the team.
He actually returned to the CHL after being fired by the Coyotes and went on to win the WHL Coach of the Year, as well as being named the WHL’s best coach of all-time while with the Tri-City Americans. This earned him another shot in the NHL with the Flames hiring him as their head coach for the 2000-01 season.
Things once again didn’t go well for Hay in the NHL and he was fired 68 games into the season after putting up a 23-28-13-4 record with the team. The Flames went on to miss the playoffs that year.
After being fired by the Flames in 2001, Hay has never coached in the NHL again. He would go on to coach in the AHL for three years before returning to the WHL until 2018 when he retired from coaching. He currently serves as an advisor for the Kamloops Blazers.
Greg Gilbert (2000-2002)
Regular Season Record (121) 42-56-17-4 (.442 Win%)
Playoff Record – N/A
Before working with the Flames, Greg Gilbert had no experience coaching in the NHL. Gilbert was a head coach in the AHL for four seasons from 1996-2000 before getting his first NHL job as an assistant coach to Don Hay during the 2000-01 season. He was then named Hay’s replacement after he was let go 68 games into the season.
Similar to Hay, Gilbert didn’t experience much success with the Flames. He went 4-8-2 after stepping in for Hay as the team missed the playoffs in 2000-01, then in 2001-02 the team went 32-25-12-3 and missed the playoffs again. Gilbert only lasted 25 games with the next team in 2002-03 and was fired after putting up a 6-13-3-3 record.
After being fired by the Flames in 2003, Gilbert has yet to land another head coaching job in the NHL. He’s since worked in the AHL, OHL and QMJHL with limited success. Fun fact, throughout his 21 year coaching career across three leagues, he’s only made it past the second round of the playoffs twice.
He was recently hired by the Saint John Sea Dogs as their head coach for the 2020-21 season. Two 2020 Flames draft picks Ryan Francis and Jeremie Poirier currently play for Saint John.
Darryl Sutter (2002-2006)
Regular Season Record (210) 107-73-15-15 (.581 Win%)
Playoff Record – (33) 18-15 (.545 Win%)
Compared to Hay and Gilbert, Sutter had much more experience coaching at the NHL level before coming to the Flames. Sutter got his first NHL job as an assistant coach with the Chicago Blackhawks from 1987-92, and was promoted to head coach with the team from 1992-95.
He reached the conference finals as head coach of the team in 1994-95. After stepping down after the 1994-95 season, Sutter returned to the NHL as a head coach with the San Jose Sharks for the 1997-98 season. He served as head coach of the team for six seasons before being fired during the 2002-03 season and never made it past the second round with the Sharks.
Just 27 days after being let go by the Sharks, Sutter was hired by the Flames as their next head coach. He would put up a 19-18-8 record with the team to close out the year as the Flames missed the playoffs. He was named general manager of the team after the season but remained as the teams head coach as well.
The next year in Sutter’s first full season with the team the Flames put up a respectable 42-30-7 record, finishing sixth in the Western Conference and ended the team’s seven year playoff drought. The Flames would then go on a Cinderella run as Sutter helped lead the team to their first finals appearance since winning the Stanley Cup in 1989. It was in.
Sutter’s next season in Calgary wouldn’t come until 2005-06 due to the lockout. The team put up a great 46-21-11 record, good for third in the Western Conference. Their 46 wins under Sutter was tied for the most by the team since their championship season in 1988-89.
Unfortunately they were upset in the first round of the playoffs. Following the season, Sutter would step down as the team’s head coach in order to focus solely on being the team’s general manager.
Sutter would resign as general manager of the team in 2010, and return to coaching in 2011 after being hired by the LA Kings as their head coach. He would go on to win two Stanley Cups with the team before being fired in 2017. He announced his retirement from coaching in 2018, and currently serves as a coaching advisor for the Anaheim Ducks.
Jim Playfair (2006-2007)
Regular Season Record (82) 43-29-10 (.524 Win%)
Playoff Record – (6) 2-4 (.333 Win%)
Before coming to the NHL Jim Playfair worked in the ECHL, the IHL, and the AHL as the Saint John Flames’ (the Flames AHL affiliate at the time) Head Coach, leading them to a championship in the 2000-01 season. He was hired as an Assistant Coach for the Flames in 2002 and worked under Sutter for three seasons from 2002-2006 before being promoted prior to the 2006-2007 season.
In his first and only season as the Flames’ head coach the team went 43-29-10, good for eighth place in the Western Conference. The Flames were then subsequently knocked out in the first round. Following the season, Playfair was removed from his role as head coach and returned to being an assistant for the team.
Playfair would remain as an assistant coach for the team for two more seasons before going down to the AHL to once again coach the Flames AHL affiliate. The only notable moment from his second AHL stint was this viral moment. He left the Heat in 2011 to take a job as an assistant coach in the NHL for the Phoenix Coyotes before parting ways in 2017. He is currently an Assistant Coach for the Oilers.
Mike Keenan (2007-2009)
Regular Season Record (164) 88-60-16 (.585 Win%)
Playoff Record – (13) 5-8 (.385 Win%)
Of any coaching hire by the Flames this century, Mike Keenan came with the most NHL head coaching experience. Keenan worked as an NHL head coach for seven different NHL teams from 1984-2004 before being hired as the Flames head coach for the 2007-08 season.
Keenan had great success in the 80s and early 90s as a head coach, reaching four Stanley Cup Finals with three different teams, and winning a Stanley Cup with the Rangers in 1993-94. After that season, however, he never made it past the second round over his next nine seasons as a head coach before coming to the Flames.
He was also fired by the Blues, Canucks, Bruins and Panthers over that span. His last job as an NHL head coach before joining the Flames was in 2004 for the Panthers when he was fired mid-season.
The Flames hired Keenan prior to the 2007-08 season after demoting Jim Playfair back to his assistant coaching role. In Keenan’s first season with the Flames the team put up a record of 42-30-10, and placed seventh in the Western Conference. They would lose in the first round in seven games.
The next year under Keenan the team improved slightly and went 46-30-6, good for fifth in the conference. They would once again lose in the first round though and Keenan was fired shortly after, ending his stint with the Flames.
Since being fired by the Flames in 2009 Keenan has not worked in the NHL again. His only coaching jobs since have been in the KHL where he was hired as head coach by Mettallurg Magnitogorsk in 2013. He won a KHL championship in 2014 with the team before being fired in 2016. He was then hired by another KHL team in 2017 but was fired that same season and hasn’t coached since. It came out in 2018 that Keenan was battling prostate cancer. We wish him the best.
Brent Sutter (2009-2012)
Regular Season Record (246) 118-90-38 (.557 Win%)
Playoff Record – N/A
Brent Sutter had very limited experience working at the NHL level before coming to the team. Before landing his first NHL job, Sutter was a head coach in the WHL for seven years, reaching the WHL finals once. He was then hired by the New Jersey Devils as their head coach for the 2007-08 season, his first NHL coaching job.
Sutter experienced some regular season success with the Devils, winning 46 and a franchise-best 51 games in his first and second seasons there, respectively. The Devils were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs in both of his seasons though and after the 2008-09 season Sutter stepped down.
Not long after leaving the Devils, Sutter was hired by his brother and Flames general manager Darryl Sutter to be the team’s new head coach. Having lost in the first round of the playoffs for four straight years, the Flames were hoping Sutter could bring the same success his brother did as head coach of the team. He did not.
The Flames massively underachieved and failed to make the playoffs in all three of Sutter’s seasons as head coach, finishing 10th in Western Conference his first two seasons, and ninth in his third. Following the 2011-12 season Sutter was fired by the team. Sutter’s tenure was plagued with rumors of arguments with players and management as well as being terrible at properly using his players.
Sutter hasn’t coached in the NHL since being fired by the Flames in 2012. Soon after being fired that year, Sutter returned to coaching the Red Deer Rebels in the WHL where he is also the owner, president and general manager. In other words, he hired himself. Sutter has coached the team ever since and remains their head coach.
Bob Hartley (2012-2016)
Regular Season Record (294) 134-135-25 (.498 Win%)
Playoff Record – (11) 5-6 (.454 Win%)
Like D. Sutter and Keenan before him, Bob Hartley had a good amount of NHL coaching experience before coming to the Flames. Unfortunately just like Keenan, his best years were behind him. Hartley worked in the QMJHL and AHL before landing his first head coaching job in the NHL in 1998 with the stacked Colorado Avalanche.
Hartley experienced great success in Colorado, losing in the conference finals three times and winning a Stanley Cup in 2001. He spent five seasons in Colorado and was fired part way through his fifth season with the team in 2003.
He was then hired by the Atlanta Thrashers that same season. In his five seasons in Atlanta the Thrashers made the playoffs just once, where they lost in the first round. He was fired in 2007 during his fifth season with the team. Hartley didn’t coach again until the 2011-12 season in which he led the Zurich SC of the Swiss-A to a championship.
This earned him another NHL job as he was hired as the Flames new head coach prior to the 2012-13 season. His first two years in Calgary didn’t go well as the team was just beginning a full blown rebuild. The Flames finished 25th and 27th in the league during his first two seasons as head coach.
The next season however was one of the most surprising and exciting seasons in Flames history. Seemingly set for another bottom 10 finish in 2014-15, the “Comeback Kids” shocked the NHL and clinched the 16th and final playoff spot, Calgary’s first playoff appearance since 2009. The team would go on to advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since making the Stanley Cup final in 2004 before losing to Anaheim in five games.
Hartley was applauded for his ability to motivate and create a culture of hard-work to get the best out of a below average Flames roster. Hartley certainly deserves some credit, but the team’s sky high PDO was a huge reason they won so many games that year. The next season the Flames came back down to Earth and finished 26th in the league, with many questioning Hartley’s lineup decisions, player usage and old fashioned systems. He was fired shortly after the season ended.
Since being fired by the Flames in 2016, Hartley hasn’t coached again in the NHL. His next coaching job came for the Latvian Men’s team in 2016-17. He remained in this role until the 2018-19 season when he was hired by Avangard Omsk of the KHL as their head coach. He is currently still the team’s head coach.
Glen Gulutzan (2016-2018)
Regular Season Record (164) 82-68-14 (.543 Win%)
Playoff Record – (4) 0-4 (.000 Win%)
Glen Gulutzan had a few years of coaching experience in the NHL with disappointing results before joining the Flames. Before working in the NHL Gulutzan worked his way up the system, spending time as a head coach for six years in the ECHL and two years in the AHL. He made a finals appearance in both leagues.
In 2011 Gulutzan earned his first head coaching job in the NHL with the Dallas Stars for the 2011-12 season. Gulutzan spent just two years in Dallas, missing the playoffs both years. He was fired following the 2012-13 season.
Soon after he was hired as an assistant coach with the Vancouver Canucks for the 2013-14 season. He spent three years with the Canucks as an assistant before being hired by the Flames as their next head coach prior to the 2016-17 season. He was current general manager Brad Treliving’s first head-coaching hire with the team.
Guluztan was expected to introduce a new modern style of play to the team after Hartley’s old fashioned system wore thin. In his first year in Calgary, Gulutzan brought the team back to the playoffs as the Flames went 45-33-2, good for seventh in the Western conference. Unfortunately it was short lived as they were swept by the Anaheim Ducks in the first round.
The next season in 2017-18 was a disaster as the Flames who were expected to finally be finished their rebuild missed the playoffs with a 37-35-10 record. It did produce this amazing clip though. Following the 2017-18 season, Guluztan was fired after just two years in Calgary. Throughout his tenure in Calgary the team was a dominate possession team, but lacked any kind of identity and emotion. Guluztan’s player usage was also heavily criticized including his refusal to use Dougie Hamilton on the top power play and the now infamous “Brouwerplay”.
Since being fired by the Flames in 2018, Gulutzan has worked as an assistant coach for the Edmonton Oilers. He has held that position the past three seasons including this season.
Bill Peters (2018-2019)
Regular Season Record (110) 62-37-11 (.614 Win%)
Playoff Record – (5) 1-4 (.200 Win%)
Before coming to the Flames, Bill Peters had a rather disappointing coaching history. He began coaching in 1996 and spent time in the WHL, CWUAA, and AHL before landing his first NHL job. He won a championship as a head coach in the WHL in 2008. He then spent three years in the AHL as a head coach.
Over his six seasons as a head coach split between the WHL and AHL his championship in 2008 was his only trip past the first round of the playoffs. He earned his first NHL job in 2011 as an assistant coach for the Detroit Red Wings.
Prior to the 2014-15 season Peters earned his first head coaching role in the NHL for the Carolina Hurricanes. Peters spent four years in Carolina from, missing the playoffs each time. After his fourth season with the team in 2017-18 he resigned, citing the need for the new management team in Carolina to hire their own coach.
He was rumoured to be the favourite to land the vacant head coaching job in Calgary. That off-season he was brought in to be the Flames’ new head coach. In his first season with the Flames the team would finish with their second-best regular season record in history at 50-25-7. The Flames finished first in the Western Conference for the first time since the 1989-90 season, and second in the league.
Peters seemed to be the first coach to finally get the best out of the current Flames core. We all know what happened next. The team had an epic collapse in the playoffs after dominating the regular season, losing in just five games to the eighth place Avalanche.
The following season the Flames got off to a rough start at just 12-12-4. At the same time, disturbing reports started to come out about Peters regarding his racist and abusive treatment towards former players. Following the reports, Peters was put on leave and resigned soon after. Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg of the KHL hired Peters as their head coach for the 2020-21 season.
Geoff Ward (2019-Present)
Regular Season Record (42) 24-15-3 (.607 Win%)
Playoff Record – (10) 5-5 (.500 Win%)
Current Flames head coach Geoff Ward had years of coaching experience before coming to the Flames, but none as a head coach in the NHL. Ward worked as an assistant or head coach in the OUAA, OHL, ECHL, DEL2 , AHL, and DEL between 1989-2006 before getting his first NHL job. His only notable achievement during that time was a finals appearance in the AHL as a head coach in 2003.
Ward got his first NHL job with the Edmonton Oilers in 2006 as a development coach. The next year in 2007 he was hired by the Boston Bruins as an assistant coach where he would spend seven years, winning a Stanley Cup with the team in 2011. After resigning following the 2013-14 season, Ward was hired as head coach of Adler Manheim of the DEL and would lead the team to a championship.
The next season he would return to the NHL as an assistant coach with the New Jersey Devils. He spent three years with the Devils before being hired by the Flames as an assistant coach prior to the 2018-19 season. During the 2019-20 season, his second in Calgary, Ward was named interim head coach of the team after Peters resigned.
Ward helped the Flames turn their season around, clinching a playoff spot with a 36-27-6 record. Unfortunately it was the same old story for the Flames as they once again got bounced in the first round, this time in six games to the Dallas Stars.
Entering the off-season Ward was considered to be the odds on favourite for the Flames vacant coaching job, and on September 14th he was named the full time head coach of the team. His first full season as coach of the Flames has gotten off to a rocky start, with the Flames sitting at 9-9-1. Ward has been called out for his questionable lineup decisions, player usage, and failing systems.
A disappointing history
There’s no question the Flames have had a pretty disappointing history with head coaches since the turn of the century. The team has employed a total of 10 different coaches since firing Brian Sutter in 2000. The longest tenured coach during that time is Bob Hartley, who coached the team for four seasons, making the playoffs just once. Hartley and Sutter are the only Flames coaches in that span to lead the team past the first round, with Sutter being the only one to bring the team farther than the second round.
Another fact that stands out is that Darryl Sutter is the only former Flames head coach since 2000 to get another head coaching job in the NHL after leaving the Flames. Playfair and Gulutzan have gone on to get assistant coaching jobs in the NHL, and the rest have never coached in the NHL again.
Not exactly a glaring endorsement of the coaches the Flames decide to bring in. Since 2000, arguably the only high profile, established and in his prime coach the Flames have brought in is Darryl Sutter. The rest have been coaches past their prime or unknowns who have limited to no experience at the NHL level. It’s not a surprise the Flames have made it past the first round just twice in that span.
We will have to see where the rest of the season goes for the Flames and Geoff Ward, but if the Flames continue to struggle and miss the playoffs it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see yet another coach behind the bench for the Flames next season.