With the recent nomination for the Jack Adams Award, Darryl Sutter has a chance to join former head coach Bob Hartley as the only head coaches in Calgary Flames history to win the award. Sutter was a finalist for the trophy back in 2003–04, as was Terry Crisp on two occasions in in 1980s. What makes the Flames’ bid for the Jack Adams special this time around is the alignment of great coaching across their organisation.
Best coaching in the NHL
An all-time Albertan great, Sutter was fittingly named a finalist for the Jack Adams one day after the Flames went up 1–0 in the Battle of Alberta. Andrew Brunette of the Florida Panthers and Gerard Gallant of the New York Rangers were also named finalists.
Being an Adams award finalist is a huge testament to what Sutter has accomplished as a coach with the Flames group since taking over partway through 2020–21. The Flames ended up winning the Pacific Division in 2021–22—which surprised fans and media alike—but Sutter was not particularly celebratory about it, maintaining his stance that it’s all about getting into the playoffs and playing one game at a time.
While there’s a lot to assess about Sutter’s coaching and how he managed to get career years out of virtually the whole Flames roster, that’s a topic for another day.
The reason why Sutter’s nomination is huge for the Calgary Flames right now is that just over two weeks prior to the NHL announcing the Jack Adams finalists, the AHL awarded its award for the most outstanding coach—the AHL’s Louis A. R. Peiri Memorial Award.
Best coaching in the AHL
Well, the AHL honours for coach of the year went to none other than Mitch Love, head coach of the Stockton Heat.
Love was in his first year as an AHL head coach after the Heat’s former coach Cail MacLean was promoted as assistant coach for the Flames. Previously, Love had coached the Saskatoon Blades in the WHL for three seasons. Debuting with a fairly good team in front of him with excellent players and Flames prospects, Love mirrored Sutter and coached the Heat to first place in the AHL’s Pacific Division.
The Heat nearly had the best outright record in the league but just barely missed out with the Chicago Wolves eking out a stronger finish to their season. The Heat are now set to faceoff against the Colorado Eagles in the Pacific Division finals after sweeping the Bakersfield Condors.
Doubling down on coaching excellence
To have Love named the best coach in the AHL and Sutter named a finalist—and possibly winning the Adams award—is no small feat. That alone is an incredible achievement at an organisational level, but is also a big rarity.
A look at the history books
The last time that an NHL team and its AHL affiliate won their league’s respective coach of the year award was back in 2010–11, over a full decade ago.
That season, Dan Bylsma won by coaching the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 49–25–8 record, good for second in the then-named Atlantic Division—albeit tied in points with the first place Philadelphia Flyers—as well as being good enough for fourth overall in the league.
In the AHL, John Hynes—current head coach of the Nashville Predators—was behind the bench with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. That season, Hynes and his club had the best record in the AHL, amassing 117 points with a highly impressive 58–21–0–1 record. The Portland Pirates were second in the league with just 103 points.
No better time than the present
Now the Flames could very well be the next organisation to claim both coaching awards. If Sutter ultimately wins the Adams, he’ll be the second Adams award winner in franchise history, as previously mentioned. This is another potential mirroring between the two coaches, as Love was the second AHL coach for the Flames’ AHL affiliate to win the Pieri award, as Bill Stewart earned the honours in 1997–98 with the Saint John Flames.
For the two coaches to have two Pacific Division-winning performances in their respective leagues takes a major alignment of the stars, but that’s the reality of what the Flames and Heat were able to pull off.
Hopefully when the NHL Awards show rolls around, Sutter can match Love once again to earn the Adams award, and better yet, hopefully the matching also includes making it to at least the third round of the playoffs too.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire