Darryl Sutter woke up one day on his ranch and saw the Calgary Flames weren’t doing well. So he decided to come back and coach his beloved team to something a team much more formidable than the one he had to watch on television.
Well, the two-time Stanley Cup-winning coach truly took matters into his own hands as a fan of the Flames, and picked up his skates, and went back to work.
When Sutter was announced as the coach replacing Geoff Ward midway through the 2021–22 season, hope was reignited for the Flames and their fan base, as the trust instilled in Sutter was overwhelmingly positive. Most thought the middling Flames of Ward’s tenure could turn themselves around with Sutter behind the bench. Unfortunately with less than a full season in an already pandemic-shortened campaign, as well as no training camp under Sutter, the Flames sorely missed on what should have been an easy playoff season.
A full season of Sutter in Calgary
Now in 2021–22, the Flames had expectations of a rebound as Sutter had a whole offseason, training camp, and of course the regular season itself to coach the Flames to greatness. However, the first bit of the equation—the offseason—included some trade acquisitions, signings, and overall questionable moves that had fans and the media shocked.
A team expecting to rebound somehow made themselves look entirely average with subtraction by addition.
However, Sutter paid the media and the fans no attention to the roster makeup. He instead coached nearly every single player to career-highs, including ones no one expected to have sustainable success whatsoever.
The Flames came out of the gates strong as Jacob Markstrom was phenomenal, posting shutouts at a torrid pace, and the Flames immediately proved doubters wrong by stringing together inspiring wins with plenty of offence. The Flames served crow to the entire hockey world and everyone had to eat it.
As the season wore on, the Flames turned into a giant of a team on the road, strung together incredible win streaks, and slowly separated themselves from the rest of the pack in the Pacific Division. They had their share of adversity, but overcame it with what looked like short-term memory on game-by-game outcomes—they weren’t rattled by their lows and weren’t overzealous with their highs.
Well before they clinched a playoff spot, the praise for Sutter was immense, as his coaching of the Flames was notably worthy of a Jack Adams nomination. Everything the Flames achieved went from being against expectations to quite honestly the norm. The Flames suddenly looked like a team truly ready for the playoffs and only had their history of early exits to outrun.
Earlier in the season, we’ve explored how the Flames have been relentless on the ice no matter the score. Score effects were moot to the Flames as their checking game reigned supreme independent of the scoreboard. The team was playing exactly like what a coach dreams of getting out of their roster.
Sutter did what he set out to do from Day 1 of the season and got the Flames into the playoffs—and he did so emphatically by blowing all expectations out of the water and setting new highs and new standards for the Flames.
Comparing the nominees for the Jack Adams Award
Taking a look at the three Jack Adams Award finalists, they led their team to different forms of success and all made it to the playoffs. The three paths these teams in particular went on throughout 2021–22 could not be any more different.
|Coach||Team||Team Record||Regular Season Finish|
|Andrew Brunette||Florida Panthers||58–18–6||1st in Atlantic, 1st in East, 1st in NHL|
|Darryl Sutter||Calgary Flames||50–21–11||1st in Pacific, 3rd in West, 6th in NHL|
|Gerard Gallant||New York Rangers||52–24–6||2nd in Metropolitan, 4th in East, 7th in NHL|
Brunette took over as head coach after Joel Quenneville resigned. The Panthers were amid a season-opening win streak and Brunette ultimately continued the trend throughout the season. He saw the Panthers win countless games filled with high-octane offence that couldn’t be suppressed; Gallant saw his Hart-nominee goaltender Igor Shesterkin win countless games for the Rangers that they had no business getting points out of; and Sutter, well, Sutter transformed the Flames roster that looked destined for mediocrity to a roster poised for greatness.
Yes, that last paragraph had a bit of Flames bias, but the fact remains and we’ve been firm on this stance for over half of the season: Sutter’s coaching impact far surpasses that of any other coach this season, and for that the Adams should be his.
Let’s further assess how the three coaches have led their teams to success this past season.
Playing the game the right way
To assess how the three teams performed at large, we can complement what we know in each team’s records and playing styles with regularised adjusted plus-minus (RAPM) charts from Evolving-Hockey.com. The RAPM charts can be used to compare how each team performed in different areas of the game, including offence, defence, and special teams.
We’ll explore each team in order of league standings.
Florida Panthers RAPM
As mentioned, the Panthers’ success was fuelled by offence above all else, and it’s confirmed when looking at their RAPM chart. Their goals for, expected goals for, and Corsi for per 60 minutes were all nearly off the charts at three standard deviations.
However, while they excelled at offence, their defence and special teams left much to be desired. Their defence was essentially average. While they were good at preventing Corsi, their goals and expected goals allowed was mediocre.
Their power play was really only successful at scoring—which of course carries a lot of weight—but their special teams performance was otherwise underwhelming and mediocre. It goes without saying that their Presidents’ Trophy win was backed by goals, goals, and more goals.
Calgary Flames RAPM
The Flames were well above-average in nearly every category. Their only “fault” was power play scoring, and even then it was still above-average. The team didn’t show a demonstrable weakness, as their offence and defence were stellar, and their power play was effective at controlling the play, and their penalty kill was suffocating against other teams.
The team, as described by Sutter, was a checking team, and checking wins hockey games. Sutter instilled a system that got the best out of every player in every situation. There was accountability in all three zones and the Flames were often the better team on the ice. While goal scoring of course doesn’t go according to plan, the Flames played with a consistent system and formed an identity on the ice that had Sutter’s fingerprints all over it.
Sutter’s impact on the Flames as a coach was instrumental to their success, there’s no other way to put it.
New York Rangers RAPM
Gallant’s Rangers was a bit of a baffling one. They were well below-average on offence, and but had a lethal power play. Their defence was really only good if you include Shesterkin’s play, otherwise they’re only average and at times even looked below-average. And similarly, their shorthanded play was also buoyed by goaltending.
To be quite honest, Gallant owes Shesterkin more than a few dinners if he ends up winning the Adams Award. It’s quite clear that the Rangers have their deficiencies and had otherworldly goaltending throughout the season to cover up a lot of glaring holes.
While wins are a team stat and a coach’s record reflects the team’s performance, this nomination truly was an instance where the league’s best goaltender made a coach look good and not the other way around.
This isn’t so much a knock on Gallant either—as he is a good coach by many accounts—but in 2021–22, the Rangers were not a team that were coached to greatness, they had goaltending lead them to greatness instead. By and large, the Vezina Trophy belongs to Shesterkin and it’s not close, but the Adams shouldn’t go to Gallant, at least not this year.
It comes down to the Jack Adams vote
At the end of the day, the winner of the Jack Adams has already been decided as voted by the National Hockey League Broadcasters’ Association. By definition, it goes to the coach “adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success.”
Therefore, by definition, this award should rightfully go to Sutter. He led to Flames to success across the board, from their record, their individual accomplishments, and their on-ice performances. Everything about the Flames became better under Sutter.
Sutter is the last person on Earth to care about the Jack Adams though, as he’s purely focused on the Flames’ playoff run. But for the rest of Flames’ organisation and their fans alike, Sutter has earned many forms of gratitude and there’s no better way than an individual trophy for being the best coach. Sutter might see it akin to a “World’s Best Boss” mug and nothing more than that, as he only cares about one Cup—the Stanley Cup.
Let’s see how much higher Sutter can take the Flames.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire