Before we begin, I know, I know. Darryl Sutter was just extended before this season began, and projects to be the head coach through the 2024–25 season. Sutter is very well loved throughout the Calgary Flames organization, so it is extremely unlikely he goes anywhere. But, you never know, right? The team looked great last year, but has certainly had their fair share of troubles this year. We knew it was going to be hard to overcome two 100-point scorers leaving the team, and their production has certainly been missed. But the fact that this team has fallen as much as they have in 2022–23 is quite alarming.
It’s fair to blame the GM for the moves made, the players on the ice, and/or the coach who is in charge of the systems and deployment. The blame isn’t solely on one party, although we all have our opinions on which party is most at fault right now. In this article, we are focusing on coaching, which has certainly been questionable. Whether it is the north-south system sucking the air out of everything, or the deployment, things haven’t been ideal.
It would be very uncharacteristic of Flames ownership or management to make a move like I’m suggesting. For that reason, let’s label this as highly unlikely right off the bat. But, Sutter is one year away from the normal age of retirement, and you never know what a person is thinking. He’s had a distinguished career, and maybe decides to call it quits if he doesn’t feel like this team has a shot. Again, extremely unlikely given his burning desire to win in Calgary, but you never know. For the sake of argument, let’s say for whatever reason, the Flames need a new head coach.
Could Andrew Brunette be a good option?
One candidate stands out to me, and that’s Andrew Brunette. The former NHL now finds himself as the associate coach of the New Jersey Devils, who have gotten off to an electric start in 2022–23. They’re one of the best teams in the league right now and it was in part thanks to a scorching hot open to the season.
Prior to working with the Devils, Brunette was thrown into interim head coaching duty with the Florida Panthers last year. Brunette took over after Joel Quenneville stepped aside after his involvement in the 2010 sexual abuse coverup came to light.
Brunette coached the Panthers to a 51–18–6 record, a points percentage of 0.720%. In the playoffs, the Panthers snuck by the Capitals in six games, before being swept by the rival Lightning. Upset with that playoff result, Florida decided to switch things up and bring in Paul Maurice as head coach. The Panthers, like the Flames, have struggled so far this season. They too have spent time outside a playoff spot.
Brunette has familiarity with both Huberdeau and Weegar
Who was the head coach during Jonathan Huberdeau’s astounding 115-point season? How about MacKenzie Weegar’s career-high in points? None other than Andrew Brunette. Not only did the Panthers have success with Brunette as head coach, but so did both players involved in the Matthew Tkachuk trade.
Given that Huberdeau and Weegar are both here for the next nine years, they should be a focus. You want to put players that are here long-term in positions to succeed. Having the coach that was behind the bench for both of career seasons makes a lot of sense.
Teams have success when Brunette is behind the bench
Was Florida’s success last year due to the systems Quenneville already had in place before Brunette took over? Is New Jersey’s success due to Lindy Ruff? Could very well be. Coincidence or not, both Florida and New Jersey have had fantastic impacts with Brunette behind the bench.
The Panthers absolutely ate the middle of the ice last year, getting excess shots in prime scoring positions. The net front was their office last year, so it’s no wonder they were so successful. It’s also no wonder so many players on the Panthers had career years in 2021–22. Defensively, they were about average, which is perfectly fine when you have that much success offensively. +28% is absolutely crazy.
Moving over to New Jersey, where the results have been similar to that of Florida. The Devils are getting a massive excess of shots from the prime scoring areas, especially at the net front. The offensive output of +19% is very impressive, but the thing that stands out to me is the defensive end. A classic “sea of blue” defensive end example, the Devils are heavily limiting shots against. The opposition is having an incredibly difficult time getting to prime scoring areas, and have to resort to point shots.
If the Flames need a new head coach, Andrew Brunette makes a lot of sense
It’s incredibly unlikely, but if Sutter departs for whatever reason, the Flames should call Andrew Brunette.
Brunette has familiarity with two key members of this Flames team going forward, due to his time with the Panthers last year. Both Huberdeau and Weegar had career years under Brunette, and both could use a little help getting back on the scoresheet more.
Both the Panthers and Devils have had major success when Brunette has been behind the bench. Is that a factor of the environment itself, or the tools that Brunette is bringing to the table? Whatever it may be, you can’t deny the correlation between Brunette being behind a bench, and the success of that team. The results are certainly worth exploring more, if the Flames need to make a coaching decision at some point in the near future.
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