The Calgary Flames have shown time and time again this season that they’re going to stick to whatever it is they have on the ice right now. With Darryl Sutter saying the team is neither 10 points up nor down, the team’s unwillingness to break from status quo has caused a sour taste and even spurred disinterest from much of the fan base. As the 2022–23 season has gone less than ideal for Calgary, it begs the question: How do people feel about the team’s coaching directions and decisions? We asked, you answered.
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The Flames are fortunate to have the reigning Jack Adams Award winner signed on to serve as head coach with a multi-year extension handed out at the beginning of the 2022–23 season. Things were looking good for the team as one full season of Sutter saw the Flames amassing 111 points with a 50–21–11 record. Sutter had taken a team with little expectations to being a top dog in the Western Conference.
Coming into 2022–23 with a massive roster reset, many were confident that Sutter could do the same with a team of new superstars. After a year with career-highs for many players, regression was expected and growing pains were going to be embraced. However, the team has long worn out their goodwill and frustrations have started to mount.
Namely, the Flames have all but refused to promote prospects to the lineup. One of the oldest teams in the league, the win-now Flames have elected to play veterans over prospects, effectively gatekeeping the development of their most promising up-and-comers.
Further, there have been decisions made on the main roster that have ranged from iffy to all-out perplexing. A penchant to rely on Jacob Markstrom while he was struggling, a 34-year-old Milan Lucic on the second line, and starting two defencemen in overtime against a lowly Blackhawks team are some examples of some strange decisions that stemmed from Sutter.
So, with all the oddities occurring, how does this translate in terms of faith in the coach?
Wavering faith to no belief in Sutter
Most of the fan base has lost faith in Sutter and his decisions. He has definitely earned some leeway with his Jack Adams after all, but everything he’s done as of late has shown signs that he’s directionless. He has stuck to virtually the same lineup, with changes made being minimal. Even when the Flames have gotten their prospects into the lineup, ice time was limited to a painful degree.
It’s hard to recall when a coach has directly led to this much disparagement among the fan base. This isn’t to say that slotting in the likes of Matthew Phillips or Jakob Pelletier is the solution to the Flames’ woes, it’s moreso about the complete apathy towards trying something different.
The Flames still don’t know what they have in Phillips despite him being the AHL’s leading scorer. It’s laughable that the Calgary Wranglers are doing as well as they are with so much of team playing next to no NHL minutes.
Pelletier finally made his NHL debut being the Flames’ first ever 2000s-born player to make it to the big show. With him being a 2019 first-round draft pick, his entry into the NHL still feels like it was much later than it had to be.
Overall, there’s been little injections of joy or hope as much of the Calgary Flames watching experience includes the same song, same dance, and same outcomes.
That said, the Flames are still in the playoff chase and at the end of the day that’s the main goal of any team, and their position offers them the privilege of competing as merely a bubble team after being pegged as clear-cut contenders at the beginning of the season.
If the Flames make it to the postseason, then Sutter essentially did his job as a coach and as he’ll preach, anything can happen. Maybe the Flames are building themselves up to be better in seven-game playoff series, but they still have to get there first.
Still believing in the vision
The flipside of the argument is that Sutter knows what he’s doing. From his one-of-a-kind press conferences to his actual decisions in player usage, he has his master plan and can get the most out of his team at the right time—even if that time isn’t right now.
He’s a coach with over 700 career wins and that track record doesn’t come easy for anyone. His winning ways are often aligned with a team that’s heavy on the checking, which translates to more puck possession.
The problem with the Flames is that their current system is missing some of those players who have above-average finishing ability—those who can score as the team works on funneling shots towards the high-danger areas. Calgary has been seen taking an excess of shots from the points and generating less offence in front of the goalie. Maybe that’s a reflection of the players with net-front presence not having the same shot impacts as the likes of Johnny Gaudreau or Matthew Tkachuk.
While players like Tyler Toffoli and Nazem Kadri are scoring, they don’t have the same impact and the effects compound up and down the lineup. While the roster last year might have been able to work with this system and make magic with it, this current roster has some limitations that have yet to be addressed.
That said, it’s entirely possible that things start to click and this system starts working. After all, it’s a pretty basic system that has clear directives. The north-south puck flow that the Flames employ does lack in a lot of the high-danger chance creation, but it doesn’t take away from their ability to maintain puck possession. Over an 82-game season, it might be designed to be good enough.
Over a seven-game playoff series, it might be exactly what they need. Maybe that’s the plan that Sutter is enacting. And those who believe in it are watching the Flames with much less frustration as being onboard with the plan might make for the best viewing experience after all.
The goal remains clear
At the end of the day, the team has their goal of making the playoffs. They are definitely not in the same echelon of being Cup contenders that they were supposed to be on paper, but the underdog mantra might take off some of the pressure for this team in win-now mode.
Whether Sutter gets the team to the playoffs or not remains to be seen, but the Flames fan experience this season has been less than stellar. The on-ice results have been underwhelming and the off-ice decisions have been headscratchers.
There’s not much else to do other than wait and see where this team goes once April comes around, but it’s going to be an interesting second half no matter what.
How are you feeling about Sutter? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @wincolumnCGY.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire