There is no doubt this season has been one mixed with optimism, depression, reunions, and breakups for the Calgary Flames. If you are looking for a perfect microcosm of every emotion to feel as a hockey fan, look no further than the 2022–23 iteration of the team.
After last night’s emotional win against the Columbus Blue Jackets—in which the Flames spoiled Johnny Gaudreau’s homecoming—the team hopefully is able to finally just move on and focus on hockey for the rest of the season.
What is fortunate is that even though the season has been tumultuous, the Flames have mainly stayed out of the NHL discourse (thanks Vancouver!) until these last few days.
Darry Sutter’s comments regarding Jakob Pelletier’s NHL debut sparked a large conversation league wide over the future Hall of Famers coaching approach. Although it may have just been public facing, the damage was still there.
Perceptions towards the Flames
Yesterday, on 32 Thoughts the Podcast, Elliotte Friedman touched on the subject and was able to provide much more insight on what the team and coach are feeling this season:
I think that shows you the two sides that Sutter has. He can be incredibly kind to players and their families off the ice, but once things get going on the ice he can be very harsh.
I just want to be upfront about something here. About ten years ago, he gave me an incredible piece of advice that still shapes my life to this day. And I will always be thankful for that. I do find it difficult to be critical of him like I said he gave me a piece of advice that I needed and that I still need on a day to day basis. So its not easy for me to talk this way.
I think this has been a very hard season in Calgary. When Darryl Sutter is your coach, and first I think the players acknowledge that he’s a hell of a coach, like he really is a good coach. But he is very, very, very, tough, demanding, blunt, and he can be blunt. I think that this season has been really hard on the players there. Look, Calgary is battling for a playoff spot, they had a really hard offseason, look last season with that first line they could score their way out of trouble. They can’t this year, and Sutter has repeatedly brought up the players that have left and said “we don’t have guys like that anymore ” and I think that has really worn down the players.
This thing with Pelletier… he gets called up and he doesn’t play and it seems as if Sutter puts him in even though he doesn’t want to and then he answers that way. Like, I just think there are times you need the velvet glove you can’t be hard all the time, and I just think this year that group is really struggling with his approach. I expect my bosses to be demanding, I am demanding of myself, but I also know you’ve got to know when to walk up to someone one and say “hey you did a great job today” or “that thing you just think you did that was so bad, it’s not that bad you always think it’s worse yourself and the world is going to find something else to think about tomorrow.” I just think this year, I think those Flames players feel that it’s been relentless and I think it’s affected some of them.
I just think that the mood needs to lighten a little bit in Calgary. I think that team lost an identity last year when Gaudreau and Tkachuk left… I think it’s okay to struggle with your identity. That is actually one thing about Sutter, if you hear him talk he always talks about “what is our identity” I think that team is struggling to find it and I think he has to realize there that sometimes you have to step off the gas. That’s hard for me to say, because I like to drive 130 all the time, but sometimes, Jeff, you gotta step off.– Elliotte Friedman, 32 Thoughts the Podcast
Jeff Marek and Friedman continued to make an offhand joke about adding Bruce Boudreau to the coaching staff, and watching a real life version of The Odd Couple ensue, but Friedman’s words really strike home.
From all indications, including the reaction to Sportsnet’s article on the situation, is that almost everyone is not okay with this one instance of Sutter’s approach. I think to the naked eye, the players are clearly having a hard time keeping up with the constant negativity night in and night out.
Everyone can be better
Now of course you can blame some of this on coaching, but some players have also underperformed this year. When you aren’t playing as well, and some players aren’t playing to their full capabilities, then it’s a perfect storm.
The only way you can improve, in my opinion, is by giving open feedback. Now, who knows if the players or coaching staff said to lighten up a bit, but last night’s reaction to Dillon Dube’s overtime winner says a whole lot.
When have you ever seen Sutter react this way? To an overtime winner, against one of the league’s worst teams, on a Monday night? Maybe it was the Gaudreau effect, or maybe there is a slight change in the winds the rest of the season that may just be the push the team needs.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire