Coaching has been a hot topic around Calgary in recent weeks. Such is the case when a team struggles as much as the Flames have this season. When a team falls well short of expectations, the first place people look is the head coach. With the Flames sitting seven points out of the playoffs (six back from Winnipeg but Calgary would lose the tiebreaker, so they need seven points) and their playoff hopes all but erased, some tough decisions will have to be made in the coming weeks.
One of the main questions is who should be behind the bench for the Flames come October 2023. With plenty of controversy and rumours surrounding current head coach Darryl Sutter many have suggested it’s time to clean house and start fresh behind the bench. If the rumours regarding the state of the Flames locker room are even a little bit true, the organization may not have a choice but to make a change.
If it does come to that, the first name on the team’s list should be current Calgary Wranglers head coach Mitch Love. Already experiencing plenty of success at the AHL level, Love may be next in the long line of coaches to make the transition up the ranks from the AHL and NHL.
Love has a history of success
Love has experienced success as every level he’s coached thus far in his young coaching career. Starting in the WHL as an assistant coach at the ripe age of 27 back in 2011, he’s worked his way up to the AHL level where his success has continued. Love’s head coaching career began in 2018–19 when he was named head coach of the Saskatoon Blades. Let’s take a look at how the teams he’s coached have done since then.
|2018-19||WHL||Saskatoon Blades||45–15–8||4th of 22||Lost 2nd round|
|2019-20||WHL||Saskatoon Blades||34–24–5*||14th of 22||N/A|
|2020-21||WHL||Saskatoon Blades||16–5–3*||6th of 22||N/A|
|2021-22||AHL||Stockton Heat||45–16–7||2nd of 31||Lost Conference Final|
|2022-23||AHL||Calgary Wranglers||43–15–4||1st of 31||TBD|
Coaching the Saskatoon Blades
Starting in the WHL in 2018–19, Love took the Saskatoon Blades from 17th in the league and a record of 35–33–4 in 2017–18 all the way to fourth in the WHL during his first year at the helm. The Blades would unfortunately run into the eventual WHL champions in the second round of the playoffs and were sent home much earlier than expected.
The following season the Blades once again clinched a playoff spot however due to COVID-19 the season was cancelled before the playoffs started. The 2020–21 season was a shortened 24-game season, however the Blades were once again one of the best teams in the WHL finishing the year sixth in the league before the season was once again cancelled due to COVID-19.
Overall, Love coached the Blades to a combined 95–44–16 record across three seasons. During those seasons, his Blades finished 4th, 11th, and 9th in the WHL for goals for. In terms of goals against, they finished 4th, 12th and 8th.
Coaching the Stockton Heat/Calgary Wranglers
The following season in 2021–22, Love was brought on board as the new coach of the Stockton Heat. In his first season as a professional coach, Love found tremendous success. After the Heat finished the 2020–21 season 25th in the AHL, Love helped bring them all the way to second in the AHL in his first season as head coach. The success continued in the playoffs as Love and the Heat would go all the way to the final four before losing to the eventual Calder Cup champs in six games. The season earned him the AHL Head Coach of the Year award.
This season the success has continued as Love has the Wranglers sitting first in the entire AHL and primed for another deep playoff run. In 2020–21 the Heat ranked eighth for goals for and first for goals against. This season, they rank second for goals for and second for goals against.
Sure it’s only five seasons of coaching, but Love has never missed the playoffs at the WHL or AHL level and has won a combined three playoff rounds across the two seasons he coached in the playoffs. Expect big things for the Wranglers this season as well.
A new wave of NHL coaches
There’s no doubt that there’s been a new wave of head coaches in the NHL over the last few seasons. More and more teams have been looking within their organization for their next head coach, or look to younger inexperienced coaches who have had success at lower levels. The era of hiring “player coaches” seems very much in full force right now.
Some recent examples over the last few years include Sheldon Keefe, Jon Cooper, Jay Woodcroft and Jared Bednar. All of these coaches had no history head coaching at the NHL level, but had successful careers coaching in junior or the AHL. Keefe, Cooper and Woodcroft in particular were brought up through the ranks of their organization before making the jump to the NHL after successful stints in the AHL.
Woodcroft, Cooper, Keefe all coached their organizations AHL affiliates to great success before making the jump up to the NHL. Bednar meanwhile coached Columbus’ AHL team to a Calder Cup before being hired to coach the Avalanche. All four have now achieved success at the NHL level, with Cooper and Bednar winning Stanley Cups.
“Players coaches” who bring a young, new, fresh outlook to their teams have continued to have great success at the NHL level, and Mitch Love fits that description to a tee. It’s time for the Flames to embrace trying new ideas and give young coaches with success at other levels a chance. The organizations who have done this have achieved huge success right away.
It’s time for a fresh outlook
If you’ve watched the Flames in the 2000s, you’ll know they’ve been through their fair share of NHL head coaches. Since the 2000–01 season, the Flames have had 10 different leaders behind the bench. If you read through the list of names you’ll notice a trend. The Flames always tend to hire coaches who have coached in the NHL before. Almost never do they give a young coach a chance. It’s time for that to change.
Of the 10 coaches the Flames have hired since 2000, eight of them had been a head coach at the NHL level before, most to limited success. All 10 had been at least an assistant coach in the NHL before being hired by the team. The Flames haven’t hired a single NHL head coach they brought up through their AHL ranks during the 21st century.
Love has experience with most of the Flames’ top prospects in the AHL level which is another refreshing bonus. We all know about Sutter’s disdain for young players. His unwillingness to give younger players a shot has hurt the Flames in more ways than one this season. Love on the other hand would come into the NHL with direct experience and relationships with the likes of Jakob Pelletier, Adam Ruzicka, Walker Duehr and Matthew Phillips to name a few. All four players have had great success in the AHL under Love.
Not to mention Love absolutely channels the power of the Lanny McDonald moustache and winning ways.
The Flames need to make the call before it’s too late
There’s a good chance that Love is the next young up and coming head coaching success story like Cooper and Keefe before him. We just have to hope the Flames realize that before another team does. He’s a former player, he’s worked his way up from the junior level to the AHL and has achieved success at every level. If you’ve watched the Flames this season you’ll know this is exactly what they need. Love always wins.