With last night’s shootout loss to the Nashville Predators, the Calgary Flames’ hopes for the Stanley Cup has officially come to an end. There will be no playoff hockey in Calgary this spring.
There is no way to properly put into words just how utterly embarrassing this season has been. From the colossal fall off in production from key players to the streaky play on the ice—the Flames were plain and simply a mess.
That being said, most of that mess stems directly from Darryl Sutter who is by far the biggest contributor to the Flames lost season.
As a result, there is no explainable pathway other than him being fired this offseason.
Don’t get us wrong, last season there was no success without Sutter’s coaching abilities. This season, there was no success with his coaching abilities. If you are looking top to bottom at the roster construction and level of talent, there is no one that did less with what they had this season than Darryl Sutter.
Questionable player deployments
It’s been well documented this season that Sutter has simply not been putting his players in positions to succeed.
Losing Huberdeau’s plot
No one else has felt that pain more than Jonathan Huberdeau, who for most of the season was playing on his off wing just one season removed from setting the NHL record for most assists by a left wing in NHL history.
The way that Sutter has incorporated Huberdeau into his system is almost disrespectful. He took one of the most offensively gifted playmakers in the NHL and told him to be a third line grinder. Imagine going to school to get your degree in accounting, getting hired by an accounting firm as a top candidate, and then being told that you will be there to make sure no one is going over the monthly staple and printer budget. Sure, you could probably get the job done but is that really the best use of that person’s talent?
The offence should have been built around Huberdeau, not having him plugged into a role that doesn’t suit his game. When you hand out the biggest contract in franchise history, you don’t expect that player to change his game. Somehow, someway, Sutter did.
Others were lost too
It wasn’t just Huberdeau that felt the pain this season. Elias Lindholm, who was expected to center Huberdeau for most of the season, only got a handful of games with the star winger. Despite them scoring a number of highlight reel goals together, Sutter for some reason thought: “no, lets keep them apart.” Milan Lucic continuously got a deployment with Huberdeau midway through the season, but it was harder for others to get a more generous lineup.
Then you can start talking about how Sutter actually used his players during the games. Remember earlier this season when each overtime period started with two defencemen cause he was afraid that they wouldn’t be able to generate chances? Or when some players made poor decisions they got benched quite quickly, while others had longer leashes.
Look no further than last night, with the season on the line, Sutter opted to run Nick Ritchie in the shootout over their leading scorer in Tyler Toffoli.
Plus, regardless of the game or what the score was, it was always “roll four lines”. Didn’t matter who was playing bad, or if the Flames needed a goal, it was just keep rolling through those four lines as best as you can.
At sometimes during the season, the team that was put on the ice was almost starting a step behind due to Sutter’s decision making.
Earlier this season, Sutter said that Dan Vladar was going to get a game a week. That ended up to be somewhat true, with Vladar starting 27 games this season, but it was the games in which Vladar should have started that caused confusion. When Markstrom was struggling hard and Vladar was in the midst of a franchise-record point streak, you simply have to ride the horse that gives you the best chance.
In countless games this season, Milan Lucic, Trevor Lewis, and Nick Ritchie were some of the worst players on the ice. They still remained on the ice for countless games afterwards. Some players made minor mistakes, they almost never saw the ice again that season.
Sutter has always been a “best effort plays” type of coach, but he seems to have bent and broken his rules so many times this season that it’s possible they don’t even exist at this point. That “best effort plays” mentality turned into “best effort plays unless you have won a Stanley Cup this century and also have played for me on a different team at some point during your career.”
Simply not how you run an NHL team.
Handling of young players
The most inexcusable offense that Sutter has committed this season is how he handled the Flames young players and bright spots on the team.
Matthew Phillips, the AHL’s leading scorer, played in two NHL games earlier this season and never got another sniff of the NHL. He is a Group 6 unrestricted free agent this offseason and you best believe he isn’t sticking around.
Juuso Valimaki was consistently scratched and made the ire of Sutter’s fury when he was with the Flames that he fell out of love with the game. After being lost on waivers, since he wouldn’t play under Sutter, he is now Arizona’s best defenceman.
Connor Mackey may not have had the best season when on the ice for the Flames, but sitting in the pressbox for most of your career isn’t going to help you develop.
Adam Ruzicka, who was leading the Flames in points per game at a point during the season, only ended up playing in 44 games this year. He still has more points than Milan Lucic and the same as Trevor Lewis.
Jakob Pelletier was finally given an NHL shot, and despite taking a few weeks to get into an NHL game ended up playing extremely well. Add in a public shot from his coach, and then not seeing game action since March 20th, makes for another wasted handling of a young player.
We won’t even bring up Matthew Coronato, who may not even play an NHL game this season because of Sutter.
If you are young, you simply have no shot with the Calgary Flames.
The Flames 2022–23 season was primarily a failure due to Darryl Sutter’s coaching decisions. It’s quite simply the easiest finger to point.
Although Brad Treliving has had his fair share of coaches, none have gone as rogue as Sutter did this season. Treliving’s contract is up in the air, but with the way that Sutter has been making his decisions the last few weeks it’s absolutely the easiest decision to make coming out of last night’s loss.
You respect his NHL coaching career, you respect his coaching tenure with the Flames, you respect the memes, you respect his family, but Darry Sutter is simply no longer the best fit for the Flames head coaching position.