As the Calgary Flames are set to embark on a new era under rookie head coach Ryan Huska, there is an air of uncertainty surrounding reasonable expectations for this iteration of the team. With the entire city seemingly letting out a sign of relief when Darryl Sutter was fired, predictions on how the Flames will perform in 2023-24 are all over the map.
Recently, the ESPN published point projections for every fantasy relevant player and the they project the Flames to perform abysmally. News out of Calgary this week though, is much more optimistic, with players excited to play under Huska and welcoming the role of underdog.
Sutter was known as a hard defensive styled coach that focused more on limiting goals against than goals for. In his coaching career, Sutter has left an NHL head coaching role three times: after the 2005-06 season in Calgary when he moved from GM/Head Coach to just GM, 2016-17 with the Los Angeles Kings when he was fired, and last season with the Flames.
In the season following a Sutter firing, as we are about to enter in Calgary, we dug into the stats to see how top players in the past have performed year to year. The trend is positive across the board, and bodes well for the upcoming Flames season.
Calgary Flames 2005-06 to 2006-07
Sutter’s first stint with the Flames saw him wear many hats as an organizational leader. In the 2005-06 season, he was both the head coach and general manager of the team, before handing the reins to Jim Playfair in 2006-07.
There were six key forwards who played a primarily offensive role with both of those teams. Here’s how they performed year to year.
|Player||2005-06 (Sutter)||2006-07 (Playfair)||Delta|
Across the board, these top forwards saw an increase in point production the year immediately following Sutter moving on from being their head coach.
The two most significant increases were Iginla from 67 points to 94, and Huselius from 39 points to 77. Even on a per-game basis, almost every single one of these players saw a marked increase after Sutter left.
The only player from this list who did not see an increase was Amonte, who dropped from 42 points to 30. He was in his 36-year-old season under Playfair and saw his ice time decrease by almost three full minutes per game, so this was likely due to a change in role for Amonte. Judging on how the Flames’ top guns did afterwards indicates this was probably the right move for Amonte, and he was probably playing too high in the lineup the year prior.
Los Angeles Kings 2016-17 to 2017-18
Though Sutter won two Stanley Cups with the Kings as the head coach, he was fired in 2017 due to similar reasons as his firing from the Flames last season. John Stevens, a previous assistant under Sutter, took over as head coach the following year.
Six top scoring forwards on both of those teams saw a similar change in their point totals following Sutter’s departure.
|Player||2016-17 (Sutter)||2017-18 (Stevens)||Delta|
Once again, almost every single forward saw a significant increase in their point totals. The largest increases were Kopitar from 52 points to 92 and Brown from 36 points to 61. Several others saw dramatic increases in their games played, but even on a per game basis, basically all of these players saw an increase in their point total.
The most interesting takeaway here is that once again, the top players for the Kings saw a huge increase in points after Sutter left. Kopitar and Brown specifically saw a massive increase, similar to Iginla and Huselius in Calgary.
Bounce back season incoming
If the past is any indication, the Flames should see a positive bounce back season for their top players after Sutter’s departure. There is no reason to expect Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri, Elias Lindholm, and others to see a natural increase in points just like the 2006-07 Flames and 2017-18 Kings.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire