Mediocre in a division defined by its mediocrity, the Calgary Flames chose to discontinue pursuing what appeared to be a fruitless endeavour, disposing a remnant from the highly regrettable Bill Peters era, head coach Geoff Ward, in favour of a man — and a name — synonymous with the organization.
Almost a decade after leaving the organization, Darryl Sutter has been re-hired as head coach of the Calgary Flames, the announcement coming late Thursday night. It appears the agreement has been in the works for at least a little bit, as news of Ward's dismissal came on the heels of a 7-3 victory for the Flames over the Ottawa Senators, while Sutter's contract includes a two-season extension beyond the remainder of this year.
If it feels like a last-ditch effort from a desperate managerial team, that's because it very well could — or should — be. Sutter will mark the fifth head coach to serve under Brad Treliving in less than seven years since the Flames general manager was named to the position. After inheriting Bob Hartley from the previous regime, Treliving has hired Glen Gulutzan, Peters and Ward before now landing on Sutter, who spent eight seasons with the franchise between 2002 and 2010 before moving on to Los Angeles and winning two Stanley Cups with the Kings.
If the hire is as climacteric as it appears, certainly there were worse options. Sutter has a track record of elevating clubs instantaneously, having led the Kings to a Stanley Cup in his first season. He also led the Flames to the Stanley Cup Final in his first full season in charge back in 2004.
But more powerful than that, this is a coach with unshakeable courage in his conviction and will leave nothing open to interpretation. Expectations will be clear, and patience will be short.
In a league that is gradually moving toward more innovative thinkers, Sutter is the opposite. He is as old school as old school can be. The man is farm-tough, and when not coaching or managing in the NHL, he's ranching on a 3,000-acre farm in Viking, Alberta.
Thankfully for the Flames, there is a time and place for old school. And for a team drifting in the wind right now, Sutter is, in theory, a perfect candidate to crack whips and, more importantly, to speedily implement some structure in Calgary's process.
His style would be considered a pretty substantial departure from what we've seen, or at least what we'd expect from teams in the NHL's North Division. While the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers, among others, have shored things up a little bit defensively, the all-Canadian division is still a collection of teams defined by its immense individual talent.
Sutter's speciality is frustrating that.
While 14 points behind division-leading Toronto as of Friday, the Flames sit only two points out of a postseason spot with the halfway point of the season around the corner. With a high-quality netminder and some very talented defensemen in house, Sutter has what he would typically need to engineer some success, and therefore salvage the season.
Missing the postseason would be considered a colossal failure for Calgary in a division where only five teams (of only seven) seem truly competitive for the four guaranteed postseason spots.
But whether the Flames make the postseason or not, Sutter is going to figure things out. He's going to go deep under the hood to figure out what's keeping the Flames from achieving anything of substance.
That, maybe more than anything, is what the Flames need.
It's entirely possible that Sutter's behind-the-bench influence may not be what it was. But with him involved, it's now a little more uncomfortable in the North Division today.
That's for those inside the Flames' locker room.
And for the teams that now must go through Sutter.
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