Brent Sutter and Flames Agree to Part Ways

Jesse Bruni April 13, 2012 1

When the Flames players, coaches and managers met the media on Monday for the annual garbage day it was made clear that the Flames organization was not happy with missing the playoffs for a third straight season. Jay Feaster mentioned Monday that he would meet with Ken King and owners before making any decisions on players, staff and coaches.  It didn’t take very long for the first significant shake-up of the off-season as it was announced that head coach Brent Sutter along with assistant Dave Lowry would not be returning next season. It was described from both parties as a mutual agreement to go in their own different directions.  The writing was on the wall as Sutter went through his final year of his three year contract without any talk of an extension.

What Really Went Down?

I truly believe that Feaster and Sutter had a good working relationship and Feaster had a lot of respect for Sutter as a head coach. The reality is that no matter how good of a coach Sutter is in the eyes of Feaster, he was unable to get the results that the organization expected. What came out from comments by the former coach and current general manager is that they obviously don’t share the same idea of what changes are necessary for the Flames to return to the post season. One thing that became very apparent over Sutter’s stay in Calgary was how much Sutter struggled to implement his coaching philosophy on the players. There is no question that Sutter has a proven winning track record as a player and coach but for some reason he was unable to enjoy success with the Flames. Was it a disconnect with the players? Or was he just not given a good enough group of players to work with. The following quote from Sutter on Monday supports the notion that Sutter’s message was falling on deaf ears.

“If a decision is made that they want Brent Sutter to come back as coach, I will do some things different because I believe in that,” Sutter said. “It might not be pleasant and it might upset some people, but I think it’s at that point where there really has to be an awareness about where we’re at and where we’re going and how we’re going to get there.”

Sutter is clearly showing his frustrations and this quote seems to reinforce the idea that he never was able to get certain players to buy in. Was Sutter too stubborn and set in his ways? Should he have adapted his ideolgies and coaching style to better suit the Flames players? Or is this another example of a coach who has failed in Calgary due in part to the players unwillingness to completely buy-in to his coaching philosophy. I do believe that Sutter’s coaching style was not completely accepted by all of the Flames players and that is one of the main reasons why the Flames were such an up and down team.

Sutter did not coach to individuals but instead focused everything on the team as a whole. His coaching philosophy started in the defensive end and required all six guys to be on the same page. With the type of players the Flames had the defensive and more conservative style gave the Flames the best chance to win every night. Was it exciting to watch? No.  However, the Flames did not have the benefit of a large amount of skill and scoring ability and therefore Sutter did his best to make the Flames the most successful. What may have hurt Sutter in the eyes of the players and especially fans was his means of motivating. He was so adamant about effort and mental preparation that it often seemed like it was the only message he was trying to push on his players. There is no question that work ethic and being ready to play are key parts to any winning team but when that message is being slammed into you day in and day out it quickly starts to wear thin.

Why was this the right move?

This is a situation where if the Flames are really serious about making changes and getting back to the postseason then they have to have a new voice in the dressing room. It is a good step for the Flames organization to finally clear themselves of the Sutter family. This isn’t a knock on any of them as people but it is a positive step for the Flames to start fresh and allow Feaster to bring in his own coach. Sutter was a very competitive guy and wanted to win so bad that often the atmosphere around the rink was so business like that it often came across negative and was draining on the players. You could say that the Sutter reign is over in Calgary and hopefully that means a more open approach to the drafting, signing and coaching of players.

Going Forward

First off, lets hope that the Flames organization is not using Sutter as the scapegoat for the teams failure. Hopefully Feaster understands that the lack of success stems from the players and it is important that changes are made to the roster over the summer. There is no question that if Brent Sutter wants another coaching position in the NHL then he will get one. It looks as though there is a good chance that Sutter will join the coaching staff for Team Canada in Finland for the World Hockey Championships starting next month.

As for Feaster, hopefully he takes the time to make a decision on the next head coach of the Calgary Flames. I think the Flames should look for a younger coach who has a fresh perspective on the game. The Flames need to get away from the old school thinking and tactics that has held them back for the past ten years. The changes have to begin with the players but with a new voice and new coaching philosophy just maybe Flames players and fans will have something to be excited about come next fall.

Sutter’s Tenure in Calgary

2009-2010   40-32-10  90 points       10th Western Conference

2010-2011    41-29-12   94 points       10th Western Conference

2011-2012    37-29-16   90 points      9th  Western Conference

Overall record 118-90-38. Playoff record 0-0-0.