Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Darryl Sutter: Retrospective

Darryl Sutter came to Calgary midway through the 2002/2003 season, and stepped down before 2010 came to a close. His tenure represented a defining moment in the Flames' franchise; it saw the prime of Jarome Iginla, the end of the playoff drought, a Stanley Cup appearance, and a number of baffling moves that sunk the franchise for years and years.

Make no mistake, you won't find very many Calgary Flames fans who will say that the team is any better off now than it was when Sutter left. Save for the one Western Conference Champions banner, Sutter came to the team after Greg Gilbert pulled them out of the cellar and left just as they came back in.

From Darryl Sutter's first full season as Flames' General Manager to today, here's is a graph of the Calgary Flames' total winning percentage, including playoffs:

Sutter traded for Miikka Kiprusoff, San Jose's third string goalie behind Evgeni Nabakov and Vesa Toskala, at the time, two very capable NHL goaltenders (pause for laughter from Toronto fans) and for Chris Simon, Ville Niemenen and Marcus Nilson. They were three spark-plug players who ended up being key pieces in front of a very good goaltender who fluked their way into a playoff run. In a way, this team, led by one star player, a terrific goaltender and and incomprehensible puzzle of veterans and fourth line players, and their success led to a way of thinking in the National Hockey League that would change the way organizations put together and coached their team for years to come.

Sutter was a coach when he went to the finals, but wanted to concentrate on the management side of things, which led to the Flames employing four coaches in a span of three years, upon which the turnstiles only stopped rotating when came in Sutter's brother Brent. Brent Sutter has seen just as little success as previous Flames coaches Jim Playfair or Mike Keenan had, but his continued employment is symphonic with the way brother Darryl does business: he hires hockey people and sticks with familiarity over experimentation. Why else bring back Olli Jokinen or Alex Tanguay after their failed runs here? Or re-acquire a too-old Craig Conroy after he scored 27 goals in two years? Or, when Sutter smartened up and traded an ineffective Dion Phaneuf, instead of building from the ground up, insisted on trading for four NHL position players, as if Matt Stajan was the Jarome Iginla centreman question.

When Iginla went from 50 goals to 35 goals to 32 goals, Sutter's panic light was blinking on stand-by. When Kiprusoff saw his save percentage dip from .923 to .917 to .906 to .903, Sutter decided to spend all his cap space on Jay Bouwmeester instead of a reliable backup to share the load. When the Flames missed the playoffs, instead of reading the warning signs, Sutter went for a Brian Burke-approved "reload" instead of stock his prospects.

While Sutter managed to unload the Phaneuf contract, Iginla is still signed for $7-million until 2013. Some Flames are signed beyond then. Matt Stajan, Rene Bourque, Jay Bouwmeester, Miikka Kiprusoff and Marc Giardano's extension kicks in. The Flames are ranked at #30 in Hockey's Future organizational rankings, with Michael Backlund as the only prospect who looks close to breaking into the NHL.

Worse off, the team is fighting for a lottery position, despite being in a window wherein management was expecting them to win. This team will be saddled over to Jay Feaster, a salary cap victim from another NHL organization, for now, as Flames' president Ken King searches for a replacement. But maybe King doesn't recognize the problems with the Flames, and that Darryl Sutter's voluntary dismissal was so overdue that it exposes King as a drooling sycophant who's easy to fool. Somebody needs to step up and find a replacement superstar and not a complement to Iginla. Somebody needs to get rid of the team's positive assets like Rene Bourque or Marc Giardano and stock up on prospects. This team needs a complete turnaround, although it will start three years too late.

Darryl Sutter Steps Down [Calgary Herald]

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