10 Winningest Coaches in Flames’ History

The Calgary Flames enter the 2023 offseason without a head coach, relieving Darryl Sutter of his duties on May 1. Interestingly, Sutter is one of two people in team history to be named bench boss twice, leading the team from 2003 to 2006 and most recently from 2021 to 2023.

Related: Flames’ Firing of Sutter Will Allow Team to Succeed and Stay Intact

Altogether, there have been 21 head coaches in Flames’ history, with an average tenure of 188 games, or two and half seasons. Statistically, only two people have surpassed 400 games, one coached for over 300 contests, and most of the list served for an average of 197 games. Finally, only five coaches have failed to make it past 100 matches, with two serving less than 16 games. 

Since Sutter has had the luxury of two turns behind the bench, it’s no surprise that he’s managed to win a lot of games. However, did he accumulate enough wins during his six seasons to be the club’s all-time winningest coach? Let’s dig through the numbers to find out. 

Darryl Sutter Calgary Flames
Darryl Sutter, former head coach of the Calgary Flames. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Note: Considering all of these coaches have worked through various statistical ages in the NHL, it was challenging to come up with accurate win percentage numbers. Since some coaches have ties while others have overtime losses, there is no formula to combine the various eras. Instead, I combined everyone’s win-loss record in the regular season and playoffs to put this list together. 

10. Brian Sutter – 87-117-37-5 (1997 – 2000)

Brian Sutter grew up with his siblings in Viking, Alberta, a four-hour drive northeast of Calgary. Although his brother Darryl would eventually become the most famous Sutter in Flames’ history, Brian became the first member of his family to join the franchise in 1997. 

Even though he has a losing record with the organization over three seasons, and his teams never qualified for the playoffs, his total wins (87) outrank 11 other coaches. Interestingly, some of them include Bernie Geoffrion and Greg Gilbert, who also held the position for three years.

9. Mike Keenan – 93-68-0-16 (2007 – 2009)

Mike Keenan’s NHL legacy includes guiding the Philadelphia Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final twice in the late 1980s and breaking a 54-year curse in New York, leading the Rangers to a championship in 1994. Altogether he’s coached for eight NHL teams, with his last stint happening in Calgary.

New York Rangers Mike Keenan
Mike Keenan coached the New York Rangers in 1994. (Photo by Denis Brodeur/NHLI via Getty Images)

After being hired in 2007, Keenan guided the Flames to a winning record during his two seasons behind the bench, advancing to the postseason twice. However, first-round playoff exits led to his dismissal right before he could crack 100 combined wins with the franchise.

8. Dave King (1992 – 1995) 117-88-31-0 

Dave King never played in the NHL but earned enshrinement into the IIHF Hall of Fame as a coach for Team Canada at several Olympic events, on top of his successes in various leagues worldwide. After finishing his time with Hockey Canada in 1992, the Flames hired him for his first head coaching job in the NHL, and he didn’t disappoint. 

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The Flames won the Pacific Division title twice during his three seasons and finished second the other year. Although the team found success in the regular season, they lost in the first round each year, leaving King unemployed after 1995. Historically, he remains only one of eight coaches to win over 100 combined contests with the organization. 

7. Al MacNeil – 117-11-46-0 (1979 – 1982, 2002 – 2003)

Al MacNeil was the last coach of the Atlanta Flames and the first coach of the Calgary Flames since he was behind the bench when the franchise relocated in 1980. Interestingly, he qualified for the postseason in all three years, guiding the team to a berth in the conference finals in 1980-81. 

Although his teams never finished higher than third in the division, MacNeil collected 117 wins during his time with the club, which includes an 11-game stint in 2002-03. After filling in as head coach during Gilbert’s two-game suspension in 2001, he assumed interim duties at the start of the next season until the team hired Darryl Sutter for the first time.

6. Brent Sutter (2009 – 2012) 118-90-0-38

Brent Sutter is arguably the most successful of his brothers who played in the NHL, winning four Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders. After 1,111 games, which included seven seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, he retired in 1998 to return to Alberta and serve as general manager and head coach of the Red Deer Rebels in the Western Hockey League (WHL). 

Moreover, his first NHL head coaching job was with the New Jersey Devils in 2007. However, after two successful seasons, he resigned, citing personal reasons. Ultimately, his brother Darryl, serving as Flames general manager, hired him as coach two weeks later. During his three seasons behind the Calgary bench, they never qualified for the playoffs, despite winning records every year. After 118 wins, he was not offered a contract and returned to the WHL.  

5. Bob Hartley (2012 – 2016) 139-141-0-25

Bob Hartley never played in the NHL; however, he became an NHL head coach with a Stanley Cup ring, thanks to his time in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and American Hockey League (AHL). Furthermore, he’s won a championship in juniors, minors, and the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in Russia. 

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After guiding the Colorado Avalanche for five seasons, he moved to the Atlanta Thrashers before coming to the Flames in 2012. Surprisingly, he finished his NHL coaching career in 2016 when Calgary let him go since the team missed the playoffs for the third time in his four-year tenure. Interestingly, he had only one winning campaign, 2014-15, when he won the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year.

4. Fred Creighton (1975 – 1979) 156-136-56

If you look up the history of the Calgary Flames, Wikipedia does not include statistics from the franchise’s time in Atlanta. However, if you browse their information on Hockey Reference, you will see that they consider the entirety of the team’s history, which just celebrated 50 years as an organization. 

Therefore, Fred Creighton never coached in Calgary but was one of only three coaches who guided the team in Atlanta. During his four-and-half-year tenure, which included the final 28 games in 1974-75, he produced a .529 win percentage during the regular season and a 1-8 record in the playoffs. Interestingly, under his guidance, the Flames qualified for the postseason four times, kick-starting an epic 16-year playoff streak that ended in 1991. 

3. Terry Crisp (1987 – 1990) 166-78-33

Terry Crisp has a special place in Flames’ history as the only head coach to guide the franchise to a Stanley Cup championship. After a successful playing career, 536 games, and two Stanley Cup wins with the Philadelphia Flyers; he got into coaching at the junior level in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) upon retirement. 

Initially hired by the Flames in the summer of 1987, Crisp led the organization through one of their most successful periods, including a championship win in 1989. During his three seasons, Calgary won 48, 54, and 42 games, with 54 remaining the club record. However, he was critical of his players in public, and the team let him go after failing to defend their title, losing in the first round. Interestingly, the Flames’ playoff streak would last only one more season after his departure.

2. Bob Johnson (1982 – 1987) 218-182-52

Bob Johnson became the second head coach in Calgary Flames history when he took over for MacNeil in 1982, holding the position until 1987. Statistically, he was the franchise’s leader in regular season wins for 36 years, just recently passed by Darryl Sutter in 2023. Even though he lost one record, he remains the playoff wins leader at 52. 

Bob Johnson UW
Bob Johnson (UW Archives)

After earning a 394-224-27 record at the college level, Johnson came to the Flames in 1982, ushering in one of the franchise’s most successful periods, resulting in an appearance in the 1986 Stanley Cup Final. Unfortunately, he died of brain cancer in 1991, months after winning his only Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins. At the time of his death, he was the winningest American-born NHL coach. 

1. Darryl Sutter (2003 – 2006, 2021 – 2023) 233-158-15-43

As previously mentioned, Sutter is one of two people in Flames’ history to have two runs as head coach. Historically, Sutter became only the third coach to lead the team to an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final, losing in 2004. As a member of the Sutter family from Viking, Alberta, he is also one of three of his siblings to work with the organization. 

Darryl Sutter
Former head coach Darryl Sutter (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

During his first stint, which included taking over for 46 games in 2002-03, he produced a winning record each year, losing in the Final and finishing in first place in the Pacific Divison before resigning. After coaching with the Los Angeles Kings, winning two Stanley Cup titles, he returned to the Flames in 2021, coaching the final 31 games of the season. Then, during the 2021-22 campaign, he guided the team to their second-best regular season, winning the Jack Adams Award for his efforts. Unfortunately, within a calendar year, the Flames took a step back, resulting in his dismissal in May 2023. 

Historical Perspective 

Being a head coach in the NHL is a challenging achievement, let alone winning at the highest level. As mentioned, only 21 people have held the title for the Flames, and only one has won the Stanley Cup. 

Related: 3 Reasons the Flames Will Bounce Back in 2023-24

Although the organization has only employed one Hall of Fame coach (Johnson), they have asked several well-respected former players to guide the club. As the search begins for a new coach, whoever takes over in 2023 will be chasing these men who already have their names in the team’s record book.

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