Gulutzan’s Tirade Was Theatre, Nothing More

It was the 94th day of the 2017-18 regular season when Calgary Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan finally had enough. In what was close to the 30th dedicated practice day of the season, the Flames were reportedly quite sloppy – probably not the sloppiest they’ve been all season, but sloppy enough for the coach to need to say something. Instead, Gulutzan snapped into a profanity-laden tirade punctuated by pitching his stick 13 rows into the lower bowl – it was later retrieved by a Flames staffer.

Speaking after practice, Gulutzan offered a rather calm assessment of what happened (via the Calgary Sun): “We weren’t as good as we needed to be this morning.” However, both on and off the ice, as the Bard would likely say, he doth protest too much. Rather than meant as a corrective measure at a single practice, Gulutzan’s tirade serves as both a warning to an inconsistent group and as a smokescreen to distract from a few issues around the club.

The Flames Have Some Problems

It’s safe to say that the Flames aren’t where they hoped to be. After 40 games, they had the same number of points as they did a season ago while getting used to Gulutzan’s systems – and they expended a ton of assets since then to bring in players like Mike Smith, Travis Hamonic and Michael Stone. The expectation was they would be good enough to have a bit of breathing room, not that they’d be scraping and scrapping for mid-season survival.

In addition, general manager Brad Treliving has seemingly begun to address some of the club’s roster issues – he sent under-performing backup goaltender Eddie Lack to the minors (and later traded him), and then waived frequent healthy scratch Freddie Hamilton (who was later claimed by Arizona). The issue is that Freddie is Dougie Hamilton’s older brother (and roommate), and the media’s concern about his departure being a disruption ironically may have created one when questions about Freddie’s waiver claim resulted in repeated recitations of “I’m just here to talk about the game.”

The Jagr Aspect

Finally, as noted by The Athletic‘s Eric Duhatschek, the Flames are likely in the midst of negotiating the end of Jaromir Jagr’s tenure with their organization (from ‘Duhatschek: Glen Gulutzan unleashes on Flames in expletive-laden, calculated tirade’, The Athletic Calgary – 1/5/18). Jagr’s time with the Flames has been, to be charitable, uneven.

While he’s still whip-smart and one of the most offensively talented players on the club, the issues the Flames are experiencing likely stem from his age. Jagr is 45 years old and didn’t get a full training camp in, so he’s been playing catch-up physically ever since he was signed. He’s easily the slowest player on the roster and, due to this and his recurring lower-body injuries, he’s been limited to fourth line minutes or ice time slanted towards heavy offensive zone starts. Jagr’s status and deployments have been a challenge for the team to manage while trying to keep their heads above water in a very competitive Western Conference.

Jagr was noted as “day-to-day” by Gulutzan on the day of the tirade, but amidst Twitter speculation from the likes of Bob McKenzie that an important update on Jagr’s status with the club was imminent – leading to, as Duhatschek noted, a larger-than-usual press contingent at practice – Gulutzan’s tirade was likely expertly timed to disrupt any particular lines of questioning.

His stick-throwing antics won’t win the Flames any games or smooth out their inconsistencies, but they made for superb in-season theater.