It was the shocking one-word answer that really shouldn’t have shocked anyone. Before last week’s Battle of Alberta, a reporter asked Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter, “Are there any qualities that this team possesses that remind you of some of your championship level teams?” Without a moment’s hesitation, Sutter answered, “None.” That’s it. That’s all. Nothing more needed to be said.
Did that lightning-fast response surprise me? Not at all. Sutter isn’t in the business of pumping the tires of his players – rather, he prefers to challenge them daily to ensure they don’t get complacent or too full of themselves. The coach’s blunt, one-word answer tells me he’s still not satisfied with his team, and he won’t be until they bring a championship to Calgary.
However, it does raise an interesting question: was his response factually accurate? While the 2021-22 Flames and the 2012-14 Los Angeles Kings are indeed very different, to say they don’t share any similarities would be a bit of a stretch. I’ve found at least three parallels between the two hockey clubs that could go a long way in determining the Flames’ playoff fortunes.
Sutter Had Quick in Los Angeles, Markstrom in Calgary
It’s no secret that Sutter likes to ride his number one goalie. He did it with Miikka Kiprusoff in his first go-around as head coach in Calgary, and he did it with Jonathan Quick – especially during their first Cup run. Quick started 69 games for the Kings in 2011-12, posting a 35-21-13 record, a sparkling 1.95 goals-against average (GAA), a .928 save percentage (SV%), and 10 shutouts, which led the NHL. With 52 games, the Flames’ Jacob Markstrom is having his best season ever, and, to no one’s surprise, his coach has the big Swede on pace to shatter his career-high 60 starts in a season.
Much like Quick in 2011-12, Markstrom leads the NHL in shutouts this season with nine and will very likely finish the 2021-22 campaign leading the league. Great goaltending in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is probably the most important factor in determining a team’s postseason fate, and if Calgary can get anything close to the kind of netminding the Kings got during their first Cup run, they will be in great shape.
Quick posted an otherworldly 1.41 GAA and .946 SV% in the 2012 Playoffs to set the bar incredibly high. Markstrom’s lone playoff appearance was with the Vancouver Canucks in 2019-2020 when he posted a solid 2.85 GAA and .919 SV% before injury forced him out of the team’s second-round series with the Vegas Golden Knights. The 6-foot-6 goalie has to prove he can stay healthy for a long championship run, which could be a factor in how often he plays down the stretch.
Sutter Had Kopitar in Los Angeles, Lindholm in Calgary
Now, before anyone gets their undies in a twist, allow me to explain the basis for this comparison: Sutter himself. That’s right. In early December, the Flames’ bench boss told the media that as top two-way centers go, Elias Lindholm is practically a clone of the Kings’ Anze Kopitar. “He’s one of the best all-around centermen in the NHL”, Sutter said. “I’ve coached some good ones, but he’s as close to a Kopitar-type player as there is.”
Since Sutter made those comments, Lindholm has continued to impress at both ends of the ice and is starting to get some well-deserved consideration for the Selke Trophy. The 27-year-old Swede has already hit a career-high in goals and is on pace to surpass his 78-point total from the 2018-19 campaign. He’s the glue that holds the best line in hockey together, but can he bring that impressive game to the “second season?”
Kopitar was a driving force in both the 2012 and 2014 Playoffs, scoring 46 points in 46 games. The Slovenian’s point-per-game pace led the team in both championship runs, so his value to the Kings’ success cannot be understated. Lindholm’s playoff resume is limited to just two first-round series losses (2018-19 and 2019-20) when he posted a respectable eight points in 15 contests. We’ll see if he can put the team on his back as Kopitar did, but with Sutter’s guidance, a lot of fans are expecting Lindholm to make the Flames a serious contender this season.
Sutter Had Toffoli and Lewis in Los Angeles, Both in Calgary
Here is where I point out the really obvious similarities. Trevor Lewis was an important bottom-six forward for both of the Kings’ playoff runs, and he is still a useful, versatile player in Calgary. Lewis has played up and down the lineup as both a winger and a center for the Flames and certainly fits the mould as the prototypical “Sutter-style” player. The gritty forward scored a career-high nine postseason points in 20 playoff games for the Kings in 2012, but he won’t be expected to produce offence like that in these playoffs.
Before the season started, Sutter told reporters that Lewis’ Stanley Cup experience with the Kings, along with his ability to adapt is just what the Flames need to succeed. “A guy like Trevor went from playing on a top checking line, then within a year, playing fewer minutes on a fourth line,” he added. “Guys accept roles and guys maximize their skill sets in their roles, and those (players) we brought in are all capable and have done that…They have connections with winning and experience.”
Another important similarity between the Flames and the Kings’ 2014 Cup-winning team is newcomer Tyler Toffoli. The crafty winger was just a rookie when he won it all with Los Angeles in 2014, but he was still a major contributor to the team’s second championship in three years, scoring seven goals and seven assists in 20 playoff games.
Sutter knows exactly what kind of player Toffoli is, and it’s one of the big reasons the Flames have had their eye on him for the past couple of deadlines. He is also fresh off a trip to the Stanley Cup Final with the Montreal Canadiens (where he scored another 14 points), so Sutter will be leaning heavily on him to play a great two-way game, bolster the top nine and help provide a balanced attack come playoff time.
Like Lewis, Toffoli understands what his new/old head coach demands of him, and his experience winning hockey’s biggest prize in Los Angeles could prove invaluable to a team very light on postseason accomplishments. During yesterday’s media availability, Sutter made his feelings crystal clear when he said, “As an organization, we’ve had zero success – for a long time.” I’m sure he’d love to see his current squad emulate his championship Kings teams in every way possible.
With Two Stanley Cup Rings, Sutter Knows What He’s Talking About
While I’m quietly satisfied that there are characteristics shared by this season’s Flames and the 2012-14 Kings, I also concede that Sutter’s underlying message that the two teams are not at all alike holds water. If you consider how the two rosters were built, you would be hard-pressed to find a whole lot of common ground beyond the three similarities I’ve pointed out. The Los Angeles roster that won the Cup in 2012 only had three players with 20+ goals, while the Flames already have four players with 30+, and there are still 16 games to go.
The boys in red have been an offensive powerhouse this season, but Sutter seems way more pleased with a 1-0 win than when they put up six goals. Calgary’s head coach led the Kings to championship glory by getting the most out of a group that was outgunned in every series they played. Until he sees that level of buy-in from every last member of his squad, he won’t be pumping their tires any time soon, and he won’t be comparing the Flames to his Stanley Cup-winning teams.
Greg Tysowski is a former broadcast journalist who chose the exciting life of a stay-at-home dad for over a decade. He’s now a published author, parenting blogger and aspiring sports writer covering the Calgary Flames for The Hockey Writers. Greg is also a regular contributor to the weekly roundtable discussion “Flames Faceoff”, now streaming on YouTube and all podcast outlets.