When the Calgary Flames fired Geoff Ward early in the 2020-21 season and chose to bring in Darryl Sutter, the hope was he could turn things around immediately and get the team into the playoffs. That didn’t happen. The Flames’ inconsistent play continued under their new bench boss, and they missed the postseason by four points.
Given that Sutter has yet to coach the team for a full season, you’d think his job would be fairly secure to at least prove himself. However, that may not be the case. Adam Proteau of The Hockey News suggested that the 63-year-old is one of five coaches in the hot seat to begin the 2021-22 season. That seems fast, considering he hasn’t even had a training camp with his roster, but here’s a look at the Flames under both Ward and Sutter in 2020-21 to see how much, if at all, Sutter’s hiring improved the team.
Ward vs. Sutter
According to the team’s record, not a whole lot changed when Sutter came in. Before Ward was fired, the Flames had a record of 11-11-2, while under Sutter they went 15-15-0. In 24 games under Ward, the Flames scored 66 goals while allowing 74 for a minus-8 differential. On average they scored 2.75 goals per game while allowing 3.08.
In 30 games under Sutter, Calgary scored 85 goals and allowed 80 for an improved differential of plus-5. The 2.83 goals per game was a slight improvement, while they showed growth in goals against per game, at 2.67. Defensive hockey is Sutter’s bread and butter, so it isn’t much of a surprise to see that second number drop as it did.
A big part of the reason their goals against dropped was that under Sutter, the Flames were giving up fewer shots. Under Ward, they were giving up 31.1 shots per game, but that number dropped to 25.9 with Sutter at the helm. That may not seem like a huge change, but it can change the outcome of a game.
As for special teams, Sutter helped improve the penalty kill slightly from a 78.1 percent success rate to 81.6. However, the team’s power play did worse under him, though that isn’t a major surprise given that, as mentioned, he’s known to be a defensive-minded coach.
When Sutter was hired, it was widely believed that general manager Brad Treliving wanted to bring more accountability to the organization. At the time, many felt that Ward was not hard enough on his players when needed, which Sutter has no problems with. Despite only being with the team for 30 games, he was not afraid to let his players know how he felt at any given moment and did so to the media on many occasions.
It remains to be seen whether this approach will work with this group or not, though it shouldn’t take long to find out. On paper, these Flames are good enough to compete for a playoff spot, but whether or not they do could say a lot about Sutter’s coaching strategy.
Treliving’s Final Shot
I don’t think it would be fair to relieve Sutter of his duties before giving him a full season with the team. Though their game didn’t change a ton when he was brought in, it is very tough for a coach to implement his systems midway through a season. Having a full training camp with this group will give fans a chance to see a more Sutter-styled team on the ice in 2021-22. Though I think it’s far too soon for him to be in the hot seat, that doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s a possibility.
It is no secret that fans are unhappy with Treliving. Despite seeing the same results season after season, he has failed to change the core of his roster, which has placed him on the hot seat right now.
Given how long he’s been general manager of the Flames, he knows the clock is ticking, meaning he will do everything he can to try and make the playoffs this season. If his team starts slow, he might replace Sutter as a last-ditch effort to save his own job. Though Treliving should be the only one responsible for a shaky start, Sutter could end up paying the price early on and become the fall guy.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Oil On Whyte, NHLtradetalk.com, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.