Flames’ Sutter Talks About What it Takes to be an Elite NHL Team

The Calgary Flames have been the hottest team in the league since Jan. 18, with only five regulation losses in their last 26 games. This has a lot of fans in the C of Red excited about a potentially deep playoff run, but Darryl Sutter has never once looked that far ahead. Instead, the no-nonsense head coach has insisted on forging a team that relies on hard work and a foundation of accountability. Taking things ‘one game at a time’ has never been a cliché for this bench boss.

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“In this business, you can’t be satisfied”, Sutter told reporters earlier this week. “I hate losing more than I like winning, and if you don’t think like that you’re always dwelling. If you aren’t trying to get better, somebody else is and that means as an individual and as a team… Anybody that feels comfortable or cozy right now? You won’t last long.”

You know what does last a long time? A great team. A legendary team. A never-satisfied Sutter would never classify his current Flames squad as one of the league’s elite, but he definitely knows a thing or two about putting together a team that can win multiple Stanley Cup championships.

Sutter Points to Four Teams as the Gold Standard

While we may never see a return of true classic NHL dynasties like the Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders or Edmonton Oilers, there have been a handful of standout franchises in the past 15 years. When a reporter asked Sutter last week what the difference is with teams that are consistently great, he pointed to four teams as the benchmark: the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Los Angeles Kings, the Chicago Blackhawks and most recently, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“The bottom line is, you need to play lots of playoff rounds before you can say that”, Sutter answered, “What is a great team? I can relate to that. We played 11 playoff rounds in three years – that’s a great team we had in Los Angeles.”

Darryl Sutter, Los Angeles Kings
Darryl Sutter won two Stanley Cups with the Los Angeles Kings (Jim O’Connor-US PRESSWIRE)

“Tampa was beat in the conference finals before they won two Stanley Cups. You can’t just do it once, you’ve got to do it over the period of a few years,” he continued. “That is what the standard is. If you look back at the last number of years, there are teams that have won it once – so be it, right? It’s the teams that do it consistently over a period of time, those are the teams; Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Chicago, if you want to look back, and now Tampa.”

There’s no Comparison to the 2018-19 Flames

Don’t talk to Sutter about regular season success. While he admits his team requires a successful 82-game campaign to qualify for the NHL’s ‘second season’, he won’t even address his potential candidacy for the Jack Adams award for coach of the year. The Flames bench boss called the Jack Adams a ‘regular season award’ and told reporters “I’m not into that stuff. You know me better than that.”

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

I’ll tell you something that he is into, and that’s making his team a little bit better each and every day, and not putting too much stock into his team’s recent success. When asked about the 2018-19 Flames squad that rolled through the regular season as the number one seed in the Western conference, only to get rolled over by the Colorado Avalanche in five games, Sutter had a quick answer for their early playoff exit.

“There was no foundation”, he told the media. “That team was outscoring their opponent, but it doesn’t work. You need a foundation to fall back on. You have to be able to fall back on what those top teams win with – a foundation of checking and managing the puck. It’s simple. If you’re not trying to get better every day, you’re in trouble.”

In the end, Sutter brought the discussion back full circle about the failure of the 2018-19 team to make it out of the first round. The league’s elite teams simply know how to get the job done, whether it’s in the regular season or in the playoffs. “Look at Tampa”, he said. “They’re going to get credit for a lot of offence, but they’ll pound you into the ice. They’re also going to keep the puck and they’re going to push your goalie out of the game if they can. That should be your benchmark.”

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The Flames’ head coach knows his team still has a long way to go if they ever want to be considered one the league’s best. The first step in the Flames joining the NHL’s upper echelon is to win a couple of playoff rounds, but I wouldn’t rule out an appearance in the Stanley Cup final this spring. We all know why Sutter came back to Calgary. We all know what happened in 2004 and how it still sticks in his craw. This is a man who coached one of the four great NHL teams of the last two decades and if Sutter gets his way, you might have to add a fifth team to that list in a few years.

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