Flames’ Sutter & Treliving Not on Same Page About Youth vs. Experience

I’ve been advocating for the Calgary Flames to inject a “youth movement” into their roster for quite a while. Right now, the Flames’ farm team in Stockton is absolutely brimming with talent, but with Darryl Sutter lining up Calgary’s roster on a nightly basis, don’t expect to see any new faces any time soon. In fact, we’ve actually been seeing a couple of old faces back in the lineup.

Related: Flames’ Sutter Counting on Familiar Faces to Solidify 4th Line

Despite going 15-3-0 since mid-January and leading the Pacific Division by five points, Sutter has decided to shake up his lineup in recent days, punting 23-year-old Dillon Dube and rookie Adam Ruzicka to the press box in favor of veterans Brad Richardson and Brett Ritchie. The unexpected roster moves made a lot of fans cry foul, but this is absolutely on brand for a head coach who values experience and playoff success over youthful enthusiasm.

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

While I understand the need to send his players the message that simply winning hockey games doesn’t guarantee a roster spot, I fear that Sutter is sacrificing a whole lot of offensive upside to bring in guys who can only offer up energy and momentum. While they can certainly help a team win a tight-checking 2-1 contest, they won’t give that much-needed, big goal late in the game to secure the W. Even “Sutter-style” hockey has its limits.

Inserting Richardson and Ritchie Won’t Add Any Offence

I won’t question Ritchie’s effort level, but I will question his ability to score. Among NHL forwards who have played at least 25 games in 2021-22, he’s the only one in the entire league without a single point. Is that really an upgrade on Dube? In the seven games since Tyler Toffoli joined the Sean Monahan line, that unit performed much better with the speedy Dube on the wing. Moving the slow-footed Milan Lucic to that line has dropped the expected goals for percentage (XGF%) from 51.9 to 35.0 and the expected goals for per 60 minutes (XGF/60) from 3.37 to 1.43. Stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.

Dillon Dube Calgary Flames
Dillon Dube, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Richardson had been a healthy scratch for a couple of months before he replaced the 22-year-old Ruzicka as fourth-line center late last week. While the “new look” energy unit failed to register a point on Saturday night against the Minnesota Wild, Sutter still complimented his new additions. “I think they gave us momentum every shift in the first period,” he told reporters. “They were difference-makers.” Meanwhile, the young Slovak rookie has seven points in just 19 games played this season, giving him a better points percentage than any of the Flames’ grizzled veterans.

Treliving Thinks Flames’ Prospects Deserve a Chance to Play

This is where things get interesting. On one hand, you have a coach who yanked young guys off the roster to play his trusted, veteran players. On the other hand, you have a general manager (GM) who told Sportsnet 960 a few weeks ago that he expects to see either Matthew Phillips or Jacob Pelletier get promoted to the big club during the back half of the season.

“You bring guys up when you have a need, whether it’s an injury or a positional need, or when you believe they’ve earned an opportunity. And in both cases, in my mind, they’ve earned an opportunity… I would hope here at some point, we’re going to see those guys.”

Flames GM Brad Treliving on Sportsnet 960

Phillips and Pelletier have been one and two in team scoring for the Stockton Heat all season long, but when Sutter was asked in mid-January if he had any intention of calling up any of his top American Hockey League (AHL) prospects, he quickly threw cold water on that idea.

Related: Flames Must Find a Middle Six Role for Matthew Phillips

“I think it’s really important as an organization that we do a thorough job of that,” Sutter told the media. “You don’t just call guys up and not let them have success. You want them to have one or two years of success, for sure. It’s a big jump. Well, there’s a big difference between the American Hockey League and the NHL, especially when you’re a first-year pro, and you’re undersized.”

With the Flames Rolling, Sutter Gets the Benefit of the Doubt

When it comes to utilizing youngsters vs. seasoned veterans, it appears this organization has competing philosophies. It is Treliving’s job to build the team’s roster, but he can definitely have an opinion on who gets to play. However, ultimately it is Sutter’s responsibility to shuffle his lineup and start the guys that he feels give the Flames the best chance to win. Talking to reporters earlier this week, he explained his reasoning for the recent shake-up.

“It’s very important. You’re a team that’s trying to create an identity or a different way of playing. It’s not just new players coming in from the outside, it’s players in the organization,” Sutter said. “That was the big thing this summer, was how the team had to make all these player changes. But maybe it was more about players changing.”

Calgary Flames Celebrate
Calgary Flames Celebrate (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

For the last two seasons, I’ve been beating my drum and pushing to see players like Phillips get into the Flames’ lineup, but if the bench boss isn’t swayed by Treliving’s thoughts on the matter, I don’t think this article will move the needle much either. Right now, Calgary is a real contender in the Western Conference and I truly believe Sutter’s coaching is the biggest reason for that success.

With the “old guys” back in the lineup, the Flames outscored a pretty good Wild team 12-4 in back-to-back meetings. This team is rolling without Dube or Ruzicka and they don’t seem to need any help from their very promising AHL prospects either, so in the end — what do I know? Maybe we should all give Sutter the benefit of the doubt and let the surefire Jack Adams trophy candidate do his job.

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