Darryl Sutter’s Criticism a Constant for Flames’ Young Players in 2020-21

When the Calgary Flames announced the hiring of Darryl Sutter in early March, it was expected that he would bring plenty of accountability to a group that at times appeared to be lacking it. He has been known throughout his coaching career to be very hard on players. In the past, it has resulted in some great team success, including two Stanley Cups for the L.A. Kings. However, some have questioned whether or not his style is outdated for today’s player, and those questions won’t fade away this offseason.

Continuous Critique

Since Sutter has been behind the bench this season, it has been pretty clear from the get-go that there are a few players he is not crazy about. Whether it’s a coincidence or not, they have all been young players, mainly Juuso Valimaki and Dillon Dube.

Valimaki, who was expected by many to secure a top-four role this season, has been called out on numerous occasions by his bench boss. Roughly a month ago, Sutter said that the 22-year-old needed to improve his skating, puck play, and vision while also mentioning he had a lot of work to do to become a regular NHLer.

Juuso Valimaki
Juuso Valimaki (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Dube, on the other hand, hasn’t been called out quite as much as his Finnish teammate but has been healthy scratched on numerous occasions since the hiring of Sutter. Still, while it hasn’t been as constant as Valimaki, Dube has been critiqued to the media by the veteran coach a few separate times this season. That didn’t change just hours before their final game of the season, where both Dube and Valimaki were criticized yet again.

“I think (Dube) and Valimaki are the identical players in terms of where they’re at – their minutes don’t go up unless they become better players,” Sutter said.

“If they become better players this team becomes better. There’s a little bit of entitlement that went on here and that impacts your team in a negative way for sure. You don’t play guys more to help them get better. They have to help themselves get better based on their training, based on their preparation, based on their compete level, not just the skills they were drafted on.”

Dillion Dube Michael DiPietro
Calgary Flames’ Dillion Dube (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)

As if that weren’t enough, he had, even more, to say on Dube when asked why the young forward had been a healthy scratch throughout the season.

“I sat him out games just based on his inconsistency in terms of when the other team has the puck,” Sutter explained. “If you look at last game (Sunday, May 16) we played, Dillon played on a line with Mikael Backlund and Andrew Mangiapane against Brock Boeser. One guy had 10 shots (Boeser) and the other guy had two penalties. Lots of growing up to do.”

That last line, along with the prior comment about entitlement, certainly suggests Sutter doesn’t particularly like the attitude of either Valimaki or Dube. That isn’t overly shocking given that they are young and have yet to fully mature. What is shocking, however, is how brutally honest their head coach is when discussing them with the media.

Potential to Backfire

I’m not here to try and question Darryl Sutter or say he’s wrong and I’m right. Not only is he 14th all-time in games coached with 1315, but he also played 406 career NHL games himself. Simply put, he is very knowledgeable when it comes to the game of hockey, and there is a reason he continues to coach in the league. However, calling out players like this to the media, especially as often as he did it this season, may not be wise.

Darryl Sutter
Head coach Darryl Sutter (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Players, as well as society in general, is different in this day and age than it was in the past. Oftentimes, yelling at someone or calling them out in front of others does not work as it would have years ago. Whether you agree or disagree with how things have shifted in society, it doesn’t change the fact that some of the tactics Sutter has demonstrated since returning to Calgary don’t work as well as they once would have.

That isn’t to say there is no chance they won’t work, however. Take John Tortorella, who, despite parting ways recently with the Columbus Blue Jackets, has had recent success as a head coach in the NHL. Clearly, being hard on guys has mostly worked out for Torts. Still, there are incidents where it doesn’t, and that was clear this season, first with Pierre-Luc Dubois and then with Patrik Laine, who was part of the return for Dubois when he was traded. It is important that if Sutter continues this approach, he walks a fine line, as it can backfire and result in a very short shelf life for a coach.

Full Season to Judge

These comments from Sutter seem to have the fan base divided into two sections. There are the ones who believe this is what this team needs, particularly their youth, and there are others who believe this is a coach being too hard on young players who are still trying to learn and develop their game.

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Regardless of where you sit on it, it is pretty hard to suggest it did or it didn’t work based on this year, given how odd everything has been. In a normal year, Sutter would have gotten a full training camp in, as well as many practices to work out kinks in his teams’ game. As we all know, however, nothing about his year has been normal. Instead, he was brought in once the season had already begun and was not able to have many practices at all with his group due to how condensed the schedule was this season. Hopefully, things are back to normal by 2021-22. Assuming they are, it is then that we will be able to get a better understanding of whether or not this tough-love approach is working.