Though they currently find themselves on a three game losing streak, the 2021-22 season has been an overall success for the Calgary Flames to this point. Through 14 games, they have a record of 7-3-4, which is good enough for third place in the Pacific Division. The big reason for this turnaround from last season is that they are getting contributions from many on this roster, a sign that head coach Darryl Sutter has helped instill confidence in this group.
One player who hasn’t been able to contribute as hoped, however, is defenceman Juuso Valimaki. The 23-year-old, who was taken with the 16th pick in the 2017 Draft, has a ton of potential but has yet to put it all together at the NHL level. His inconsistencies both this season and last have frustrated Sutter, as the 63-year-old bench boss called him out last season and has healthy scratched him for seven straight games.
Valimaki Frustrated With Lack of Playing Time
Dube seems to have gotten the message loud and clear, and has a respectable seven points in 14 games while also getting some opportunities in the team’s top six. Valimaki on the other hand, has remained in Sutter’s doghouse and is becoming very frustrated by it.
“There have been so many games in recent years due to injuries that now it feels pretty stupid that I am healthy and would be able to play, but it is not given,” Valimaki said to a Finnish news outlet. The now 23-year-old clearly expected a bigger role for himself after signing a two-year, $3.1 million extension with the Flames this offseason, but to this point that hasn’t happened.
“I think the games went really well,” Valimaki said, alluding to his first seven games of the season. “I have also received feedback from many different directions that my playing looked much better than last year.”
What has made this all the more frustrating for Valimaki was that when he was pulled from the lineup, the Flames had won five straight games, something he believed he was a part of. He claims that one of the team’s assistant coaches told him not to worry about things, and that he would be back in the lineup the very next game. Instead, he has now been held out for seven straight, and says he has not received an explanation as to why.
“Last season was the same for the rest of the season,” Valimaki said. “For the rest of the season, we no longer even had a stake in the games, but I was still in the stands at times.
“I thought this would be the end of it, and that’s what it looked like at the beginning of the season. But no.”
Valimaki Speaks About Sutter as a Head Coach
Many fans may not like that Valimaki chose to go public with this, and instead would have preferred him to just continue to work hard and get better. They should know, however, that he did have some positive things to say about the way Sutter has helped improved their team as well.
“He is known to be fierce for young players and treats a little so that everyone has to earn and pay off the so-called youth debt. But as a coach, he is good and has got a lot out of the team. He can bring things to it,” Valimaki explained.
It is clear that these two are not exactly seeing eye to eye right now, but the good news is that it appears Valimaki does have respect for Sutter. He certainly isn’t wrong in suggesting that young players have to earn their way with him, as he has been known throughout his entire coaching career to favour veteran players.
Valimaki Speaking Out Could Turn Interesting
Due to the fact this interview was done in Finnish, it hasn’t been talked about a whole lot by Flames fans just yet. Perhaps it will stay that way, but you can bet that if Sutter finds out about it he won’t be thrilled. He is all about a team first mentality, and Valimaki speaking out like this — whether you agree or disagree with his sentiments — goes against that. It will be interesting to see if anything further comes of him choosing to speak out.
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: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, 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.