Flames News and Rumors: Ward, Sutter, Markstrom, Bennett, New Culture

In this edition of Calgary Flames News & Rumors, I’ll concentrate on some of the movements within the organization. It was a busy week for the Flames: they fired and hired a head coach, their starting goalie has come back from an injury, and there were a couple of notable player movements to report.

Related: Flames News & Rumors: Markstrom, Ryan, Gawdin & Kylington

The Flames get ready for another chapter of the Battle of Alberta, and they play a really hungry team in the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers were completely shut down by the Toronto Maple Leafs in a three-game home set last week. They can’t be pleased and will be desperate for a win. The Flames on the other hand are coming off a 7-3 win over the Ottawa Senators, so at least now-former Flames head coach Geoff Ward goes out on a win.

Item One: Flames Fire Head Coach Geoff Ward

It doesn’t happen that often that a coach is fired after a lopsided victory, but the Flames did just that when they fired head coach Ward in mid-week. Ward’s tenure as the team’s “interim” head coach started on November 29, 2019, when Bill Peters was fired in mid-season. He was named the Flames’ 20th head coach on September 14, 2020, during the offseason.

Geoff Ward Calgary Flames
Geoff Ward, now-former Calgary Flames head coach (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Flames had a record of 11-11-2 this season under Ward and were ranked fifth in the North Division. But they were an up-and-down team all season, never able to put together a string of good games in succession. Ward’s record with the Flames ended at 35-26-5.

Item Two: Flames Hire Blast from the Past Darryl Sutter

We can get a sense of what Flames’ general manager Brad Treliving found problematic with his former head coach Ward by who he hired as the new coach. Darryl Sutter is the team’s new head coach, and he comes with a reputation. 

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Let me share a now 20-year-old article written for ESPN by Barry Melrose, a former NHL defenseman and head coach, who was a hockey anaylst for ESPN. He was writing about Duane Sutter’s hiring with the Florida Panthers and not specifically about brother Darryl, but it’s easy to get Melrose’s points about the Sutter brothers from what he writes.

I’ll cite three small sections from Melrose’s article.

Piece One: “Sutter (Duane) is a fiery guy, and this team (the Florida Panthers) has lacked passion. They’re not playing very hard, and Bill Torrey hopes that Duane’s passion will rub off on his players. Often, a team will take on the personality of the coach. The Panthers need a heart transplant, and they’re hoping that Sutter’s message will get through.”

Piece Two: “These guys (the Sutter brothers – Brian, Darryl, and Duane) are all very similar in style. They played hard, and they coach the same way. That is the Sutter mentality.”

Piece Three: “Anyone who has played against the Sutters knows that, to a man, they are all very competitive. That’s what makes them special.”

So that’s what the Flames’ players and fans should expect from this Sutter brother. It will be Sutter’s second chance to ignite the Flames. He was also the team’s head coach from 2002 to 2006 and then the team’s general manager from 2003 to 2010.

In total, Sutter brings 18 seasons of being a head coach with four different teams. In addition to the Flames, he also coached the Chicago Blackhawks, the Los Angeles Kings (with whom he won two Stanley Cup championships in 2012 and 2014), and the San Jose Sharks. He career record as a coach is 634-467-101. As the Flames’ coach his teams made to two playoff runs in three seasons, including playing in the Stanley Cup Final in 2003-04.

Related: NWHL’s 2020 Draft Class was Exceptional in Lake Placid

Item Three: Jacob Markstrom Is Gearing Up for a Start

Another team move this past week was activating Jacob Markstrom from injured reserve on Thursday. Although David Rittich played on Thursday against the Senators and Markstrom was his backup, things seem to be lining up for Markstrom to get the start tonight against the Oilers.

Jacob Markstrom Calgary Flames
Jacob Markstrom, Calgary Flames (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

Markstrom hasn’t played since Feb. 20 because of his upper-body injury. On he season, he has an 8-6-1 record, with a goals-against-average of 2.87 and a save percentage of .909 with two shutouts.

Item Four: Sam Bennett Back in the Flames’ Doghouse – for Now

It will be interesting to see the impact of Sutter’s coaching style on players such as Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau, and perhaps more interestingly Sam Bennett. Bennett shows flashes but has been labeled a bit of an underachiever.

Bennett was scratched Thursday night versus Ottawa. He has produced just three goals and one assist in 22 games this season. The team – or at least Ward when he was head coach – expected more.

What’s Next for the Flames?

It should interesting in Calgary for both the fans and for the players. Although Sutter won’t be behind the bench on Saturday because he must go through the league’s COVID-19 protocols and wrap up some business on his farm, he’s expected to join the team in Calgary on Monday.

Related: Calgary Flames’ News & Rumors: Markstrom, Rittich, Tkachuk & Monahan

Assistant coach Ryan Huska will be behind the bench when the Flames play in Edmonton on Saturday and at home against the Senators on Sunday.

Around the time of the coaching move, general manager Treliving promised more changes. However, he also promised/warned fans that he expected Sutter to be the head coach in Calgary for a long time.

Certainly, it will be a culture change for the team, and you have to know that Treliving – above all else wants the team’s culture to reboot. For the players it will sort of be like playing for Columbus Blue Jackets’ coach John Tortorella – minus the drama.

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