Saturday, July 26, 2008

Time To Hit the Old Dusty Trail...


During the Flames' beauty 2004 Stanley Cup run I couldn't help but think how the city's opinion of management would change down the road. After inheriting the team about a season and a half earlier, Darryl Sutter missed the playoffs for the first time in his career. Flames fans weren't exactly surprised, they had missed the playoffs for 7 straight seasons, but for Darryl it was an embarrassment. Never mind that he only had half a season to turn the team around (and did a hell of a job), it was something he, as a Sutter, wouldn't accept.

He made all the right moves. Signed some goalie named Miikka Kiprusoff who turned out to be somewhat of a saviour. He out coached some of the best minds in the business. He cultivated an unknown but exceptionally effective defensive group. He got the most out of a crop of 3rd liners including Marcus Nilson, Sean Donovan and the irrepressible Ville Niemenen. I'm sure there are coaches out there today still wondering how he Sutter did it.

Sutter was God-Like. He brought Calgary out of the gutters and into the stars, even if only for one season. If a fan questioned Sutter during that time the only thing a rational person could do is roll their eyes and shake their head.

'That will all change one day though' is what I kept thinking. In the world of the hockey GM, today's hero is tomorrow's goat.

Tomorrow is today.

It's not so much that Sutter has been a complete disaster. This team is better now than it was before he manned the helm. They're a perennial playoff team (and will certainly be a contender to make the playoffs this year) and although they've only made it past the first round one time, they have been in two separate 'Game 7s.'

Sutter has some strengths which I think we can all agree on:

  • Identifying his core players (Iginla, Regehr, Kipprusoff, Phaneuf)
  • Turning trash into treasure (Kipprusoff, Huselius, Nolan, Ference, Hale, Giordano)
  • Gets consistently good performances out of top players (Iginla, Langkow, Phaneuf, Regehr)
  • OK at developing rookies (Phaneuf, Lombardi)
Sutter also has some weaknesses which I think we can generally agree on:

  • Allows useful players to leave for nothing (Giordano, Hale, Clark)
  • Had a tendency to hire his ex players, seemingly not on merit (Amonte, Friesen, Primeau, Stuart, Nolan, Smith, Marchment, Zyuzin)
  • Takes shots in the dark on trades/signings (Amonte, Nolan, Bertuzzi, McCarty, Lundmark)
  • Isn't good at identifying coaching talent (Playfair, Keenan)
  • Doesn't develop much in house talent (successes include Phaneuf, Lombardi, Moss? Boyd??)
  • Tends to prefer old overpriced FA veterans instead (Amonte, McCarty, Aucoin, Leclerc, Weimer, Smith, Primeau, Nolan, Bertuzzi)
  • Hasn't restocked the pipeline (top prospect is Backlund but others don't look promising)
Is that a fair assessment?

I thought I was a bit tardy with this post, especially since CJ and Duncan have both already had great posts on relatively the same subject.

However, I think Lowe getting bumped upstairs the other day brings new relevance to the idea of Sutter moving on. The team simply hasn't progressed the last 2 seasons, and the shuffling of deck chairs has hardly been useful. Take for instance this offseason. Sutter made a nice move for Glencross to solidify his bottom six forwards up front, but was forced to make a desperate move for Bertuzzi because he has zero youngsters ready to fill a top 6 wing position. Jim Vandermeer gets resigned, probably because the Flames are making a Vandermeer family band, and for some reason Sutter acknowledges that Warrener and Eriksson are useless but doesn't do anything relevant about it besides embarrassing one of the most respected guys in the dressing room.

I think it's time for Sutter to move on.

There is of course no way Sutter gets outright fired. Much like Lowe, the Flames management team is enamoured with Darryl Sutter. For the good of the team though, I thing someone in the ownership group needs to suggest Darryl take a 'promotion' and the Flames hire someone outside the organization who will make (or at least suggest) the hockey decisions from now on.

11 comments:

MetroGnome said...

Well, I had a post like this on the way, but you may have scooped me with this one.

I'll have to add that I dont think Sutter is good at developing rookies, particularly considering his proclivities as GM - year after year, he jams the roster full of guys. A there's almost always a handful of them that could be easily replaced by cheaper, younger players. This year its Roy, Primeau, Vandermeer, Nilson, Warrener, Eriksson and, arguably, Aucoin.

therealdeal said...

Well, I had a post like this on the way, but you may have scooped me with this one. Yours will probably be more far more coherent and readable though.

I'll have to add that I dont think Sutter is good at developing rookies, particularly considering his proclivities as GM - year after year, he jams the roster full of guys. A there's almost always a handful of them that could be easily replaced by cheaper, younger players. This year its Roy, Primeau, Vandermeer, Nilson, Warrener, Eriksson and, arguably, Aucoin.

I hesitated at this one, because I don't really know what the benchmark for developing rookies is. I'll totally agree he throws in ODBs instead of cheaper younger guys as a general rule, but I mean he broke in Lombardi and Phaneuf in his 2.5 coaching seasons and they seemed to work out well. If Moss and Boyd can solidify their roster spots and we include an older 'rookie' like Giordano thats 4 guys in 4.5 seasons. It's definitely not great, but I do think it's worth mentioning.

Jonathan said...

Hmmm. I think Sutter's chief weakness is a complete inability to target useful free agents and sign them. Who knows, though, maybe Glencross won't regress into a 4th liner.

Still, if they were going to gas Sutter, it would've made sense to do it before the draft. Of course, the same thing goes for Lowe, so nothing's impossible.

cynical joe said...

One thing about Darryl, when he felt he had lost the team as a coach, he didn't wait till he was pushed, he pulled the chute quickly. I think if this team doesn't make the playoffs, he's got one move in a Keenan replacement and then its 'agreeing' to be promoted. Look for him to have a big say in the next GM though. This year, we're already at 50 contracts so any incoming help is going to have to be balanced with outgoing ballast.

MetroGnome said...

I'll totally agree he throws in ODBs instead of cheaper younger guys as a general rule, but I mean he broke in Lombardi and Phaneuf in his 2.5 coaching seasons

True...I was thinking of Sutter purely in the "GM" hat. That version of Sutter seems to try to make it as difficult as possible to make the Flames as a rookie.

I think Sutter's chief weakness is a complete inability to target useful free agents and sign them.

This is undeniably true.

therealdeal said...

Hmmm. I think Sutter's chief weakness is a complete inability to target useful free agents and sign them. Not so. Must I remind you of Jeff Friesen???

Jonathan said...

Must I remind you of Jeff Friesen???

Never understood what happened to him. Good player for a while; a lots of tools, no toolbox case?

therealdeal said...

It's pretty startling how fast his career imploded. Drugs maybe, who knows.

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