NHL Notebook: Is Darryl Sutter to blame for Calgary Flames’ woes and the latest on the Calder Trophy race

Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
1 year ago
A lot of finger-pointing is set to transpire in Calgary over the next weeks and months.
And to a certain extent, it’s already begun.
It’s been nothing short of an eventful calendar year for the Calgary Flames after falling to the Edmonton Oilers in the second round of the playoffs. Johnny Gaudreau left in free agency for Columbus and Matthew Tkachuk asked for a trade and was shipped to Florida in a blockbuster deal.
Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar came back with other assets and both players promptly signed big-ticket, long-term contracts. Nazem Kadri, meanwhile, struggled to find a home in free agency before signing a seven-year, $7-million AAV deal in late August.
Huberdeau and Kadri turned into pumpkins while Weegar had his own fair share of struggles. It was a microcosm of the Flames’ season, which was extinguished Monday night in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Nashville Predators.
And according to Daily Faceoff’s Matt Larkin, head coach Darryl Sutter is to blame:
Where does my finger aim? I look at a team has lost 30 one-goal games this season and won a paltry 30 games in regulation, relying on a whopping 17 loser points to prop up its record. I look at a team that ices the NHL’s 21st best power play; a team that has given Huberdeau the 143rd most ice time per game among NHL forwards and often inexplicably played him on his wrong wing; a team that refused to give youngsters like Matthew Phillips a fair chance to provide a meaningful spark.
I look behind the bench at Darryl Sutter.
Tracing the history of taskmaster coaches, from Mike Keenan to John Tortorella, we know they have a shelf life. Their hard-ass schtick can work well at first, cleaning up a room that has lost its competitive fire, and often yields impressive early results. Sutter took home the Jack Adams Award in 2021-22, his first full season since rejoining the Flames as their bench boss. But I’ll always remember what Los Angeles Kings Drew Doughty told me in summer 2017 following Sutter’s ousting as their head coach.
 “Darryl’s an awesome coach, and I absolutely love him,” Doughty said at the time. “He’s awesome for me. He taught me a lot of things as well. But if there is a problem with the team, or if you had a problem with Darryl, you’d be intimidated to go knock on his door and say, ‘Hey Darryl, I don’t like this or I don’t like that.’ ”
It always stuck with me. Sutter puts up a wall between himself and his players. Hey, that’s not always a bad thing. Making yourself the enemy can galvanize your players. It famously worked for Herb Brooks and the 1980 Miracle on Ice team, right? But it can only work for so long. The adversarial relationship with the coach can begin to poison the team. Especially when the coach begins calling out his players in public, as Sutter has been known to do repeatedly during his career.  He most notably did it with Huberdeau in November, indicating the star left winger was a “work in progress” who “needed to speed his game up.”

The latest on the Calder Race

It appears to be Matty Beniers’ race to lose for the Calder Trophy, but there are a number of other players near the top — including Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner. 
Here’s some of what Daily Faceoff’s Steven Ellis wrote about a few players near the top of the race: 

Owen Power, D (Buffalo Sabres)

Leading all rookies with 23:45 in average ice time, Power has been a workhorse for a Sabres team making a last-ditch effort at the playoffs. Power has the third-best wins-above-replacement and goals-above-replacement at 1.8 and 10.5, respectively. Taken No. 1 overall by the Sabres in 2021, Power is also fourth in blocked shots and fifth in takeaways among rookie blueliners, and the team controls the puck 52.20 percent of the time. Essentially, when Power’s on the ice, the Sabres are in good hands. He might not be overly flashy, but he can shut you down and beat you physically. Power’s going to be a star one day.

Matias Maccelli, LW (Arizona Coyotes)

Unlike a few others near the top of the list, Maccelli and Co. have had no shot at making the playoffs. Had the Coyotes been in the hunt, perhaps Maccelli’s case would have been even stronger. The 22-year-old Finn took everything he learned in his 23-game stint with the club last year and blew expectations as a key member of Arizona’s frontline attack. He’s two points shy of the 50-point mark, but would have been closer to 60 had he not missed 18 games due to injury. He has the best shooting percentage among rookies at 18.6 and possesses a .77 points-per-game average – slightly better than Beniers’ .73. Does Maccelli actually deserve the Calder? You be the judge.

Stuart Skinner, G (Edmonton Oilers)

So much has been said about Jack Campbell’s struggles for the Oilers this season, , despite having a generally positive record. Skinner has been miles ahead in just about every statistical category, and while his surface stats are nothing special, the Oilers wouldn’t be one of the best teams since Jan. 1 without him. Since March 1, Skinner’s .922 save percentage and 4.14 goals saved above average are good for sixth among goaltenders with at least 13 games played in that span, which has helped push the Oilers within two points of the Pacific Division lead.

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