I’m not sure what Calgary Flames’ general manager Brad Treliving said to convince Darryl Sutter to scrape the mud off his boots and return to the fray behind the bench after many seasons away, but there’s no doubt Sutter’s return is going to add some bite to the Battle of Alberta.
Sutter, 62, won’t be behind the bench tonight – assistant coach Ryan Huska will run the show — when the Flames visit the Oilers, but he’s returning with a three-year deal in his pocket and he most likely represents Treliving’s last chance to put an end to what’s been a coaching carousel in Calgary. With a deal like that, Sutter isn’t being brought in as a quick fix.
If firing Geoff Ward and bringing in Sutter doesn’t send a clear message to Calgary’s players – get your asses in gear or get gone – nothing will. At 11-11-2 for 24 points, the Flames sit below the playoff cutline in the North Division. Then, there’s the Oilers, freshly spanked by a cumulative score of 13-1 in three consecutive losses to the Toronto Maple Leafs. They’re third in the division at 14-11-0 thanks to an 11-2-0 heater before the Maple Leafs swept them, but there’s no question they need to get back on track.
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Big picture, barring a collapse by the Maple Leafs or a ridiculous hot streak by the Oilers, first place looks out of reach. As it stands now, the Oilers are jockeying with the Winnipeg Jets (31 points), Montreal Canadiens (26 points) and the Flames for the final three playoff spots. The Oilers have six games remaining against the Flames starting tonight, so what happens the rest of the way in the balance of the 2021 edition of the BOA will go a long in in determining who finishes where. Enter the Jolly Rancher.

OLD SCHOOL

Sutter, who guided the Los Angeles Kings to Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014 and has produced winning records in 15 of his 18 seasons as a coach, doesn’t need the money or aggravation that comes with life as an NHL coach, yet here he is for an encore. He coached the Flames from 2002-06, taking them to the 2004 Stanley Cup final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, losing in seven games. He was Calgary’s GM 2003-10.
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He stepped away from the bench after the 2016-17 season in Los Angeles and has been working the farm in Viking and as an adviser to the Anaheim Ducks since 2019. Now, as when Sutter started his coaching career, there aren’t any secrets as to how he expects the game to be played.
“Most guys know what Darryl’s all about,” Calgary captain Mark Giordano said. “I think he’s a proven winner. In L.A. he had two Cups. He’s been to the Stanley Cup Final here in Calgary. If you’re not going to listen to a guy who’s a proven winner like that, you shouldn’t be in the game. We all respect him. We all know what he’s going to bring and he’s going to bring that intensity and we’re looking forward to it.”
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“Deep down, I believe it’s a good hockey club,” Sutter said. “The blueprint is there. Now you have to take it and build it. The blueprint is there. The goalie and the top-end defensemen and the centermen are there. That’s what it takes. You win championships down the middle of the ice and the goalie, right on down. I believe that. We’ll build around that.
“When I look at this group, they’re a very intriguing group because there’s a lot of good players. They just have to adjust their style a little bit to do what it takes to win, and we’ll do that.” For context, the full interview with Sutter is here.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Feb 19, 2021; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames center Mikael Backlund (11) and Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) faces off for the puck during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
The Oilers, who have beaten Calgary in two of three meetings this season, including a 7-1 drubbing here Feb. 20, don’t have the luxury of looking down the road at the balance of the BOA yet to come. They need to shake off getting starched by the Maple Leafs and turn things around tonight. They showed during their 11-2-0 stretch they’re capable of it. I don’t think there’s any doubt Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the rest of the line-up coach Dave Tippett puts on the ice will be ready to go.
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Likewise, I’d be stunned if the Flames aren’t ready to rumble from top to bottom now that Sutter is back in the saddle. There’ll be hell to pay if they aren’t. Here and now, circumstances dictate we’ve got a chance to see some vintage bite in the BOA tonight. As for the rest of it, we’ll have to see how that plays out. I’m in.

Previously by Robin Brownlee