Nearly 30 years after beginning his career as an NHL coach, Daryl Sutter won his first “wretched Old Man” award on Thursday.
So said players like Jordi Howe who pointed to Jack Adams, who was named the Best Coach in the National Hockey League.
In that vein, Sutter was the clear winner, not just for turning the flames, but for hosting the often-distracted daily media as Adams was known.
The 63-year-old shrugged her shoulders last month when she was selected as a finalist with Gerard Gallant of New York and Andrew Brunette of Florida: “I don’t need that on my resume – some guys do.”
“It’s the regular season award.”
It is clear that he is right.
If you included the playoff success, the NHL Broadcasters Association would have voted for Gallant, who did miracles to guide the Rangers to a 1-0 series in the Eastern Conference Final.
While Sutter’s Flames took the step of winning a seven-game streak over Dallas in the first round, the coach wasn’t able to make the most of his boys in a thrilling five-game streak against Edmonton that ended with Calgary’s four-game losing streak.
“It’s been a regular season, I think our team made a move in our first round,” general manager Brad Treleving agreed, considering the positives of the season over the weekend.
“I look at the series (Edmonton) and the team that played the best won the series. What’s blank to me is that I don’t think we put our game on the ice. We’ve created an identity and a style of play that I don’t think – for a number of reasons, some of which we have to discover – we haven’t gotten to. Never in the second round. You have to acknowledge the opponent, and we’ll find out why it didn’t happen internally.”
An autopsy for another day.
Thursday’s focus was on the job Sutter has been doing throughout the regular season.
After missing the playoffs last year, the Flames won the Pacific Division thanks to Sutter’s ability to bring structure and accountability to Calgary.
The organization changed hands, again, prompting the league to hand it the award Thursday via video to Brother Brian Sutter, who won the award in 1991.
A team that had long been known for their poor starts to matches and seasons led the ring in scoring the opening goals for the match, which was another tip for Sutter’s ability to equip players for the night.
The pressure he put was relentless on a returning heart to get more out of their matches, propelling the Flames to be one of the strongest defenses in the league, with the use of relentless pre-screening making them a delight to watch.
Half of the Flames players have had career years, including all six defenders, and a fine streak of Jonny Goudreau, Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm who amassed 301 points.
Not that either player will share their pending raises with the coach, but credit goes to Sutter for extracting more of them at both ends of the ice.
“(We have met) the necessary criteria to restore some respect as an organization, as a player, as a return to the team, in the league,” Sutter said in his presence at the end of the season.
“I said this 16 months ago, our fans only want two things: honesty and hard work, and they don’t always get it from all of you (the media) all the time, quite frankly.”
Officer Sutter wouldn’t be without shooting the media he relies heavily on to send messages to his players, and various other goals, daily.
This toughening helped raise his popularity in a county that is credited with turning the Flames franchise not once, but twice.
He did it with a hockey mind several steps ahead of most of his peers, fusing analytics with an old school background.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that people have had career years,” said Treleving, who hired Sutter midway through last season to change the culture.
“It pushes people to achieve things and that is not always convenient. Being successful in any area of life is not easy. It is human nature to survive. It is just to survive. Being really good is hard, and it motivates people To be really good. He brought structure, brought accountability to this group and the group embraced it.”
Called Jolly Rancher vividly for his stony, all-action style when on the podium or behind the bench, he’s as calculated and sharp as anyone in the game.
In a city where the team will always be judged on the success of a supplement that has largely eluded the franchise, he said on Wednesday that the team had reached its primary goal.
“We said our goal was to be a playoff team, and we did,” said Sutter, who has led his team to the hottest National Hockey League Finals in the past two months despite the Christmas Covid outbreak that sidelined the entire team.
“Then we had to reset because of the way it was the schedule (with) the games that were taken from us and then rescheduled. Bottom line, long term goals were never reached unless you hit short term goals and that was something as an organization It should be reset – sure. So, we’ve made progress on that. She takes that and sees how we can improve on that.
“It’s good that it hurts in the end, because then they understand it better.”
Sutter helped lift the team to a season of 50 wins and 111 points and created a base from which they will now operate.
“They’ve kind of set their own bar now,” said Sutter, a two-time Stanley Cup winner.
“The only way you can become a Stanley Cup champion is to do the playoffs over and over, and build on that.”