Calgary Flames, 2003-2010
Northwest Division Title, 2005-2006
Playoff Appearances: 2004, 2006-2009
Stanley Cup Finals Appearance: 2004
Six sons of Louis and Grace Sutter of Viking, Alberta, Canada became NHL hockey players. Four of the six later became NHL head coaches but only one (thus far) ever became an NHL general manager and that honor belongs solely to Darryl Sutter.
Although today he is head coach of the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, Sutter’s previous gig was serving as general manager of the Calgary Flames (with a head coaching stint included from 2003 to 2006). The last time the Calgary Flames reached the Stanley Cup playoffs it was with Darryl Sutter as the team’s GM. The last time the Calgary Flames reached the Stanley Cup finals it was with Darryl Sutter as the team’s GM and head coach.
Sutter became the Flames with precious little managerial experience. He had been an NHL head coach with the Blackhawks and the San Jose Sharks. His sole front office experience had been with Chicago when he was serving as a consultant working on special projects after he had been let go as the team’s head coach.
When Darryl took over as Flames GM in 2003 (he had already become the team’s head coach in 2002) the team looked like hell with the fire out.
The Flames had not reached the playoffs since 1996. Their last Stanley Cup final had been in 1989. Darryl’s older brother Brian Sutter had served as head coach for three seasons but could not stop the slide.
Darryl Sutter as a head coach had always emphasized goal-tending, defense, speed, and physicality. His methods helped him rank among the great coaches in NHL history. Sutter was no different as a general manager. The personnel moves he had to rebuild the team reflected his inimitable style.
His top draft pick in the 2003 NHL draft was Dion Phaneuf. Phaneuf is one of the finest blue-liners in the game today and when he was with the Flames he became the bulwark of the defensive corps for five solid seasons but Phaneuf would not make his NHL debut until 2005. Sutter needed immediate help and he got it by making trades.
Sutter sent Chris Drury to Buffalo for two defensemen, Rhett Warrener and Steve Reinprecht but the biggest prize of all came from his old team the San Jose Sharks. Sutter gave San Jose a second round pick in the 2005 draft for goalie Miikka Kiprusoff. Kiprusoff was wondrous in the nets and was the keystone of the Flames successes in the years to come.
The Flames finished third in the Northwest Division during the 2003/04 season but when playoff time came around the team showed enormous grit and endurance; beating Vancouver in seven; the President’s trophy winner Detroit Red Wings in six; and the best revenge of all: the San Jose Sharks in six games.
Kiprusoff earned five shutouts during the 2004 playoffs and Jerome Iginla supplied the offense. Calgary had a 3-2 series lead in the Stanley Cup finals but couldn’t close the deal, losing games six and seven by one goal margins in both games.
Since then the Flames have never reached those heights and neither did Darryl Sutter as the team’s GM.
The team won the Northwest Division title in 2005/06 but lost in the first round of the playoffs.
Sutter failed to repeat his success with Dion Phaneuf in the Amateur Draft. None of his subsequent draft picks as Flames GM ever equaled what he accomplished with Phaneuf. Meanwhile the team was getting older and the rusted parts were not being replaced. The team was slowly dying by inches. He yielded the coaching reins in 2006 but his replacements Jim Playfair, his former mentor Mike Keenan, and even his younger brother Brent could not equal what he himself could do behind the bench.
The Flames had their last playoff appearance in 2009. After failing to reach the playoffs in 2010 the shadows were lengthening for Darryl Sutter. When the 2010/11 began with the Flames mired in 14th place in the Western Conference stakes with a 16-18-3 record the Flames management made the magnanimous gesture of allowing Sutter to resign gracefully on December 28, 2010.
After a year’s rest at his ranch Sutter returned to doing what he does best; the greatest: head coaching. He took over the helm of the Los Angeles Kings; guided them to an eighth seed in the playoffs and led them through one of the greatest underdog team feats in Stanley Cup history; grinding down their opponents one by one and winning the 2012 Stanley Cup.
(My next column will feature Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier.)