Profiles in Excellence: Brian Sutter

Brian Sutter: Rank #42 – 18 points

Coaching Experience: St. Louis Blues, 1989-1992; Boston Bruins, 1992-1995; Calgary Flames, 1998-2000; Chicago Blackhawks, 2002-2004

Regular Season W-L-T-OL: 451-417-140-20; Playoff W-L: 28-40

Jack Adams Award: 1990-91; Adams Division Title: 1992-93; Playoff Appearances: 1989-1995, 2002

Brian Sutter was the first of his clan to join the NHL coaching ranks but he ended up being the second best Sutter (18 points to brother Darryl’s 25) when it came to coaching. Brian trails Darryl for the following reasons: 1) he had fewer divisional titles than Darryl—only one to Darryl’s three; 2) he had fewer playoff appearances than Darryl—eight to Darryl’s ten; and 3) he (unlike Darryl) never coached a team to the Stanley Cup finals.

If you’re curious where his younger brothers Brent and Duane rank as coaches? As of the end of the 2009-10 season, Brent has eight points after three seasons of coaching while Duane has zero points after only two seasons of coaching. (Unlike Darryl and Brian—Brent and Duane are still active coaches in the NHL).

Brent Sutter brought the same intensity and exuberance to coaching as he did when he was a player. In many ways his coaching style was similar to that of former Blues coach Jacques Demers. Other teams might have greater strength, speed, or talent but Sutter’s teams won through hard work, fundamentals, and emotional intensity.

Indeed Brent Sutter’s teams were a lot like Demers’ teams in that they were not exceptional in any of the major offensive or defensive categories in the NHL. Like Demers, Sutter succeeded in making his players play above themselves but Sutter never equaled Demers’ Stanley Cup success.

When comparing Brian’s teams with those of his brother Darryl in offense, defense, power-play offense, team penalty minutes, penalty-killing, and short-handed offense the following patterns emerge: Brian beats out his brother in overall offense, but Darryl was far superior in overall defense.

In terms of power-play offense, penalty-killing, and short-handed offense, Darryl gets the nod but just barely. During the early years of Brian Sutter’s coaching career his teams were comparable to Darryl’s in those three areas but after 1995 Brian’s teams’ output in those three categories began to suffer.

In team penalty minutes both Brian and Darryl’s teams were very scrappy on the ice but Darryl’s were the meaner of the two.

Brian Sutter was drafted in 1976 by the St. Louis Blues in the NHL and the Edmonton Oilers in the WHA. He opted for the Blues and spent his entire playing career as their starting left winger. Sutter was a solid player although not a superstar and was incredibly scrappy on the ice. Of the six Sutter boys who played in the NHL Brian led not only his brothers in career penalty minutes but he still remains the St. Louis Blues’ all-time leader in career penalty minutes.

From 1978-1985, Sutter was a mainstay of the Blues (combining with center Bernie Federko to supply the scoring punch for the team) while serving as team captain. Demers considered Sutter one of his “character players”. After 1985 injuries curtailed his career and he retired as a player in 1988; becoming the third Blues player to have his number retired by the team. His number 11 still hangs from the rafters of the Scottrade Center.

Brian Sutter immediately entered the NHL coaching ranks in 1988 replacing Jacques Martin as head coach of the Blues. By 1990 Sutter had coached St. Louis to its first winning season in four years. The following season he did even better, leading the Blues to what was then their second best team points total in franchise history and winning the Jack Adams award as the NHL’s coach of the year. Brian Sutter was the only NHL coach to get award winning and All-Star play out of Brett Hull. Hull was a three-time NHL All-Star and won the Hart and Lady Byng Trophies while playing for Sutter.

In 1991 Brian Sutter was told by the Blues ownership to produce a Stanley Cup for the team. He failed to do so and was fired at the end of the season. He was not unemployed for long. Over a dozen NHL teams wanted to hire him. Sutter chose the Boston Bruins.

Sutter had his best season in 1992-93, leading the Bruins to an Adams Division Title in what was their best team performance since 1983. Sadly the Bruins lost in the first round of the playoffs. During the next two seasons the Bruins kept on winning while Brian did a splendid job mixing rookie players with veteran stalwarts like Raymond Bourque who won his fifth (and last) Norris Trophy and earned All-Star honors under Sutter. Despite Sutter’s success the Bruins again suffered early elimination in the playoffs.

In 1995 he resigned as coach of the Bruins and took a three year hiatus from NHL coaching; preferring instead to tend to his family farm in Alberta, Canada while coaching AAA midget hockey on the side. He would later tell authors Ryan Walter and Mike Johnston that “it took me two years to recover my love for the game,” which suggests that he may or may not have been suffering from burnout.

In 1998 Brian Sutter accepted a coaching offer to lead the moribund Calgary Flames (thus starting a family tradition. Brothers Darryl and Brent have followed in his footsteps coaching the Flames) but he could not ignite the team, suffering three consecutive losing seasons in Calgary.

After he was fired in 2000, Brian Sutter took a season off before going to Chicago (where Darryl had coached before). After one winning season and playoff appearance, Sutter’s Hawks nose-dived and by 2004 Sutter was let go.

Since 2004 Brian Sutter has not returned to NHL coaching. In 2007 he returned to coaching in the minors first in the Western Hockey League and now in the Chinook Hockey League where he won the Allan Cup in 2009.

Last September Brian Sutter suffered broken ribs and a collapsed lung as a result of a horse-back riding accident in Alberta. What’s amazing is that despite his injuries, Brian Sutter didn’t seek medical attention until nearly two weeks had passed after the accident. He still remains the toughest of the Sutter brothers.

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