What COVID-19 has taught us about long-term care
Building an equal future for women in Atlantic Canada
SaltWire Selects: Stories you don't want to miss
SPECIAL REPORT: Facets of family violence
Have you tried the SaltWire News app?
UPDATED: COVID-19 news and numbers
Continuing coverage: Mass shooting in Nova Scotia
What's working for businesses in 2021?
With the best one-liner of his re-introductory press conference, Darryl Sutter told radio analyst Peter Loubardias, “I won’t have to listen to you on the tractor now every day feeding cows.”
The old cowboy couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.
That likely won’t be the case Tuesday, when the coach finally gets face-to-face with his new herd.
The Calgary Flames’ skating staffers have had a few days to digest the news, to brace for Sutter’s demanding style as he completed a quarantine at his farm in Viking, Alta.
They’ve checked his resume and chitchatted with the new boss by Zoom or phone.
It’s tough, of course, to set the tone by virtual call. That’s not how the Jolly Rancher — an old-school sort but also a guy who takes great pride in his knack for understanding people and what makes each player tick — plans to put his stamp on this underachieving squad.
As Flames forward Milan Lucic summed up shortly after the coaching change: “I’ve played for Darryl before and I know what’s coming in. It’s going to be a big wake-up call for all of us to be more consistent and better on a day-to-day basis.”
The Darryl Sutter Era, Part 2, officially started with Thursday’s late-night announcement.
The Darryl Sutter Experience, Part 2, really starts Tuesday. Practice is scheduled for 11 a.m.
“I think the moment Darryl got to the rink, you could instantly feel that he’s the boss. He’s in charge of this thing. Everything stops with Darryl,” said Flames assistant general manager Craig Conroy, harkening back to Sutter’s initial stint at the Saddledome from 2002-10. “You feel that within five minutes of when he first walks in that locker-room.”
Among the current cast, there are only two holdovers from Sutter’s previous post with the Flames, and neither were regulars until after he’d handed over the reins as coach to focus on his general manager duties.
He was at the helm when Mark Giordano was signed as an undrafted free agent and when Mikael Backlund was selected with a first-round pick. (Sutter was also the gent who played hardball when Giordano was angling for his first one-way contract, with the current captain opting to spend a season in Russia when those negotiations reached a standstill.)
Lucic can also share stories of Sutter’s ferocity and fire. He took orders from ‘Big D’ — his nickname, not ours — with the Los Angeles Kings in 2015-16.
“I remember the first time I played a game for him, it was pre-season and we were playing Anaheim in L.A.,” Lucic recalled. “Even in a pre-season game, to see how fired up he was and how much playing hard and winning meant to him …
“Even in a pre-season game,” he stressed again. “That is definitely something I remember was that first time playing for him, just the intensity he brings to the rink every day.”
Tuesday will be the most fascinating practice day at the Saddledome in a long, long time.
That would have been the case even if the Flames didn’t sleepwalk through 40 minutes of their weekend capper against the last-place Ottawa Senators, a night that you could argue they were lucky to salvage a single point in a 4-3 shootout loss.
The 62-year-old Sutter will be back behind the bench for Thursday’s home-ice date with the Montreal Canadiens (7 p.m., Sportsnet West/Sportsnet 960 The Fan).
The Flames are approaching the midway mark of their 56-game season. With an 11-12-3 record and .481 point percentage, they’re at risk of plummeting out of any sort of playoff contention in the NHL’s North Division.
They don’t just need the Sutter Effect.
They need it soon.
“Obviously, he demands success,” said Flames defenceman Noah Hanifin of Sutter, who guided the Kings to a pair of Stanley Cup parades in 2012 and 2014. “Everywhere he’s gone, he’s won. And I think that’s something we’re looking forward to having in our locker-room. He’s going to demand a lot out of us, and I’m excited to see what he brings and what he expects from us. I think it’s gonna be good for our team.”
There are, as is the case with any mid-season coaching change, plenty of storylines — both short- and long-term.
Will Sutter split Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, two top talents who wouldn’t seem to be a great fit for his hard-nosed style? They’ve combined for just five goals over their past 11 games — and that’s with Gaudreau tickling twine in two straight — and with the Flames’ offence scuffling, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he wants to try something new.
Where will he fit Sam Bennett? The feisty forward didn’t get that ‘change of scenery’ that he reportedly requested, but a change of skipper counts as a fresh slate.
With his steadfast belief that championship teams are built up the middle of the ice, who will Sutter lean on as his workhorse centre? And what about defence? Will it still be the 37-year-old Giordano, or does he figure one of the youngins is ready for that role?
Can he spur Matthew Tkachuk — a Sutter-type player, no doubt — to reach his full power-forward potential? Tkachuk has the tools and tenacity to be the best player on the ice and quite often is, but his new boss will want to see it every single night.
And perhaps the most pressing questions of all … Will this core, already guilty of tuning out too many coaches, respond to his tough tactics? Can Sutter really turn this inconsistent crew into one of the NHL’s hardest teams to play against?
“How do you rebuild that? You do it a shift at a time,” Sutter told FlamesTV after being hired. “It’s not a quick fix or a magic thing. You do it a shift at a time and a period at a time and a game at a time and a player at a time.”
And presumably, a practice at a time.
For the Jolly Rancher, a whole different kind of branding starts Tuesday at the Saddledome.
When Lucic suggested it was time to “Buckle up,” he wasn’t talking tractors.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021