Press-Telegram (Long Beach)

Flames are latest team to call upon Sutter

- Mark Whicker Columnist

The Calgary Flames hired Darryl Sutter as their head coach Thursday night, and on Friday a talk-show host congratula­ted him.

“Thanks, John,” Sutter said. “Now I won’t be able to listen to you on the tractor while I’m feeding the cows.”

This was reminiscen­t of Dec. 19, 2011, when the Kings tried to rescue a drowning season and hired Sutter. At the press conference, someone asked Sutter what he was doing when the Kings called.

“Well, I wasn’t shoveling (manure), I can tell you that,” Sutter replied. “I’d done that already.”

When Sutter is not out standing in his field, he is outstandin­g in his field. His job in 2011-12 was to get the Kings into the playoffs, which he gradually did. Intrigued by winning, the Kings didn’t stop doing it until they won the Stanley Cup. They won it again two years later.

Three years after that, Sutter was fired, accompanie­d by poorly muted applause from the locker room. He was too harsh, relentless, stuck in time.

Few coaches win Stanley Cups by negotiatin­g common ground with their players. Scotty Bowman, Randy Carlyle, John Tortorella, Al Arbour, Mike Keenan and Toe Blake rarely did.

This is not to say the Kings were mistaken when they saw an inevitable rebuild coming and doubted Sutter was the right man to supervise it.

Indeed, the current Kings are much improved. But the main drivers are still Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Dustin Brown, the frontline workers of ’12 and ’14.

“A lot of these players are the same age of my kids,” said Sutter, who is 62. “Sometimes you pull them, sometimes you push them, sometimes you walk with them side by side.”

The facts are that, since 1993, the Kings have won one playoff series without Sutter’s force field behind the bench.

It is a little spooky to realize that the Flames have done exactly the same thing. Their win over Winnipeg in 2020 was technicall­y a “qualifying round,” a best-of-5. They lost to Dallas in the real first round. The tractor goes full circle.

The Flames are four points out of the playoffs in the North, or all-Canada, division, the one with Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews.

“We think we’re a good team that is playing poorly,” said Brad Treveling, the Calgary general manager who was in Phoenix’s front office when the Kings beat the Coyotes in the 2012 Western Conference Final.

“Darryl maximizes performanc­e. His best attribute is that he is very clear. It feels right that he is back.”

Sutter is Calgary’s fourth coach in the past five seasons. The Flames are 11-12-2. He does not show up until today, after he gets past virus protocols.

Flames fans see a franchise in decline. Sutter sees “a top goalie” in Jacob Markstrom and “two top defensemen and a good nucleus of 10-11 players. We just need to make a few adjustment­s to help them understand the price for winning. The way the schedule is this year, it’s playoff hockey every night.”

He was advising Ducks’ general manager Bob Murray when the Flames called, so he says he is in tune with the season. The only jobs that appealed to him were Calgary and Chicago, where Sutter grew up profession­ally and was both captain and coach. The Sutter farm, in Viking, is 231 miles northeast of Calgary.

Sutter said he hasn’t yet set aside the Stanley Cup Final of 17 years ago, when goalie Miika Kiprusoff and new Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla led the Flames to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final at Tampa Bay. They lost, 2-1, and Sutter was nearly paralyzed with fatigue and remorse.

“It’s unfinished business,” he said. “I was thinking the other night about that flight home from Tampa. To me it’s a debt to pay.

“This is like a treasure map. You got all these red dots on the map, and they’re the players, and you have to figure out how to connect them and then find the treasure. It was like that in L.A. We had star players, and some of them still are, but we had to get them in the right frame of mind. They fought like hell to get in.”

It is time for Sutter to again get out the miniature Stanley Cup and put it on the nightstand, so he will see it when he awakens, normally before sunrise.

It will also be time to see if old truths carry over, if old methods get the same response, if a team that plays sleepy hockey really does respond to Darryl Sutter’s wakeup call. It only subsides when he pushes the buttons.

 ?? HANNAH FOSLIEN — GETTY IMAGES ?? Former Kings coach Darryl Sutter, shown here with them in a 2017 game, has landed as head coach in Calgary.
HANNAH FOSLIEN — GETTY IMAGES Former Kings coach Darryl Sutter, shown here with them in a 2017 game, has landed as head coach in Calgary.
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 ?? FILE PHOTO — 2004 ?? Darryl Sutter is returning to Calgary to coach the Flames, a team with which he found success in the early 2000s.
FILE PHOTO — 2004 Darryl Sutter is returning to Calgary to coach the Flames, a team with which he found success in the early 2000s.

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