Darryl Sutter’s unusual contract doesn’t include a finite term, but for the first time since he took the Flames to the Stanley Cup final in 2004, ownership at least considered stamping an expiry date on it.
Instead, it seems they’ll give their general manager a right-hand man, whether he wants one or not.
Kelly Kisio is the popular vote.
And the logical one.
There may never have been another option.
Grooming the Calgary Hitmen GM to assume the NHL role when ownership decides it’s time to take away the pen Sutter used to sign off on last season’s controversial trades is something that appears to have been in the works for some time.
After finishing his NHL career with the Flames, Kisio joined them as a scout. A year after the same ownership group purchased the Hitmen, it offered him the GM job — and Kisio has flourished in that role for 11 seasons.
Taking the Hitmen to the Memorial Cup for the first time since his rookie year in 1999, he has essentially outgrown the Western Hockey League.
They’ve been in the playoffs every year, have won the Central Division five times and claimed a pair of WHL titles.
Keeping the Flames competitive every year is a challenge Sutter has been given.
With his knowledge of major junior graduates, and experience both as a player and scout in the NHL, Kisio is a guy many believe can help make that happen.
One day, Kisio could be the guy signing all the contracts.
For now, he’d be more of a behind-the-scenes sounding board for Sutter.
Maybe even a media middleman for a GM who has a hard time hiding his distaste for many of those covering his sport.
Let Kisio learn the ropes for a while, then give him the reins.
Forget a big name like new Tampa Bay Lightning boss Steve Yzerman, a rookie GM at any level, as the type of manager to replace Sutter when the time finally comes.
Look instead for a big presence, which would come with Kisio — in reputation if not in stature.
Few realize the Flames had an assistant GM on board last season, when Michael Holditch’s multiple titles shifted from vice-president of hockey administration and chief financial officer to those of senior vice-president and assistant general manager.
But Holditch is a born-and-bred business man — a valuable asset in the confounding world of salary caps and CBAs, but not someone who can stand up to Sutter on the hockey side of things.
Kisio would provide something new to the pre-existing group.
Hired by the organization that has encouraged his front-office career, he would command respect from the ultimate decision-maker.
One thing that’s been missing during Sutter’s six seasons at the top is a filter system.
Rumours last year suggested he didn’t even talk to his brother, head coach Brent Sutter, before making massive roster shakeups mid-season.
If he bothered to voice his concepts to anyone else in his inner circle, apparently no one bothered to try and talk him out of it.
No longer surrounded entirely by Yes Men with Kisio in the fold, Sutter would finally have an equally experienced hockey mind at his side to bounce ideas off of.
Whether or not he listens to the offered advice could ultimately determine his fate.