Darryl Sutter may be getting the seven-year itch.
He took over the Calgary Flames bench Dec. 28, 2003. And looking ahead to the week after Christmas, some NHL gurus believe he may hop back behind it as coach as early as that same date seven years later.
Despite winning their last game before the Christmas break with a solid effort in Dallas to beat the Stars 3-2 in a shootout Thursday night at the American Airlines Center, the Flames sit in 14th place in the NHL's Western Conference with a 15-18-3 record.
They're among the bottom third in league scoring with an average of 2.53 goals per game.
Their 2.86 goals-against-allowed per contest is tied for 10th worst in the NHL.
Their powerplay is languishing near the bottom at 16.1%. Their penalty killing is equally bad at 79.4%.
Those are all clear indicators something needs to change.
But the coach would be too easy a sacrifice.
Brent Sutter deserves to stick around.
It's not a coaching or strategy problem plaguing this team. The bottom line is even when they play their best -- as they did against the Stars -- a win is no guarantee. This collection of players is not elite.
If they played the way they have the last few weeks at the start of the season, they'd probably have a few more victories and be just a little closer to a playoff spot. That's about all pre-season pundits expected of them anyway.
If players had quit Thursday night against a top team in the conference while facing an overwhelming hole from which they know they have to dig their way out, you'd probably hear many more cries for the coach's head rather than his brother in the GM's office.
But if there's one thing they showed in Dallas, it's that they're willing to fight for each other and their coach.
"Just sticking up for each other and playing with passion, I think it shows a lot of people that we care and we want to get out of this and we want to move on up," said Flames defenceman Mark Giordano after a game during which his captain dropped the gloves in Giordano's defence.
Jarome Iginla's fight followed a hard check of Giordano, and assistant captain Robyn Regehr did the same when Matt Stajan was victimized by a knee on knee hit later in the contest.
"These guys are staying shoulder to shoulder here -- they care," Brent Sutter said on one of his prouder nights. "They're gonna battle for one another and battle for each other, and that's all you can ask from them as far as a coach.
"They're committed to doing that."
That's why the team's brass should also remain committed to Sutter, regardless of whether they believe they can climb out of this massive hole.
If they don't, Sutter is probably the perfect candidate to lead a new wave of Flames should they make sweeping changes in personnel and add youth to the lineup. His record with kids at the junior level speaks for itself.
And if they do somehow manage the impossible and climb back into a spot where they can compete for a playoff berth, it will be because of the coach and his belief.
With a Monday night game against the Buffalo Sabres at the Saddledome followed by three days of practice before their next contest against the Colorado Avalanche on New Year's Eve, Darryl Sutter may see the perfect opportunity to reclaim the bench for himself if that is indeed the last card up his sleeve this season.
But if the team quits on him and his hard-nosed methods of motivation -- something they haven't done under their current guide -- the move could blow up in his face.