It was definitely time for Darryl Sutter to part ways with the Calgary Flames.
But blaming the former GM for all their troubles a month later is just as narrow-minded as pinning their winning ways now entirely on his absence.
Going 8-3-3 since Sutter was asked to resign from his post as GM Dec. 28, the Flames’ recent success does at first glance seem to correspond with the major move.
It’s an easy conclusion to draw. While few players, team staff and media members will tell you things aren’t a whole lot more pleasant around the Dome these days, there are a lot of other factors involved in the Flames’ turnaround.
Their approach of taking things in smaller segments started before Christmas, and the Flames won their last two games under Sutter.
A relatively easy schedule in January featured five games against teams not in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference, and a few more on the western side.
Sutter’s edginess was the biggest contribution to a sour atmosphere at the Saddledome in recent years, but no one man deserves all the blame.
“I think a lot of people took their cue from Darryl. ‘If he acts that way after a win, I better act that way after a win,’” ex-Flames defenceman Rhett Warrener said this week when offered a chance to discuss his former boss. “Instead of just being yourself and enjoying it — who cared if Darryl enjoyed it? You can still enjoy it.
“On a daily basis, the guys going to the rink and playing the game, if you’re not getting enjoyment out of it … it’s not Darryl’s fault.
“If you don’t like playing the game, well, then shame on you.”
At the same time, Warrener knows how tough it must have been on players who came to Calgary unaware of what they were walking into.
“When he left the room, all the new guys that came in that didn’t have him as a coach maybe saw it as, ‘My God, what have I done signing in Calgary? This guy wants to kill me.’ And sometimes, it comes across that way,” said Warrener, who played for Sutter from 2003-2008 and knew it was just Darryl being Darryl. He also knew how intimidating it was to some.
“His intensity is something that people can’t match. That guy lived and breathed it. It was everything.
“I don’t think it’s more important than his family, but it would be a close second.”
Sutter was smart enough to know he needed to step away from coaching and became full-time GM after the 2005-06 season, but it didn’t stop him from making appearances downstairs.
His cantankerous nature did trickle into the locker-room, and the players found it difficult to have fun.
“Every loss was like death,” said one insider.
Wins weren’t always easy to enjoy, either.
“He didn’t condone other people enjoying it,” Warrener said. “I know that I was goofing around and having a hell of a time, and he would snarl at me.
“But I know deep down he was glad to see that there were people enjoying it.”
He just wouldn’t show it himself, and that refusal to even briefly pretend to be anything other than what he was ultimately played a part in his dismissal. Few really got to know the man behind the bitter facial expressions.
“He didn’t want you to. He wasn’t going to let people in. He wasn’t concerned about what people thought of him or what their opinion was,” said Warrener. “Sometimes, that’s great, but after a while, people were saying, ‘What’s with this guy?’
“It makes it hard for people to love ya. It makes it hard for people to cut you a break, give you a little bit of slack and turn the other cheek and let you do your business.
“Because he was so on edge and he made so many other people on edge, it makes him an easy villain.
“He’s not a happy-go-lucky, smiley, how-you-doin’ guy.”
His replacement, acting GM Jay Feaster, is exactly that. But as much as he’s lightened things up, giving Feaster credit when the same players Sutter brought aboard are playing well in his absence seems unfair.
“Whatever it is, at least it seems like they’re enjoying themselves,” Warrener said.