Sutter deserves new contract

Flames head coach deserves a contract extension, says Eric Francis. (ERIC MILLER/Reuters file photo)

Flames head coach deserves a contract extension, says Eric Francis. (ERIC MILLER/Reuters file photo)

ERIC FRANCIS< QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:43 PM ET

CALGARY - Now would be a good time to give Brent Sutter his due.

And in a month or so, when the Calgary Flames season is over, it would be a good time to give the head coach a contract extension.

Two or three months ago, such talk would have been met with overwhelming disapproval given his team had a losing record and appeared a cinch to miss the playoffs for the third straight NHL season under his tutelage.

On the surface, it's tough to re-hire someone like that, especially since the team had previously fired coaches like Jim Playfair and Mike Keenan after getting the team into the playoffs with records 14 and 16 games above .500.

But while his squad may still fall short of the playoffs this season, even his harshest of critics have to admit the team's improbable second-half surge is largely a product of sheer coaching mastery.

Somehow in the midst of a season littered with significant injuries and setbacks, Sutter has his team believing it can make these playoffs.

It's a mindset that makes little sense given the list of AHLers in his lineup and the organization's lack of depth.

How this rag-tag bunch of muckers and callups (and mucking callups) continues hanging tough in this intense battle for eighth place is the ultimate tribute to Sutter's coaching.

If there's anything we've learned about this year's collection of Flames it's that the coach has to somehow find a way to push all the right buttons for this team to perform on a nightly basis.

After a horrific start, he's managed to get the best out of his best players while adding structure the newbies can understand and buy into.

By holding strong on his belief in the system he put in place, he found a way to make Olli Jokinen better, turning him into a complete player who has been the most consistent skater on the squad. He's ensured Curtis Glencross didn't let down following his big contract signing last summer, steering him towards another career year.

He got Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla back on track following a slow start, and his patience with Matt Stajan is finally being rewarded. More than anything, Sutter's ability to work with the youngsters the organization has had to count on has been key, as he deals with a different lineup every night.

Even healthy this team isn't good enough in the eyes of most to make the playoffs. But he's got them demonstrating such tremendous character and resolve that the typically composed -- if not simmering -- bench boss admitted the emotion of this late run got the best of him Tuesday when he thrust himself into the arms of assistant coach Dave Lowry and whooped it up following Stajan's overtime winner.

"At least I didn't kiss him," said Sutter on Wednesday, smiling for a second consecutive day.

"I'm actually a pretty emotional guy, but I just control it and you guys don't get to see it. These games are emotional games. It's playoff hockey, and what we were going through last night in the game and the adversity we had to go through in different ways, I was happy the guys were able to prevail through it. That showed a lot about the character inside the dressing room.

"Now, you guys are making a big deal about it. I guess I'll never do it again."

Given his stellar resume as a winning coach and player at every level, Sutter is an asset the Flames can't dare consider letting go as they re-tool this summer.

Nobody can blame the club for letting Sutter coach into the final year of his contract -- he admitted himself he didn't deserve an extension last summer.

He does now.

And if he doesn't get it, you can guarantee close to a half-dozen teams around the league would seriously consider hiring him, with the rival Edmonton Oilers very likely at the top of that list.

The Flames have no business being in this playoff race, but Sutter won't let them believe that.

Of all the Flames contracts that expire this summer, none are more important to re-up than the one belonging to the coach -- the man who deserves as much credit as anyone for making this unlikely surge possible.

eric.francis@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/ericfrancis

- Eric Francis appears regularly as a panellist on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada


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