SUN Hockey Pool

Passionate Sutter hopes to return

Brent Sutter (Todd Korol/REUTERS)

Brent Sutter (Todd Korol/REUTERS)

Steve Macfarlane, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:39 AM ET

Bringing back Brent Sutter after three straight seasons of failure wouldn’t be a popular choice.

It’s tough — damn near impossible, really — to justify the return of a man who couldn’t guide his players into the post-season even once in his first term as head coach of the Calgary Flames.

But at some point, the franchise has to stop blaming coaches and start looking at the players as the problem.

Darryl Sutter was the last coach to get the best of a veteran group without the kind of skill to be considered elite, and that was back in 2004, before the lockout.

Since then, the same problems have plagued the team regardless of the man at the helm. Jim Playfair. Mike Keenan. Brent Sutter.

If the realization is finally dawning on ownership and management that the core group of players is the team’s biggest hurdle, and that Brent Sutter’s philosophy of puck possession and dedication to playing as if ever game matters is representative of the franchise’s own ideals, it’s an easy call.

Not an easy sell, by any means.

But in a few short sentences Tuesday during Sutter’s end-of-season scrum outside the Flames locker-room, his admission of a passion to return despite the fact he doesn’t need the job spoke volumes about the kind of coach he really is.

“This isn’t a dream of mine, to coach in the National Hockey League. I lived my dream playing it for 13 years in the NHL. It’s not my livelihood to coach in the NHL. I do it because I thoroughly enjoy it,” said Sutter, who owns the Western Hockey League’s Red Deer Rebels, and a successful ranching operation north of Calgary.

“I love coaching. I love the challenge of doing it at the highest level. And I want to help an organization and team have success. I want to help players have success. That’s what it’s about is your players.”

If more of his players had that same attitude and desire, the Flames would be in the playoffs right now.

Eyes moistening subtly as he discusses the disappointment of the season, Sutter vaguely addresses the problems in the room. The culture. The preparation. The intensity just isn’t there every night.

“It doesn’t start on the ice. I think that’s a real misunderstood thing. Good teams, it’s how they do things the right way off the ice as far as preparing to play the games, preparing to make sure every game matters, having a real close-knit group that really, really cares deeply for each other on the ice,” said Sutter.

“But that doesn’t start on the ice, that starts inside your room and works its way out.

“I’m not saying some of that isn’t here. That’s not my point. My point is when you put it all together, you have to put the whole work of it together, and it equals one word — and that’s success.”

He hasn’t had that here so far. He hopes to have another crack at it.

His detractors will say he’s had his chance. They’ll point to his unfair reputation as a coach who preaches dull defence. He gets lumped in with every other screamer named Sutter even though he’s actually a fairly level-headed thinker and communicator.

Truth is, Sutter’s system is all about playing with the puck in the other team’s end — same as the Detroit Red Wings. He’s not much different than the Red Wings’ saviour Mike Babcock in his approach.

His team, however, has been very different than that of the one in Detroit.

So if real changes are going to be made in the Flames makeup on the player side of things, there’s little risk in bringing Sutter back to bring it all together.

But he knows it’s not an easy decision for management and ownership to make.

“They’ll go through it and they’ll evaluate. I have no time frame. I really don’t. I’m going to respect the process that has to be done, and how it has to be done,” he said.

“I’m sure I’ll be informed at an appropriate time, whenever that is.”

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNMacfarlane 


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