April 13, 2012
Sutter's Canada gig an Oilers audition?
By ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency
CALGARY - If there was ever any question the Flames parted ways with a highly sought-after commodity Thursday, it was answered less than 24 hours later by Hockey Canada.
One day after “mutually” deciding to end his three years with the Flames, Brent Sutter will, in fact, be behind a bench this spring as head coach of the Canadian entry in next month’s world championships.
While it is no doubt a great opportunity to bolster his stellar international coaching resume, it also may also act as an audition of sorts. After all, Team Canada’s GM is Edmonton Oilers President of Hockey Ops Kevin Lowe, and the Oilers will very likely be in need of a new head coach soon.
Of the 17 players already selected for Canada, there are three Oilers who may represent the cornerstones of the franchise: Jordan Eberle, Devan Dubnyk and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the latter who played for Sutter’s Red Deer Rebels two seasons ago.
How Sutter uses and meshes with them may ultimately help determine if he’s a good fit to replace current Oilers coach Tom Renney, who is twisting in the wind as the team debates his future.
Assisted by coaches Guy Boucher and Kirk Muller, Sutter will also be reunited with Jay Bouwmeester and Dion Phaneuf on a team loaded with talents such as John Tavares, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Jamie Benn and Jeff Skinner.
Sutter’s son Brandon was asked earlier to play on the team, but the Carolina Hurricanes forward had to decline due to a back injury he’s played through the last several months.
Sutter’s initial conversations with Hockey Canada’s Bob Nicholson and Lowe began early Thursday, before he left for the Dome to have his final meeting with Flames GM Jay Feaster.
The event goes May 4-20 in Helsinki and Stockholm.
Sutter’s record as a coach internationally is impeccable, winning world junior gold in 2005 and 2006 while compiling a perfect 12-0 record. His unbeaten string was run to 20 after an eight-game Super Series with Russia in 2007 saw Canada go 7-0-1.
He also played in several international tourneys for Canada, including the 1984, 1987 and 1991 Canada Cups, as well as the 1986 Worlds in Moscow, where he won bronze.
Sutter respectfully asked not to be quoted, as he will be made available Monday at Hockey Canada’s headquarters at Canada Olympic Park. It is there he will also make his first public comments since it was announced his contract with the Flames would not be extended after missing the playoffs for three years.
His familiarity and comfort with Hockey Canada made him an obvious candidate after Lindy Ruff turned down the job.
While some fans may have thought his team’s failures in Calgary would diminish his stock, many in the hockey world still see Sutter as one of the game’s great coaching talents.
The question is not whether he’ll get another chance to coach in the NHL, it’s whether he’s interested in going anywhere outside of Alberta to do so.
Remember, Sutter left a great team and situation in New Jersey in 2009 so he could be closer to his family in Red Deer, where he owns the WHL Rebels and operates a calving operation on his farm.
Three days later, he signed on with the Flames.
This time, his bounce-back was even quicker.
Should he be able to parlay his stint overseas into a job with the Oilers, it would be the hockey equivalent of winning the lottery as he’d go from an aging team with few prospects to a gold mine of young talent clearly on the verge of blossoming — an opportunity every coach alive would cherish.
Eric Francis appears regularly as a panellist on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada