Posts tagged Darryl Sutter
Posts tagged Darryl Sutter
The most hyped event of 2013 has recently passed and
The Papal Conclave the National Hockey League Trade Deadline delivered its usual amount of activity. And the Calgary Flames, for the first time in over a decade it was different—the club was selling assets. It shipped out the most beloved player in franchise history, its best defenceman, who was supposed to be the next Gary Suter/Al MacInnis when he was acquired just a few years ago…and Blake Comeau.
I suppose with Jarome Iginla, Jay Bouwmeester…and Blake Comeau…now donning other team’s jerseys (and how weird was it to see Iggy wearing Pittsburgh Penguins silks for the first time?) the Flames are finally getting serious about a rebuild 3-years too late. Even if the organization seems loathe calling it a rebuild, Holmes on Homes has surveyed the wreckage and says the top floor, kitchen/dining room and basement all require a major overhaul.
We can debate all day about if the Flames got the right return in the three deals; however, the more important point is these moves had to be made, starting with The Captain.
All Flames fans can agree, the impact Iginla made on the organization is the most profound of any man to wear the Flaming ‘C.’ All the way back to the time he was acquired in a trade with Dallas for then captain Joe Nieuwendyk, to scoring his first goal in his first game (a playoff contest versus Chicago), to becoming an all-star, to becoming an Art Ross, Maurice Richard and Lester B. Pearson award winner, to leading the team to the 2004 Stanley Cup finals, to twice winning gold with Canada at the Olympics, to setting all of the major records in club history, to scoring 500 goals and 1000 points, to being the consummate professional on and off the ice—Iginla is, was and always shall be the ideal Calgary Flame.
Trading Iggy had to happen for two reasons: To give him a legitimate shot at winning a title before he retires and for the organization to finally admit to itself a new direction was necessary. With Iginla in the locker room, a proper team deconstruction was impossible and not fair to him.
With Iginla dealt, it seemed like pretty much means any other player in the organization, not on an entry-level contract, was up for grabs. Bouwmeester never became the Norris Trophy winner many fans thought he should be but the ex-Medicine Hat Tiger delivered exactly what he has his entire hockey career: A major minute-muncher, with above average skill, below average grit and subterranean charisma.
And while…Comeau…was the only other player moved at this time, the off-season could be even busier.
Flames General Manager Jay Feaster has been skewered by many for not getting back any ‘A-List’ prospects back in the Iginla/Bouwmeester trades, but he did acquire two first-round picks (the choice from St. Louis is for 2013 if the Blues make the playoffs; 2014 if they don’t). Considering the players had no-trade clauses, Feaster didn’t have much leverage to shop either player to get the best deal possible.
Shortly after the moves were made, Feaster spoke to the press and one thing stuck out more than anything. Despite moving Iginla, Bouwmeester…and Comeau…the club was not ‘rebuilding.’ And in fact, Flames ownership is expecting the team to make the playoffs next season.
Ever since 2004, the Flames have been chasing the Cup. After the Finals run, it made sense, after all, Calgary was one proper goal review from actually having won the championship*.
*I’m just saying it was the eliminator—Martin Gelinas!
After the ’04-’05 lockout, Calgary finished over 100 points, 1st in the Northwest Division before flaming out in the first round of the post-season. The next 3 years brought about 3 more first round exits. Then the next 3 years the Flames narrowly missed the playoffs. Instead of taking a step back, first with Darryl Sutter in charge, then Feaster, the organization kept making moves with only the present in mind.
Now what some people—including this guy right here—have thought for years is out in the open: Flames ownership, Murray Edwards and friends, have mandated making the playoffs and pursuing the Cup as the only option. Even this season, with the franchise battling for the NHL basement, ownership is eyeing 2014 as the year the club can return to the post-season.
Now, for any professional team to have ownership in place that really wants to win is rarer than one might think. Before the NHL had a salary cap, Chicago’s Bill Wirtz and Boston’s Jeremy Jacobs were more than happy to rake in dough while Detroit and Colorado spend tons of money pursuing Lord Stanley’s mug.
I’m worried the Flames are like the New York Yankees of yesteryear. Not the World Champion, spend $200-million Pinstripers—but the 1980s teams. While George Steinbrenner won more than his share, there was a time he thought just throwing money around was enough to build a winner. The ‘80s Yankees were San Diego Padre-like. It wasn’t until Steinbrenner changed his ways, stepped back from the day-to-day operations of the team and hired some bright baseball minds, most notably Brian Cashman.
New York started to develop young players, and a nucleus led by Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte brought the club back to glory. Yes, money was spent on free agents, superstars were acquired in trade, but without the young core peaking together, those recent World Series titles would have been near impossible to come by.
Looking at the more successful teams of the post-salary cap NHL era: Pittsburgh, Detroit, New Jersey, Boston, recently Chicago and Los Angeles, these teams were built through the draft, using a young, homegrown core of players to achieve success.
For too long, Calgary has eschewed player development for free agents and trades. Acquiring players on the free market rarely works like it should. The players available have generally already peaked. There is a reason they are free agents: Their former teams did not believe they were worth the investment.
The trade game can work, as even Sutter showed early in his Flames tenure, stealing players like Miikka Kiprusoff and Craig Conroy among others. Beware the team looking to offload a veteran with a big contract—Hey Mike Cammalleri!
What should worry Flames fans is if ownership is really thinking it’s a one step back this year, for two big steps forward next. Who is to say Calgary can even build through the draft, the club has a lousy track record the last 25 years or more. The New York Islanders have been a lottery team for centuries.
There’s a lot not to like right now for the Flames. And most troublesome is ownership if it believes its club is a playoff contender next year.
I’m not saying it can’t happen. But a long time has passed since 1989. And I don’t see a roster stocked with one-time draft picks like MacInnis, Suter, Vernon, Roberts, Fleury, and Nieuwendyk on it.
In the last decade, nearly half of the National Hockey League clubs have vied for the Stanley Cup. Over a 10-year stretch from 2001-2011, 14 different teams have made at least one appearance in the championship series. New Jersey, Colorado, Detroit, Carolina, Anaheim (Ducks Mighty and otherwise), Tampa Bay, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and Vancouver have all made it to the end.
I guess this shows parity is alive and well in the NHL. So there’s really no reason to be surprised a “team that’s come out of nowhere,” the Los Angeles Kings have become 2012’s dominant playoff club.
Still, there was plenty of doubt that the Kings would even make the post-season. While some folks liked the club to be a potential Stanley Cup threat at the start of the year, a big mid-season swoon had L.A. among the dregs of the Western Conference. When things were bleak, General Manager Dean Lombardi, rumoured to be on the hot-seat himself, went and made some big moves.
In December, the Kings axed head coach Terry Murray and replaced him Darryl Sutter. Revisionist history is easy, but at the time, many questioned why a goal-starved side would hire a guy who’s perceived as another Jacques Lemaire defence-at-all costs type.
And true, goals did not come easy for the Kings under Sutter, any more than they did under Murray. But I think we have to say now: The best was yet to come.
In February, at the trade deadline, L.A. acquired forward Jeff Carter from Columbus for a 1st-round pick and Jack Johnson. Another curious move at the time, as Carter, along with Mike Richards (who was traded for by the Kings in the summer) were thought to have been run out of Philadelphia for poor attitudes.
And while Carter is a one-time 40-goal scorer and two-time 30-goal man, his play for the Blue Jackets was so uninspired, there was no guarantee he would turn things around in So-Cal. And again, during the duration of the regular season, he didn’t make much of an impact.
But the Kings keep the puck out of the net. And if defence and goaltending wins championships, then Los Angeles certainly had a legitimate shot at winning the first title in franchise history.
The side was second best in goals against this season, boasting the fourth-rated penalty kill. While netminder Jonathan Quick (deservedly) gets plenty of credit, L.A.’s defensive corps is underrated. We all know about Drew Doughty’s skills, but it’s the other 5 guys who I’ve really learned to appreciate this post-season. Willie Mitchell is playing out of his mind. Matt Greene reminds me of Ken Daneyko. I guess there’s a reason Pittsburgh hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since Rob Scuderi left. Slava Voynov and Alec Martinez both seem to make plays as needed, keeping mistakes to a minimum.
Up front, the addition of Carter has created great balance among the Kings forward group. Sutter is rolling four lines, such an advantage in the grind of the NHL Playoffs.
For me, of the teams that made the Stanley Cup final four, if I could take one player from any of them (excluding goaltenders) to start a franchise with, it would be Anze Kopitar. Sure, Ilya Kovalchuk is among the league’s top snipers and Brad Richards is marvellously talented, but for a 200-foot game, it’s hard to find many better than the Slovenian. Kopitar makes Dustin Brown and Justin Williams look good on a regular basis. And while Brown is a terrific player (and having a Conn Smythey-like playoffs), swap him out for Jarome Iginla and Iggy would easily score 50 a season playing along with Kopitar.
Carter, Richards and Dustin Penner (who plays great every fourth spring and makes Kevin Lowe want to sign him for $5 million a season) form a fine second line. Then the third line consists of Jarrett Stoll (having a great series against Phoenix) Trevor Lewis and Dwight King.
Now, for those of us who watched King play for the Lethbridge Hurricanes, we always thought if Dwight could ever put it all together, he’d dominate. Some nights in the WHL, that happened, and King was such a force, using his tremendous size and formidable skill to terrorize the opposition. However, there were other nights where he was missing-in-action and it made you wonder if he could ever become consistent enough to take his game to a higher level.
In the Western Conference Finals, King is showing Phoenix, when he’s at his best, he can make a huge impact. Playing up to his size, the Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan product is also lighting the lamp (four goals in the first three games of the series). For King, this may be the next step that puts him on the path to becoming one of the NHL’s top power-forwards. Let’s hope so, because it’s so enjoyable watching him play this way.
All together, the Kings stifling defence, plus now potent offence has turned the squad into a juggernaut. Sutter has come in and slowly groomed a team that is peaking at the right time. While he may not make a great general manager, I don’t think anyone can question Sutter can get the most out of a team when he’s behind the bench.
Barring an epic collapse, as you read this, Los Angeles will have made the Stanley Cup Finals. Whether New Jersey or the New York Rangers qualify from the east, in my eyes the Prince of Wales Trophy winners enter the finals as the underdogs. The Kings are that good right now.
In today’s NHL if your team sucks one season, wait one year. It just might win the Stanley Cup.