Thursday, January 13, 2011

Darryl Sutter: The Beauty... and the Beast

Welcome to the celebration of Darryl Sutter's tenure as GM of the Calgary Flames. We are going to drink hard early on and rejoice some of the great memories, before the hangover kicks in and we begin to feel a tad more cynical about Darryl's tenure. Oh yeah: it's Beauty and the Beast themed, so bring your masks and ball gowns.



This one goes without saying: Sutter dealt a 2nd round pick to SJ for Kipper, which paid immediate dividends, and now represents a huge turning point for the organization. 


This refers to the original trade for Tanguay in 2005. Leopold and a 2nd round pick for a 26 year old, cup clinching goal scorer seemed to be a bargain. His 80+ points worth of playmaking alongside Iggy wasn't bad either. Tangs then managed 58 points in a checking role under Keenan the following season. He was a major impact player for the Flames, and the deal that brought him to Calgary proved to be a steal.


Speaking of Tanguay, he has since admitted he asked for a trade that final season, and his request was met in the '08 draft. Tanguay was traded to the Canadiens for a 1st round pick, a pick that was then dealt to LA along with a 2nd round selection for Mike Cammalleri. So, Darryl essentially dished off an unhappy player, and slightly shifted the team’s draft position in order to acquire Cammalleri several minutes later - while maintaining a 1st round pick. Not bad, Darryl. Cammalleri would go on to score a career high 39 goals and 43 assists in his only season with the Flames.


Minutes after free agency opens on July 1, Darryl avoids the free agent frenzy and trades a conditional 2nd round pick to Chicago for Rene Bourque, a 3rd/4th line penalty killer for the Blackhawks. Rene had tallied 33 goals in 3 years with the Hawks (6 short handed). Admittedly, I sure didn't think much of the deal at the time. The undrafted winger has scored 20+ goals in two full seasons with the Flames, and is on pace for 26 this year. While inconsistent, he's shown signs of growth in his offensive contributions, despite some battles with injury along the way. Re-signing Bourque to a multi-year extension worth around 3.3M per season could prove to be a bargain as well.


A diamond in the rough, as they say, and rough is the key word here. Giordano was undrafted and plucked out of the OHL by Sutter. He spent 3 seasons with the organization, before a contract dispute landed him in Russia for a year. Clearly, there were no hard feelings, as Darryl went right back at Gio and signed him to return to the Flames the following season. Since that point, we have witnessed the steady maturity of a very solid NHL d man. He's been one of the team's most consistent players over the last couple of seasons, and continues to evolve into a very dependable player in every facet of the game. Earlier on this season, Giordano was extended long-term, with a cap hit of 4.02M. A number that, presumably falls well below the money he would have collected this July 1st, as he was said to be one of the top 3 pending free agent defensemen this summer.


Given Daymond's current status with the team (and possibly his career), this mention is likely to fall on deaf ears. To me, there's no doubt the team misses his solid, two-way consistency. As far as the transaction itself, all we need to ask ourselves is "where are Denis Gauthier and Oleg Saprykin playing these days?" That was the deal that brought Langkow to Calgary in 2005. In his first 4 seasons as a Flame, Langks posted 20+ goals consistently, and compounded a plus/minus rating of +42. A difficult start to last season and a long-term neck injury have diluted some of Daymond's contributions over the last couple of seasons, but full credit to Darryl for the initial move. Not that I don’t miss Oleg Saprykin’s shoot-from-everywhere approach. 


Mike Keenan hired, Jim Playfair fired

Based on the last couple of years of Flames hockey, it's tough to fathom a coach firing after one season at a 43-29-10 record. However, Darryl saw fit to demote head coach Jim Playfair in the summer of 2007. To make matters worse, he hired the infamous “Iron Mike” Keenan, stating that Mike was the “perfect selection” to take his team to the next level. It’s my belief that Keenan set the Flames back several years, with his unwillingness to play youngsters, and his excessive dependence on the likes of Iginla, Jokinen and Kiprusoff. With undue pressure on 23 year old Dion Phaneuf to perform through 25+ minutes a night, Keenan’s tenure sparked the beginning of Phaneuf’s fall to mediocrity as well. To his credit, Iron Mike remains tops in all-time wins among NHL coaches with a number of different teams. However, his inequitable distribution of ice time, and his reluctance to address the positional and strategic aspects of play hurt the Flames’ underlying performance. The team’s PP and PK percentages dropped drastically, and the defensive accountability plummeted, leaving a disaster for Brent Sutter to clean up – a process that is still ongoing. While the team’s performance in the standings was tolerable, Keenan’s regime could be viewed as a damaging period for the organization long term.

Olli Jokinen

Sutter made a splash in the ’08 trade deadline, by acquiring a number one centre to play with Jarome Iginla.

To Calgary:
Olli Jokinen
3rd round draft pick

To Phoenix:
Matthew Lombardi
Brandon Prust
1st round draft pick

I must admit, I was in full support of the deal at the time. Being somewhat unfamiliar with Jokinen’s play, I took one look at his 40+ goal seasons and immediately jumped on board. The wait was over, and the Flames finally had an elite #1 centre. Or did they? Things looked very good early, as Jokinen put up several multi-goal games in his first 10 as a Flame. From there, however, Olli’s play would drop off... and the rest, much to the frustration of Flames fans, is history. Jokinen was then sent to New York for a short sample of Chris Higgins, and a deadweight contract in Ales Kotalik. So essentially, the team gave away a young, speedy centreman in Lombardi and a desperately needed 1st round pick, for Jokinen (twice) and 3 million dollars worth of Ales Kotalik for the remainder of the season – and two more. Again, far be it for me to criticize any move related to Olli Jokinen, because I was strongly in favour of the initial deal that brought him to Calgary.

That ugly blockbuster trade

I have no qualms about dealing your most tradeable asset. However, the Phaneuf deal reeked of desperation, and could prove to be a missed opportunity for the team. An opportunity to deal a very attractive asset to bring in some much needed skill and youth. Instead, Darryl brought in four members of the worst team in the NHL. As the team approaches a potential rebuild, it’s frustrating to consider the impact players or prospects that could have come back in a deal for Dion. Jeff Carter? Jordan Staal? Derek Roy? Obviously speculation there, but it’s clear Darryl didn’t shop around for the best offer, as indicated by several GMs throughout the league. Rather than trading a star for a star, the team gave away its most tradeable asset for four average players, and only two remain with the team. To make matters worse, Darryl threw in Keith Aulie, who was arguably the Flames’ best defensive prospect at the time. 


Did you really feel the need to deal away a 3rd round pick, alongside a serviceable *young* d man for Steve Staios? Did you really think your deadline deal to bring in a slow, 37 year old veteran defenseman would be the difference between making and missing the playoffs? That’s a tough sell, especially with that 2.7 M cap hit for an additional season.

Passing on Cammalleri

Hmm: Great chemistry with Iginla, young, undisputable skill, and a timely scorer (39 goals). When asked if the Flames would be able to sign Cammalleri to an extension under the cap, Darryl responded “we can do whatever we want.” According to Craig Conroy, Cammo was looking for a deal in the neighbourhood of 5M per year. So, clearly Darryl didn’t “want” Cammalleri back. Every time the Flames lose 2-1 games to Minnesota, Columbus or Nashville, I find myself wondering what could have been if the team were to have kept shifty Mike Cammalleri. ... The one that got away.

Stajan contract extension

First off: offering a 4 year extension to a player that has only played 9 games for you is likely premature. Also: to pay him $4 million in the first two years as a second line centre (at best?) is too much. If we felt it was a poor deal when it was announced late last season, we can take comfort in reviewing Stajan's production so far this season: 2 goals. Yes, that's 2 million per goal. Worst part is, Stajan’s lack of production makes his big contract near impossible to move.

Darryl deserves some credit for building a competitive team from the depths of a very dark period for hockey in Calgary. Darryl was an exciting GM to follow, as he was always prepared to tinker. Whether we agreed or disagreed, he was ever prepared to make adjustments, and rarely stood pat. Unfortunately, Darryl’s moves turned to desperation later on in his tenure, and these decisions could set the team back a number of years. All we can say now is “thank god I’m not Jay Feaster.”

To close, here are some quotes in memory of Darryl Sutter:

"To be quite honest, (fill in the blank here)... So, we have a really good hockey team."

"There are only a handful of elite coaches that could coach this group." So Darryl, would you return to coaching? "Well, I'm one of them... I just don't want to."

"Our goals-for is fine. It's our goals-against that needs work." Earlier this season, when the team was scoring an average of 2.05 goals per game.

"Hey, if the fans want our players to wave their sticks at centre-ice after having the sh*t kicked out of them, we can arrange that," when asked about a post-game salute to the fans.

For additional head-scratching, here are more D-Sutt quotes - courtesy CalgaryPuck:

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