Darryl Sutter: Genius?

Flames Nation ran an amazing 95 part series of posts on Darryl Sutter earlier in the year. Okay, maybe there are only six parts. But it's all required reading. I'm going to chop up the first part here and the others later, but the whole thing is worth your time.

The Rise and Fall of Darryl Sutter - Part 1: Sutter's Genius | FlamesNation

Few figures in the history of the Calgary Flames have been more contentious than Darryl Sutter. Both universally loved and universally reviled at points during his seven year reign as the club's general manager, Sutter is a man of competing, dichotomous narratives: the idiot and the savant [...].

Darryl Sutter arrived in Calgary with an already strong reputation in the hockey community. The second oldest of the Sutter brothers, Darryl played 406 games in the NHL before retiring and becoming a member of the coaching fraternity. Hardworking and ill-tempered on the ice, Darryl brought a similar temperament behind the bench for the Chicago Blackhawks (1992-1995) and San Jose Sharks (1997-2003) before landing in Calgary in place of Greg Gilbert. Sutter was Mike Keenan's assistant coach in Chicago, debuting on a high note in 1992 when the club would finish first in the Norris division with 106 points. [...] San Jose came calling in 1997. [...] Like his arrival in Calgary, Darryl Sutter was brought in to firm up a sagging organization. [...] In 2003, the team stumbled out of the gates amidst contract disputes with Evgeni Nabokov and Mike Rathje. The resultant 9-12-2-1 record was enough to cut Sutter's time in Northern California short. Despite the ignominious end to his tenure in San Jose, Darryl's stock had risen around the league as a result of the Sharks franchise-best seasons he was able to author from 2000 to 2002. He remained out of work mere days before the Calgary Flames came calling. Similar to the Sharks in 1997, the Flames had largely been wandering in the wilderness prior to Sutter's arrival. The club hadn't seen the post-season for nearly a decade and despite the growing abilities of Jarome Iginla, the mood around Calgary had settled into one of resigned hopelessness. [...] Calgary continued to flounder in the Western Conference basement. Until, that is, the arrival of Darryl Sutter. Ostensibly hired to replace Gilbert behind the bench, Sutter would soon depose [GM Craig] Button as well, emerging as the club's head coach and GM in 2003-04.

[...] On a number of occasions, including the recent press conference in which he announced Sutter's resignation, team president Ken King used the word "genius" to describe Darryl. That superlative seemed an apt one through the early years of his reign, when Sutter almost singlehandedly orchestrated the Flames return to competitiveness and respectability. Everything Darryl touched turned to gold initially: modest deals to acquire marginal supporting-role type players [...] seemed uncanny and prophetic when the rag-tag bunch made the 2004 Stanley Cup run. [...] Inside of his first three seasons, Sutter would perpetrate three of the most lop-sided trades in recent memory: Miikka Kiprusoff for a second round pick, Daymond Langkow for Oleg Saprykin and Denis Gauthier and Kristian Huselius for Steve Montador and Dustin Johner. All three players would become difference makers of varying degrees for the Flames going forward and the best asset Sutter surrendered in the deals was Montador (or technincally, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who was chosen by the Sharks with the Flames second round pick). The Kipper, Langkow and Huselius moves were masterful in retrospect given their success, but were also low-risk, high-reward gambles at the time. [...] Sutter reached back through his portal of former allegiances (something he would repeat often as the Flames GM) and plucked what was to become the best goalie in the league for the following two+ seasons for the price of a single, second round draft pick. The familiarity meant that Sutter was no doubt aware of Kiprusoff's physical abilities as well as the solid pedigree that saw him post impressive numbers in both the Finnish Elite League and the AHL.

[...] Coach and figurehead, Darryl firmly steered a moribund organization back to vitality by imbuing the players and franchise with his virtually patented contempt for losing. [The Flames] spent the latter part of the 90's [...] unendingly burdened with expectations of failure. The fans and players had grown used to hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. [...] Sutter's arrival signaled an attitudinal change. Merely hoping to win was no longer acceptable. The grim scowl and taciturn manner that was both a signature and an indictment by the end of his time in Calgary was, in fact, a welcome and celebrated signal to Flames fans when he was hired: here was a man who detested failure and would brook no acceptance of it. He sketched his contempt across his face without apology and communicated it to his players and the press constantly. He instituted policies that became pillars upon which the Flame's early success were built: always expect to beat your closest rivals (Edmonton Oilers) and never play an easy game in your own building. [...] Behind the bench, Sutter molded a motley collection of plumbers into a fierce, aggressive, thoroughly unpleasant opponent. [...]

The Flames trapped fiercely with Sutter at the helm and took full advantage of the lax obstruction rules prior to the lock-out. During one particular pounding of the Bruins that season, I remember a member of the Boston organization (coach or player, can't recall) remarking ruefully "all they do is ice the puck". And that wasn't too far from the truth. Darryl Sutter's Flames turned the neutral zone into a quagmire and the corners into dungeons of woe. Everyone finished checks and they hit to hurt. They hooked. They held. They crowded the ice surface with sweat and violence. Everyone hated playing them. It was a welcome change for Flames fans after years of Calgary being perceived as "the easy W" [...]. They followed up in 2005-06 by winning the division in roughly the same manner[...]. The [...] Flames were fiercely competitive on a nightly basis.

Of course, the culmination of Sutter's coaching, attitude and roster changes was the fabled cup run of 2003-04. While simply making the post-season was a momentous event that year, the city exploded in rapture when the Flames unexpectedly made it past the first round and beyond. [...] Long dormant memories of success were awakened. New fans were carved from a once sleepy market. Hope for the present and the future blossomed in the hearts of Flames faithful for the first time since the team started routinely falling to lower seeds in the early '90s. It was a revolution. A renaissance. And a single man seemed to be the heart and cause of the re-awakening.

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