Now, the vast majority of the coaching-related headlines came out of Vancouver this past week, and rightfully so.
But for those with the capacity to pay attention to more than one debacle at a time, there was also another much smaller controversy to be enjoyed surrounding Darryl Sutter and the Calgary Flames.
In short, Sutter is up to his old tricks of belittling players and media alike. Asked to comment on 21-year-old Jakob Pelletier’s first NHL game, Sutter instead pulled off a comic routine in which he exaggeratedly took out his glasses and scoured the scoresheet for Pelletier’s meager stats — but only after first making sure to ask which number Pelletier had been wearing.
It was, to be entirely fair, nothing new from Sutter, and nothing he hasn’t been getting away with for decades already. Or, to be more specific, it’s the kind of thing that Sutter usually gets away with when/because his teams are winning.
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But his team is not winning. Expected by many to run away with the Pacific this season, the Flames are instead languishing in fifth place in the division and are currently on the outside of a playoff spot looking in. It’s hard to look at a Calgary roster loaded up with talent at every position and not feel at least a little bit let down with their performance thus far.
Combine the disappointment with the acid tongue, and it’s easy enough to see why patience for Sutter is running a little thin in Calgary.
If only there was another veteran coach on the market who they could conveniently replace Sutter with before it’s too late to salvage their season…
…Oops.
Yes, we’re here to make the argument that the recently-fired Bruce Boudreau would make an excellent mid-season hire for the Calgary Flames, and we’re talking immediately. The Flames still have 35 games left to play in 2022/23, which is plenty of roadway to change their fortunes, especially if they hire someone with a reputation for providing that new-coach bump.
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In terms of personalities, there’s not many opposites more polar to be found than Boudreau and Sutter.
A known hardass, Sutter demands the most of his players at all-times and is stingy with the praise. Boudreau, meanwhile, hands out his love unconditionally, and has long been renowned for his abilities as a “player’s coach.”
If Calgary players are as tired of Sutter’s orneriness as their fans and media seem to be, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which Boudreau’s kind nature is a breath of fresh air for the dressing room. He could provide a largely veteran group with the freedom and respect they require to loosen up again and just start playing the sort of hockey that they obviously have the talent to play.
At the very least, they’ll probably start having fun at work again, and that goes a long way. He’d treat all the players better, while still leaning heavily upon the vets that the Calgary roster is largely comprised of. In many ways, he’s the perfect personality fit.
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Anything even approaching the Boudreau Bounce would almost certainly result in the Flames making it into the playoffs. As of this writing, they’re tied with the Colorado Avalanche for the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference, but the Avs have two games in hand. That’s a hole, sure, but it’s nothing like the hole that Boudreau inherited when he took over the Canucks last year. Even a moderate Boudreau Bump gets the job done, and anything on top of that just gets the Flames higher up the Pacific standings.
The Flames have specifically struggled on the power play this year, clicking at a rate of just 20%, good enough for 23rd place in the league. If Boudreau can turn that around like he did in Vancouver, that alone should help the Flames start to catch up on their divisional rivals.
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There’s also the impact on individual players to consider. Boudreau arriving in Vancouver turned out to be just what Elias Pettersson needed to snap out of some early season doldrums and start producing like a true NHL superstar.
The Flames, meanwhile, traded Matthew Tkachuk for Jonathan Huberdeau and then handed him a major extension, sight unseen, only for Huberdeau to respond with a scant 32 points through his first 44 games. Calgary would love to secure a much better return on their investment, and a coaching change sooner rather than later seems like the first step toward that. If Huberdeau responds anywhere near as positively to Boudreau as Pettersson did, that’s an important win regardless of team success. And their names rhyme, so they just have to get along.
The collection of top-end forwards in Calgary is every bit as impressive, if not more so, than Vancouver’s, so the Flames should have no issues buying into Boudreau’s high-octane gameplan. And every other part of their roster is arguably superior to that of the Canucks’, so team success should be in the bag. Calgary’s depth forwards are stronger and more reliable, Jacob Markstrom is still a quality starter, and the blueline is head-and-shoulders-and-most-of-the-torso above Vancouver’s.
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Really, it’s no competition, and there’s no real reason to believe that Boudreau couldn’t do everything he did in Vancouver again, but in Calgary and better.
Plus, Boudreau getting hosed by the Canucks and then heading over to a rival team to save their season would be perfectly on-brand, both in Calgary stealing from Vancouver again and in the Canucks suffering another round of cosmic karma.
In a weird way, it feels right.
All the Flames have to do is act now, before Boudreau is snapped up by some other coaching staff. Fire Sutter while there’s still time left to salvage 2022/23, hire Boudreau, and start penciling in that sweet playoff revenue.
The plan couldn’t be simpler, and the Canucks have already done all the hard work for them.