Oh, happy day! No, possums… I am not having a religious experience. I am not finally seeing the light (I think I already have, thanks). But president and CEO of the Calgary Flames Ken King finally has. Hey, Ken! What the hell took you so long?
I was at our local pub with my wife last night playing NTN when I happened to notice a splash screen on TSN that showed Darryl Sutter’s resume as GM (the first point on it, the only positive one, had more to do with his coaching than GM duties – the amazing run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2004). But there was no sound, so could not confirm my hopes and dreams had indeed come true till later.
Darryl’s head had been removed. The boom has fallen. The king is dead. Well, his position as GM is over, anyway. But for a die-hard Flames fan, this is big.
I’ve been calling for his head for years. I consider him to be one of the worst GMs in hockey history, and in recent years has made some of the most ridiculous trade decisions I have ever seen. To be fair, he’s made some good ones. He was responsible for acquiring Mikka Kiprusoff from San Jose, who is now as much a Flames icon as team captain Jerome Iginla (who has a street named after him in Las Vegas, but that’s another story). Indeed, I have always thought that the Kipper is the only player on the Flames who’s game is on night after night.
His early career as GM was very successful, but that didn’t last long. Recent years have been disastrous and pretty much all of it can be lain at the feet of Darryl Sutter. But – especially in recent years – senility (or perhaps too many knocks to the head) seems to have seriously set in with Darryl. I remember one night on the news when Daryl said in a sound bite “Don’t question my passion for the game” in such a deadpan and slurred voice that I thought we should be questioning whether he had a pulse, let alone any passion. His brother Brent, the current head coach of the Flames and another who’s head I call for, doesn’t sound any less undead.
Mike Cammalleri, the Flames top scorer in the ’08-’09 season, was rewarded with being let go as a free agent (picked up by Montreal) because of the salary cap issues. Unbelievable. This decision still raises my hackles. They had a “defenseman” who couldn’t play defense in Dion Phaneuf who was incredibly over-priced who could have been traded and improved the defense just for getting rid of him. Yes, he’s got a rifle shot from the blue line. Yes, he can demolish opponents with either open-ice hits or hip checks on the boards. But Dion’s idea of playing defence is imitating a pylon swinging a stick at the puck. As CBC commentator Kelly Hrudy astutely noted, because he saw so much ice time Dion learned to rest on the ice. I can’t count the number of times I have seen so many opposing forwards simply skate around him and score.
Sutter acquired Olli Jokinen from the Phoenix Coyotes in 2009 in what was generally regarded as a great acquisition (I among them). We were wrong, but I won’t fault Darryl for that. He never seemed to fit in here, and there was never thel chemistry there was between Iginla and Cammalleri. How many one-timers did Iginla set Cammalleri up for? Jokinen was dealt to the New York Rangers late in the ’09-’10 season. Up to this point, everything is fine. Just normal operations. But a mere few months later, Calgary reacquired Jokinen in one of the most talked about trades in the recent history of the Flames. And not in a way which flattered Sutter. It was simply bizarre and CTV’s Keith Brown (Keith ‘The Teeth’, as we call him at home) was openly incredulous at the press conference where Darryl announced Jokinen’s return. Jokinen has had some very recent scoring, but hasn’t done all that much this season, but he never remotely lived up to expectations. If Jokinen obviously didn’t work out the first time (Darryl claimed it did, but if so why are his numbers so poor? Why did he trade him away? It makes absolutely no sense at all…), what made Darryl think he would on the second go-round?
Alex Tanguay was acquired in 2006, a solid player that was dealt away to Montreal in 2008. I was sad to see him go. Good thing Darryl pulled an Olli and reacquired him from Tampa Bay. Two boomerang trades in a single year? I’m not sad to see Tanguay back in the line-up, but why trade away a solid player who fit in well (unlike Olli) like that in the first place?
But, wait! There’s more! I had been clammering for Phaneuf to be traded for several years, even before the Cammalleri debacle. Darryl finally saw that Phaneuf was not the player he seemed to think he was. Finally, in January, 2010, he was traded to Toronto along with two others in exchange for Stajan (still with Calgary, amazingly), Hagman (also still here), White (who should still be here – a damn fine defenseman) and Mayers (who?). This trade is widely regarded as heavily favoring Toronto, as the consensus of the sports community was that Sutter should have held out for a good deal more for the pylon. But that’s what happens with panic moves.
But what I think is the biggest question mark of Darryl Sutter’s decisions has been with his coaching staff. Jim Playfair was replaced as coach in 2007 by ‘Iron’ Mike Keenan, a good decision in my estimation. It just wasn’t working out with Playfair, a protege of Sutter (surprise!). Keenan led the team to the playoffs, but failed to get past the first round and as a result was fired, a questionable decision. Enter Darryl’s brother Brent, who took the reigns for the ’08-’09 season.
This was a disaster. It is STILL a disaster and it seems that it will continue to be a disaster, at least for the time being. Did Darryl’s brother do better and get past the first round of the playoffs? No. Why? Because under his direction the Flames didn’t even make the playoffs! Was Brent Sutter unceremoniously tossed for produicing even worse results than Keenan? Not at all. As weird as a number of the trade decisions have been, this is the most inexplicable move (or non-move) of all. I think Keenan should have sued for wrongful dismissal, since ther reason given for his dismissal was obviously bullshit.
In hindsight, I suspect the process culminating in King’s request for Sutter’s resignation has been in the works for a while. We should have suspected someting when Jim Feaster, his replacement as GM, was added as assistant GM in July, or at least thought this was a contingency plan should things go south as indeed they did. It was certainly noted by a number of hockey commentators that it was odd that Ken King thought that Darryl might need some help with his GM duties. But it’s too little and WAY too late. The damage is done.
Sorry, Darryl. I won’t miss you one bit. I’d have been more sympathetic had King acted several years ago when he clearly should have. Indeed, Ken King has not yet gone far enough. I call for Calgary to be made a “Sutter-free Zone”. So, for crying out loud take your useless brother with you, Darryl. This team could not have been damaged any more had Darryl Sutter had been intentionally sabotaging it.
Good-bye and good riddance.