March 2021 set the course for April 2022.
Darryl Sutter readily admitted that when he was hired as the Calgary Flames’ new head coach midway through last season, he didn’t believe the team would make the playoffs.
He was right. The Flames finished fifth in the all-Canada North Division after the 56-game 2020-21 season shortened by the pandemic — four points behind the Montreal Canadiens for final playoff spot.
A self-confessed “Flames fan” before his return, Sutter instead wanted to reshape the culture of a franchise that had won just a single playoff series since reaching the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals (a team Sutter coached himself) . This culture shift included how players trained and prepared, dietary habits and off-season fitness. The results of this metamorphosis, Sutter hopes, will be on full display for the hockey world during the 2022 playoffs.
Tuesday marks the next phase of the Flames’ cultural remake – a phase that began 13 months ago and that die-hard fan Sutter hopes will end with a Stanley Cup save. The Flames meet the Dallas Stars in Round 1, with Games 1 and 2 scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday in Calgary.
Sutter recently summed up the franchise’s shift as the group went from a relieved mindset (relieved when they won) to a belief (believing they could win) — and sustained success wasn’t achieved by outperforming opponents night after night but by playing effectively away from the puck night after night.
“You have to have a foundation of accountability and control, and at the same time it still has to give players freedom to use their skills,” he said.
“If you’re not a well-trained organization, you’re not going to make the playoffs. This is #1. It doesn’t matter if you think you’re the best player in the National Hockey League or wherever you think you fit in if you’re not well trained. It’s the only advantage you get every night; They can be a shift better, five percent better in energy, that’s an advantage anyone can get. That’s why guys have bad years who are top guys.”
Calgary leading scorer Johnny Gaudreau said Sutter and former Flames head coach Bob Hartley are similar when it comes to how much she expects from her players.
“I don’t think we’ve had a coach like him in Calgary for a long time,” he said.
“He demands a lot from his teams, expects a lot from the players… he’s done a great job with our team and brought our group together.”
“I think come to work every day and win, prepare to win, practice winning,” defender Chris Tanev said recently of the changes from last season.
“I think he changed everything dramatically. Every day is a new day. Regardless of what happened yesterday, you go ahead and expect to win the next day… When you’re in practice, you’re expected to make tape-to-tape passes, work hard, skate, and then get up preparing the next game, ”said Tanev. “It just becomes a big cycle where you play, you reset and you expect to win and you try to get better every day, what you can improve, what the team can improve. ”
The dramatic changes in Calgary this season have caught the attention of other NHL players.
“I’m looking at Calgary this year and their coach there and I don’t know what people are saying about him, maybe he’s hard-nosed but he’s holding people accountable there,” said Paul Stastny, Winnipeg Jets forward. asked unsolicited what the Jets would need to change in the future.
“Look at those guys over there, they’re playing a very different game than last year. They are a more dangerous team and play a full team game. If a good team game then follows, the entire individual success goes hand in hand.”
SPARKS FROM THE FIRE
-While the Flames and Stars met in the bubble in the 2020 playoffs, Dallas head coach Rick Bowness doesn’t watch a movie from that series and says this Calgary team with Sutter at the helm is completely different. Beyond the coaching change, he highlighted the signing of goalkeeper Jacob Markstrom, saying it was a “huge and great step”.
-Calgary is far from a one-line team where top-to-bottom depth scores. One player who has flown under the radar is Dillon Dube, who has quietly put together a solid third-row season. He finished the season with eight goals in ten games and is, as Darryl Sutter put it, a big game player. He’ll start the playoffs on the third row with Calle Jarnkrok and veteran Blake Coleman and get some power-play time, and that role looks likely to grow.
– During the regular season, Sutter had intermittent second line Trevor Lewis with Mikael Backlund and Coleman, including games against strong offensive teams in Colorado and Edmonton. This trio gives the Flames another defensive matchup option and could be reunited…especially at home where the coach can dictate line matchups.
– Much like Dube, Nikita Zadorov and Erik Gudbranson have quietly evolved from the limelight. At 6-foot-6,235 pounds and 6-foot-5,222 pounds, respectively, they’ll be a force for opposing players and have a bigger impact the deeper Calgary goes.
Expected Calgary lineup for Game 1:
Mangiapane Backlund Toffoli
Lucic Lewis Ritchie
Expected Dallas lineup for Game 1