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Brent Sutter to Calgary Flames inching toward inevitability

Greg Wyshynski
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Some hockey news here and there on a Father's Day weekend.

The Montreal Canadiens will be back under the Molson label, sparing us from years of Celine Dion-as-owner jokes. Keith Tkachuk will return to the St. Louis Blues for next season, which is a shrewd move for both player and franchise. And Mats Sundin(notes) not only makes a decision, but one that flies in the face of the supposed motivations for his signing with the Vancouver Canucks.

But one of the weekend's biggest stories was still playing out as of this blog posting: The Calgary Flames naming Brent Sutter as their new head coach, following his departure from the New Jersey Devils after just two seasons. TSN called the deal "close," as did the Calgary Sun and other media last night.

The Flames' official site doesn't have a peep about it yet, save for an interesting debate on its official message boards.

Should this thing come to pass -- and there's been no indication it won't -- the question of compensation to the Devils, for the Flames hiring a coach that still had another year on his contract, will be an intriguing one; and it may not be as automatic as you'd think, according to Rich Chere of the Star-Ledger:

Sutter still has one season remaining on his three-year Devils contract, so Flames GM Darryl Sutter would have needed permission from Lou Lamoriello to speak to his brother about the vacant Calgary job. If he was granted permission, NHL bylaws state that the Devils would not receive compensation.

As you can see from the comments on that Star-Ledger story, Sutter is being wished nothing but the worst from Devils fans ... which is understandable but a little lamentable.

The sting of losing a good coach for selfish reasons and then seeing that coach resurface with another franchise in the same month is, without question, a slap in the face for most Devils fans. But as I wrote when Sutter left the NJD:

Bitter about Sutter leaving? Only if he takes over the Flames and leads them to greater heights than he led the Devils. Otherwise, he's a stellar regular season coach who couldn't win in the playoffs, and if the Devils wanted that they'd rehire Robbie Ftorek (/snark). But most of all, the Devils may no longer need a coach whose head is in Newark while his heart's in Red Deer.

This isn't Claude Lemieux(notes) asking for a new contract after his Conn Smythe or John MacLean requesting a trade on a gameday (to cite two of the greatest moments in self-servant Devils history). Maybe it's this Father's Day hooey that's getting to me, but the Sutter/Red Deer/homesickness thing makes you feel for Sutter; even if most of it is monetarily driven by his ownership of a Canadian junior team.

The Devils job now seems like a connecting flight to Calgary; a test to see if Sutter could uproot for an NHL gig or if his heart would be left behind in Alberta. He knows the answer, Devils fans know the answer, and the bottom line is that both parties are better for it now that the relationship has ended.

As for Calgary, the Edmonton Journal offered some details if Sutter takes the job:

If Brent gets the job, and multiple sources say he's the man, he could bring another brother, Ron, on as an assistant coach - he's been a pro scout for the Flames.

It's expected Ryan McGill and Dave Lowry will also be on his staff, along with goalie coach Jamie McLennan(notes).

Battle of Alberta had an interesting take on Sutter when he stepped down and the Flames were immediately in play:

Yeah, the Flames are turning into a Sutter family business, but Darryl's relatives in the org have roles that are quite specific and out of the spotlight. The coach's job is to do WHATEVER, that one way or another results in regular season and then playoff success. Sometimes, that's going to be odds with the way the GM has planned things. Let's imagine for a second that Brent was coach this past season, and thinks Olli Jokinen(notes) is basically crap. Darryl trades for him at the deadline, announcing that the org has been interested in him for years; he only did it because Olli has another year left on his deal; and that he only notified Brent the night before that it was about to happen ("GMs manage, coaches coach"). Does Brent really want to be in this kind of position, where his brother has autonomous license to affect what he thinks he should be doing to succeed? I'm not so sure.

Should Brent take the gig, the Calgary situation is going to be full of that family intrigue. It's been said that Darryl Sutter will be the Flames GM until he decides he isn't; how long is Brent given to succeed?

And what's the motivation for Brent Sutter as a coach in the League? His only other NHL stint ended without escaping the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, yet he left with regular season success, his reputation intact and the ownership of the Red Deer Rebels as a more-than-satisfactory fallback position. Not to mention another NHL coaching suit tailored for him.

This isn't to question the hunger and competitive drive of the man; anyone who saw Sutter's intensity in New Jersey understands he has it.

This is to say that, ultimately, there are two types of coaches in the NHL: Those who take jobs, and those who devour every aspect of them as a lifestyle choice. Two of the latter types just coached in the Stanley Cup finals. Based on what we've seen so far, Calgary's about to hire the former.

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