The Calgary Flames sent some shockwaves through the NHL late Thursday night when they announced a midnight coaching change, firing Geoff Ward and replacing him with Darryl Sutter.
The announcement came less than two hours after the team had just wrapped up a 7-3 victory over the Ottawa Senators that was highlighted by a Dillon Dube hat trick.
Ward took over early in the 2019-20 season when he replaced Bill Peters. In parts of two seasons behind the Flames bench Ward compiled a 35-26-5 record, including an 11-11-2 mark this season. It is not where the Flames had hoped to be at this point in the season as the team has struggled to find consistency and is currently on the outside of the North Division playoff picture. They are just two points back of fourth place Montreal, but the Flames have played two more games.
Given the inconsistency and their current position a coaching change is not necessarily a huge shock.
The shock is the fact that it is Sutter making a return to the NHL coaching ranks. It is also not a temporary move, either. The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reports that Sutter has signed a three-year contract with Calgary that covers the remainder of this season as well as the next two years.
Sutter last coached in the NHL during the 2016-17 season, his final year with the Los Angeles Kings. In 17 years as an NHL coach he has won 634 regular season games, coached in the Stanley Cup Final three times, winning it twice with the Kings. This will be his second time behind the Flames’ bench having previously coached them between the 2002-03 and 2005-06 seasons.
The Flames made the playoffs in just one of those seasons, but advanced to the Stanley Cup Final where they lost in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning during the 2003-04 season.
He also served as the team’s general manager through the 2010 season.
The fact the Flames already had Sutter’s hiring lined up immediately after a game makes it pretty clear that this was something that had been in the works and that no result on Thursday night was going to be enough for Ward to keep his spot behind the bench. Sutter will make his return to Calgary on Saturday against the Edmonton Oilers in the latest chapter of the Battle Of Alberta.
This is the second coaching change in the NHL in less than two weeks, following the Montreal Canadiens’ change.