Having just agreed it was time for his head coach to walk, Calgary Flames general manager Jay Feaster was asked Thursday if he was going to converse with the team’s core players about who best to replace Brent Sutter.
Feaster needed barely a moment to fire off a response.
“Absolutely, positively not. No. Management will manage; players play.”
That comment, along with the decision to let Sutter go after three non-playoff years, served notice that the remaking of the Flames is under way and destined to be serious. Sutter had said this week he was willing to return and coach again. He added changes were necessary and Feaster had promised to review every player and member of the organization’s hockey operations department.
On Wednesday, the coach and GM met privately and talked about what needed to be done, personnel-wise, and how the team should look for the 2012-13 NHL season.
Feaster said it was clear Sutter and the Flames needed to part company.
“This is not about fault, blame or finger-pointing,” Feaster stated. “Brent and I had a good discussion. … As we talked, we decided this was a time for us to go our separate ways.”
Feaster declined to say what those differing ideas were. Most likely, it involved which players, including captain Jarome Iginla, should part of the team moving forward.
Sutter had his best success in Calgary this season with a younger, more enthusiastic lineup. The sense was he wasn’t able to motivate the veterans on a consistent enough basis, which resulted in the team finishing no higher than ninth in the Western Conference the past three seasons (118-90-38 overall).
“This isn’t about Brent not getting his message through,” said Feaster, who repeated that it was more about timing (Sutter’s contract was up) and differences and understanding this was simply a good way to end things. “Brent’s a good coach. I believe he’ll be coaching again in the NHL.”
Flames assistant coach Dave Lowry was told his contract would not be renewed, while assistant Craig Hartsburg and goaltending coach Clint Malarchuk were asked to stay. Both have a year remaining on their deals and will be evaluated by the new head coach. Who that will be is now open for debate.
Troy Ward has already drawn Feaster’s interest. Ward is the head coach of the team’s AHL affiliate Abbotsford Heat and did an excellent job keeping his team competitive while seeing many of his players summoned to Calgary as injury call-ups.
Feaster described Ward as “one of the people we’d speak to” then added: “At the same time, we’d like to see a real long playoff run in Abbotsford.”
While Ward has no NHL experience, Bob Hartley does. The former Colorado Avalanche/Atlanta Thrashers bench boss is a close friend of Feaster’s and the godfather of Feaster’s son, Ryan. Feaster noted Hartley was coaching with the Zurich Lions of Switzerland’s A-league and just completing the first year of a two-year deal, which may mean little should Hartley have an out clause.
Another interesting possibility could be Dave Tippett. The understanding is should the Phoenix Coyotes finally pack up and leave – destination: Quebec City – Tippett and the team would also part ways, allowing him to work elsewhere in the NHL.
Without speaking in specifics, Feaster said he was open to all candidates.
“We’re not going to say it has to be someone who does this or that, someone who has experience at the NHL,” he explained. “It’s important we not set any artificial limits on it. We have a lot of work to do with our roster and what our team looks like.”
The Flames will begin their coaching search immediately and have no time frame for a hire.
For now, Sutter will return to the business of his other hockey team, the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL.