CALGARY – With his team languishing near the basement of the NHL’s Western Conference, Darryl Sutter resigned as executive vice-president and general manager of the Calgary Flames on Tuesday.
Assistant GM Jay Feaster was named acting general manager and will assume complete responsibility for day-to-day hockey operations.
Flames president and chief executive officer Ken King said he asked Sutter to step down.
“In order for us to move forward I felt that it was important that we take the next step,” King said at a news conference. “And that that next step move us and build on the legacy Darryl left which is a very, very solid foundation.”
King said the team’s coaching staff will remain in place and Feaster will handle the GM’s duties until season’s end.
“We believe that while we continue to compete for a playoff position this season, this period will provide both the organization and Jay time to decide on critical future decisions,” King said.
Entering play Tuesday, the Flames (16-18-3) were fourth in the Northwest Division, just five points up on last-place Edmonton in the conference standings.
Feaster, who joined the Flames last July, won a Stanley Cup as the Tampa Bay Lightning’s GM in 2004.
“I want to make the playoffs this year but I don’t want to make the playoffs and then go out in the first round,” Feaster said. “And I don’t want to be a team that just says, ‘Well, we made it every year for four years.’ I’m telling you that when you win a Stanley Cup that’s the only thing that matters.
“That’s the only place you want to get back to and that’s where I want to get back to here.”
Sutter, a 52-year-old from Viking, Alta., has been with the organization since 2002 when he was hired to coach the club. He took on the role of GM the following year.
He relinquished the job of coach in 2006, but remained GM.
“Darryl has performed valuable service to the Calgary Flames organization for eight years,” King said. “He was the leader that ignited a renaissance of Flames hockey, moving us from a non-playoff team to an organization that was viewed as a respected and popular contender each year.
“We are pleased Darryl has agreed to assist in an orderly transition and will provide his valuable guidance in the process. He remains dedicated to the success of the team he worked so hard to build.”
Feaster has some challenges ahead. The Flames are one of the oldest teams in the NHL with an average age of almost 30. They’re also an expensive team at the salary cap limit.
“We have built a nucleus, we have built a core,” King said. “We know in order to succeed more that we’ve got to make some changes.”
While the dismissal of NHL coaches and general managers is not uncommon, the move resonates in Alberta where the Sutter name is revered in the hockey community. Six Sutter brothers played in the NHL and four of them—Darryl, Brian, Duane and Brent—have all coached in it as well.
Brent Sutter was hired in the summer of 2009 to coach the team and Duane is the team’s director of player personnel.
When Sutter arrived in Calgary to coach the team in 2002, the franchise was emerging from a dark time. A seven-year absence from the playoffs sent season-ticket sales into a tailspin in 1999 and 2000, which required a“Save the Flames”campaign by the team to survive.
In his first year in the dual roles of coach and GM in 2003-04, the Flames reached the Stanley Cup final and lost to Tampa Bay in seven games. During that run, then-Prime Minister Paul Martin called them “Canada’s team.”
The fan base was energized, but their expectations afterwards were much higher. After the lockout of 2004-05, Sutter coached the team to first place in the Northwest with 103 points, but the club lost in the first round to Anaheim.
Sutter then stepped down as coach to concentrate on managing the club. Three coaches followed over the next four years: Jim Playfair, Mike Keenan and his brother Brent.
After Darryl gave up his coaching duties, the Flames exited the playoffs in the first round three straight years before missing the playoffs last season in Brent’s first campaign on the team’s bench.
Sutter’s record as Calgary’s general manager is mixed. One of his top moves was acquiring goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff for a second-round draft pick in 2003 when the Finn was a backup in San Jose. Kiprusoff won the Vezina Trophy at the conclusion of the team’s run to the Stanley Cup final. He’s one of the premier goaltenders in the NHL.
Among the other moves which bred more modest success was getting forward Rene Bourque from Chicago for a draft pick two years ago. Bourque is a multi-purpose player who provides secondary scoring.
Centre Daymond Langkow, defenceman Cory Sarich and forward David Moss, who are still with the club, and forward Mike Cammalleri, who spent one season in a Flames uniform in 2008-09, were fruitful acquisitions during his tenure.
Defenceman Jay Bouweester’s performance has been mixed, but landing the blue-liner in the summer of 2009 before he entered unrestricted free agency was a coup for Sutter at the time, although an expensive one.
Selectingdefenceman Dion Phaneuf with the ninth overall pick in the 2003 draft paid off in the short term. A nominee for the Calder, and then the Norris in his first two seasons in the league, Phaneuf helped generate offence from the back end. His defensive play, however, did not progress, and it was a contributing factor to his trade to Toronto last January.
Of Sutter’s other seven first-round draft picks, only Swede Mikael Backlund has become a regular in the lineup. Calgary didn’t have a first- or second-round draft pick this year because they were traded to Phoenix for Olli Jokinen and to Chicago for Bourque.
After a run of nine games without a victory last January, Sutter made multi-player trades Jan. 31 with Toronto and Feb. 1 with New York that have not had much impact for the Flames.
Sutter was never able to land a top-line centre to complement captain and right-winger Jarome Iginla. Sutter believed Jokinen was the answer on two separate occasions, but Jokinen hasn’t been a regular on the top line.
After giving up a first-round pick to get Jokinen from Phoenix at the 2009 trade deadline, Sutter traded the Finn and Brandon Prust to New York last February to get Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins.
Sutter then re-signed Jokinen when free agency opened July 1 in a move that seemed bizarre, given the fact Jokinen didn’t provide much scoring impact during his first stint as a Flame.
Higgins signed with Florida in the off-season. The Flames put Kotalik on waivers during the summer, but there were no takers for him and his US$3-million salary. He’s played only four games for Calgary after returning from a long-term knee injury.
Sutter included forward Fredrik Sjostrom, and prospect defenceman Keith Aulie in the Phaneuf deal with Toronto to acquire forwards Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers and defenceman Ian White.
Kotalik, Stajan and Hagman produced 11 goals between them after their arrival in Calgary last season, although Sutter thought highly enough of the 27-year-old Stajan to re-sign him to a multi-year deal.
White was traded along with Brett Sutter to Carolina in November and Mayers, a gritty forward, signed with Tampa Bay in the off-season. Stajan has two goals and 16 assists in 32 games this season while Hagman has 17 points (eight goals, nine assists) in 37 games.
Sutter got his start in the NHL as a player. He was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 11th round (179th overall) in 1978.In 406 career games, he had 279 points (161 goals, 118 assists) and added 43 points (24-19) in 51 career playoff games before retiring following the 1986-’87 season.
Feaster also served as president of the Hershey Bears when the AHL club won a Calder Cup in 1997.