Flames GM Brad Treliving opened up Friday’s press conference by saying it was the worst kept secret in Calgary. What followed was the announcement of Glen Gulutzan as the Flames’ new coach.
Gulutzan, 44, has been reported as the frontrunner for the job for much of the past week and had long been known as one of Calgary’s top candidates to take over behind the bench. Friday’s announcement made it official, as Gulutzan becomes the 17th in franchise history and the successor to Bob Hartley, who was fired in May.
One of Hartley’s downfalls as the Flames coach wasn’t just that his team didn’t get results, but that Calgary was one of the poorest possession teams in the league. Over the past four seasons under Hartley, Calgary posted the fourth-worst possession numbers of any team at a 46.5 shot attempts for percentage. So, of course, one major talking point in Calgary is turning the Flames, an abysmal possession team, into one that can control the puck and create opportunities not only on the rush, but through sustained zone time.
“There will definitely be a little of a style change in how we play,” Gulutzan said, wasting little time getting to the matter of possession. “It will lead to an exciting game. It will be an exciting, connected team that you’re going to see here and I look forward to it.”
Gulutzan, who comes to Calgary by way of the Vancouver Canucks, repeatedly referenced his ideal style as “connected” play. The intention is for Calgary to attack the puck and play through three zones in five-man units. The result, Gulutzan said, will be a Flames team that holds onto the puck longer, defends better and transitions from offense to defense more fluidly.
If Gulutzan’s five-man unit style sounds familiar, that’s because it’s similar to the smothering style of play the Los Angeles Kings have employed under Darryl Sutter. Coincidentally, or maybe not, Sutter was Calgary’s coach during Gulutzan’s tenure with the Las Vegas Wranglers, the then-ECHL affiliate of the Flames. Even if Calgary isn’t Kings-esque in terms of puck possession in their first season under Gulutzan, it shouldn’t be too difficult for the Flames to show some improvement. And even a modest increase in possession numbers could do wonders for the Flames.
Hiring Gulutzan wasn’t all about creating a better puck possession team, though. Treliving said a big part of it was the coach’s ability to cultivate relationships with his players and get through to young talent, of which the Flames have plenty.
“There are a lot of those players that he has pushed on to greater things,” Treliving said. “(Flames defenseman) Deryk Engelland is a player (Gulutzan) had in the ECHL. The number of players he moved along (as coach of the) Dallas Stars, you talk about players like Jamie Benn, and then you look at our group. To me, the biggest asset that I see with Glen…is his ability to connect to players. He’s a communicator.”
Treliving added that Gulutzan is the type of coach who can teach players young and old not just what to do, but why they’re playing the style they are and how to get the results the team is after. Gulutzan said he’s gained invaluable experience over the past five seasons through learning from players and fellow coaches and agreed his communication skills are a big part of his coaching style. Communication is something he believes allows him to get more out of his team.
“You create an emotional bank account with players,” Gulutzan said. “When you need to make a withdrawal from that account, and you’ve got a good bank account, you can withdraw from that. If you need to push and prod or yell or maximize or whatever it is you’re going to do with those players — if you have a good base, a good trust, you can push them a long way and they will play better.”
The hope is that he can establish those relationships quickly and that an improvement in the on-ice product will be immediate. The Flames saw a 20-point decrease from 2014-15 to 2015-16 and the last thing Calgary wants is to take another big step back. This is a team that wants to make some noise, and they’re banking on Gulutzan to be the one to help them do that.