From 1997 until 2004 the Calgary Flames were a hapless franchise. Through four coaching changes over nearly a decade the team never once finished with more than 32 wins. The franchise failed to finish above third in their division in six of those seven seasons.
The Flames fans went through all this until one man arrived. And that man was Darryl Sutter.
Within one year of his arrival the Calgary Flames made a trip to the Stanley Cup in 2003-04 as the six seed in an extremely talented Western Conference. The Flames had a talented core of forwards such as Jerome Iginla and Alex Tanguay, as well as defenseman Robyn Regehr and goaltender Mikka Kiprusoff. It was a team ready to break out but had been held back by a revolving door of coaches that failed to connect with the locker room.
Sutter only lasted one season in Calgary as he chose to step down in 2005. The Flames team he lead to the Final would go on to make the playoffs each of he next four years.
Let’s fast forward to December of 2011. The Los Angeles Kings are a franchise stuck in limbo. LA made the bold move to fire coach Terry Murray mid season, turning to Sutter as his heir to the throne. Sutter coached the franchise that had suffered numerous early exits the past two years to an improbable run to the Stanley Cup.
Sutter proved he could transform teams with his ability to get the best out of what was in front of him. The Kings won the Stanley Cup that year as the first 8th seed to accomplish such a feet. Two years later the Kings would do it again, this time as a commanding force in the Western Conference.
So why do I bring these points up? First of all, the Sabres are in a very similar position as the Flames and Kings were before Sutter’s arrival. But perhaps more importantly is that Darryl Sutter has something that the Sabres have lacked behind their bench since the dismissal of Lindy Ruff:
Dan Bylsma certainly isn’t a slouch. He also was able to take a Pittsburgh Penguins club that was out of the playoffs midway through the 2008-09 season to the Stanley Cup where they won in seven games. However in the years after that the Penguins never again lived up to the potential they had with the Stanley Cup squad.
In the five remaining years he spent behind the Pittsburgh pine the Penguins only got past the second round once, and that was the lockout shortened 2013-2014 season. Bylsma was fired after that season and has since been critiqued as having ridden the coat tails of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to his coaching success.
This stigma has followed Bylsma to Buffalo and his tenure has not started out well. Bylsma has missed the playoffs his first two seasons in Buffalo with a team that should’ve been contending until the final days of the season. This is not the mark of an elite head coach.
On top of this, Bylsma’s calm demeanor is not what is needed in Buffalo’s locker room. He is in charge of a young group of players that want to score goals and play a free style which is not the system Dan runs. Buffalo needs a coach with an attitude that can motivate the team and make them want to play for him.
Sutter earned the respect of his players by demanding the most of them in LA and making his teams overachievers. Of course this is just a “what if” of mine, but the Sabres front office should give Sutter some thought. Bylsma claims he will be back but when an opportunity arises in this league you just have to take it.
So let’s throw out the narrative of Buffalo sports fans being sick of change. Why not take a chance?