It is time for a new voice to lead the Calgary Flames, but who should the franchise hire as its 22nd head coach following Darryl Sutter’s firing?
Sutter, who won the 2021-22 Jack Adams Award less than a year ago, was set to begin a two-year contract extension before being let go by the Flames on Monday. It was a move most saw coming after the team underperformed and missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.
Several Calgary players — including key offseason additions Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri — endured disappointing performances this past season, causing frustrations to set in. And Sutter’s old-school coaching style didn’t help ease tensions in the dressing room.
In the end, much of the team reportedly grew tired of the 64-year-old’s methods, which president of hockey operations Don Maloney reiterated during Monday’s press conference. It also didn’t help the longtime bench boss refused to provide the club’s top young players with many extended opportunities.
Before the Flames hire a new head coach, though, Maloney expects to find his next general manager, who’ll take the reins following Brad Treliving’s departure last month. Once that’s settled, the organization will shift its focus to improving the coaching staff.
But when that moment arrives, Calgary’s front office may not have to search far to locate its top — and likely most deserving — head coaching candidate.
The Flames will probably cast a wide net of potential replacements for Sutter this summer. Their most popular candidate, however, might already reside within the organization.
Love is currently the head coach of the Calgary Wranglers — the Flames’ AHL affiliate — and is highly regarded by many front-office executives throughout the sport, including Calgary’s. By all accounts, he should receive serious consideration for the position throughout the interview process.
— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) May 1, 2023
Despite featuring zero NHL experience, both as a player and a coach, winning has followed Love across the minor leagues in the WHL and AHL, with many experts considering him a rising star in the industry.
After seven seasons as an assistant coach with the Everett Silvertips, Love landed his first head coaching gig with the Saskatoon Blades in 2018-19, leading them to a playoff berth in his first season. His impact was felt immediately as the team improved from 17th overall to fourth in just one year.
The Blades made three straight postseason appearances under Love but had two wiped out by COVID-19 shutdowns in 2020 and ‘21. Still, the 38-year-old watched his club finish 16-5-3 during the shortened 2020-21 campaign, placing sixth league-wide.
Love rose to the next level after that season, taking over as head coach of the then-Stockton Heat in 2021. And it didn’t take him long to improve their program, just as he did in Saskatoon, with the team going from 25th to second and advancing to the AHL Western Conference Final in Year 1.
While the Heat ultimately lost to the Calder Cup-winning Chicago Wolves in six games, Love was named the Louis A. R. Pieri Memorial Award winner as the AHL’s Coach of the Year. What has he done this season? Only lead the Flames' affiliate to a historically dominant performance.
The Wranglers captured their second consecutive division title en route to winning the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy after finishing with an AHL-best 43-15-4 record — the ninth-best mark all time. They are also off to the West Division Finals after advancing beyond the first two rounds.
As for Love, he was named Coach of the Year for the second straight season, becoming the third coach to win the award in back-to-back campaigns and the first to do so during his first two seasons in the AHL.
Another appealing trait is Love’s relationships with Calgary’s top prospects like Jakob Pelletier, Matthew Phillips, Connor Zary and Dustin Wolf. One thing they all have in common is they’ve thrived under the two-time award-winning head coach.
Since Maloney wants to inject more youth into Calgary’s roster next season, who better to lead that mission than Love? He could continue to oversee the franchise’s future stars while integrating them with core players such as Huberdeau, Kadri, Tyler Toffoli and Elias Lindholm.
The Flames also don’t have to look outside Alberta to notice how well promoting from within can pay off. Take Jay Woodcroft, for example, who has led the Edmonton Oilers to consecutive playoff berths since his arrival.
Sticking with the theme of younger coaches on the rise, Carbery is another emerging star expected to generate plenty of buzz on the head coaching carousel this offseason.
Carbery, a former minor-league professional, retired from his playing career in 2010 and has quickly risen through the ranks since. Along the way, he has won ECHL Coach of the Year (2014) and AHL Coach of the Year (2021) honours.
His coaching career started with the South Carolina Stingrays, where he served as an assistant for one season before becoming the ECHL’s youngest head coach in 2011 at age 29. He occupied that position for five seasons before leaving to become the Saginaw Spirit’s bench boss in 2016.
After one year in Saginaw, Carbery climbed to the next level as he took an assistant coaching job with the Providence Bruins. But his time there was also brief, as the Hershey Bears offered him a head coaching job ahead of the 2018-19 campaign, which he accepted.
Carbery’s stock rose even higher during his three seasons with the Washington Capitals’ AHL affiliate. His final season was the most impressive, earning him the Louis A. R. Pieri Memorial Award as the Bears finished atop the AHL with the best record in 2020-21.
After that season, the Capitals organization pushed hard to retain him, but he ultimately left for an assistant coaching gig with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Since he took control of their power play, they have featured the second-highest success rate on the man advantage (26.6 percent) over the last two seasons.
For a Flames power-play unit that ranked tied for 19th (19.8 percent) in 2022-23, adding Carbery to the fold could lead to similar success next season.
As for another potential external candidate, the Flames could interview former Florida Panthers interim head coach Andrew Brunette, who left the organization following Paul Maurice’s hiring last summer.
Brunette was more than deserving of that position, though, taking over midseason after Joel Quenneville's forced resignation and leading the Panthers to their first Presidents’ Trophy victory. But a change occurred after Florida was swept out of the second round by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Rather than staying in Florida, the 49-year-old accepted an assistant coaching position with the New Jersey Devils, landing him on Lindy Ruff’s staff - a decision that now sees him back in the conference semis.
There was some speculation Brunette could become Ruff’s successor if the Devils felt they needed a new bench boss after this season. But following a first-round victory over the New York Rangers, that option has become less likely.
Still, with players raving about his excellent communication skills, it’s probably only a matter of time before another organization inquires about a head-coaching position.