Brent Sutter's Struggles with Calgary Flames a Guilty Pleasure for Devils

Doug GausepohlCorrespondent IJanuary 27, 2010

ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 23:  Brent Sutter head coach of the Calgary Flames during the NHL game against  Anaheim Ducks  at the Honda Center on November 23, 2009 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

When Brent Sutter abandoned New Jersey to go home to Calgary in late June of last year, it was immediately seen as unforgivable mutiny.  True to the word, he jumped one ship to go and join another. 

The Devils players and fans were puzzled.  "Why would you leave now ?" they asked.  It's not very often that a coach leaves a team he coached to a franchise record 51 wins the season before.  He didn't have too much of a gripe with the media, if any at all. 

I mean it is New Jersey, it's not like the media was very smothering here to begin with (see: Montreal). There was no visible reason why Sutter wanted out.

Family, he claimed, was the reason he left New Jersey in the very beginning of this destruction of his reputation in the Garden State.  When he resigned, he never mentioned a word about coaching in Calgary, or anywhere else for that matter.  He gave the impression that he was leaving to go home, and he wasn't after another job in another city.

How convenient that Brent's brother Darryl is the GM of the Calgary Flames, and they had just recently fired Mike Keenan, who had coached them for two seasons.  What a bizarre coincidence!

Anyway, the story ends pretty much how you'd imagine it would.  Brent takes the Calgary job, Canada lights up over the Sutter legacy now in the driver's seat of the Calgary franchise.. while New Jersey sat alone and coachless. It was usually the Devils who dumped non-deserving coaches, not the other way around.

Of course, the Devils did get a new coach.  Not exactly new, as this is Jacques Lemaire's second stint with the Devils in his career. But new in that, well, Lemaire actually wanted to be here.  And win.

Sutter definitely won here in the regular season.  A total of 97 wins in two seasons is nothing to frown upon.  But he couldn't lead the team past the first round of the playoffs in either season.  That's what Sutter's legacy will always be in New Jersey: the failure to take it to the next level.  I for one will always wonder if he would've redeemed himself if he gave himself another season here.

It's seven months later now, and hearing the name Brent Sutter still stings a bit for a Devil player or fan, but not as much as it did on that day he signed on with Calgary.  The fact that New Jersey is currently sitting in second place in the East while the Flames are barely keeping afloat probably has a big part to do with that. 

So does the fact that Sutter might be holding on to his job for dear life in Calgary.  THN is speculating today that Brent Sutter might be what's wrong with the Flames.  It's hard to imagine Darryl firing his brother, especially in the middle of his first season with Calgary, but the thought sure puts a smile on a Devil's face, don't it?

Like the above article mentioned, it's amazing Sutter's Flames aren't winning a lot more games with the talent they have.  Iginla, Kiprusoff, Jokinen, Phaneuf, Bouwmeester, etc.  The team is absolutely stacked on paper, and should be more than a .500 team that is out of the playoffs as of right now.

They're talented enough to be winning even with a coach they can't seem to get on the same page with.  Why they aren't is one of the biggest mysteries in the NHL.

Looking at the standings, there are eight very tough teams ahead of them.  You can make a case for any one of them keeping Calgary out of mid-April hockey if anything close to their current trend continues (memo to the Flames: This isn't the East, you actually have to win on a somewhat consistent basis to make the playoffs).

Meanwhile, the Devils are in a bit of cruise control mode right now.  They're in no real danger (at this point, anyway) of missing the playoffs, and they are currently two points in front of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Atlantic Division lead with three games in hand. 

Needless to say, they're in a much more favorable position than the Flames are.  That's a real "Ha! In your face!" punchline the Devils have been able to conjure up in their play this season.  I don't personally think they're trying to show Sutter up by playing better in his absence, but it's certainly within the realm of possibility.

Losers of seven in a row, and just a few more away from the Calgary organization having to make a big decision, the swaying ship is finally beginning to sink, at least a little bit.  Hard not to wonder if Sutter regrets jumping from his old ship to this one.