Devils chairman and managing partner Jeff Vanderbeek said today that Brent Sutter's quick defection to become head coach of the Calgary Flames today only two weeks after he stepped own from the same post in New Jersey -- despite having time left on his contract -- "leaves a bad taste in your mouth" especially after Sutter had talked about wanting to spend more time with his family in Red Deer, Alberta.
"It's suprising and upsetting," Vanderbeek told me. "The conversations that Lou (Lamoriello) was having and even to the extent that I had [with Sutter] really all revolved around his family, specifically his daughter (Brooke) who is going to be a senior. Never was there any inkling that this was about taking a head coaching job so soon thereafter."
Vanderbeek said he knew that Sutter's move to Calgary was coming in the last week or so he was aware that Lamoriello had granted the Flames permission to talk to Sutter and because "where's there's smoke there's fire."
"I'm talking about being surprised based on the conversations between the last game [on April 28] and when he made his decision [to leave the Devils], not anything in the last week," Vanderbeek said.
Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said that he is "going forward" and has no emotions over Sutter joiniing his older brother and Flames GM Darryl Sutter in Calgary.
"I don't think there's any feelings because what transpired when Brent left, we respected his reasons for doing so -- his family and being close to home and you never had any second thoughts of what the reasons were nor do I now," he told me. "When I received a call from Darryl, two things go through your mind -- you either make the decision to say, 'no', which you have the right to do when there is time remaining on a contract because a commitment is a commitment. Then, what you do is you handle it with it uniqueness and extenuating circumstances and then you make a decision and that decision was to allow Calgary to speak to him knowing that once you allow that, there is no compensation, which you cannot get anymore in these situations. So, you just move forward, you don't look back."
Lamoriello said it is not permitted under league bylaws to even ask for compensation before granting permission to talk to a coach who is still under contract. (There's still a possibility that Darryl Sutter and Lamoriello have some "off the books" agreement, but they can never admit to it and we'll probably never find out.)
So basically, Lamoriello either had to make Sutter wait until his contract with the Devils expired or give Darryl Sutter permission and let Brent Sutter go. (Although it is believed that Sutter had only one year left on his contract, Lamoriello would not confirm that and seemed to hint that there might have been more than that).
Vanderbeek is not a fan of the new rule about no compensation, but said he understands it.
"I understand the intent of it and it [the old rule] probably was abused over time," Vanderbeek said. "But certainly, just based on knowing the conversations we had, it leaves a bit of a bad taste in your mouth. That being said, I don't think it helps an organization ever to have somebody working for it that is not 110 percent committed."
Other things of note from my conversations with Lamoriello and Vanderbeek (as they pertain to the Sutter situation).
**Lamorielo said he had no pre-arranged agreement with Sutter that would have allowed him to get out of his contract early if he was unhappy being so far away from his family.
"Absolutely not," he said. "There was no commitment before."
**Lamoriello said, "I wasn't expecting it nor was I surprised," when Darryl Sutter called to ask for permission to speak to Brent only three days after Brent resigned his post with the Devils.
**Lamoriello would not discuss whether he was satisfied that there was no evidence that the Flames were guilty of tampering with Brent Sutter before he stepped down as head coach of the Devils or before Darryl Sutter was granted permission to speak to him.
"I don't allow myself to get into any of those discussions," Lamoriello said. "Once we made the decision to go and allow them to speak to him, you just don't look back."
When I asked Vanderbeek the same question, he replied, "I wouldn't be the right person to ask that. Lou would be and if he is content with that, certainly I would be."
This probably isn't the best spot for this, but Vanderbeek was pleased that Lamoriello was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame today. He will be inducted in a ceremony on Nov. 9 in Toronto.
"It couldn't happen to a better person," Vanderbeek said. "He had dedicated a huge part of his life to hockey on many. many levels, even more recently with USA Hockey and a lot of stuff the league is moving on with them and certainly the college side of the sport and the professional ranks in the NHL can stand by itself. A lot people forget what he did to get some of the first Russians over here (Slava Fetisov and Sergei Starikov in 1989). He took risks and, as I said, it couldn't happen to a more deserving person."