I've been asked several times for my take on the Sutter situation, so I'll finish my day with some of my thoughts on Brent's move to Calgary.
I have to admit that I could not have been more wrong about this whole thing.
From the conversations I had with people around the Devils and the league after the season, I thought it was almost certain that he would be back next season. I know some players thought so too, while others have been saying recently that they knew he probably wouldn't be back.
After talking with Sutter a little more than two weeks after the Devils were eliminated, I could tell that there was a decent chance he wouldn't be back. Yet, the way he spoke about the rumors of him going to Edmonton (before that job was filled) and Calgary (before that job was vacant) led me to believe that he would coach the Devils next season or not coach in the league at all.
When Sutter stepped down two weeks ago and wouldn't say definitively that he didn't want the Flames' job and didn't rule out coaching next season, I thought there was a better chance he would end up in Calgary -- even though he said that he wanted to be closer to his family and the ranch and the Red Deer Rebels. So, here we are today and he is the Flames head coach.
I have no evidence that there was any tampering by Darryl Sutter here and I don't know how you could come up with any. You can't stop brothers from talking to each other and there's no way of ever knowing exactly what they talked about. (Just as we will never know what conversations Scott and Rob Niedermayer had in 2005 before Scott became a UFA). If they both say they never discussed the job before Darryl Sutter called the Devils to ask for permission on June 12, there's pretty much no way to prove otherwise unless they were dumb enough to put it in writing in an e-mail or one of the other Sutter brothers -- four of which now work for the Flames -- comes forward with some inside info.
That said, I don't think Darryl Sutter had to talk to Brent Sutter about the job. After firing Mike Keenan on May 22, Darryl Sutter said that he was probably the best person to coach the Flames, but there were some other coaches capable of doing the job that were under contract elsewhere.
Brent Sutter didn't need anyone to tell him directly that Darryl was talking about him. So, in the back of his head, he had to know he had a good shot at getting the Flames' job if he left the Devils.
He claimed the Flames' job opening had nothing to do with his decision to leave the Devils and maybe that is true, but it sure doesn't look that way two weeks later.
I do believe Brent Sutter missed his family and felt responsible for things in Red Deer. That he never hid. If he didn't get a long with Lou Lamoriello, he hid that pretty well. In many ways they have identical personalities.
Although none of the players seem to hold it against Sutter for leaving, I think there is reason for several of them to be upset. He talked a lot this past season about how his first season in New Jersey was a process for the Devils. They had to go through that transition year to get everyone to buy into the way Sutter wanted to play.
Some players got pushed harder than others and some became better players because of it. Some, such as Patrik Elias, received more pushing than they deserved at times. But, the majority, particularly the guys who were around for the first season, did buy into what Sutter was selling and trusted him thinking he would be around for the payoff.
Two years later, Sutter is in Calgary and the Devils are looking for another coach with another personality that will require adjusting to and, possibly, more system alterations.
Brent Sutter did not fulfill his promise with the Devils. He abandoned them after two seasons in which he could not get them out of the first round of the playoffs. He had his reasons for leaving, but he abandoned them nonetheless.
So, there is reason for the players to be uspet with him for leaving them. It's also understandable why owner Jeff Vanderbeek said he was left with a bad taste in his mouth by Sutter's quick move to Calgary.
As GM, Lou Lamoriello's job is to stay even keeled. Vanderbeek was a fan before he was an owner and, in some ways, he still thinks like a fan.
Lamoriello doesn't think that way because he can't afford to. So, it's not suprising to me that he didn't express anger today. He might need to talk trade with Darryl Sutter some day.
He's also in the process of conducting a coaching search in which he needs to talk to candidates who are under contract elsewhere and needs/needed permission to interview them. And who knows in the future (yes, Lamoriello will probably conduct another coaching search at some point) what candidates he will want to talk to and how their tenures in their previous places of employment ended.
Yes, Lamoriello could have made Sutter wait until his contract with the Devils expired. What would have the Devils have gained from that? I can't think of anything.
Perhaps, however, Lamoriello gained some future good will (and possibly something off the books) from the Sutter clan. He also doesn't look like a spiteful person and that might work to his advantage in the future as well.
Finally, congratulations to Lamoriello for finally being voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame today. It was an honor that was long overdue. He would have been worthy of being in the Hall as a builder even without all he has accomplished with the Devils, yet I've seen year after year of less-worthy candidates -- many of whom were, by coincidence, Canadian -- get in.
There have been reasons over his 40-plus years in hockey for many not to like Lamoriello, but his career stands as the definition of what it means to be a "builder" -- from being one of the founders of Hockey East to helping make U.S. colleges a bigger source of NHL players to aiding players from the former Soviet Union in their bid to come to North America and, last but not least, transforming the Devils from laughingstocks into three-time Stanley Cup winners.
I had concluded that this honor would have to wait until after Lamoriello retired (as Herb Brooks had to die before he made it into the Hall of Fame), though other executives who were still active (Glen Sather, Cliff Fletcher, etc.) had been voted in previously. I was pleasantly surprised to hear today that was I wrong.