Flames' choice of Glen Gulutzan as coach feels like Plan B
The Calgary Flames finally have their man.
After nearly a week of rumors, the team has called a press conference for Friday morning at which they'll name Glen Gulutzan as their next head coach.
The choice isn't likely to fire up the passions of the Flames fan base, and its not because it has lost the element of surprise. Gulutzan might have been the Plan A choice of Calgary GM Brad Treliving, but he feels like a Plan B. That's not to say he can't improve upon the results of his predecessor, Bob Hartley. It's just that it requires a leap of faith to believe that he can.
The 44-year-old spent the past three seasons as an assistant coach in Vancouver, where he was part of a Canucks team that stagnated while wavering between a retool and a rebuild. Before that, he spent two seasons as the head coach of the Dallas Stars, failing to connect with the team's veterans and struggling to get results out of a poorly constructed club.
Not exactly a scintillating body of work. So why is he the right man to drag the Flames up from the depths?
Gulutzan checks two key boxes. First, his ability to work with young players. While he couldn't earn the respect of veterans Jaromir Jagr, Ray Whitney and Derek Roy in Dallas, he seemed to have a deft touch with the kids. Reilly Smith, Cody Eakin and Antoine Roussel made their first real contributions under his watch. He played a role in the development of Ben Hutton and Chris Tanev in Vancouver. And there might be no greater testament to his coaching skill than Jordie Benn's four-year stint as a productive NHLer despite his vastly ordinary skill set. For a Calgary squad that needs to squeeze every last bit of talent out of a young roster, that makes him an intriguing option.
Second, Gulutzan brings some chops on the penalty kill—a key selling point to a team that finished dead last in 2015-16 with a miserable 75.6% kill rate. The Canucks' PK finished ninth, second and 17th respectively in his three seasons in Vancouver. Though those results varied, his was a more structured and aggressive plan and it should make an immediate impact with Calgary.
Structure is one of Gulutzan's key assets. That ability to provide a solid base is what made him so appealing to then-coach John Tortorella, who hired Gulutzan to work alongside him in Vancouver in 2013.
“Gully’s going to be a star,” Tortorella told the Globe and Mail. “You know, quite honestly, he was probably too young to take over a team right away, as he did with Dallas. But he’s going to be a star.”
He might, but he's no sure thing. One of the knocks against him in Dallas was his in-game decision making. He struggled to read and react as the game unfolded in front of him and that eventually cost him the room. Has he addressed that glaring issue sufficiently during his years as an assistant? And has he learned to build a bridge with veterans? His success in Calgary will rely heavily on the buy-in of players like Mark Giordano, Matt Stajan and Michael Frolik. Can he get them onside?
Gulutzan has a chance to succeed with the Flames, but he's far from a sure thing.