Two years after moving away from his family, his cattle ranch and his beloved Red Deer Rebels major junior squad for his first job as a National Hockey League head coach, Sutter is returning to the Alberta foothills. He was hired Tuesday by GM and brother Darryl as the head coach of the Calgary Flames.
The news had been anticipated ever since Sutter, 47, quit his post with the New Jersey Devils June 9, but the announcement was officially made during a Tuesday afternoon press conference at the Pengrowth Saddledome.
"Obviously, this is unique. Being an hour-and-a-half drive down the road from the farm . . . you might say it makes a lot more sense," said Sutter, who talked openly last season about his feelings of displacement and homesickness.
"The New Jersey Devils are a first-class organization, with a tremendous group of people and players. I thoroughly enjoyed the two years I was there. But by doing so, it affected other parts of my life. At some point, you've got to sit back and reflect and say: ‘What's most important?' "
The Flames announced Tuesday that Sutter will be assisted by Ryan McGill, Dave Lowry and Jamie McLennan to begin the 2009-10 season. It will be a whole new look behind the bench for the Flames, who fired former coach Mike Keenan May 22 and released former assistants Rich Preston, Rob Cookson and David Marcoux. Former associate coach Jim Playfair has since accepted a post as head coach of the Flames' AHL affiliate, the Abbotsford Heat.
Sutter, who led the Canadian junior national team to two straight world gold medals without incurring a single defeat, compiled a 97-56-11 mark at the helm of the Devils, who were ousted in the first round of playoffs in each of Sutter's two seasons.
Pundits have already begun wondering when the Saddledome will be renamed the "Sutterdome."
Brent becomes the third of the six hockey-playing Sutters to coach the Flames, behind Brian and Darryl. And he's the fourth Sutter collecting a paycheck from the club, alongside Darryl, director of player personnel Duane and pro scout Ron.
Ron's twin, Rich, is the only one of the six who's never been employed by the Flames.
"Can I just clear all of that up in a hurry?" asked Darryl. "All four of these guys sitting here (Brent Sutter, McGill, Lowry and McLennan)? I coached them all.
"They're all very strong guys in the lockerroom. Great team players. You could flip all their last names around, put the first names where you want.
"I'm the general manager and Brent's the head coach. This is the coaching staff. They were the very best people available. It didn't really matter what their last names were."
Added Brent: "It's such a non-issue with us. We've been involved in this business long enough to know how it works. I played for Darryl (with the Chicago Blackhawks in the early 1990s), when Darryl was the coach and I was the player. That was the relationship then, and it's no different now with him being the GM and me being the head coach."
Since Brent Sutter left the Devils with a year left on his contract, Darryl was required to get permission from New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello to speak to his brother.
Darryl said Tuesday that he received permission on June 12. Asked if the Flames ended up offering compensation to the Devils to free up Brent, Darryl responded: "No."
"There was some personal things that he understood," Brent said of Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello, adding that Lamoriello -- named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in the Builder category earlier in the day -- "has been very supportive."
Brent Sutter will continue to own his junior franchise, but said there was no doubt where his primary focus will be.
"My full-time commitment will be here," he said.
Brent Sutter is expected to focus on a more defensive style and to cut the workload of No. 1 goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, who struggled down the stretch. Darryl Sutter pointed out after firing Keenan that his team had gone from No. 1 in the league in defense in 2005-06 to 23rd in '08-09.
The Flames have an excellent nucleus in their Big Four of Kiprusoff, captain Jarome Iginla and defensemen Robyn Regehr and Dion Phaneuf.
"This is a difficult group to coach, obviously," Darryl Sutter said. "There are star players that need a special type of coach."
Brent Sutter's biggest project is likely to be Phaneuf after the former Norris Trophy nominee's dropped to a minus-11 last season. He coached Phaneuf four seasons with Red Deer and at the 2005 world junior championship.
"I'm the general manager and Brent's the head coach. This is the coaching staff. They were the very best people available. It didn't really matter what their last names were." -- Flames General Manager Darryl SutterMcGill, 40, spent the past two seasons coaching of the Flames' AHL squad, then based in Quad Cities, Ill. Lowry, a former Flames captain, led the Calgary Hitmen to the Western Hockey League final this past spring during his first tour of duty as a head coach.
McLennan, 37, who had two stints as a netminder with the Flames and retired after the 2006-07 season, was a goaltending consultant with the club last winter.
The staff unveiled Tuesday by the Flames is short on experience and, according to Darryl, and long on tangible goals.
"We were looking for . . . leadership, structure and detail. And I wanted all of our coaches to have those attributes," Darryl Sutter said.
"They're young guys. They're not guys with a lot of experience at the NHL level. But the thing I like about them the most is, it's very clear they know what they want to accomplish. It's not what they have accomplished; it's what they're going to accomplish.
"We have a group of players (led by Jarome Iginla, Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr) who need that clear picture from these guys. To me, it's a big day."
NHL.com's John Kreiser contributed to this story.