During the middle part of the last decade, Darryl Sutter was responsible for a major turnaround with the Calgary Flames, serving as the team's general manager since 2003 and also coaching the team to within one win of the Stanley Cup in 2004.
On Tuesday, with the Flames mired in 14th place in the Western Conference after missing the playoffs last season, Sutter stepped down at the request of President and CEO Ken King, who named Jay Feaster as acting GM.
"I think one of the most important things that has happened to our organization was eight years ago when I sat in a Fairmont hotel in San Jose and asked Darryl Sutter if he would come to a team that was in a difficult situation, that hadn't made the playoffs in several years and needed a very special touch that I thought he was one of a very select few people who could bring," King said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon, adding that he and the organization were "eternally grateful" to Sutter for his years of service to the franchise.
Following stints coaching the Blackhawks and Sharks, Sutter was named coach of the Flames midway through the 2002-03 season, not long after he was fired in San Jose. The team went 19-18-1 with eight ties, finishing out of the playoffs, but they went to the Stanley Cup Final the next season and won the Northwest Division title coming out of the work stoppage.
Sutter resigned as coach following that season to concentrate on his roles as GM and executive vice president, with Jim Playfair, Mike Keenan and eventually Sutter's brother Brent holding down coaching duties. The Flames made five straight postseason appearances with Darryl Sutter either behind the bench or in the front office, but lost in the first round in each of the last four.
After finishing 10th last season and entering Tuesday's action with a 16-18-3 record, six points out of a playoff berth, the decision was made to elevate Feaster, who joined the organization back in July as assistant general manager and ironically enough was the GM in Tampa Bay when the Lightning won a seven-game Final by beating Sutter and the Flames.
When he first talked to Sutter over the summer, Feaster told him that while he aspired to be a general manager again someday, he was coming to Calgary with the goal of working alongside him to build the Flames into a champion, not to angle for Sutter's job -- a point he reiterated on Tuesday.
"I can tell you that the thing that I was so impressed with when we met was Darryl was very comfortable in being willing to bring me on board despite the fact I had managed before," Feaster said. "And I know for a fact that there are a lot of colleagues in the National Hockey League as general managers who would not have done that. And so I owe him everything for the fact that I'm back in the game."
Feaster will assume full and complete responsibilities for day-to-day hockey operations with the club, while King said Sutter has agreed to provide guidance and assist in the transition of power.
Flames captain Jarome Iginla, a mainstay of the franchise since well before Sutter first stepped behind the bench, complimented the job he did in building the team into a winner, pointing out the acquisition of goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff from San Jose prior to the 2003-04 season as one of the great moves Sutter made.
"It's definitely hard," Iginla said of the change. "We all know that if we're not getting results, something's going to change."
Olli Jokinen, acquired by Sutter at the trade deadline in 2009 and brought back for a second stint as a free agent last summer, was saddened by the news but knew it was a business decision and said the players ultimately controlled the fate of their coaches and GMs through their on-ice play.
"He brought me back here and has been very supportive -- he was very supportive early in the year when I wasn't scoring," said Jokinen, who has 8 goals and 19 points. "It's tough to see him go."
Feaster will try to steer the Flames back in the right direction and noted the challenge of evaluating where the team is at and what it must do the move forward.
"It is my intent to put together a comprehensive plan, both in terms of the short-term, medium-range and long-term plans, and then to present that to Ken and see whether that's something he appreciates and understands and buys my vision of where we can take this," he said. "We will get about that business right away. We certainly are understanding of the situation we're in as a hockey club right now and the road that lies ahead of us."
Brent Sutter resigned as coach of the Devils after the 2009 season citing family reasons, but was coaxed into accepting the Flames' job by his brother. King and Feaster both attempted to squash any notions that with Darryl Sutter stepping down, Brent's job might be in jeopardy.
"The coaches are committed -- you heard Ken say it, I'm committed to this coaching group, too," Feaster said. "I think that Brent has done a very good job, I think he's a very good coach, and one of the things, if you know my history before, I'm a big believer in working with the coach. And so from a hockey perspective, Brent is going to have a very large voice in my administration."