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Darryl Sutter's Calgary Flames - Nepotism And Echo Chambers

In my last game day article about Calgary, I re-introduced the concept of Marginal Cap Efficiency in order to better measure Darryl Sutter's management abilities during his time in Calgary. My conclusion:

Sutter is decidedly average, coming in at 15th in the league in MCE, fitting considering where the Flames have usually finished under Sutter's regime: over the last six years, the Flames have finished 12th, 7th, 13th, 14th, 10th, and 15th in the NHL in points, also decidedly average.

I followed up on that article with a look at MCE using rolling two-year averages and the metrics on Sutter didn't change:

Calling Darryl Sutter average is perfectly in line with his results. The Flames were one slot above average from 06-08, two slots above average 07-09 and three slots below average from 08-10.

Prior to this season, the Flames have have spent $240 million against the cap since the lockout, fifth-most in the league. Given that the Flames are one of the league's biggest spenders, expectations should be high in Calgary, but the Flames aren't measuring up. After the jump, I'll explore a possible reason behind Sutter's failings.



Edmonton vs. Calgary - 8:00 PM MDT (CBC)

SB Nation's Edmonton vs. Calgary Coverage

Read more about the Calgary Flames at Matchsticks and Gasoline

This Post Media article by Vicki Hall looked at the management team in Calgary and made it seem as though this was all a wonderful family affair, and as it was a fluff piece, I guess that was Hall's point. However, given what we know about the relative performance of the Flames, someone should question the management methodology and hiring practices in Calgary.

Since taking over as General Manager of the Flames, Darryl Sutter has installed nearly his entire family in the organization in one capacity or another. The family even has their own Wikipedia entry, though it might as well just be a link to the "Front Office" page on the Flames' website. The family holds down the following management positions within the organization:

Darryl - General Manager

Duane - Director of Player Personnel

Brian - Director of Pro Personnel

Brent - Head Coach

Ron - Scout

The only Sutter that's managed to escape the mediocrity in Calgary has been Rich, currently working as a scout for the Phoenix Coyotes.

Most large public corporations and nearly all government organizations have anti-nepotism policies in place, policies that prevent decision-makers from hiring relatives. Some organizations have policies in place that allow for the hiring of a single relative, but neither relative can have a say in hiring, firing, or reviewing the work of the other, so as to prevent a conflict of interest. Hockey teams aren't publicly-traded, nor are they government bureaucracies, and as such, teams aren't required to have any anti-nepotism policies in place. For example, the Predators recently hired Brian Poile, son of General Manager David Poile, to run Hockey Operations in Nashville. The Blackhawks employ Stan Bowman as a General Manager and Scotty as some sort of special consultant to excellence. Hiring a relative in roles like these makes sense in some capacity: having a trusted individual in a key role gives some level of comfort to a General Manager, and knowing that there is someone you can count on and rely on helps to alleviate the workload. There is also a chance that the trust in a relative makes him the best person for the job, even if he isn't the most qualified.

Darryl Sutter has taken this to the extreme. He's hired four family members, three of them in key positions with the team. Now, for the sake of trust, Sutter has exposed himself to the possibility that he's hired four lesser qualified individuals for an already-mediocre organization.

Even if Duane, Brian, Brent and Ron are the most-qualified individuals for the job, Darryl is running the risk of creating an echo chamber. Echo chamber management - surrounding yourself with yes men - leads to decisions made without challenge, tactics implemented without considering alternatives, and strategies adhered to without critical review.

Hiring an entire group of people based on trust, and not qualifications, isn't going to produce results. In fact, it's likely to produce mediocre results, like the Calgary Flames since the lockout.