Hang in there, things will turn around.
"Back at the time, I was surprised," he admits, about the early struggles. "I thought we would get off to a much better start. But obviously there were a lot of growing pains."
As he reflected on the rocky 5-10-1 start in which Calgary owned the league's worst record in mid-November, Gulutzan points to a number of contributing factors:
1. Familiarizing Himself with his Personnel
Things began to turn around after the personnel was tweaked and lines and pairings were shuffled. Eventually, chemistry started to build.
2. No Practice Time for the Top Line
Gaudreau missed almost all of camp while awaiting a new contract. Monahan was out for most of main camp with a strained back. Versteeg was a free agent poached from the Oilers, who was signed on the eve of the season opener.
3. Implementing New Systems
"You put a new coach behind the bench and you think things are going to change, but it takes time," admits Gulutzan. "It took our team a little bit to settle in with the new systems and the complete 180 degree turn in style of play."
Even though as a staff, they were careful not to keep adding in additional twists after the season began, the volume of changes that had already been introduced did take some learning.
"You can call it consistency, you can call it whatever you want, it does take a while for that to become automatic to where you're not thinking," Gulutzan says. "If you're thinking, you're hesitating. You want to be unconscious in the zone rather than conscious and thinking about it.
"The best players will always tell you -- and these are high-level athletes -- if you tell them that was a great pass or a great play, they kinda don't know how they did it, they just did it. Because they're in the zone, they're on auto-pilot. Until you get there, you can never have any fluidity. So we never added anything, or changed the message from day 1 and I guess it took 21 games for them to go, OK, I feel comfortable with this."
Growing Pains Come With the Territory
But that doesn't make it any easier to accept, nor go through.
"There's a performance curve for every team. It's a bit like an 'S' with a dip in the beginning," explains Gulutzan. "We were in the pit and the pit of the performance curve is: Expectations? Not sure. Are we a real team? Not sure. Roles specification? Not sure. Chemistry? Not sure. And we stayed in that pit for a while."
It's at this point where Gulutzan emphasized the quality of people in his dressing room.
Worst record in the league on Nov. 15. Then from Jan. 26 onwards, the Flames finished the season 21-9-1, which was the second best winning percentage in the league. Only the President's Trophy-winning Washington Capitals were better over that final two-and-a-half months.
Sticking With it Was Key
It's at those moments where he credits the veterans and guys in the room with letters on their sweaters.
Looking ahead to 2017-18, Gulutzan is confident the start this season will be a lot closer to how the team finished a year ago, then to how it began.
"So basically I've picked up 17 teachers along the way. Now it's not a crash course, it's a refresher course and for the new guys we're integrating, I've got 17 other teachers out there with me."
In less than a month, we'll see how it all plays out.
Recent Flames Reading:
- Penticton 2017: Flames 2, Oilers 4 - My six post-game impressions from the Flames opening night loss to Edmonton includes a pretty good night for Mark Jankowski, an impressive outing from Juuso Valimaki. More on them and other observations. (September 8, 2017)
- A Draw to Remember: Jankowski on the Art of the Face-off and his Moment of Glory - One night in Brooklyn. Of the over 1,000 face-offs Mark Jankowski took last season, there was one in particular that stood out and will always be a lasting memory. (September 8, 2017)
- Penticton 2017: Beyond the Usual Suspects, Here are Five Other Prospects to Watch - Beyond the mainstream, a closer look at Flames prospect hopefuls Juuso Valimaki, Zach Fischer, Adam Ollas Mattsson, Matthew Phillips, Andrew Mangiapane. (September 7, 2017)
- Penticton 2017: Eight Storylines to Watch - There's lots to watch at the rookie tournament. Big things for me include first-game impressions of Spencer Foo and Josh Healey, will Mark Jankowski and Rasmus Andersson stand out? Who's the next Josh Jooris? (September 5, 2017)
- FF80F Podcast: Episode 19 - Talking Jagr, Gulutzan and Penticton Rookie Tournament - Hockey is getting close now and to get you amped up, Flames PostMedia beat writer Wes Gilbertson stopped by to provides insight on some of the topics of the day. (September 3, 2017)