CALGARY – The coach pretended he hadn’t heard about the tweet.
The player pretended he wasn’t privy to it until the next morning.
We can all pretend none of it matters.
But it does.
Frustration and denials abound at the Saddledome where the team’s unexpected on-ice struggles have given birth to suggestions the team is struggling because it isn’t having any fun.
The insinuation from agent Allan Walsh after the Flames latest loss Thursday is that Darryl Sutter’s negativity “sucks the joy right out of players.”
It was an entertaining riff off the age-old notion Sutter isn’t a barrel of laughs to play for.
As Scotty Bowman can attest, coaching isn’t a popularity contest.
Player unhappiness is largely an issue when the results aren’t there, and this year they most certainly are not, prompting a man who just happens to be Jonathan Huberdeau’s agent to start the smear campaign.
After feigning he wasn’t aware of the tweet or what Walsh’s connection to the team was, Sutter dismissed it as being irrelevant.
“That’s not really the players, is it?” Was Sutter’s predictable response.
“The social media, and what anybody says, doesn’t affect the locker room.
“When you’ve got a tight group, you keep it tight.”
Notorious for an intensity that makes it hard to celebrate wins, and gutting to live with the losses, Sutter was asked if it was important to him for the players to enjoy coming to the rink.
“I think it’s really important because the difference in age group of your team,” he said, going on to explain older players are more business-like and the youngsters are having a blast.
“They enjoy being on the ice and doing what they do.
“You’re going to lose a game once in a while.”
The latest loss, a humbling 5-2 home setback to the Red Wings, had players suggesting afterwards they lacked emotion.
Walsh’s late-night tweet changed the narrative to feast on team culture.
Does he believe Huberdeau, who has posted half the points he amassed at this point last year, is having fun?
“I think he’d certainly like to be putting more numbers up,” said Sutter.
“But even last night he told me on the bench he was playing good.
“That’s good – good for me, too.
“That’s what it’s about.”
No, it’s about winning – something this team has had trouble doing with any semblance of consistency, prompting obvious frustration.
Now, finger pointing.
“I had no idea,” said Huberdeau, when asked if he knew Walsh’s latest social media mic drop was coming.
“When I woke up this morning I had a lot of notifications on my phone. You guys all know Allan. You guys know him probably a lot more than I do.”
Any chance this stems from any of the conversations he’s had with his agent throughout his forgettable northern relocation?
“It doesn’t come from me,” said Huberdeau, the first to admit out how frustrated all the lads are.
“Yeah, it’s my agent, but it’s from him. It’s his account. He made that tweet. That doesn’t reflect on me or on the guys. We all love each other. We’re a close team. We’re going to grind this out and make the playoffs.”
If they do, this conversation gets parked.
If not, Sutter’s future will provide more summer debate than the fairness of Connor Bedard’s draft lottery.
“Darryl’s Darryl,” said Huberdeau when asked about his relationship with a coach who has clearly demanded much more structure to his game than he had last year when posting 115 points in Florida.
“Sometimes you won’t like what the coach does, and some nights you do like it.
“You’re never 100 percent happy with the coach, decisions, stuff like that.
“Darryl and I have a great connection, a great friendship.
“And he’s good. He wants to win just like us.”
Shocker, they’re not besties.
Adding a much-needed touch of levity to a situation boiling over, he chuckled when asked if he would have preferred Walsh had gone to bed early.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t be here right now talking to you guys,” he smiled.
“I would be on my way home.”
Where would the fun be in that?
Reality is, this is a perfect distraction for this team.
Huberdeau’s teammates rallied around him, pointing out how many times Walsh has dropped similar bombs.
Sure there’s some truth in what he wrote, but the beauty for them is that they can easily deny it’s credible, while also avoiding having to talk about their personal or team shortcomings of late.
“It would’ve been one thing if Huberdeau tweeted something, but he hasn’t,” said Jacob Markstrom, whose first media interview in weeks would otherwise have been filled with questions about his well-documented struggles.
“I’ve seen different tweets from this guy, not only what he did last night.
“I’ve seen other tweets coming from that account.
“The guys don’t really care.
“Hubey’s a great guy and I don’t think he stands behind it either. It’s very irrelevant. I like Hubey and Hubey likes me and all the other guys like each other.”
That’s why Walsh does these things – he can be the punching bag, while his client’s plight is illuminated.
When contacted Friday, Walsh respectfully declined comment.
“I think it’s a bit irrelevant,” said Huberdeau’s pal, MacKenzie Weegar.
“It’s not coming from a player. It’s coming from an agent. There’s lots of positivity in this room. We’re going through ups and downs this whole season and it’s easy to get frustrated and maybe down, but it’s a tight group in here.
“We love coming to the rink every day and we’re going to grind through this and we’re going to keep having fun while we’re doing it.
“We’re not focused on any of that outside noise.”
They’ll be forced to, if the losing continues.