No one will ever accuse Darryl Sutter of failing to take a shot.
Truth is Sutter has actually gotten off more than his fair share as general manager of the Calgary Flames with his various trades and free agent signings over the last seven years. Problem is most look like they were taken in the dark now that Calgary has missed the playoffs for the first time in Sutter's tenure.
|Brent Sutter and brother Darryl haven't been able to produce results as coach-general manager tandem. (Getty Images)|
That says, after this, their most disillusioning season since then, the Flames have been heading in the wrong direction for too long and could use a major shakeup.
Sutter tried that in midstream this season, making a couple of blockbuster trades before the deadline that in essence were an attempt to remake the team he built and was floundering. He moved Dion Phaneuf to Toronto and Olli Jokinen to the New York Rangers looking to provide a much-needed boost for the Flames feeble attack, but in essence landed only second-tier players who weren't capable of doing the job.
And there wasn't much time to make it all work anyway, so Sutter's big gamble came up short. But it's not the first time. The Calgary GM has spent the last few years trying to craft tough, defensive minded lineups, but at the same time, he has allowed his team to grow old and slow in a hurry while speed and skill have become the trend in the NHL. More troubling are the long deals with no movement clauses he has given several players whose places might be best served by others.
The Flames put a lot of emphasis on their defense, and Sutter has spent a lot of cap space on it. But that and a great season from goalie Miikka Kiprusoff wasn't enough to overcome one of the league's worst offenses.
Not even with Jarome Iginla in the lineup. The Flames captain did not have his finest individual season, but he was hampered as he has been for the last several seasons by not having a legitimate No. 1 center. Sutter tried to find one, and ending up paying dearly with high draft picks and talent without ever getting a really worthwhile return.
So now the question becomes what does the Flames organization do moving forward. There has been much speculation in recent months about Darryl Sutter's future, that of his brother, Brent -- the Flames third coach since Darryl moved upstairs -- and even of team president Ken King. Lately, Iginla's name has been tossed into the mix by those who think it might be the optimum time for the Flames to move the 33-year-old franchise icon. That might have been akin to heresy in Calgary only a few months ago, but a major deal, say at the draft that includes a high first-round pick, wouldn't seem like it any more.
One thing for certain is there will be significant change in Calgary before next season. And with these teams as well:
The best thing the Florida Panthers have going for them right now is that new owners Cliff Viner and Stu Siegel are really enthusiastic hockey fans. They are both very successful local businessmen as well, which makes you wonder why they would buy this floundering franchise even at a steep discount. But neither are fools, and they both realized what they were getting when they made the deal in midseason.
The owners quickly sent out a letter to season ticket holders that was unusual as it was admirable, effectively conceding this season but asking for patience as they promised an overhaul. Problem is that fans have heard that before, since 2000 in fact when Florida last made the playoffs. Since then, the Panthers have had six coaches, six GMs and an always changing way of doing things.
Florida has gone with some younger lineups, others dominated by veterans with leadership skills and a few that have had little apparent logic at all. The common denominator is a team with players who always fall short of expectations and seem to get conditioned to do so.
Look for Nathan Horton to be among the first to be moved, but practically speaking, there are few if any untouchables. Even among the suits. GM Randy Sexton did a pretty good job after taking over the mess left by Jacques Martin last season, and he'll probably get another season to push things ahead. Especially since Florida is likely to be an active free agent player. That should mean coach Pete DeBoer will get one more year to prove why he was one of the most sought-after coaches coming out of junior two years ago.
Maybe last season's run to the playoffs was really the last gasp for this group of Ducks. The core took them to the 2007 Stanley Cup and helped upset the Sharks in Round 1 last year, but time caught up with them this season. Look for veterans Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne to hang up their skates and don't be surprised if the organization decides it needs a voice other than Randy Carlyle's behind the bench.
If the Flyers don't make the playoffs -- or even if they do and get bounced quickly -- chances are it will be goaltending that did them in. And the blame will fall squarely on general manager Paul Holmgren for not fixing the problem at the trade deadline. He tried hard but shotgun deals are dangerous and not always available. Holmgren did a great job overhauling the team a couple of years back, but these days he has limited flexibility because of the contracts he's given out and he still hasn't fixed Philadelphia's biggest perennial problem.
The good news is that new owner Jeffrey Vinik really does have the money to do things right. And the business sense, too. Both elements were lacking under the previous regime, which turned the Lightning into a league laughing stock. Vinik is an ultra successful hedge fund manager and once this season ends is expected to shake things up from top to bottom. That could mean the end for general manager Brian Lawton or coach Rick Tocchet, since the two of them have appeared to be at odds since midseason. Maybe they'll both go. Tampa Bay may even get consent from Vinnie Lecavalier to move him and his untenable eight-figure contract. The Lightning have turned into Steven Stamkos' team anyway, and it really needs help along the blue line.