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Sutter leaves behind a mess in Calgary

By Dan Di Sciullo
NHL Editor


Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - In a decision that hardly came as a surprise, Darryl Sutter revealed to the hockey world on Tuesday that he was stepping down as general manager of the Calgary Flames.

Of course, Sutter was allowed to resign, but with the way things have been going for the Flames recently it's safe to assume that he was forced out of his role with the club.

Sutter's tenure in Calgary will mostly be remembered for what he was able to achieve as head coach and GM of the Flames in the spring of 2004. The Flames entered that year's postseason as the sixth seed in the West, but made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals before losing to Tampa Bay in seven games.

The problem for Sutter and the Flames is that there hasn't been much to cheer about in the six-plus years since that surprising run to the '04 Finals.

Calgary lost in the first round of the playoffs in each of the four seasons following its Cup run, and last year the Flames missed out on the postseason for the first time since 2002-03 -- Sutter's first season in Calgary.

The fatal flaw of Darryl Sutter's tenure in Calgary has turned out to be believing too much in the success of '04.
Things have taken a turn for the worse in 2010-11 as the Flames have managed just 35 points through their first 37 games of the year and are second from the bottom in the Western Conference standings.

Judging by the club's performance over the last season and a half, it's clear that the Flames need a change in direction. However, those hoping for a quick fix in Calgary are going to be disappointed.

The fatal flaw of Sutter's tenure in Calgary has turned out to be believing too much in the success of '04. Sure, the Flames were just one game away from winning the Cup, but even a few years after that impressive run Sutter also seemed to think his club was just one big piece away from winning a title.

Because of Sutter's strategy of trading away draft picks and younger players, Flames interim GM Jay Feaster, who could possibly take over the job on a full- time basis at some point, will need to re-focus Calgary's dedication to building through the draft.

Calgary's interim GM is most famous for leading the Lightning to their one and only Stanley Cup title, the same one that came at the expense of the Flames in 2004. Feaster helped build the Tampa organization first as an assistant GM and took over the big job in February of 2002.

However, Feaster was also correctly assigned much of the blame when things went sour in Tampa in the years following the Cup victory. Feaster invested too much of the Lightning's money in just a handful of players and that spelled doom in the salary cap era.

Still, in Calgary, the situation should be more straight-forward. The Flames' brass expects Feaster to take stock of the club's hockey assets and lay out a possible plan for the franchise's return to glory.

One thing is certain, Feaster has a tremendous bargaining chip to use in star winger Jarome Iginla should the Flames decided to trade the face of their franchise in order to land younger talent and/or draft picks.

Trade rumors involving Iginla have been commonplace over the years and while his trade value is likely not as high as it was a few years ago, the Flames may still be able to get something significant in return for the 33-year-old sniper.

Iginla, who has scored 30 goals or more in nine straight seasons, is having another solid year for Calgary, recording 15 goals and 34 points in 37 games.

The only problem in dealing Iginla is that the Flames would need to find a team that could fit Iginla under the salary cap. He is currently in the third year of a contract that pays him $7 million annually.

Another decision Feaster could make is one regarding the future of Sutter's younger brother, Brent Sutter, who is still currently the team's head coach.

My guess is that with Darryl falling on the proverbial sword, his sibling's job should be safe for the rest of the year. However, it would be extremely surprising if Brent still had the job at the start of next season, regardless of whether Feaster is calling the shots by then or not.

For now, Feaster's job is to try and make sense of a situation that clearly wasn't getting positive results. The Flames have spent money on veterans the way contending teams do, but it's hard to keep going down that road when the level of success is not meeting expectations.

By thinking that the Flames were always close to recapturing the magic of '04, Sutter was essentially doubling down on a bad bet. Calgary could now be dealing with the consequences of that plan for years to come.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Dan Di Sciullo at ddisciullo@sportsnetwork.com.

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