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Calgary Flames

Were Sutter’s good moves the right ones?



Flights of fancy aside, I think we can all agree that Sutter is done for the summer. Aside from some deck chair shuffling that may occur after training camp (Stralman makes the team and Kronwall doesn't, for example), we can probably say with a high degree of certainty who's going to be on the opening night roster. 

It’s been a good off-season in my estimation. Maybe one of the best of Sutter’s tenure. But the question remains – did the Flames properly address their weaknesses from last season?

#1.) Defense – sort of

Or, more precisely, "goals against". Calgary had the worst GA amongst play-off teams this past year, despite featuring the most expensive defensive unit (including goaltenders) in the league. This season will be much of the same, except with Vandermeer, Warrener and Aucoin out and Bouwmeester + Swedish depth guy in.

Adding one of the top shut-down defenders in the league certainly isn’t going to hurt things. A potential rebound season from Phaneuf, assuming he’s actually healthy, should help as well. Calgary will also enjoy the “addition by subtraction” effect that deleting the defesinvely lax Todd Bertuzzi will have.

All that said, things may just come down to whether Kipper finally halts the slide or continues his precipitous decline. The team didn’t add a proven “1B” type goaltender, even though the extremely soft goalie market this year would have made that theoretically possible (*cough* Biron *cough), so the bulk of the goaltending duties will once again fall to Kipper. Curtis McElhinney may emerge as a viable alternative, although his admiteddly lackluster results thus far make that a bad bet.

2.) Power play – no

Sutter lost two of his primary PP players from last year in Mike Cammalleri and Todd Bertuzzi. The latter put up middling results, so his loss shouldn’t be too worrisone, but the former led the team in PP production last season by a good measure and won’t be easily replaced. In Bouwmeester they add another capable blueliner for the man advantage, but really, if the club is to claw it’s way out of the bottom 3rd of the league, it’s going to have to rely on rebounds from Iginla, Jokinen and Phaneuf. In addition, contributions from Moss, Dawes and Boyd will become essential as they will be granted more ice time a man up.

A couple of the Flames strengths come under question with this roster as well – most notably, ES outshooting and scoring, which was the club’s primary saving grace during the regular season. The Flames had three capable scoring lines up front, made especially deadly by the Moss-Conroy-Glencross unit which frequently dominated the other 3rd lines they usually faced. With the Flames not adding any proven scorers up front, one or two of the three may be moving up the depth chart. The result will be more ice time (that’s good!) but, also, tougher competition (that’s bad). It remains to be scene if Moss and Glencross can drive the puck forward so effectively when they aren’t facing depth forwards and 3rd pairing defensemen. In addition, the team will also be relying on one or both of Nigel Dawes or Dustin Boyd to step up and be more than defensive liabilities that occassional score nice looking goals. Eric Nystrom and Freddy Sjostrom will also be of some importance, especially on the nights the 4th line is rendered impotent by the inclusion of Brian McGrattan who by all indications is on the same level as Eric Godard in terms of actual hockey skills.

Obviously, the one thing that has to happen for the Flames to climb above middling is: the money players have to play to the value of their respective contracts. In many cases, that didn't happen last season for a variety of reasons. And as much as the Flames will be relying on question marks like Boyd and Dawes, Nystrom and Moss, the fact of the matter is the organization has a ton of money tied up in a few difference makers. If guys like Phaneuf, Iginla, Kipper and Jokinen can't bounce back from relatively disappointing years, the other question marks may not matter.

by Kent Wilson