Calgary Flames: It Could Get Worse

MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 27: Darryl Sutter of the Calgary Flames speaks with the media  during the 2009 NHL Entry Draft at the Bell Centre on June 27, 2009 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Dire times in Calgary. With off-season promises of “rebounding” rapidly dissolving in the cruel solvent of reality, Flames fans and management are facing an uncertain future. Calgary is pressed flush up against the cap ceiling; in fact, only the New Jersey Devils are spending more in terms of real dollars this season. The Flames also have the most money in the league committed next season at a hair over $56 million and an NHL high 11 no-trade-clauses to contend with besides. It’s an aging, mediocre group and they are all but carved in stone.

The horizon is a gray one in Calgary. And yet, the decision makers could indeed make things worse in two separate, but distinctly possible ways:

1.) Panic.

This either means Darryl Sutter pulls another round of baffling nonsense trades in order to “shake the roster up” or “add leadership” or do…whatever it is he felt he was doing last February when the team was struggling to remain in the playoff picture. Going forward, the single most important operational imperative for this organization will be proper asset management. Gathering futures and gaining the greatest possible return for current players deemed expendable are paramount objectives for a team so lacking in draft picks and young talent. Panic deals to tweak the roster or patch perceived holes should be anathema to this club.

Nor should the check writers start indiscriminately lopping off heads part way through the season in a sort of vindictive rage. If the decision to replace Darryl Sutter is made, the search for his replacement should be approached calmly and rationally. The Flames course this season is all but set. Sacrificing the club’s woeful architect without a reasoned plan in place likely won’t change things for the better in the short term could well do more harm than good in the long-term.

2.) Follow the “rewarding failure” succession plan.

Another misstep would be to mimic the New York Islanders (Mike iIlbury), Atlanta Thrashers (Don Waddell) and Edmonton Oilers (Kevin Lowe) by promoting Sutter up the front-office food chain and then installing a sock puppet in the GM chair in his place. Rewarding failure is never a sensible strategy in business (or in general for that matter). The Flames fall from grace isn’t sudden and inexplicable. There are obviously some systemic areas of concern, as evidenced by the telling opening paragraph of this article. The Flames aren’t middling through some twist of fate: they mortgaged their future to be where they are currently and have no meaningful prospects of improvement under the current regime. That this roster is so expensive is the final indictment of Sutter’s management abilities.

If Darryl is determined to be inadequate, then the owners should napalm the Flames front offices if they want real change going forward. Sutter’s tendrils extend throughout the organization thanks to his nepotistic leanings. Excise the Sutter clan altogether if that’s to be the way of things. The limp half-measure of “firing-but-promoting” failed executives employed by other loser organizations in this league aren’t blueprints for success.

As mentioned, this plan of action shouldn’t be instituted rashly and without due consideration for who is to step into the big chair. The shake-up for the franchise would be a seismic one and something that should be done with care and due attention. That said, if done, it should be done with a steady, unflinching hand and with the sentiments of a surgeon removing a cancer.