Oh the woes of Flames fans these days. On the heels of the end of the most ridiculous of winless streaks Flames GM Darryl Sutter turn the universe of the Calgary Flames upside down, stuck some C4 on it and fired a rocket into the core jettisoning Dion Phaneuf, Olli Jokinen, Brandon Prust, Fredrik Sjostrom and Keith Aulie to the respective centres of the North American hockey universe. In return he received a mish mash of players that a lot of fans are still trying to comprehend.
This is where things have gotten so fuzzy for the best of us.
Throughout the management tenure of Darryl Sutter, he’s told us that he has a five year plan, and he’s largely seemed to stick with that plan, with obvious exceptions like the hiring of Mike Keenan as head coach. So what has to be the most bizzarre of the deals that Sutter has made in the past days is that it lacks that notion of a plan. The one thing that we can be certain of is that this move was not part of the plan. Something, and we don’t know the details of what, predicated this giant shift of focus. But these moves cannot be done without contemplation. So let’s take a moment to look at the moves and the key players involved.
The kid that Sutter hugged when he drafted him. How could he ever come to trade someone that he had to have viewed as being almost like family? The hardest thing to come to terms with this aspect of the Flames changes is that this kid, and remember he’s still a kid at 24, seemed like the guy who would never ever in his entire career leave the Calgary Flames, and yet he’s now wearing the blue and white of the Leafs. Given the history between the Sutter family and Dion Phaneuf, I don’t see any way in which Darryl Sutter made the decision to trade Phaneuf with reckless abandon and undue diligence. We can speculate on what the reasons are, but Sutter identified that Phaneuf was no longer going to be a working part of the Flames plan, and as such made a deal that he thought would benefit his team. The biggest issue this guy has with the return is that Dion Phaneuf is a marquee player in my mind, and I expected that any deal involving him would return a marquee player in return. When that didn’t happen, and the move turned into four serviceable parts for the Flames, then I was left wondering why. In my mind Phaneuf will eventually become the player that we’ve all thought he would become, but Sutter has to have thought that it was not going to happen in Calgary, and that his continued presence in the Flames organization was going to no good for either side. This decision was likely made over a longer period of evaluation than we can even think to imagine. There is no other way that Darryl Sutter could make it without that level of internal debate with himself and the Calgary Flames organization.
When the Flames made the move to acquire Olli Jokinen in March of 2009, it was safe to say that Sutter thought that he had found the number one centre that the Flames have coveted since the departure of Joe Nieuwendyk. Well, it’s also safe to say that he was wrong. Jokinen started off with a bang, but only ever found success on the road, and generally when playing Eastern conference teams, or teams in the Eastern part of the continent. He was an unmitigated disaster in reality. So the trade sending him and (unfortunately) Brandon Prust was expected. This time the return is equally confusing, but not for the same reasons as the Phaneuf trade. Jokinen leaving was acceptable, often encouraged by the fan base, and thus understood, but for players like Chris Higgins and Ales Kotalik? Higgins I can understand, and I figure that the Flames think they can turn him into an effective player and leader once again, but Kotalik is the real head scratcher. Kotalik has proven in the past that he’s capable of putting the puck in the net, and that’s something Calgary is struggling mightily with lately, but he’s never the guy that I would expect Sutter to go after, but maybe, just maybe, this is a case of Darryl Sutter realizing he’s made some mistakes and he’s got to break his mould in order to make things work. Perhaps the most frustrating thing for the Flames, Sutter, Jokinen and Prust is that the leak of the deal that Calgary had no choice but to hold off on (lest we dress too few players again) completing the trade until after Monday night’s game against the Flyers. Unfortunate set of circumstances, but largely outside the control of the Flames or Sutter.
At the start of the season, this team looked like it would be dominant. After a strange October and a November to remember (that’s for Peter Loubardias) the Flames fell flat and as January came to a close, the team was playing like they belonged in the basement of the league. So change is necessary. But the pundits will argue for years to come if these changes, this soon together, and with this magnitude were the right ones. You can look at these moves as a desperate attempt by a GM who’s leash is about to be dropped, but I highly doubt that to be the case. Darryl Sutter has resurrected this franchise from the ashes and he will be given the time and presence of mind to make mistakes from time to time, and try to continue to generate success both on the ice and in the pockets of the Flames owners.
These are just my thoughts on trying to comprehend this nightmare.