Sutter Under fire – Flames a mess

Mike Brophy

When the NHL trade deadline arrives March 3, there will be no GM under greater pressure to make significant changes to his team than Calgary’s Darryl Sutter.

Frankly speaking, his team is a mess. It looks much more like a club that was built for pre-lockout hockey rather than being able to compete in what has now become a very highly-skilled Western Conference. Take a look at the teams competing for the conference title – Chicago, San Jose, and to a lesser degree Detroit and Vancouver – they are all built around skill.

Not so for the Flames.

With five straight losses, the Flames have spiraled out of the playoffs and now sit in ninth place in the Western Conference with a 26-19-6 record. They have scored the same number of goals they have allowed, 132, and the players that were supposed to be leading them to glory are all slumping.

Captain Jarome Iginla, the team’s only legitimate star forward, has no goals in his last 10 games and just one in 14. It’s an old story, but the team has not provided him with sufficient talent up front to exploit his scoring ability. And if Sutter doesn’t do something to change this, the Flames could miss the playoffs.

Sutter made the decision to bring in Olli Jokinen last season and even though his impact was minimal, he elected to allow Michael Cammalleri walk as an unrestricted free agent to keep the Finn who has been awful this season. While Cammalleri has played superbly for the Montreal Canadiens, scoring 23 goals (four game-winners) and 41 points in 51 games, Jokinen has just 10 goals and 32 points in 51 outings. He has been simply dreadful at home scoring just three goals and nine points (minus-5) in 26 games.

He’d probably never admit it, but you’d have to think Sutter would love to have a do-over on that decision. Iginla and Jokinen have absolutely no chemistry whatsoever. If the Flames think this duo will carry the team past the likes of the Blackhawks (Toews-Kane), Sharks (Thornton-Marleau-Heatley), Red Wings (Datsyuk-Zetterberg) or Vancouver (the Sedins), they are dreaming.

Or maybe they think the Big Three on defence will be able to shut down the opposition’s lethal scorers? Hmmm, how’s that been working out?

The Flames have put a lot of faith in their D, in particular Dion Phaneuf, Jay Bouwmeester and Robin Regehr, and they have not played particularly well at either end of the ice. Together the trio has combined for 11 goals, one fewer than NHL defenceman points leader Mike Green of the Washington Capitals, and 51 points. Green has 50.

Not only that, they all got snubbed by the Canadian men’s Olympic hockey team.

Phaneuf was supposed to prosper under new coach Brent Sutter, but that obviously hasn’t happened. After seasons of 20, 17 and 17 goals in his first three NHL seasons, Phaneuf slipped to 11 last season. He’s on pace to score 13 this season.