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New Calgary Flames' head coach Brent Sutter smiles as he speaks to the media during a news conference announcing him as the team's head coach in Calgary, Tuesday, June 23, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh (Jeff McIntosh)
New Calgary Flames' head coach Brent Sutter smiles as he speaks to the media during a news conference announcing him as the team's head coach in Calgary, Tuesday, June 23, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh (Jeff McIntosh)

Flames sacrifice future for the present Add to ...

For going on 15 years now - or dating back to Brian's days as the team's coach - a succession of Sutters has been telling a succession of Calgary Flames teams that the solution to their various and sundry problems was to work harder.

Brent Sutter, the third Sutter brother to man the Flames' bench in that span, was riffing on that theme again Saturday on the heels of a dismal 5-0 loss to the Boston Bruins in which they frittered away their last best chance of landing a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Yesterday's 5-3 victory over the Washington Capitals notwithstanding, the Flames are now at a point where they either need to change the message or change the messenger - and given their recent freefall in the NHL standings, the postmortems can start already.

A top-to-bottom evaluation of the organization is in order, beginning with president Ken King, but focusing primarily on general manager Darryl Sutter, whose panic moves before the NHL trading deadline were designed to salvage a season teetering on the brink. Instead, they backfired in a meaningful and predictable way - which is almost always what happens when you sacrifice the future for the present.

The reinforcements added in that quickie organizational makeover made a negligible impact on their new team. Meanwhile, in Toronto, they're talking about Dion Phaneuf as captain material for next year's Leafs.

Calgary has no first-round pick this season - sacrificed in a deal with Phoenix last year to acquire the late, unlamented Olli Jokinen - and it just adds salt to the wound that Saturday's defeat secured a playoff spot for the surging surprising Coyotes, the visitors Wednesday at the Pengrowth Saddledome.

Phoenix has something meaningful to play for: home-ice advantage in the first round. The Flames will just be playing out the string.

Add Coyotes

Phoenix, incidentally, qualified for the playoffs for the first time in seven years and made it to the 100-point plateau for the first time in organization history. Two of the more unheralded contributors to their cause were centre Matthew Lombardi and defenceman Adrian Aucoin, two Flames castoffs. Among players who've been with the Coyotes all season, Lombardi is second behind Shane Doan in scoring while Aucoin gobbles up almost 23 minutes per night on the blueline, second most on the team … Miraculously, the Atlanta Thrashers have stayed in the playoff race, despite dealing franchise player Ilya Kovalchuk to the New Jersey Devils, by paying more strict attention to defence, a development highlighted by Johan Heberg's 34-save shutout Saturday over Carolina. It helps that the primary offensive player going Atlanta's way in the deal, Niclas Bergfors, actually has more goals for his new team (eight in 20 games) than Kovalchuk has for New Jersey (seven in 19).

By the numbers

12

Goals in 12 games by the Phoenix Coyotes' Lee Stempniak, proving once again that sometimes a square peg in one organization can fit seamlessly as a round hole in the next. Stempniak, who the Toronto Maple Leafs couldn't wait to ditch, has helped improve a Coyotes power play that was dead last in the league upon his arrival and made it respectable. Overall, Stempniak had 14 goals in 62 games for Toronto and was touch-and-go to get to 20. Now, with 26 in all, he is only one shy of the career high he set with St. Louis in 2006-07 and he may actually get to 30 for the first time in his career.

Quotable

"To me, it wasn't a shoulder. Mine was more of an elbow, so I think there was an attempt to injure there."

Bruins' centre Marc Savard speaks out for the first time since enduring what will likely be a season-ending concussion on a blindside hit from the Pittsburgh Penguins' Matt Cooke, an incident which precipitated an unusual midseason rule change. Savard also noted he had no wish to hear from Cooke at the moment, even if the latter were of a mind to apologize.

 

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