Tuesday, March 16, 2010

On Brent Sutter's coaching career & potential for success

In his post-game reaction after last night's kick-in-the-groin last-minute loss to the Red Wings, The Battle of Alberta's Matt Fenwick had this to say:
"As far as I can tell, Brent is Craig Hartsburg, though with the good fortune of having more talented pro teams. Every fan of just about every team gets frustrated with the "hang back and get railed when you have a lead" strategy (it's not rare), but the Flames' Prevent D this season is the worst and most flaccid I can remember seeing. Brent's strength is supposed to be Team D, and yet..."
Which, naturally, got me wondering. Is Brent Sutter really the new Craig Hartsburg? Unable to translate coaching success at the junior level to the big leagues? Hartsburg's successes in junior were limited, until this season, when he joined the Everett Silvertips of the WHL and coached them to a 97-point season and second place in their division, his NHL teams never advanced past the second round of the playoffs and he was relieved of his coaching duties twice, with the Ducks and Senators. Like Brent Sutter, he coached the Canadian National Junior Team to two straight championships before taking a job in the NHL.

Brent had great success with the Red Deer Rebels, missing the playoffs only once during his tenure and winning a Memorial Cup in 2001. In two seasons with New Jersey he coached the team to 90+ point seasons and a playoff birth, but the Devils were upset in the first round each time. As Matt noted, Brent had the luxury of taking over a winning team with a history of consistency, regardless of personnel changes. Even when Martin Brodeur was injured for over half the season, the Devils were never really in danger of missing the playoffs.

When Brent left the Devils, the organization and the players had nothing but good things to say about him, but about mid-way through the season, rumours of Jarome Iginla accusing his coach of relying too heavily on "junior tactics" surfaced, and others began to wonder if his coaching style only works in junior.

An analysis of Brent's coaching style done by In Lou We Trust at M&G in the summer sounds shockingly accurate in retrospect. While the consensus seems to be that the Devils struggled under Sutter's system in his first year with the team, specifically on special teams, they became more aggressive both offensively and defensively, driving possession, increasing scoring, and winning puck battles, in his second and final season with New Jersey. I for one would like to see a continuation of this trend, because it's sure as hell not happening consistently this season.

One of the most notable observations in this analysis struck me as particularly relevant to the Flames' defensive play this season:
"Incidentally it's when they bunkered or switched to ultra-defensive tactics did they look really shaky."
Despite the Flames' improved defensive numbers (3rd in goals against, 7th in team +/-), it's troubling to know that this is a continuing trend. This "prevent defence" or "defensive shell" occurs when the Flames have a lead or are tied, and almost always results in them panicking and allowing a goal or taking an unnecessary penalty. Other areas of their game have suffered; offence, powerplay, faceoff percentage--but it remains to be seen if it is at the expense of defence. I talked about how he achieved a balance between offence and defence with the Devils in the off season and how it would be a challenge to reproduce that with the Flames, which appears to be what we're seeing now.

Another interesting part of this analysis was the observation that Sutter juggled his lines a lot during his first season with the team because the forwards were having trouble adhering to his system, resulting in a general lack of chemistry.
"When Sutter first started in NJ in 07-08, he started off having the Devils try and play a puck-possession game, where dumping the puck would be the first move into the zone and the Devils forwards would fight down low, win the puck back, protect it, and proceed as necessary (e.g. cycling down low, moving the puck back to the point) until space is made for a shot. The Devils initially struggled with this tactic and Sutter constantly mixed up the lines to find a spark. All that did was guarantee that no chemistry was developed and so the offense was really just dumping and chasing more than anything else. Line matching was also something Sutter leaned on in that season.

In 2008-09, the Devils were more confident in playing that style - with all four lines being able to do this and do it consistently. As a result, Sutter kept the lines as they were which developed chemistry among linemates, they found more holes going forward so they didn't always dump it, the defenders were able to pinch in more, and while they didn't throw a ton of hits, they pounded opposition defenses over and over all game long instead of fading in the third period like they did in 07-08. I guess you can say their "fighting spirit" lasted all 60 minutes for the most part. Overall their goal totals flourished while still maintaining a solid defense. Even the power play improved. So for the most part, Sutter's coaching was very beneficial after a rough first year."
Sutter has been guilty of switching up his line combinations a lot this season, perhaps not to the degree of the infamous Mike Keenan Line Blender, but pretty close. While he has kept together lines that click, he has also insisted on breaking up lines that show potential and keeping together line combinations that are frustratingly ineffective. I think he is starting to learn that line-matching, especially power-vs-power, doesn't always work as desired, hence the deployment of Langkow et al against top quality opposition rather than the Iginla unit, giving the latter more favourable circumstances, in theory.

The commentary on Brent's playoff failures with the Devils is clearly the most worrying of all:
"In 2008, the Devils were floating/seemed tentative for 4 out of 5 games against the Rangers - guess the results of those 4 games. The Rangers are Our Hated Rival, and Sutter can't even get these guys to play with a little fire? In 2009, Sutter bizarrely went from doing what worked in the regular season in Game 1 to strict line-matching by Game 7. I almost want to say that in 2010, Sutter may get the playoffs right, but his ability to make appropriate adjustments in the postseason, in retrospect, is quite suspect."
The Flames might not have to worry about the possibility of Sutter's coaching mishaps contributing to an early exit from the playoffs this season, but it's certainly a concern going forward, as these instances have already occurred in the regular season. I can think of numerous occasions where the Flames have looked uninspired playing against a divisional rival or in an important game, most recently last night against the Red Wings. I'm not saying that the onus is all on him, but as I mentioned in my previous post, the coaching staff plays a big part in motivating their team and making sure they're all on the same page. It seems that when Sutter is finally able to light a fire under his players, it's too late. There's a balance between not being involved enough and letting the players run the show and being over-involved, and maybe Sutter has yet to find that balance in the NHL.

If Sutter's second year with New Jersey is any indication, he definitely has the potential for success. A coach's success almost always depends partially on unknown variables--the right players, the right circumstances--which is why it is such a tough business. I'm not ready to write Brent of just yet, let alone declare his hiring a mistake. I think that Flames fans have reason to be optimistic where the coaching staff is concerned, as Dave Lowry is another coach making the jump from junior to the big leagues, and could be next in line for the job should Sutter receive his walking papers, which I think is extremely unlikely; I can think of another Sutter brother who could be shown the door before Brent, and perhaps deservedly so.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Game day--No time to grieve

The Flames were embarrassed by the Canucks in the first period last night and found themselves down 3-0 after being outshot 20-6. Not the first time that's happened this season, but hopefully it'll be the last. They came into the game knowing that it was another important two points that could vault them back into a playoff spot, and vastly underperformed in the first twenty minutes, allowing the first Vancouver goal just a minute and a half in and making multiple trips to the penalty box as a result of trying to slow the Canucks' attack.

Toskala was sent out to face the second wave of Vancouver's vicious siege on the Flames goal after Kiprusoff had already seen almost a whole game's worth of action in the first period, and the following fourty minutes would have likely been a perfect road game, if the visitors weren't already down by three goals. The Flames rattled of twenty-seven shots on goal in the final two periods and allowed only eight, including zero in the final frame, but could only solve Luongo once, on a screened point shot by Robyn Regehr, his second goal of the season. His only other tally came in the 9-1 loss to the Sharks a few months ago. Make of that what you will.

There is no time to grieve, as the boys will be back at it tonight at home against the Wings in another crucial battle for eighth place. One crappy period of hockey derailed what was an awfully fine-looking four game winning streak, and it's up to the team to get back on track.

Brent Sutter bemoaned his team's lack of preparation after last night's loss, and as much as it is the players' responsibility to make sure they are ready to play, it's also partially the coaching staff's responsibility. I'm not saying they need a reminder of just how important each and every remaining game is, but a little pep talk to ensure everyone is on the same page surely wouldn't hurt, especially for some of the younger players who may have never been in this situation before.

This loss is definitely a setback, but I saw too many good things in the final fourty minutes to declare it a total disaster. The Flames forechecked tenaciously, went hard to the net, blocked shots, killed penalties aggressively, and Toskala made some big saves when called upon--specifically a breakaway stop on Mason Raymond (aka The Guy With Two First Names.) If they can do all those things from the 20:00 mark of the fist period onwards, they could very well escape with two points. If not, well, I'd prefer not think about that at the moment.

Such is the wild unpredictability that is the Calgary Flames.

This just in: Chris Higgins will sit this one out with an apparent lower body injury and Nigel Dawes will likely draw into the lineup as his replacement, as per Pat Steinberg's twitter. That's a real shame. He's played consistently well since being acquired by the Flames and has been rewarded with two goals in his past three games and some quality scoring chances. Dawes has been scratched for a while, so maybe he has something to prove. We'll see tonight.

Game time is 7:30 on TSN.

Go Flames Go.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Game day musings: Are the Canucks a contender?

After somewhat of a slow start to the season, much has been made of the Vancouver Canucks' 8-5-1 record on their recent fourteen game road trip. Combine that with the fact that they have one of the best goaltenders in the league, Henrik Sedin is second behind only Alex Ovechkin with ninety-one points on the season, and they currently sit second in the league in goal scoring, some are predicting a lengthy playoff run for the Vancouverites, perhaps even culminating in a championship. Inspired by Robert's game thread post at M&G, I've decided to take a magnifying glass to tonight's opposition.

Lack of scoring depth has been this team's downfall in the past, and shutting down the Sedin line was once a guaranteed route to victory. With Alex Burrows playing so well on a line with the twins and Mikael Samuelsson having a career season, the Canucks are already blessed with two thirty-goal scorers, with Henrik Sedin not too far off. They're not exactly defensive liabilities either. The Sedins are both +34 on the season while Burrows checks in at +31 and Samuelsson at +14. This is an especially bitter pill to swallow for Flames fans, since only Jarome Iginla has reached and exceeded the thirty-goal plateau and it's unlikely that any other Flames player will reach that total. On top of that, Samuelsson and Burrow's combined cap hit is $6.5 million. Ouch.

Speedster Mason Raymond has twenty-two goals on the season while shutdown king and agitator extraordinaire Ryan Kesler has nineteen goals and sixty-three points, all while facing some of the league's best game after game. Two very good forward lines can be awfully hard to shut down, but four is even harder. After Pavol Demitra and Steve Bernier, who have seen limited game action this season due to injury, things start to get a little murky. Aside from Wellwood and Hansen, the Canucks' bottom six is likely their biggest weakness and could potentially be exposed by an opposing team in the playoffs, despite Vigneault's strategic line matching.

When it comes to defence, Vancouver's blueline flies under the radar somewhat. The only two big names are Sami Salo and Christian Ehrhoff, and that may even be pushing it. Ehrhoff has 13-24-37 and is a +28; Salo: 8-16-24 and a +19. Both of which are better than Jay Bouwmeester's numbers. All three play against top quality competition for the most part, so the only real concession is the rotating nature of JBo's defence partners throughout the season and maybe the switch the Western conference, different opposition and style of play, and higher expectations.

Here's how a look at some of the Canucks' basic stats shakes down:
  • 2nd in the league in scoring
  • 2nd in team +/-
  • 8th in goals against
  • 5th ranked powerplay
  • 19th ranked penalty kill (fourth most penalized team in the league)
  • Avg. 30.6 shots for per game
  • 51.3 faceoff winning %
Do these factors make Vancouver a Cup favourite? Probably not, but they do make them an able contender and a team I certainly wouldn't want the Flames to face, should they make the playoffs. This year's team remains relatively unchanged from the one that lost to the Blackhawks in six games last spring. It remains to be seen whether the changes that were made will be enough to vault the Canucks past a team like Chicago once again. It is widely believed that Roberto Luongo's performance at the Olympics, in particular the gold medal game, has quieted the critics who say he is incapable of winning the "big game," which also remains to be seen. Dependable goaltending, timely scoring, and a good powerplay, all mixed in with a pinch of luck, can work wonders in the playoffs. Worse teams have won the Stanley Cup.

I just hope for the sake of my ears and those of my fellow Flames fans that they bail out in the second round.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Because it's a slow news day...

As promised, here are some of the pictures I took at Thursday night's game against the Senators. Enjoy!

Harvey celebrates the win

Flames celebrate and congratulate Kipper

Public Enemy #1 Jarkko Ruutu en route to the penalty box

Ian White takes down a Sens player in front of the Flames net

Gio in the box


Glennie and Kipper having a moment

Senators goal under review

TV time-out


It's somewhat of a slow news day in the blogosphere today. The boys were back on the ice this morning after a recovery day yesterday and took an early afternoon flight to Vancouver, where they will play the Canucks tomorrow evening (8PM, Sportsnet). The assistant coaching staff ran an hour-long practice while Brent Sutter attended to a personal matter, presumably relating to the status of his son Brandon who suffered a "lower-body injury" in a game against the Penguins on Thursday.

Go Flames Go.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Flames/Sens post game: My view from the (non) cheap seats

As some of you may already know, I attended the Flames game vs. the Senators last night and have arrived here with intentions of a full post-game report, including the many pictures I took.

The friends we were going with arrived slightly late, so I was pleased to find that the game was delayed. The Hockey Gods seemed to be on my side already. I felt like a tool strolling into the 'Dome without donning either of my historically unlucky Flames jerseys, but I was confident that my red Canada hoodie would ensure victory.

We sat in some wicked club seats right behind the penalty box where I adopted a new philosophy--positive reinforcement. I'm the person that other people can't stand to watch the game on TV with because I'm constantly fidgeting nervously and spewing negative thoughts, so this time I thought I'd try something different. Lots of "Go Flames Go!" and "Way to go (insert player name here!)" and "Nice PK!", "Great block!", etc.

The only two negative comments I made were directed at Kotalik when he whiffed on a play in the offensive zone and Staios when he bobbled the puck just inside the Flames blueline, so I think I did pretty well. I'm pretty sure the couple beside me didn't cheer or speak a word to each other over the entire duration of the game. Then again, they may have been Sens fans; they left shortly after Daniel Alfredsson took a penalty and I shouted "Where's your medal Alfredsson?" across the row. That, or they were annoyed by my incessant commentary.

Anyways, the general consensus seems to be that the game was a little choppy, the Flames didn't play as well as they could have, got some lucky bounces, and found a way to win an important hockey game, which I don't disagree with. I do, however, disagree with the contention that the game was boring and that the Flames' defensive play was just "OK." I'm a sucker for shot-blocking, solid goaltending, a good PK, and an all-over structured game, so needless to say I was entertained throughout.

This game also had a little nastiness right from the opening faceoff; Chris Neil tried to catch Mark Giordano unaware with an open ice hit/elbow which Gio wisely dodged, and the two were at each other for the remainder of the game; there was a scrum after almost every whistle. Although the Flames made frequent trips to the penalty box, a few of the calls were slightly iffy and they did a great job of remaining patient and not getting frustrated by their lack of offense and the inconsistent flow of the game.

I think Ottawa's shot total was largely reflective of how many powerplay opportunities they received, as there were relatively few times where the Flames had a defensive breakdown and got bottled up in their own zone, most of which occurred in the third period. I thought I was alone in thinking that Sarich had a great game, but that seems to be a widely agreed upon fact as well.

I think the Flames' shot blocking was far more impressive in person, I don't think I've seen this team so dedicated to sacrificing their bodies for the win all season and I dare say that it's partially a result of the addition of guys like White and Staios on the blueline. Jay Bouwmeester was credited with four of the team's thirty blocked shots while Sarich had five and Gio led the team with six. Staios was credited with three shots on goal and narrowly missed on a few opportunities with traffic in front of the Senator's net.

I also got a glimpse at just how good Eric Nystrom is defensively. He was fantastic on the penalty kill all evening, blocked a shot which left him hobbling to the dressing room in pain, and assisted on the game winning goal by Jamal Mayers. I think letting him walk as a UFA would be a huge mistake and I hope Darryl finds a way to lock him up. As the Flames were fading slightly in the third period, they started to ramp up their physical play, leading to the 2-0 insurance goal; I was specifically impressed by Jay Bouwmeester, who probably threw his weight around last night more than I've seen him do all season, Ian White, and Chris Higgins, both of whom were solid at each end of the ice.

I didn't think the first line had a huge impact on this game, and Bourque was probably the best of the trio. He had four shots on goal and accumulated four penalty minutes. Iggy had a few chances, but Stajan was probably the least noticeable. There were a few different players on that line throughout the game as well, I think I saw Conroy out there for a shift or two and Higgins as well. The fourth and second lines were probably the best for the Flames, as they contributed to both goals and were consistent throughout sixty minutes of hockey.

Overall, the team seemed to have trouble establishing their forecheck and pressuring Brian Elliot and the Senators' defence, but two opportunistic goals were enough thanks to the play of Kiprusoff in what would be his 34th(!) career shutout. Kipper was magnificent throughout the game, and looked calm and steady when his team was a little shaky in the first and third periods despite getting a little help from his goal posts and a disallowed Ottawa goal, and didn't appear to have to make many overly difficult saves.

The Flames' defence did a pretty good job at keeping most of the Sens' shots to the outside and collapsing to the net. I just wish they would stop trying to cycle the puck along the boards in their own zone so often, as it usually ends up on the stick of an opposing player; as the game went on they started using the glass more to chip the puck out, which I liked.

This wasn't a bad game by any means and another important win in the push for the post season that leaves the Flames tied for seventh in the conference after an epic collapse by the Predators saw the Sharks score six third period goals to win the game 8-5. The whole team will need to be slightly sharper and more energetic when they face the Canucks on Sunday, which should be no problem against a divisional rival, but we've seen them come out flat in games against their supposed nemeses before.

I'll post some of the pictures I took at the game later, unfortunately the responsibilities of real life are calling at the moment.

Also, stay tuned for some potentially exciting news coming up in the next little while.

Go Flames Go.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Post-game Party: Playoffs!!!1

I consider myself a realistic fan. As such, I assumed that the Flames' night was probably over when the Wings scored a power play goal to take the lead in the second period.

However, something about their 4-2 comeback victory in Detroit has me unreasonably excited.

This was a big game, and an even bigger win. Maybe the biggest of the season thus far. After a relatively dull first period featuring some good chances at both ends, Daymond Langkow tallied his thirteenth goal of the season on a bad angle slapshot, giving the Flames the lead. After responding with some continued pressure in Wings zone and almost scoring to go ahead 2-0, Detroit stormed back with fifteen second period shots and two unanswered goals to take the lead.

As statistics will tell us, the Flames don't really do comebacks, especially those of the third period variety, so when they outshot the team they're competing for the final playoff spot with 15-4 in the final frame and scored twice to take the lead, it was a thing of beauty. Chris Higgins sealing the deal with his first as a Flame--a short-handed empty-netter--was particularly special. This was a playoff-like victory. In a historically unfriendly building where the hosts had won four of their last five, the Flames didn't quit and were on the right side of some lucky bounces for once. Their best players came through and Kiprusoff looked extremely solid in goal, as he made important save after important save in his second straight win at Joe Louis Arena this season.

After losing 4-0 to Minnesota in their first game back from the Olympic break, the Flames have won three straight games and have outscored their opposition 14-7. I believe the Flames' 'magic number' hovers somewhere around the 94-point mark, and with 75 points they need to win approximately ten more games out of the remaining sixteen to have a real shot at the post season.

I have my cynical-and-jaded-sports-fan moments, more than usual these days, but at the end of the day, I want this team to be successful, which means making the playoffs. Making the playoffs in better than not making the playoffs under any circumstances, even if another first-round exit at the hands of an up-and-coming Western Conference powerhouse awaits.

The heart wants what it wants.

Ottawa Thursday.

Go Flames Go.

Friday, March 5, 2010

My stance on Darryl Sutter...

During Darryl Sutter's tenure in Calgary, my opinion on his abilities as a general manager has wavered with great frequency. My exact words on Wednesday night, when my dad asked me why I was in such a foul mood: "Because some maniac is running my favourite team into the ground."

It's fairly apparent that Sutter's philosophy on how to build a winning hockey team has not changed much since 2004. After losing some key players during the lockout season, Sutter acquired Huselius and Langkow to fill out his top six and then depended on veteran role players like Nilson, McCarty, Amonte, Richie, and Donovan--all of whom's effectiveness was limited. On defence, he adopted the same blueprint--Regehr, a rookie Dion Phaneuf, Hamrlik, and Leopold made up the top four while Mark Giordano played seven games and Cale Hulse, Rhett Warrener, and Bryan Marchment shared bottom-pairing duties. The Flames won the division that year despite being somewhere near the bottom of the league in goals for. Jarome Iginla accumulated only sixty-seven points.

It appeared Sutter had finally satisfied a long-standing need when he acquired play-maker Alex Tanguay at the draft; he had a career year with eighty-one points, Iginla found himself back near the top of the league in scoring, and Langkow, Huselius, and Lombardi also had career years for the Flames. Scoring improved by a wide margin, but the team struggled on the defensive side of things and barely scraped into the playoffs, where their lack of mobility, speed, and skill relative to the Red Wings was exposed, yet Sutter was still relying on those aging vets and fringe-NHLers to fill out his roster, most of whom proved to be slow and ineffective in the new, more wide-open game after the lockout.

The 2007-08 season was much of the same. Despite a career season from Iginla, scoring continued to drop and goals against continued to rise. The lone bright spot on an old team largely made up of grinders and role players was the emergence of Boyd, Nystrom, and Moss, --all drafted and developed within the organization--as possible cheap replacements.

Then, a moment of sanity in the off season. In what were some of his more brilliant moves since he managed to defy the odds and lock up his "core" players to long-term contracts, Sutter purged the team of its dead weight--gone were Eriksson, Nilson, and Warrener and in came Cammalleri, Glencross, Bourque, and Giordano (Round Two.) It seemed like he was finally getting the hang of this whole post-lockout hockey thing, and the team was benefitting from it, up until the debacle that was the final month and half of the Flames' season.

After overpaying for Olli Jokinen at the deadline, a move that I instantly hated but will admit made sense at the time, untimely injuries and poor salary cap management didn't allow the Flames to dress a full roster--and they paid dearly for it, stumbling down the stretch and blowing what appeared to be an insurmountable thirteen-point division lead, ultimately resulting in another early playoff exit. I jumped on the Fire Sutter Bandwaggon at full speed for the first time that spring.

In the summer, Darryl redeemed himself somewhat. He gave the coaching staff their walking papers, rid the team of more bad contracts by letting Aucoin walk, dumping Primeau on Toronto in return for two solid prospects (Stralman would later be traded), and re-acquiring Prust from Phoenix in return for Vandermeer. After acquiring the rights to and then signing Bouwmeester, the little money that was left for forwards was put to relatively good use given the limited pool of free agents available. The loss of Cammalleri was bemoaned to nauseam around these parts, but it was generally thought that Bouwmeester's addition to the blueline as well as a full season from Olli Jokinen would make up for it.

Needless to say that wasn't the case, and three-quarters of the way through this season with his team unable to find the back of the net and plummeting down the standings, Sutter traded one of his biggest assets in an underperforming Dion Phaneuf to Toronto for what essentially appeared to be Niklas Hagman and a considerable amount of cap space. The move left many Flames fans feeling unsatisfied due to the lack of a draft pick and a real difference maker coming back in the deal, but the potential for immediate scoring help was there. Mere days after that, a rumoured trade sending Jokinen to the Rangers came to fruition, and the acquisition of Ales Kotalik and his three-million dollar contract signed through next season perplexed fans yet again.

After signing both Bourque and Stajan to reasonable but lengthy contract extensions in recent weeks and acquiring Steve Staios and his $2.7 million cap hit for next season, the money Sutter saved by unloading Phaneuf is once again tied up in a group of fairly average players. Rather than using the cap space to chase a player the Flames actually need in the off season, like, I don't know, a first line centre or winger, and giving himself some flexibility under the cap going forward, he has again dug himself a hole in salary cap hell. There seems to be a pattern here; for every step forward, Darryl Sutter takes two steps back.

As for the team's well-documented drafting capabilities, it's impossible to predict whether or not success in Junior or NCAA will transfer into success at the NHL level, but Mitch Wahl is having a fantastic season with the Spokane Chiefs, as are Greg Nemisz (Windsor Spitfires) and Ryan Howse (Chilliwhack Bruins). Mikael Backlund was recently recalled from Abbotsford after being named AHL Player Of The Week, recording six points and a +6 rating in three games. Most of the Flames' recent picks are looking a hell of a lot better in comparison to the players Sutter drafted in his first couple years with the team, but the team's scouts probably deserve most if not all of the credit for that.

In my opinion, we are looking at a man who potentially saved the Flames. That might sound a little dramatic, but who knows where this team would be if the 2004 cup run had never happened, after seven years of missing the playoffs? If he had never acquired Miikka Kiprusoff or re-signed Jarome Iginla? I really do respect Darryl's continued efforts to build a winning team; his dedication to making this franchise competitive year after year really is amazing, and he certainly cannot be criticized for lack of trying.

He has always had the right intentions, but some of his efforts have been misguided and old fashioned. At the end of the day, it's not his fault that the players he signs don't perform as expected, but this time it seems that he's made one too many mistakes and has played all his cards. The only real bargaining chips he has left are the big name players--Iginla, Kiprusoff, Regehr, Bouwmeester--and trading one or more of them would almost certainly mean the beginning of the dreaded "rebuild."

Since Ken King essentially admitted that Sutter has an "infinite" contract, It can be assumed that the only way we will see him go is if he resigns when he sees fit. Maybe missing the playoffs will help that process along. I just hope it happens sooner rather than later before I resent him forever for paralyzing the franchise with bad contracts and a murky future, which will likely be pretty damn soon.

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