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Analysis: Two different seasons

by Mike Board / Calgary Flames

The point of the process is to make the post-season.

Now, for the second year in a row, the Calgary Flames have failed to make the National Hockey League playoffs.

The 41 wins the team posted are the most ever by a Flames team that did not make the playoffs. But that is no consolation to the players, coaches and hockey management group.

"This is unacceptable," said acting general manager Jay Feaster, who took over the general manager duties in late December when Darryl Sutter left the Flames. "As great as the run was the fact of the matter is we are a salary cap team and being on the outside looking in for two years is not acceptable."

The run, of course, is the Flames play since December 23, a point circled in the calendar by the Flames who vowed to win two of three games the rest of the way and get into the playoffs. The goal was 95 or more points. Following Saturday's Game 82 against the Canucks, the Flames finished with 94 points, three shy of the 97 points that got Chicago into the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference.

"We thought we would get to 96 points" said captain Jarome Iginla,"It's tough to take. We came a long way as a team. We have definitely improved.

"Teams are still very close. We're a good team, too. There are some young teams and some teams that are re-building. But there is not much that separates a bunch of teams. Unfortunately, for our first 35 games, we were a different team than we were the last three months. We dug ourselves too big a hole."

From December 23, the Flames played .659 hockey, compiling a 41-29-12 record.

"If we had have played that way from the start of the season we would have had 120 points," noted centre Olli Jokinen.

Well, maybe not that many, but certainly something between 100 and 105, numbers that would get you to the post-season dance.

"Me included, we didn't play well enough over 82 games," said goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff. "It's disappointing to not make the playoffs. The last few months we have played well. It wasn't enough. We didn't play well enough before that. But I think this team showed, in the last two or three months, that we are a top team. Inside the room we believe if we play the we should, we can beat any team."

For the opening stretch, from October 7 to Dec. 21, the Flames put up a paltry .428 winning percentage.

"It's been an instructive period for us," said Feaster of the second half surge. "The good part is what the club managed to do from December 23rd forward and the fact that we allowed the team to stay together through the trade deadline."

There are questions, certainly.

"There is going to be a lot of time put in to get this back to where it should be," said head coach Brent Sutter. "The first 35 games were unacceptable. Are we the team that played the way we did the last half of the season or are we the team that is going to back to playing the way we played the first 35 games? That is the unknown. I want this team to build off what we have done and move forward."

The Flames have 10 free agents, including unrestricted free agents Alex Tanguay (69 points); Curtis Glencross (career-high 24 goals) and Brendan Morrison (43 points before injuring his knee). Other free agents include goalie Henrik Karlsson and defencemen Anton Babchuk and Steve Staois.

"We have a lot of work to do this summer," said Feaster.

The Flames philosophy since making a run to the Stanley Cup in 2004 has been to be competitive, to be a playoff team. Despite putting on a brave face and discussing the improvements made throughout the season, the Flames did not achieve their goal. They missed the playoffs.

"There's a lot of work to do here," said head coach Brent Sutter. "Just because we had a run like we did...we' re still not in the playoffs. There's a lot of work that needs to be done in different ways and everyone will be committed to dig in and try and get it done."

Among one of the items to be discussed is the future of Feaster. Given the acting title and a mandate to review everything on the hockey operations side, owners must now decide whether or not to remove acting from his title and let him roll up his sleeves to prepare for free agency and the entry draft.

Feaster, new title or not, is continuing that review. And, having missed the playoffs, he may be even more diligent in that task.

"Every part of the organization is to be evaluated. If it touches hockey operations it is part of the evaluation. None of us are happy where we are," said Feaster.

The coach, for one, seems to work well with Feaster.

"Jay and I see things very similar. We see the game very similar. The way you want your team to play, the make-up of your team and so forth. And that's always a good thing, your coach and your general manager are on the same page."

The exit interviews with players will take place this week. The coaches will be reviewed, and, if indications are correct, there will be no changes in that area.

But there will be changes.

"There are things we are going to have to do," said Feaster, not getting specific.

Added Sutter: "There's a lot of sitting down and figuring out to do."



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