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Core players, coaches to stay

by Staff Writer / Calgary Flames

CALGARY -- Darryl Sutter stepped down as executive vice-president and general manager of the Calgary Flames on Tuesday, eight years to the day he joined the National Hockey League organization.

Assistant GM Jay Feaster was named acting general manager and will assume complete responsibility for day-to-day hockey operations.

"Darryl has performed valuable service to the Calgary Flames organization for eight years," president and chief executive officer Ken King said in a statement. "He was the leader that ignited a renaissance of Flames hockey, moving us from a non-playoff team to an organization that was viewed as a respected and popular contender each year.

"We are pleased Darryl has agreed to assist in an orderly transition and will provide his valuable guidance in the process. He remains dedicated to the success of the team he worked so hard to build."

King said Feaster will handle the GM's duties until season's end.

"We believe that while we continue to compete for a playoff position this season, this period will provide both the organization and Jay time to decide on critical future decisions," he said.

Entering Tuesday night's games, the Flames (16-18-3) were fourth in the Northwest Division, just five points up on last-place Edmonton and six points out of a playoff position.

Sutter, a 52-year-old from Viking, Alta., has been with the organization since 2002 when he was hired to coach the club. He took on the role of GM the following year.

He relinquished the job of coach in 2006, but remained GM.

The Flames are one of the oldest teams in the NHL with an average age of 29.9. They're also an expensive team at the salary cap limit.

While the dismissal of NHL coaches and general managers is not uncommon, the move resonates in Alberta where the Sutter name is revered in the hockey community. Six Sutter brothers played in the NHL and four of them -- Darryl, Brian, Duane and Brent -- have all coached in it as well.

Some figure Darryl Sutter's departure also throws the future of his siblings in the organization into question. Darryl hired Brent in the summer of 2009 to coach the team. Duane is the team's director of player personnel and Ron is director of player development.

However, Feaster was quick to throw his support behind the hockey operations department, the current coaching staff and the Flames top players.

"I do believe in this staff. They are certainly going to be in place," said Feaster.

"I believe in our marquee players. I think our marquee players are among the best in the National Hockey League."

Feaster is now charged with devising a plan for the team moving ahead and said he will use all the hockey resources within the organization -- from scouts through to the top of the hockey operations department -- to create a winning team.

"I want to make the playoffs this year but I don't want to make the playoffs and go out in the first round," said Feaster. "Once you have won a Stanley Cup, you learn that that is all that matters."

Feaster, remember, was the general manager with the Tampa Bay Lightning when they defeated the Flames in 2004 in the Stanley Cup Final.

When Sutter arrived in Calgary to coach the team in 2002, the franchise was emerging from a dark time. A seven-year absence from the playoffs sent season ticket sales into a tailspin in 1999 and 2000, which required a "Save the Flames" campaign by the team to survive.

In his first year in the dual roles of coach and GM in 2003-04, the Flames reached the Stanley Cup final and lost to Tampa Bay in seven games. During that run, then-Prime Minister Paul Martin called them "Canada's team."

The fan base was energized, but their expectations thereafter were much higher. After the lockout of 2004-05, Sutter coached the team to first place in the Northwest with 103 points, but the club lost in the first round to Anaheim.

Sutter then stepped down as coach to concentrate on managing the club. Three coaches followed over the next four years: Jim Playfair, Mike Keenan and his brother Brent.

After Darryl gave up his coaching duties, the Flames exited the playoffs in the first round three straight years before missing the playoffs last season in Brent's first campaign on the team's bench.

Sutter's record as Calgary's general manager is mixed. One of his top moves was acquiring goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff for a second-round draft pick in 2003 when the Finn was a backup in San Jose. Kiprusoff won the Vezina Trophy at the conclusion of the team's run to the Stanley Cup final. He's one of the premier goaltenders in the NHL.

Among the other moves which bred more modest success was getting forward Rene Bourque from Chicago for a draft pick two years ago. Bourque is a multi-purpose player who provides secondary scoring.

Centre Daymond Langkow, defenceman Cory Sarich and forward David Moss, who are still with the club, and forward Mike Cammalleri, who spent one season in a Flames uniform in 2008-09, were fruitful acquisitions during his tenure.

Defenceman Jay Bouweester's performance has been mixed, but landing the blue-liner in the summer of 2009 before he entered unrestricted free agency was a coup for Sutter at the time, although an expensive one.

The drafting of defenceman Dion Phaneuf ninth overall in 2003 paid off in the short-term. A nominee for the Calder, and then the Norris in his first two seasons in the league, Phaneuf helped generate offence from the back end. His defensive play, however, did not progress, which was a contributing factor to his trade to Toronto on Jan. 31, 2010

Of Sutter's other seven first-round draft picks, only Swede Mikael Backlund has become a regular in the lineup. Calgary didn't have a first- or second-round draft pick this year because they were traded to Phoenix for Olli Jokinen and to Chicago for Bourque.

After a run of nine games without a victory last January, Sutter made multi-player trades Jan. 31 with Toronto and Feb. 1 with New York that have not had much impact for the Flames.

Sutter was never able to land a top-line centre to complement captain and right-winger Jarome Iginla. Sutter believed Jokinen was the answer on two separate occasions, but Jokinen hasn't been a regular on the top line until just recently this season.

After giving up a first-round pick to get Jokinen from Phoenix at the 2009 trade deadline, Sutter traded the Finn and Brandon Prust to New York on Feb. 1 last season to get Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins.

Sutter then re-signed Jokinen when free agency opened July 1 in a move that seemed bizarre, given the fact Jokinen didn't provide much scoring impact during his first stint as a Flame. However, it was more of a move to add an centre in case Daymond Langkow, who suffered a serious neck injury last season, was unable to play. So far Langkow has not been able to play.

Higgins signed with Florida in the off-season. The Flames put Kotalik on waivers during the summer, but there were no takers for him. Kotalik has played nine games this season and recroded his first goal Monday against Buffalo.

Sutter included forward Fredrik Sjostrom, and prospect defenceman Keith Aulie in the Phaneuf deal with Toronto on Jan. 31 to acquire forwards Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers and defenceman Ian White.

Kotalik, Stajan and Hagman produced 11 goals between them after their arrival in Calgary last season, although Sutter thought highly enough of the 27-year-old Stajan to re-sign him to a multi-year deal.

White was traded along with Brett Sutter to Carolina in November and Mayers, an enforcer, signed with San Jose in the off-season. Stajan has two goals and 16 assists in 32 games this season, while Hagman has 17 points (8-9) in 37 games.

Feaster joined the Flames last July as the club's assistant general manager. He captured a Stanley Cup title as the Tampa Bay Lightning's GM in 2004 and Calder Cup championship as president of the AHL's Hershey Bears in 1997.

Sutter was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 11th round (179th overall) in the 1978 NHL entry draft. In 406 career games, he had 279 points (161 goals, 118 assists) and added 43 points (24-19) in 51 career playoff games before retiring following the 1986-'87 season.



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