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by Peter Zuurbier / Calgary Flames
The Calgary Flames are unquestionably, from top to bottom, Darryl Sutter’s team.

The buck stops with him; he is the man with the plan. Now in his sixth offseason at the helm of the Flames, Sutter has spent an intriguing summer making some of the boldest manoeuvres of any general manager in the league in to create a more balanced attack.

Despite tallying 98 points during the regular season, an improvement from the two previous years, the Flames sputtered down the stretch and lost a once firm hold on the Northwest division to the Vancouver Canucks. The result was a lower playoff seed, and subsequent first-round playoff loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Flustered with the teams’ performance, Sutter has made with both his words and actions this offseason, that for this team, the time is now.

Calgary Flames general manager Darryl Sutter and defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.
“The best way to look at it is we were a little disappointed in some of our players last year, and players that are still here to be honest,” said Sutter during a wide-ranging interview with The Fan 960 during the Flames recent development camp.

“We’ve sort of covered tracks in being a good club by bringing in older players. Now it’s time for our stars, and our captains, and our leaders, to take that position within our organization.”

Sutter made one of the biggest moves of the offseason when he traded Jordan Leopold and a 3rd round draft pick to the Florida Panthers for Jay Bouwmeester.

At the time Bouwmeester was only days away from free-agency, and was projected as one of the top players available. While the trade with Florida involved a dose of risk, in the end, Bouwmeester never became available, as he came to terms on a five-year contract with the Flames.

“We weren’t going after the big guy. We made the trade for Bouwmeester and that was prior. If he had gone to the market, it would have been a different situation for sure,” said Sutter, who typically doesn’t like to involve himself in the chaos surrounding July 1.

“The first two days (of free agency each summer) there are some guys that flat out get overpaid. We probably wouldn’t have had Jay on our team had it gotten to that. (On July 1) we wanted to fill in more of a role player level and that’s what we did.”

The role players Sutter brought in for last season made tremendous contributions on and off the ice, and as such, those following in the footsteps of players like Rene Bourque and Curtis Glencross will be facing the burden of high expectations from fans. While Sutter does not want to add any fuel to the fire, it’s clear he feels the new crop, including Nigel Dawes, will be welcome additions.

“(Dawes) is a bit of a different player. Those guys (Rene Bourque and Curtis Glencross) were
Nigel Dawes
more complete players; they were very reliable defensive players and guys with good size and good speed," said Sutter.

"Nigel hasn’t met his potential to be quite honest. He’s a goal scorer, but he hasn’t done that at a professional level yet. In junior he did it every year, he did it on the national stage, and he did it in the American Hockey League; he scored in bunches for the Rangers then he went to Phoenix and for whatever reason it didn’t happen for him there. So he’s a different kind of player than those kids,” said Sutter, who admits having carried a lingering fondness for Dawes for some time.

“We’ve always had interest in Nigel, when he was in New York, before he was traded to Phoenix; we’ve always had interest in him. He’s a young player that fits into the right salary area for us, who we think can improve,” said Sutter.

“With the kind of players we have up front we think he can fit in if he continues to develop, so I think we were probably fortunate to get him.”

Though the Vancouver Canucks managed to overtake the Flames for the Northwest Division crown in the final games of last season, Sutter did manage some measure of revenge when he signed Jason Jaffray, the former Canuck, away from our west coast rivals. Truth be told, having seen the body of Jaffray’s development, Sutter couldn’t resist adding a player of his calibre, regardless of whom he played for previously.

Jason Jaffray
“I have a history with Jason. He was an undrafted player, when I was in San Jose we brought him in. He’s an Olds, Alberta kid so there’s a long history there. We tried to sign him the year Vancouver did, at the time they offered him more money and he thought it was a better opportunity,” said Sutter.

“He’s a good pro; he’s a good, solid player, wants to play on the big team and knows he’ll be given the opportunity.”

Opportunities on the Flames roster became increasingly hard to come by as the summer days have passed, but one area that needed to be addressed was that of resident enforcer.

Sutter offered tough guy Brian McGrattan the opportunity, and in doing so offered McGrattan, who suffered a spate of personal and injury problems last year, an opportunity to rejuvenate his career.

“I would say I’ve coached probably 20 players with a lot bigger problems than (McGrattan’s). This is a player who addressed his problems right away and took care of it. Injuries are injuries and it’s not a major one so (McGrattan’s past problems) are a non-issue to me,” said Sutter.
Brian McGrattan

“Look in our division, it’s very simple. Look at Minnesota, there’s a couple of tough guys, Colorado’s got a couple of them, Vancouver, Edmonton’s got them and we’re the only team that didn’t. If we’re going to keep getting younger, and you talk about players such as Nigel and Dustin (Boyd) and players like that. The bottom line is, and you don’t need to cut around it very much, you need somebody riding shotgun, and this is clearly one of the heavyweights in the league.”

One element of Sutter’s mandate since his first day as general manager of the Flames has been to specifically target players who want to play in Calgary.

This summer was no exception, as the appeal of the city, the organization, and its fans, was an admitted draw to the likes of Bouwmeester and Dawes.

“We’ve had to trade players and lost players to free agency that at the end of the day didn’t want to play here. Hey, this is a great city, and players want to play on good teams at the end of the day and we’re fortunate to have both of those.”

While the Flames immediate future looks shimmering, their not-so-distant future looks exceptionally bright as well.

Check back in tomorrow for Part II of Darryl Sutter’s thoughts on the Flames’ summer, when he’ll discuss the Flames’ prospects and farm system.

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