CALGARY — Calgary GM Darryl Sutter doesn’t plan major changes even though the Flames were ousted from the first round of the NHL playoffs for the fourth straight year.
Instead of holding a season-ending news conference, Sutter chose to meet the media one-on-one Monday to answer questions about the team’s exit in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks, and its immediate future.
“We have a nucleus of elite players that are looked on as elite players and they have to be that,” said Sutter from his office at the Pengrowth Saddledome.
“We’re not trading or moving elite players or anything like that. They’re good players and they’re the reason we’re a good team. We’ll find ways to make them better.”
Sutter said that he still has to have meetings with players and coaches to identify areas that the Flames have to improve to get better.
“Can you prioritize the importance of cutting goals against down?” Sutter asked. “Are you able to do that or can you prioritize the ability when you have so many elite players, why your power play’s not better?
“That’s what you work on.”
Coach Mike Keenan still has a year left on his contract and Sutter said it’s a reasonable expectation that his coach will be back for another season behind the bench.
“We have seven or eight coaches, which includes moving our farm team to Abbotsford,” said Sutter, who will evaluate the entire staff over the coming weeks. “Those guys are all together.
“It’s about a staff. It’s not about one person. It’ll all formulate into the mix with how we’re going to get better from within.”
While Sutter was disappointed that the Flames didn’t take the “next step” to advance further in the playoffs, he’s confident that the organization has a good group of veterans and prospects to remain competitive.
“You get better from personnel within the organization,” he said. “You have to put young players into the lineup.”
With injuries to defencemen Robyn Regehr, Dion Phaneuf, Cory Sarich and Adrian Aucoin and forwards Rene Bourque and Todd Bertuzzi, the Flames brought up several prospects from the Quad City Flames, especially at the end of the season.
“I think everybody that went in for our injured players all played really good,” Sutter said. “They gave us a chance to win every game.”
With injuries to Regehr, Sarich and Aucoin occurring late in the season, the Flames were even forced to play without a full roster near the end of the season.
“It was nothing to do with cap money,” Sutter said. “It was to do with long-term injuries. When we lost guys with less than 10 games left in the year, you couldn’t replace them.
“It’s really not a strong part of the CBA.”
When asked about the goaltending situation, Sutter agreed that Miikka Kiprusoff played too many games and that unrestricted free agent netminder Curtis McElhinney or another of the team’s goaltending prospects will have to step in and play more next season.
“We’re very fortunate to have the No. 1 goalie, but there is a point also where the reduction of minutes or games played and the development of another goalie is very important,” he said.
Among Calgary’s 10 unrestricted free agents, forwards Mike Cammalleri and Todd Bertuzzi are the two most high profile players that Sutter will have to decide on.
“You’re talking about two guys that have been here for a year,” Sutter said. “We don’t know how much that player likes it here or if his family likes it here. There’s a lot more that comes into it than just money.”
Sutter said that it’s not out of the question that the Flames can resign Cammalleri, who had a career season with a team-high 39 goals to go with 43 assists.
“He’s a good player, a good guy,” said the Calgary GM. “Him and I have a good relationship. We’ll work at it.”
But Sutter cautioned that the Flames won’t be in a position to enter a bidding war for players like Cammalleri and Bertuzzi.
“As unique as it is, our top players have been grown here and have developed here and are going to stay here and probably play their whole careers here,” he said. “That ties up a lot of money.”
Following a full day of meetings with the media, Sutter departed for the Okanagan to go watch highly touted prospect Mikael Backlund and his Kelowna Rockets host the Calgary Hitmen in Game 3 of the Western Hockey League final.
“They’ve got a good team and we get to see them lots,” said Sutter of being able to regularly keep tabs on Backlund, who was named the WHL’s player of the week on Monday.
“We know he’s making really good progress and he’s a good player”