SUN Hockey Pool

Bench clearer

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:07 AM ET

The time is now for Darryl Sutter to step down as head coach of the Calgary Flames.

And he knows it.

The man who dragged the franchise out of the muck three years ago has squeezed every little bit out of a team that somehow managed to get by on Sutter grit and hard work.

The fact the ol' Sutter magic ran out in Game 7 Wednesday is merely one of the reasons he needs to step back and continue building the team from afar.

Out-coached by rookie Randy Carlyle in the series and unable to motivate his team for the decisive game as he has in the past, Sutter needs to dust himself off after a big-game boot-lickin' and realize his talents are better used as GM.

Since taking on the dual-role he's often lamented his coaching duties prevent him from seeing the young players in his and other clubs' systems.

And with the salary cap putting an even greater emphasis on getting the most for your money, the teams with the best GMs will rule the roost.

Built almost entirely on the back of Miikka Kiprusoff and the defencemen in front of him, the Flames need someone working full time to upgrade the talent on a club that finished fourth-last in league scoring.

As brilliant a job as Sutter has done wearing both hats the last few years, look no further than the Steve Reinprecht debacle to demonstrate how the two jobs need to be separated to maximize the return and minimize mistakes.

Unable to fit into Sutter's defensive system, Reinprecht's offensive gifts were rendered invisible here, prompting Sutter to package him and goalie Phil Sauve (whom Sutter publicly humiliated) to Phoenix for Brian Boucher and Mike Leclerc. Departing a team that needed scoring more than anything else, Reinprecht flourished in Phoenix with 12 goals in 28 games while Leclerc proved to be scratch-worthy.

Had Sutter himself seen Leclerc play, he surely wouldn't have traded for him, let alone for a man of Reinprecht's stock.

It was a rare GM gaffe for King Midas but one that could have been avoided had he not: A.) forced himself into a trade by berating Sauve and B.) been too busy coaching and unable to better survey his options league-wide as an active GM.

If given the time, few doubt Sutter's eye for talent would continue to make him one of the league's best.

The club needs him to find more diamonds such as Dion Phaneuf or Kiprusoff to challenge for the Cup.

At the end of the day, Sutter has likely worn out his welcome in that dressing room anyway.

Showing utter contempt and disrespect for many of the media-types following the team, Sutter has appeared totally miserable this year, making several players and staffers around him the same.

The stress and workload appeared to take their toll, perhaps explaining why the team was so tight in Wednesday's loss.

None of this is to suggest he's lost his touch as one of the league's premier coaches. After all, he led the Flames to first in the league's toughest division and had the team looking good before Games 6 and 7.

But for a man who would've stepped down if not for the lockout last year, now is the perfect time to exit.

Even good coaches generally lose the room around the three-year mark anyway.

As for his replacement, Sutter has long had names in mind, one or two of whom may be sharing his surname and a cooler on the way to Edmonton to watch the Oilers play the Sharks next week.

An icon in the community, Sutter deserves praise for what he's done behind the bench to make Calgary proud of the flaming C again.

It's simply time to elevate his status to the GM's box, where he can build on the work he did down below.


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