Hindsight's 20/20

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:18 AM ET

It's funny how quickly the local mantra 'In Sutter We Trust' can change to 'What Have You Done For Us Lately.'

In the wake of an early exit from the NHL playoffs, some of the more fickle fans are beginning to show cracks in their previously stout allegiance to the Calgary Flames GM/head coach.

True, the team that was ousted in seven games by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks was much different than the one that went to the Stanley Cup final in 2004. But few fans heading into this season doubted the new collection was better -- at least on paper -- than the Cinderella squad.

As Sutter said on the team's wrapup day, there's a fine line between winning and losing. With the franchise at the end of his second year in total control of the on-ice product, Sutter says he likes where his team has been. And, even moreso, where it's headed.

"We have such a strong nucleus of players going forward," Sutter said Friday, adding he believes he has reached a base for long-term success even more quickly than initially hoped.

The first 100-point campaign and division title in more than a decade, the most home wins since the championship 1988-89 season and a Jennings Trophy for fewest goals against back up that claim. As does a second straight playoff appearance.

"To me, we just finished year two of a long process," said Sutter. "I think we're in a really good position. It's a great core to continue to build around."

The building process will certainly continue and you can bet the need for more scoring -- the most glaring deficiency not successfully patched at the trade deadline -- will be addressed.

But with hindsight being 20/20, let's take a look at what Sutter has done as a GM since the end of the lockout:

SAID GOODBYE TO:

Sutter may have hoped to re-sign unrestricted free agent Martin Gelinas, who was a clutch player in the 2004 playoffs, but dipped into the post-lockout free agent market and grabbed Tony Amonte and Darren McCarty on the same day. That made Gelinas nervous, so he inked a two-year, $1.9-million deal with Florida.

Amonte's numbers were nearly identical to Gelinas' this season except in one category. Gelinas had a whopping plus-27 rating, while Amonte was a plus-3.

Considering Amonte's $1.85M price tag, Gelinas would have been a bargain.

The Eliminator was definitely missed.

Sutter also let Ville Nieminen go but there's no doubt McCarty is an upgrade and he was signed for about the same price. But most will view McCarty's addition as the subtraction of winger Chris Clark, who was traded to Washington for a conditional pick.

Clark had a career-high 20 goals and 39 points to go with a plus-9 rating with the Capitals. Dean McAmmond could have been retained but his back troubles made him a risky investment.

SAID HELLO TO:

Along with Amonte and McCarty, Sutter brought veteran defenceman Roman Hamrlik aboard -- thought to be a real coup at the time.

The former New York Islander was highly-coveted by a host of other NHL teams but Sutter landed him with the lure of a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup and a hefty two-year, $7-million contract.

Between knee and hand injuries, which plagued the 32-year-old all season, his regular-season point production was sound. But inconsistent play down the stretch carried into the post-season and Sutter said recently he believes Hamrlik never fully recovered from February's hand surgery.

The signing made Toni Lydman expendable in Sutter's mind and he shipped the younger, cheaper defenceman to Buffalo at the end of August for a third-round pick in next month's draft. Bryan Marchment was a late addition in October but may not return next season.

FACES STAY PUT:

Re-signing captain Jarome Iginla to a three-year, $21-million contract was a big deal after his colossal playoff performance in 2004. Some are now saying he's overpayed but his leadership skills and two-way play are as valuable as his former 50-goal season. Sutter also earned some of that dough back with a steal of a deal for Miikka Kiprusoff, who was given a three-year, $10-million contract last summer.

Not a bad price for the future Vezina winner and Hart finalist. Blueliners Andrew Ference (a value pick at $750,000 for two seasons), Rhett Warrener (four years, $9.4M) and Jordan Leopold (two years, $2.3M) were locked up, as was newcomer Daymond Langkow (three years at about $2.4M per season). Young talents Chuck Kobasew and Matthew Lombardi were given qualifying offers and are expected to again be qualified this summer.

LIGHT TRADE WINDS:

The early exit has all those who said Sutter's inactivity at the trade deadline saying, 'I told you so.' A scorer such as Sergei Samsonov, however overpriced, surely had the potential to swing the first-round series in the Flames' favour.

The deal with the most impact -- easily Sutter's most impressive and out-of-character swap so far -- was made in December when he picked up the crafty Kristian Huselius from Florida for depth defenceman Steve Montador and minor-league centre Dustin Johner. Montador's fellow blueline plugger from '04, Mike Commodore, was dispatched to Carolina in July and the Flames picked up an extra third-round selection in last year's draft.

Sutter picked up backup goaltender Phil Sauve from Colorado for a seventh-rounder but Sauve's Calgary career was short. He was shipped out with centre Steve Reinprecht -- a potential UFA who signed an extension with the Phoenix Coyotes after the deal -- for winger Mike Leclerc and netminder Brian Boucher. Both Boucher and Leclerc are destined to become free agents and it's likely neither will return to the Flames after both had disappointing tenures in Calgary. The backup job behind Miikka Kiprusoff is one of the least desired in the league and Leclerc was a healthy scratch in four playoff games -- including the deciding Game 7.

Defenceman Cale Hulse, picked up from Columbus late in the season for Cam Severson, could become a free agent July 1 but he's a decent seventh man and wants to remain in town this time around.

On deadline day, to the dismay of many, Sutter essentially traded Jason Wiemer for Jamie Lundmark.

Lundmark showed flashes of offensive upside, scoring four goals and 10 points in a dozen games as a Flame in the regular season. He's only 25 and could be an impact player in the future but we'll have to wait and see.


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