The 2006-07 NHL season has truly begun.
For affirmation, note Darryl Sutter is already calling out his players.
The puck won't drop on the next campaign until early October but the Calgary Flames GM/head coach is putting higher -- much higher -- expectations on a handful of players, notably forwards Matthew Lombardi and Marcus Nilson and defenceman Jordan Leopold.
Amidst all the rumblings from fans and the media the Flames must add scoring, be it through trades or free agency, Sutter is adamant his team will have enough next season if a few more players reach their potential.
"What we need is for the players that were productive players, very productive players, in '04 to come back to that," Sutter said yesterday, with the Stanley Cup final one sleep in the rearview mirror and this weekend's entry draft looming.
"When you get guys scoring 16 goals and high-teen goals and this year they didn't, it wasn't the rules or anything other than their performance.
"We're a top team, we're a very good team but to be able to continue to win divisions and move forward in the playoffs, we need those players to come back to their skill level."
Lombardi pocketed 16 goals in 2003-04, his rookie season, but only lit the lamp six times this past campaign -- though he missed 24 games due to injury. Nilson went from an 11-goal season to six in 70 games and Leopold went from nine goals to two.
As well, the Flames saw Shean Donovan, a pending unrestricted free agent, fall from 18 goals to nine and Chris Simon go from 17 to eight.
Calgary finished 28th in the league in goal scoring, by far the lowest among the clubs that advanced to the playoffs.
Sutter knows there has been a call for the club to add a legitimate top-six player but said he doesn't plan on making any headline-garnering moves.
"We are a fast team and we are a skilled team. What we need to improve ourselves is the finish part of it," he stated. "I'll be perfectly honest, Marcus, Lombo, if you look at what they did in '04 and what they did this year -- Jordan (Leopold) -- that's 28 goals to fall back between them.
"That puts you right up to the top half of the league again.
"(Leopold) he's a skill player, new rules and he scored two goals. We had a defenceman that scored 20. We had one of the highest scoring defences in the league and one of the best powerplays in the league, and I want those players more productive."
By the way, any belief the Flames will change their game plan and go to a more run-and-gun style shouldn't gain any momentum.
"I know we have a really good club and you don't accomplish what we accomplished and then try something else. It's not gonna work," he said.
As for the 2005-06 season finally closing, Sutter was unlike most Calgarians, disappointed to see the Edmonton Oilers fall short in the seventh game of the final to Carolina.
"It's nice to see a team from our division go to the Stanley Cup final. I wish they'd have won the Stanley Cup," he said.
ICE CHIPS: The NHL unveiled the draft order for Saturday's event.
The Flames, by virtue of finishing first in the Northwest Division, pick 26th (the bottom six spots are given to the division leaders, seven if one of them doesn't win the Stanley Cup).
Calgary also owns the 59th pick, a pair of third rounders (87th and 89th), one in each of the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds and two in the seventh.