Cue the backup plan

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:26 AM ET

Darryl Sutter's annual bid to bolster his team's playoff chances started yesterday with the acquisition of 40-year-old insurance policy Curtis Joseph.

Not only does it signal Sutter's obvious belief the team has the main ingredients necessary to challenge for hockey's most coveted silver chalice, it also means the hype surrounding the club's young goaltenders is just that.

With the Brent Krahn experiment now all but officially over, the imminent demotion of 2002 draft pick Curtis McElhinney underscores just how far away the club is from realizing the benefits of drafting three highly regarded netminders over the last three years.

Granted, the six-year extension handed to Miikka Kiprusoff bodes well for a club assured of having one of the game's best as its perennial starter.

However, much like the forwards and defencemen who populate the Flames' farm system Sutter has tried so hard to restock, it's evident the cupboards are still extremely bare these days.

Even the club's most highly touted young asset, Leland Irving, took a bit of a step backwards when he was omitted from the Canadian junior team he warmed the bench for in 2007.

While an argument could be made, McElhinney is getting the shaft by being sent down without much of a chance to show he's ready for the jump to the NHL, coach Mike Keenan is the one who clearly made the assessment the 24-year-old isn't ready.

Sutter conceded as much by suggesting he had no idea if McElhinney could play here, as he wasn't the coach and didn't see him on a daily basis.

There could also have been fear that had he been roughed up in the bigs, his confidence could be shattered longterm.

Either way, Keenan had no interest in risking valuable points in a tight race on a raw rookie, and he carries enough clout to insist Sutter address a situation that could otherwise become devastating if Kiprusoff were to get hurt.

So, at a pro-rated cost of roughly $600,000 for the balance of the schedule, the 40-year-old Joseph will arrive to push Kiprusoff, give him rest and advice and theoretically be sharp enough to provide the club with competent backup minutes. It's a calculated risk, but well worth it.

The fact Joseph chose the Flames over a handful of other suitors speaks to just how close he and many others believe Calgary is to having a Cup contender. The move also means there will be no chance Sutter will be piecing off pending unrestricted free agents such as Daymond Langkow or Kristian Huselius, whose solid play will price them out of town this summer.

It sets up an interesting decision for Sutter in terms of what to do with Krahn or Matt Keetley once McElhinney arrives in Quad Cities.

With Kevin Lalande still highly regarded by Flames brass in Las Vegas, someone will have to be moved to make room for all that padding.

Luckily, Irving is still playing junior -- and rather well -- in Everett.

For the record, McElhinney and Krahn are both restricted free agents at year's end, with hard-luck Krahn being the favourite to be dealt or let go. McElhinney will now get plenty of AHL minutes.

"I still think we have a lot of good young goalies," said Flames director of scouting, Tod Button, following yesterday's deal. "The thing we're trying to do with all of them is develop them slowly, not rush them into the NHL. Young goalies are valuable assets."

And, we might add, as un-predictable as Sutter himself.


Videos

Photos