SUN Hockey Pool

Wanted: Energy for '09

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:35 AM ET

Energy.

It's a track from the album Calgary Flames forward Mark Smith and his band -- The Vinyl Trees -- compiled on their disc, Pura Vida.

It's also something the Calgary Flames were sorely lacking all season.

And it's something that must become part of the team's repertoire before next season -- and should be added in major doses.

Sure, it would be easy to look at how the Flames fared in their playoff series that concluded Tuesday night in San Jose and think the team is taking steps forward.

They pushed to the limit a big, talented and deep Sharks team that very well could be hoisting Lord Stanley's chalice when the NHL playoffs conclude. For that, the Flames deserve some credit.

If the Sharks roll to the championship like many are predicting, leaving a handful of teams battered and beaten in their wake, it will a testament to the Flames for forcing their series to seven games.

That said, the are major improvements Flames GM Darryl Sutter must make between now and September's training camp.

There will be player movement. Free agents will leave, and free agents will arrive.

Somebody will likely depart via trade, and somebody will arrive, in return. And prospects will make the jump.

A big task for Sutter and head coach Mike Keenan -- if he is back -- (maybe for one summer there won't be a change in the bench boss, since that carousel has spun often enough these past few years) will be to create a new atmosphere around the team -- one with more enthusiasm created by hungry players.

Despite Sutter's assertions a few years back he wanted to build with more youth, more speed and more size, the Flames became one of the league's oldest teams, built with veterans the GM believed still had the skills to go with the wiles of experience.

Lacking with all that experience was energy.

The energy from passion.

The energy to take control of each and every game.

The energy to win night after night, not just try to flip the switch come playoffs.

They say age and treachery can overcome youth and exuberance, but the Flames had far too little of the latter to ignite the vets.

Expect Brandon Prust to jump to the NHL roster next year and be one of those guys. Eric Nystrom, provided the pending unrestricted free agent stays with the club that drafted and developed him to this point, can do it, too.

Simply put, the Flames need more of those players.

It cost them dearly throughout the regular season and was a key factor in the early playoff demise.

There was a mystery surrounding the Flames and their slow starts. So often through the 82-clash regular season, they staggered out of the blocks, saying to themselves, "When we get going, we'll be OK."

Sometimes they were able to hold the fort long enough to find their legs and pull off a win.

Sometimes they were able to come back from early deficits.

Too often, though, those poor opening periods cost them points in the standings.

Considering the injury woes of Calgary's Northwest Division rivals and the talent level in their dressing room, the Flames should have been a shoo-in for a pennant and the No.-3 playoff seed that comes with it.

Instead of running away from the other Northwest squads, the Flames were in a dog-fight for a playoff spot until the final week of the season, ended seventh in the West and had to face a San Jose squad that was the league's hottest team down the stretch and finished second in the league standings.

It's easy to look at what transpired in the Western Conference and believe the Flames would have had a better chance against any other team. Winning the Northwest would have meant an easier opponent than the Sharks.

Sure, Calgary could have still gone out in the second round and fallen short of winning the Stanley Cup, but at least a series victory can be perceived as a step forward.

There are other flaws for the Flames to address over the coming months.

Defensively, they are nowhere near good enough, and those expected to provide offence must either regain their touch or be found so it doesn't all fall on Jarome Iginla.

It's crucial, though, the Flames regain their lost identity of being an exuberant and determined team, built with those willing to go the extra mile and with those who'll play with that energy to re-ignite the team in the manner envisioned.


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