SUN Hockey Pool

Sutter toys with tinkering

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:30 AM ET

The questions were a lot tougher for Calgary Flames general manager Darryl Sutter a year ago.

How are you going to keep your core together?

What are you going to do to avoid another embarrassing first-round exit?

With Jarome Iginla, Robyn Regehr, Dion Phaneuf and Miikka Kiprusoff all set to start cashing in on their new long-term extensions, and an overall admirable effort from the underdog Flames in their opening series against the San Jose Sharks, it's more a matter of minor adjustments for Sutter this summer.

"I think we have a great foundation," said the Flames GM in his season-ending news conference yesterday.

"Any time you have all those players in place, in today's game, that's really important."

Now the question is, who makes up the supporting cast? The salary cap still presents a challenge, but now it's a matter of filling in the gaps rather than making major decisions on who to build around.

Many of the role-players will change, but Sutter sees the key to taking the next step in the playoffs and reaching the second round a year from now is all about internal growth.

"I would say, from an overview, keep improving within, on an individual standpoint," said Sutter.

"It's probably tough to ask someone like Jarome that, but I think everybody else still has room for improvement, and can and will.

"I think that's realistic."

Covering the gamut with a review of his roster, Sutter was excited about the cornerstones of his defence -- Regehr, Phaneuf and Cory Sarich -- being locked up all still approaching their primes.

He also figures a few of the blueline prospects will be pushing for jobs in the next year or two.

Adam Pardy, John Negrin and Matt Pelech were singled out by the GM as bright spots.

The forwards present a different problem.

But at least the top line is accounted for if you assume Daymond Langkow is as close to signing as rumours persist.

"Starting with Daymond -- if we can get that finalized at some point before July 1st -- we've got a top centreman, top left-winger, top right-winger under contract," said Sutter of Langkow, Tanguay and Iginla.

He's also confident in Matthew Lombardi as a second-line centre.

"People can say he didn't have a great year, but really, when you look at his minutes played and the way he played down the stretch -- quite honestly, he played hurt for the latter part -- I think he can clearly be a No. 2 guy," said Sutter.

David Moss and Dustin Boyd weren't full-time players but will be counted on for second or third-line roles depending on what happens in free-agency, but Sutter admitted there's not much on the farm that can fill more than third- or fourth-line positions.

"I know that we're really good in goal," said Sutter.

"I think that we've got really good players that are going to step in on defence sometime in the next two years."


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