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ERIC FRANCIS

, Last Updated: 8:18 AM ET

The Calgary Flames are indeed Stanley Cup contenders.

Serious contenders.

That won't change if Darryl Sutter opts to stand pat, as he's expected to do through today's NHL trade deadline.

The current club has proven conclusively it can run with any team in the league except Detroit, and the Red Wings know what a hot goaltender like Miikka Kiprusoff can do in a playoff series.

Assembling the deepest roster this city has seen since the early '90s, Sutter has watched his squad post just eight regulation losses in its last 35 games to sit amongst the league's elite.

This team is far more complete a unit than they've been credited for. There's no sense in disrupting that chemistry or jeopardizing the future by trying to make a splash on trade day.

Despite a recent spate of injuries this club has been fortunate to avoid for years, there's no need to panic now like many GMs do.

Fact is, most deadline deals are foolish, demonstrating every year which executives are suckers or just plain desperate to pay the highest buck possible for whatever scraps happen to be available.

That's not to say quality players won't change homes by today's 1 p.m. deadline. They'll simply head elsewhere, as the Flames don't have the sort of cap room to grab an impact player without making serious changes to the team's core.

With a unique mandate to challenge for the Cup perennially -- as opposed to rebuilding intermittently -- Sutter is always careful to try balancing the present with the future.

Unlike in, say, Montreal where there is tremendous pressure to marry the team's 100th anniversary with a Cup push, Sutter has said time and time again he won't mortgage the future for this or any other season.

Unless, of course, the right deal comes along.

It won't. It's too late for that.

Besides, outside of prospects Kris Chucko and Leland Irving, the Flames don't have a heck of a lot of solid assets or draft picks they're willing to part with to try improving an already stellar cast.

As far from an impulse shopper as you'll see in the league, Sutter shouldn't feel the need to do anything radical to replace Mark Giordano, who is likely lost for the season. With the rapid development of Adam Pardy, and Jim Vandermeer's ability to play well alongside Dion Phaneuf, the Flames blueline is solid.

Sutter's move yesterday to pluck Calgary native Lawrence Nycholat off waivers gives the club a seventh defenceman.

He may grab an eighth, but if there's anything he feels the need to shore up, it's the hole on the depth chart behind Miikka Kiprusoff.

Young Curtis McElhinney is winless in his four starts and couldn't be expected to shoulder the load in the playoffs if Kiprusoff got injured. Manny Legace might be a good fit. It may not be a priority as the club would be doomed without the city's favourite Finn, anyway.

Oh sure, Sutter would love to add a veteran forward or two for depth purposes -- say Mark Recchi -- if the price is reasonable. Matthew Lombardi may be attractive bait but he alone won't land you an impact centre.

While high ankle sprains like the one Rene Bourque is nursing can take a scary amount of time to heal, recent injuries to Todd Bertuzzi and Daymond Langkow aren't expected to keep either out too long.

Meanwhile, the trio will get rest for the playoffs while allowing the youngsters to gain increased experience and responsibility.

As long as the prognosis is indeed to get the trio back in time for the playoffs, this club will enter the post-season with four solid lines -- a rarity in today's NHL.

Sutter has long made a habit out of addressing team needs long before the deadline, thereby avoiding the inflated prices demanded in the first week in March.

Remaining on the sidelines today won't make Sutter or the Flames "deadline losers," as some TV graphic is bound to suggest.

It makes them smart.

ERIC.FRANCIS@SUNMEDIA.CA


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