SUN Hockey Pool

Serious lack of pleasure

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

The Calgary Flames need to lighten up.

Starting at the top.

GM Darryl Sutter has taken the Flames from perennial playoff outcasts to a team you can count on to make the post-season.

Credit to him for helping create a post-lockout franchise that has made the playoffs every year since the work stoppage. The Flames are one of only six to accomplish that, along with the San Jose Sharks, Detroit Red Wings, New Jersey Devils, Anaheim Ducks and New York Rangers.

But many believe if the Flames are going to take the next step and get out of the first round, they need a mental makeover.

It's time to let them have some fun.

Instilling a culture of hard work and hard knocks in the locker-room is fine. A lot has been accomplished because of that underlying theme.

You're not going to beat your opponent without out-working them. But hockey needs to be enjoyable, too.

It is, after all, still a game.

In bringing his own brand of hockey to Cowtown, Sutter has also created a stern sense of seriousness that trickles down through the ranks and has people in the organization on edge much of the time.

When things are going well, that sense of childlike lightheartedness is apparent in the players. Like kids honing their skills on the pond or in a backyard rink, the Flames are hard to get off the ice after practice. Cheers and good-natured shots at their teammates are heard from inside the boards during their workouts.

When things are going well, that is.

Throw in a late-season skid and they tighten up like a corpse with rigamortis setting in. At those times of the year, the Flames display about the same amount of personality as the recently deceased.

More Craig Conroy and less Dion Phaneuf would be great for those in the media who have few to turn to for some honesty -- or at least emotion -- when trying to give the fans a feel for what's going on in the locker-room.

It would also benefit their chemistry. Locked up long-term, the team's core has essentially been in place since the lockout.

Hitting an all-time high in skill this year, the Flames still could not manage to extend their season past the first round. Injuries are an excuse. The collapse started well before the playoffs.

Inconsistencies were part of their game all year.

When it mattered most in the months of February and March, the mental makeup of this team was exposed more than ever. Things started to get tough. Their massive lead in the Northwest Division started to slip.

They were powerless to do anything about it.

Frustration set in, and that doesn't help matters.

At the other end of the spectrum, the San Jose Sharks might have been too loose. Also ousted in the first round, the Presidents' Trophy winners believed they were unbeatable. They just forgot to put in the effort.

The Flames need to find a balance. If they can't, maybe it's time Sutter's job isn't considered so safe.


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