The Calgary Flames are likely looking at taking a step back.
Will fans accept it?
Will they fill the Saddle-dome in spite of it?
Barring a big-ticket trade -- the kind that will see one of the highly paid core players dealt -- it seems inevitable.
Not only this season, but the next, the Flames will become younger. With that course of action comes more mistakes and more ups and downs.
GM Darryl Sutter's plan has been to elevate one or two players each of the past few seasons to a full-time gig. At least at the start.
This year, it was defenceman Adam Pardy and Brandon Prust -- at least until Prust was traded.
Last season, it was Dustin Boyd, with Eric Nystrom finally breaking down the door, too.
The year before, it was David Moss and Mark Giordano.
Are you ready for more? The Flames need to do it, especially with the salary cap expected to drop dramatically after the 2009-10 season.
Next season, expect another young defenceman in the fray. It's time for Matt Pelech to make the jump, even if it's as a No.-7 blueliner. If he can improve by the leaps and bounds Pardy displayed this past season, it's a big step.
There should be another forward or two, as well.
Mikeal Backlund probably won't be ready -- a year of seasoning in the minors would help him immensely. He's not going to make the jump into a top-six role and have a major impact, so why not spend a year on the farm learning consistency and the pro game?
Unless you believe Boyd and Moss are ready to become second-line wingers on a full-time basis, the Flames need to find another forward capable of a top-six role. A player in the Rene Bourque or Curtis Glencross mold would fit the bill, although you can't help but wonder if Sutter will try to keep Todd Bertuzzi in the fold just for that purpose.
Still, a couple of other forwards are needed for the third- and fourth-line wings. Warren Peters is a possibility and proved he's a capable depth player.
That leaves another position for the likes of David Van der Gulik, Brett Sutter, Kyle Greentree or Kris Chucko to battle over. Another wildcard to consider is John Armstrong.
The Flames don't draft in position to find a Jonathan Toews to make a major impact at age 20. But it's key they keep bringing up young players, especially while they have so much money tied up in their core group.
Judging by the fan reaction we're receiving these days, the "In Sutter we Trust" mantra no longer exists. After the trade-deadline acquisitions of Olli Jokinen and Jordan Leopold blew up in his face, there's certainly a lesson to be learned. However, Sutter doesn't deserve to be fired over it. It's under his watch the Flames went from perennial doormats to five straight playoff seasons, and that should count for something. Plus, acquiring Rene Bourque and Curtis Glencross last summer was a coup. Sutter doesn't deserve to have too many more freebies in his pocket, but does deserve credit for what he's done ... Anybody else curious to see how much more motivated Jarome Iginla and Dion Phaneuf will be next season and the impact they'll have? Iginla is pretty much at the apex of his best days, but Phaneuf has so much untapped potential you can't help but wonder how good he can truly be if it's all focused in the right direction and he doesn't battle injuries. Norris Trophy? Maybe not yet. All-star player? You bet, and the Flames would be foolish to not see how far he can blossom over the next 12 months.
Is Washington goalie Simeon Varlamov the next Ken Dryden? After that save yesterday on Sidney Crosby, maybe so ... It's disappointing Anaheim's Mike Brown wasn't suspended for his hit on Detroit's Jiri Hudler. It was a high hit to the head of a player in a dangerous position. Sure, Hudler has to stop admiring his passes -- that's why Dion Phaneuf clobbered him last season -- but the number of players who hit when an opponent is vulnerable is alarming. Brown's check on Hudler was over the line, and the league can't keep allowing them ... For all the sound and fury over the Capitals and Penguins meeting in the playoffs, it's hard to imagine either team knocking off Boston.