Not going up in Flames

Flames GM Darryl Sutter will need time before deciding how to best augment his core of players....

Flames GM Darryl Sutter will need time before deciding how to best augment his core of players. (Sun Media/Carlos Amat)

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:33 AM ET

Amidst calls for radical changes to the Flames lineup, GM Darryl Sutter promised yesterday there won't be an overhaul and none of his core players will be moved this summer.

However, he wouldn't make the same assurances for coach Mike Keenan or any of his assistants.

"We've got a lot of work to do in the next two or three weeks and, once we get it all in, we'll have a good idea what we're doing," Sutter said, when asked about the future of a coach many see as the obvious fall guy for another spring letdown.

"Mike's the only coach on staff under contract (for one more year) but it's not about Mike, it's about what we're trying to do. It doesn't have anything to do with critiquing or blame. Everyone's been talking about Mike all week, and that's fine. But it's a big staff and we have that leadership group, too. It's about the responsibility, accountability, delegation, style and the system. All those things come into it."

Although Sutter's had a week to digest his club's fourth-straight first-round exit, he'll need plenty more time before deciding how to best augment a core he insists will continue to be led by Jarome Iginla, Dion Phaneuf, Robyn Regehr, Miikka Kiprusoff and even Daymond Langkow.

"There are probably seven or eight who are absolute untouchables on our team because they would be everyone else's core players, too," said Sutter, adding Olli Jokinen, Rene Bourque and Curtis Glencross to the list.

"Do you want to trade a star? I don't. That's not what we're doing. This is a really good club. The core is why you are a good team and why you are successful. But how do you make it better?"

That's the $56.7-million question Sutter will continue trying to answer Thursday when he starts meeting coaches with an eye on piecing together how to improve from here.

As it stands, he expects to have 14 to 20 guys under contract for $43 to 50 million, which makes it tough to fit Mike Cammalleri or a free-agent defenceman under the cap.

"I think we have a star goalie and two defencemen that didn't have great years but are elite players at their position and we have the best centreman we've had as a group in 15 years," said Sutter of the roster that will remain largely unchanged outside of likely losing Cammalleri to free agency.

"Would we like to keep Cammy? Yes, we'll try to do everything we can to keep him but the theory that because we have Jokinen we can't sign Cammy is bulls---. We prioritize three positions, and wing is not one of them when you have a $7-million winger."

So, it means the club will see plenty of its young, cheap prospects thrust into the lineup alongside familiar faces.

"We've got to take a real hard look at (Kyle) Greentree who scored 39 goals and was second in the (AHL) -- he's clearly a kid who can play in your top group of players," said Sutter, impressed by cameos from all his top youngsters.

"All our juniors are excellent players and that doesn't surprise me. We see (Kelowna star Mikael) Backlund as a 19-year-old, (defenceman John) Negrin as 19-year-old. We'll have a young defenceman on our team whether it's (Matt) Pelech, Negrin or (Keith) Aulie."

Sutter was happy with the job Todd Bertuzzi did last year at $1.95 million, but will clearly have to take a slight pay cut to stay in town. But for now, the top priority is deciding if Keenan is the man to move the team forward.

"We have to identify four or five things in there including the importance of coaching and leadership to decide how to proceed," said Sutter, whose coach has one year left on his deal.

"Is it philosophy, is it coaches ... how do we make this group better? Maybe I'm wrong on the expectations. Maybe we are just a playoff team -- that's a helluva task in itself. But we want more than that."


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