SUN Hockey Pool

Fans hope Sutter's not done

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:30 PM ET

On the heels of one of the most shockingly desperate trades the NHL has seen in years, the question now is whether Darryl Sutter is done.

Done wheeling and dealing?

Or, ultimately, done as GM?

Dumping $5.25 million worth of garbage on the curb of Madison Square Garden in exchange for two emotionless spare parts, surely Flames fans have to believe there’s method to Sutter’s scrap-heap exchange.

Surely adding two uninspired, unproductive forwards in Chris Higgins and Ales Kotalik in exchange for Olli Jokinen and dressing-room favourite Brandon Prust doesn’t represent the final piece in the NHL’s most disappointing puzzle.

Six new faces with precious little playoff experience, representing a collective minus 37 and just 61 goals are now being counted on to help solve the offensive woes of what has amounted to a heartless, shell of a Flames team?

People want to believe — no, need to believe — Sutter has bigger plans for the bunch.

“I think what we did this week gives us some flexibility on our payroll now and moving forward,” said Sutter Tuesday, leaving the door open for more movement just one week after insisting his core didn’t need dismantling.

“I think we just have to see how it plays out. When you do it on paper now it’s a pretty good mix. Now the responsibility becomes that of the player itself. Time is not necessarily on our side.”

Indeed, it isn’t.

Give Sutter credit for responding to the team’s stunning fall from grace by finding ways to make deals, whether they’re as diligent as the Dion Phaneuf whopper or as futile as the Rangers swap.

But could this really be it?

Based on a seven-year history of uninspired play the best Flames fans can hope for from Kotalik is a five- or 10-game stretch of competency, followed by months of the type of pedestrian efforts that landed him in the Rangers’ press box eight of the last nine games.

He’s so bad the Oilers tried desperately to re-sign him as a free agent last summer.

Not even Marian Gaborik, the game’s second-most gifted scorer, could help Higgins find the score sheet in Manhattan.

Granted, only a fool would suggest the Flames could’ve expected anyone of significance in return for taking on Jokinen and his bloated salary.

But hoping the ol’ change of scenery tactic will magically transform Rangers castoffs into impact players is a pipe dream at best.

That’s why Flames fans can’t help but keep wondering and praying for the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, Ray Whitney or even Colby Armstrong to somehow arrive in exchange for some of the nuts and bolts Sutter has collected.

What makes it worse is that while Jokinen’s foray into free agency at season’s end would have been chalked up to a failed experiment that cost the club a first rounder, the 31-year-old Kotalik replaces him with $6 million in strings attached over the next two years.

Is it too early to start hoping he’ll take the KHL route and allow the Flames to buy him out without a cap hit?

“Different situation and different environment,” said Sutter when asked about Kotalik’s eight goals and minus-18.

“It doesn’t work with some guys. Look at Olli — he worked his tail off here and wasn’t really accepted by anyone. It just doesn’t work in some situations. I was fine with the way Kotalik played in Edmonton (where he magically came to life with seven goals in 19 games as a pending free agent). Lindy (Ruff) and Darcy (Regier) in Buffalo were really happy with him but couldn’t keep him with his salary demands — I think he fills a void in our team.”

And Higgins?

“I think it’s really similar,” said Sutter of the six-goal scorer who is a free agent this summer.

“He’s had a tough time in New York. Some guys go home and have a tough time. This is a good fit for him. He’s our type of player.”

If in fact that means stale, impotent and uninspired then Higgins and Kotalik will indeed fit right in to a team and a franchise that suddenly finds itself in the type of tailspin it endured for a decade before Sutter arrived.

Saddest irony of it all is that the player who has demonstrated the most heart for the Flames this year — Prust — is now gone, leaving a handful of veterans to try rallying the mish-mash of new recruits.

Not even Sutter can deny anymore these are desperate times for the Calgary Flames.

What was once a relatively smooth-sailing ship is now being dismantled as it sinks.

Are those who’ve been brought in capable of salvaging this wreck or are more reinforcements on the way?

Exactly what a ninth-place finish or another first round exit would mean in terms of Sutter’s future as GM is a question for another day.

Between now and then so many other questions need to be answered first.


Videos

Photos