Flames facing identity crisis

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:38 AM ET

The question seemed a simple one for a man who has hammered home the importance of team identity throughout his tenure here.

However, all you need to know about the scattered, desperate nature of the Calgary Flames these days came in the form of Darryl Sutter's response when asked Wednesday what his team's identity is now.

Or how it had changed from being a gritty, hard-working, punishing club in years past that used to intimidate all 'Dome visitors.

"I don't think (it's changed)," shrugged the Flames GM, clearly unsure how to answer given the sweeping changes he's been making for a month.

"I think it has changed in the personnel. Whatever their personality is, that's how it's changed. From the overall standpoint ... I don't know how it's changed. It's a good hockey team. We're certainly a bigger team than we were a year ago."

But are they a better team?

Are they progressing, or getting worse?

We're about to find out.

With 19 games remaining in the regular season and a playoff spot a coin-flip away from being won or lost, the Calgary Flames now have nine new faces in their lineup from a month ago.

The makeover continued Wednesday with the addition of a much-needed backup goalie, the jettisoning of two failed prospects and the acquisition of what is now one of the most expensive sixth defenceman in the NHL.

For a general manager who has always been so methodical and committed to his blueprint, his actions the last month have been shockingly frenzied.

Some see it as a diligent response to a sinking squad, others suggest it's all out of desperation or even self-preservation.

Either way, it's hard to figure who or what the Flames are -- or what they may be capable of -- anymore as nine new faces adorn the roster.

The Vesa Toskala for Curtis McElhinney deal makes sense in that McElhinney failed to gain the confidence of his teammates or management in his limited play and couldn't be counted on for crucial starts.

A pending unrestricted free agent, Toskala's exorbitant salary is irrelevant as the Flames can afford the rental. And while he may only win one or two extra games in his four or five starts here, those points could very likely be the difference between making or missing the playoffs.

The Dustin Boyd experiment was a failure as he was drafted in the third round and given away to Nashville Wednesday for a fourth-rounder. While Sutter insists the 23-year-old centre was "pushed" out of the top nine, few believe he was given a legitimate shot at a significant role. Then again, maybe he didn't show enough to earn it.

The most puzzling/intriguing deal was that for Oilers assistant captain Steve Staios as the 36-year-old will join a stacked blueline. In exchange for Aaron Johnson and a conditional third rounder, the Flames get a veteran leader whose grittiness will likely make him a fan favourite despite limited ice time.

However, the $2.7-million cap hit for next year concerns many as does the lack of prospects in the organization. The team doesn't have a first- or second-round pick this year.

A season that started with so much optimism is now clouded by endless questions about the hodge-podge of talent Sutter has collected of late, with hopes it can all gel in time to not only make the playoffs but secure his employment with his club's first first-round win in five seasons.

Clearly, things weren't working with the team he started the season with. But whether Sutter or anyone else knows exactly what he has now in his locker-room is anyone's guess.

And for a franchise and team that has been one of the league's most stable the last five years, fans have every reason to fear the unknown.


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