CALGARY - Unless you can wrap yourself in a cocoon, it’s pretty much impossible for an NHL player to not hear the NHL trade deadline countdown.
Still, Calgary Flames head coach Brent Sutter expects his charges to complete that difficult task, using their energy to prepare for Monday night’s home clash with the St. Louis Blues (7 p.m., TSN) instead of for the 1 p.m. deadline.
“Our focus is on playing the St. Louis Blues, and I don’t want one player in the dressing room thinking otherwise,” Sutter said after video sessions Sunday afternoon at the Saddledome. “If something happens and management decides to do something, that’s their decision. As the coach, my job is to get the most of the group that’s in there.”
It’s hard to fathom the Flames will make a big splash before the season’s trade freeze. GM Jay Feaster has stated longtime veterans Miikka Kiprusoff and Jarome Iginla — two of players who could bring the biggest return in a swap — aren’t going anywhere. Feaster has also said he won’t ask Olli Jokinen to waive his no-trade clause.
However, that’s not to say the Flames won’t make a move. Right now, they can’t be classified as buyers or sellers — more as listeners, waiting to see whether they can drum up any deal that works.
The likes of forwards Tom Kostopoulos and Tim Jackman and defencemen Anton Babchuk, Scott Hannan and Cory Sarich — the latter of whom has a no-trade clause — have to be in play for a Flames team in dire need of draft picks and prospects.
“I’ve been through it a few times, and it seems the more you think about it — that things will happen and you get excited — the more the dull the day is,” Sarich said. “Maybe thinking the opposite — not thinking about it — maybe it will get exciting.”
Added Kostopoulos, “I try not to worry about it. It’s out of my control. Hopefully, I stay here. I like it here. I think we have a good team, and I hope we don’t lose anyone. We all believe we have a real strong team — we’re just under-performing right now. But we have a lot of guys coming back from injury soon — quality, quality guys who can play big minutes for us. I think that changes the whole dynamic of the team.”
The dynamic that the Flames must worry about most is finding a way to climb back into the Western Conference’s top eight spots.
A week ago, the Flames were sitting in the No. 8 spot, but they’ve since sunk to 11th and three points back of the final playoff position due to a three-game losing skid.
With one-quarter of the season remaining, plenty can still happen, but the message to the players remains to be aggressive and go after their goal.
“This is your time, and this is when you really can take that step, grab it and go after it,” Sutter said. “At the end of the day, that’s what I want every player to feel.”
A few days ago, Sutter said one of the reasons his team had trouble going to the next level at critical junctures of the season stems from the fact so many haven’t made it to the playoffs often, or at all.
The final six weeks of the season is a chance for players, especially the likes of Jokinen and Jay Bouwmeester, to start rewriting their NHL legacy and prove they can lead a team to success.
“With the leadership group we have here, we have to step it up and play better,” Jokinen added. “Our best players, we haven’t been better than the other team’s best players the last three games. It’s a good challenge for the last 20 games.”
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