CALGARY - When the cameras are rolling and the tape recorders are turned on, Calgary Flames head coach Brent Sutter never names names.
But when Sutter reveals them behind closed doors, GM Jay Feaster had better be listening.
Even if he plans to have a new voice behind the Flames’ bench next season, or if Sutter would rather retreat to his ranch or find employment elsewhere in the NHL after three winters of banging his head against the Saddledome wall, Feaster needs his head coach to fill in the blanks before he goes. Perhaps he already has.
Sutter insisted after Monday’s meaningless practice at the Saddledome he’s “totally responsible” for the Flames’ third consecutive early exit, although he hinted just moments later — responding to a question about why his message seemingly isn’t getting through — that there’s plenty of blame to go around.
“I don’t really want to get into that right now. There are reasons. They will have to be addressed once the season is over,” Sutter said. “We will go from there. Again, it’s not something that just transpired here. It’s grown. And at some point in time, it has to be addressed head on.”
Over to you, Mr. Feaster.
Flames fans will even help you, offering their two cents on each player and coach — and even the GM — in the Calgary Sun’s annual You Be The Boss survey. Who should stay? Who should go? Surely, the ticket-buying public isn’t satisfied with the status quo.
Less than two weeks ago, rumours swirled Sutter and Feaster were swapping four-letter words after a shootout loss in Minnesota, the same night the bewildered bench boss picked lesser-lites Matt Stajan, Lee Stempniak, Blair Jones and Blake Comeau for the skills competition.
Much ado about nothing, apparently.
One day later, Feaster insisted there was no argument and even defended Sutter’s decision to switch things up in the shootout, saying, “I think it’s Einstein’s definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
No word on whether Einstein was a hockey fan, but the world-famous physicist might argue it’s time to finally blow this thing up.
Although the Flames have tweaked their lineup with a couple of notable trades and signings, the core group — Jay Bouwmeester, Mark Giordano, Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff — has now been the same for three consecutive playoff misses.
Bring ’em all back and try it over again?
That’d be insane, wouldn’t it? This team needs more than just a tinker.
“When you aren’t in the playoffs, it’s not good enough,” Sutter said. “There’s reasons for it. We were inconsistent. There were different times throughout the year, in terms of team confidence and taking a step to becoming a good situation, where you don’t deal with this at the end of the year. We failed on it. We never took the stand that this thing would put us over the hump.
“I’ve played on a lot of winning teams, and you know what you need. At certain times throughout the year, there are times you need it — and we never got it.”
Maybe that’s the rub. Maybe these guys don’t know what it takes to win.
Sutter has been to the top of the mountain, earning two Stanley Cup rings as a two-way centre for the New York Islanders. On the international stage, he was a member of three Canada Cup-winning teams, and he was undefeated in two stints as a head coach at the world junior tournament, leading Canada to back-to-back golds.
Only two current Flames — soon-to-be free-agent rearguard Cory Sarich and winger Alex Tanguay — have their names engraved on Lord Stanley’s mug. Iginla and Kiprusoff are the only holdovers from the lunch-bucket crew that was oh-so-close in 2004, losing to Sarich and his Tampa Bay Lightning teammates in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.
Ironically, the GM of the Bolts’ championship squad was Feaster.
He knows what it takes to build a winner, although he has his work cut out for him in Calgary.
Even if he’s not back next season, Sutter can help him get started.