And, come to think of it, the spring before that.
The biggest fear for Flames fans after a third straight playoff miss is GM Jay Feaster might think this group is oh-so-close and only make minor changes in the summer.
We’ll find out more when Feaster meets the media Tuesday morning, but the consensus among players after Monday’s locker cleanout seemed to be that this will be an especially busy off-season around the Saddledome.
“Something has to change, because what we’re doing is not working,” admitted Flames defenceman Cory Sarich, one of six soon-to-be unrestricted free agents on the roster.
“I don’t have the answers to it and I don’t think it’s a simple answer. You will see changes to the club this summer. Going forward, there are so many unknowns.”
Besides Sarich, the Flames’ list of pending unrestricted free agents also includes forwards Olli Jokinen, Tom Kostopoulos, David Moss and Lee Stempniak and defenceman Scott Hannan.
Forwards Mikael Backlund, Blake Comeau, Blair Jones and Akim Aliu, who netted two goals and an assist in a two-game audition with the Flames last week, are all restricted free agents.
The future of head coach Brent Sutter, whose contract is set is expire, is also a major question mark.
Sutter has now been behind the bench at the Saddledome for three seasons, all early exits. The core of the team — a group headlined by Jarome Iginla, Miikka Kiprusoff, Jay Bouwmeester and Mark Giordano — has remained intact for that span, although Dion Phaneuf and Rene Bourque were traded away in attempts to shake things up.
The regular-season results have been similar, too.
The Flames finished 10th in the Western Conference in 2009-10 and again last season. Thanks to a couple of meaningless victories to cap their regular-season slate last week, they were ninth this time.
They’ve missed out by a grand total of 13 points over that three-season span.
“We take full responsibility as players,” Giordano said. “No one is pointing the finger at each other but collectively, we know we’re responsible.”
Effective immediately, Feaster is in the finger-pointing business.
The Flames GM doesn’t have to publicly assign blame for another lost season, but he’ll have to decide who’s back and who is earning their paycheques elsewhere next winter.
In years past, the players have emerged on garbage-bag day and expressed optimism for the next campaign, telling reporters the current group was on the cusp of good things.
This year was different.
Only Feaster knows for sure, but the feeling is this summer will be different, too.
As the Flames split for the off-season after Monday’s exit meetings, there weren’t many guys saying, “C’mon Jay, give us just one more chance.”
“This day feels way different from last year even though we’re in the same spot,” Kostopoulos said. “Guys were upset (last year), but we saw so much promise and excitement for the next year. Now, everyone’s mad and disappointed.
“We thought we had a really good team and we thought we could win. It’s disappointing that we can’t and we let each other down. It’s probably going to cost some guys jobs.”
On Twitter: @SUNGilbertson