Flames need to get younger — and fast

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:22 AM ET

VANCOUVER - Three consecutive seasons without playoff hockey.

That's hard to see on the resume of an NHL head coach.

And it's difficult to justify giving a new contract to somebody whose tenure has that record.

Especially when you consider the fact the Calgary Flames fired one bench boss who guided a team to the playoffs in the first two seasons of his three-year contract in Mike Keenan, and busted down another to associate coach after one season at the helm, and a trip to the second season — which is what happened to Jim Playfair.

Therefore, it’s no surprise the Calgary Flames and Brent Sutter mutually decided to part ways after his contract expired.

But if that’s the lone major decision made by the Flames this off-season, it’s a meaningless move.

The Flames, after so many years of spinning their wheels, need to do more between now and next season.

Much, much more.

We’re talking about sweeping moves, because it’s time for GM Jay Feaster to put an actual stamp on this floundering franchise.

Back when the Flames were eliminated by the Anaheim Ducks in the opening round of the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs, then-GM/head coach Darryl Sutter said his club must become younger and faster.

We’re still waiting for that plan to be put into action.

At least small steps were taken this season, with the integration of a few young players in the likes of goalie Leland Irving, defenceman T.J. Brodie, forwards Roman Horak, Sven Baertschi and Greg Nemisz.

Plus, it’s a good bet forwards Mikael Backlund and Blair Jones will be bigger pieces of the puzzle next season.

But the action those players saw must be only a beginning for the Flames to start moving in the right direction.

The Flames will give Baertschi every opportunity next season to be a full-time NHLer right off the hop. But why stop there? Don’t be afraid to see Max Reinhart make the jump from the junior ranks. Same thing goes for Michael Ferland.

Who knows, if Ryan Howse has indeed fully learned to be at an NHL-level with his fitness, give him the chance to prove he can play for the Flames.

Recycling aging players with deteriorating skills, or signing them to long-term deals — which is exactly what it would be if the Flames give the likes of Olli Jokinen a lucrative four- or five-year contract instead of letting him become a free agent — has amounted only to no playoffs, let alone a legitimate shot at a championship. There are no reasons to believe staying on the same track will lead to a different destination.

If that means trading away all-time leading scorer and captain Jarome Iginla, so be it. Iginla has earned the right to be given the opportunity to remain if he chooses, so long as he’s willing to sign a contract extension befitting a player whose role will be reduced in the coming seasons. If he wants no part of the necessary rebuild, pull the trigger. Nobody in Calgary would begrudge him winning a title elsewhere, while the Flames retool.

Likewise, if goalie Miikka Kiprusoff wishes to leave for a more legitimate Cup chance, deal him, too. When this year’s playoffs are done, you’ll have a team or two knowing they must shore up their goaltending.

Time will tell whether the Flames are willing to finally move in a new direction — although first instinct says the decision to part ways with Sutter is a sign the Flames weren’t willing to give him a chance with a truly different squad.

If the Flames don’t make bolder decisions, instead of bringing back the same players who failed to make the playoffs, this is nothing more than making yet another coach a sacrificial lamb for a crew incapable of achieving more.


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