June 12, 2012
Finally, Sutter's a champ
By RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency
CALGARY - Barring a miracle run nobody can realistically see coming, the window has long closed on the Stanley Cup chances for the Calgary Flames with its current core.
Still, those opportunities certainly existed while Darryl Sutter was at the helm of the franchise —first as head coach and then as general manager.
And on more than one occasion.
Too bad for the Flames and their fans, it just didn’t happen — and Sutter finally won a championship Monday night with the Los Angeles Kings.
Just think how close the Flames came after Sutter arrived to a team which had missed the playoffs for a seventh consecutive season. Remember that run in his first half-season as bench boss?
Everybody in the Stampede City has reason to lament how that 2004 club was literally within an inch of winning the crown, when the puck ricocheted off the skate of Martin Gelinas in the dying minutes of a tied Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but it couldn’t be proven that it crossed the line.
Ultimately, that team simply didn’t have enough in the tank to go back to Florida for the seventh and deciding game and pull out one last victory.
But those weren’t the only seasons Sutter and the Flames had a genuine opportunity to earn the second Stanley Cup title in franchise history.
Players from the ’05-06 team — the year following the season-killing lockout of ’04-05 — insist that was as good of a squad as they’ve been on.
The Flames certainly had all the ingredients, shown through the regular season during which they claimed the Northwest Division title with a 46-25-11 record.
They had the Vezina Trophy-winning goalie in Miikka Kiprusoff, Jarome Iginla in his prime, pure talent with the likes of Kristian Huselius, grit with Robyn Regehr and Chris Simon and young skill in players such as Dion Phaneuf and Matthew Lombardi.
For some reason, though, that squad was bounced by the Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the playoffs — some would say done in by the weight of the expectations — instead of reaching the second round for a Battle of Alberta series with the Edmonton Oilers.
(Then again, with the way the Oilers were primed to make their own glorious underdog run, the Ducks may have done the Flames a favour.)
Personally, the team which I firmly believe was just as much a Cup contender under Sutter was the ’08-09 edition.
That squad will be remembered for gassing a huge division lead and playing the final few games with fewer than the allowed amount of skaters due to salary-cap issues, but the Flames were every bit as good as the Western Conference finalists from Detroit and Chicago.
At least, they were just that when healthy.
The Flames went down because of an incredible injury wave which took out the likes of their top five defencemen — Regehr, Phaneuf, Adrian Aucoin, Cory Sarich and Mark Giordano — and also took down Rene Bourque, who never played better before or since, Curtis Glencross and Todd Bertuzzi.
For all the deserved heat Sutter took in his final couple of years at the helm of the Flames — that Phaneuf deal will go down as one of the worst in team history — he was the architect of the ’08-09 team which saw Michael Cammalleri have a breakout campaign, Olli Jokinen provide depth up the middle, Daymond Langkow and Craig Conroy also playing centre and plenty of depth.
In the end, it just wasn’t too be, and his time in Calgary ended without a title.
Instead, even if fans are happy Sutter won with the Kings, it must be painful to have seen.
On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak