Sutter true to his word

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:11 AM ET

The Anaheim Ducks are clearly the team to beat and no squad improved more over the last few weeks than Calgary's hated rivals in Colorado.

But that doesn't mean Flames fans shouldn't be happy with their club just the way it is.

Following through on threats to stand pat at yesterday's trade deadline, general manager Darryl Sutter said he saw no reason to disrupt the core of a unit that entered last night's game leading the toughest division in hockey.

Joking that he was close to making several bad deals, he decided there was no point in making lateral moves.

"I'm sure 90 percent of the league would like to be in our position," said Sutter, who ended a three-year streak of adding key role players near the deadline.

Instead, his only move came last week when he added Jim Vandermeer, a Philadelphia castoff who has fit right in alongside Dion Phaneuf, averaging a cozy 20 minutes a night.

The fact is, the Flames had few tradable assets to offer up without sacrificing a potential run this spring.

Sutter said he didn't want to give up a first-round draft pick for anyone and certainly wasn't looking to get rid of a top-six forward without immediate returns.

While several teams spent the last few weeks looking at Kristian Huselius, who was clearly available for the right price, no one was impressed enough to rent a player who has shown the same penchant for disappearing the last month as he has the last two springs.

That's not to say keeping him is a failure by any stretch. The club keeps its 1/1a left winger who has the upside of being able to turn it on in spurts. No one in the Flames' system could've stepped up to replace him or, certainly, his creativity had he been moved. However, unless one of his surges coincides with the playoffs, the club will have no interest in being the one to triple his US$1.4 million salary as an unrestricted free agent this summer.

While some will suggest the Flames lost ground yesterday as other western teams loaded up, the fact is Sutter's diligence earlier in the year allowed him to make his major deals in-house, securing Dion Phaneuf and Miikka Kiprusoff long-term. Because of that he didn't need to scramble to either protect a disappearing asset or fill a gaping hole in the lineup.

He said he'd continue to concentrate more on retaining players, which is good news for those who figure it's crucial to keep Daymond Langkow past July 1.

The fact is, with the major building blocks it has in place, this Flames have as good a chance as any team to take a run at the Stanley Cup.

As predicted, the fabricated deals involving Olli Jokinen never came to fruition, nor did talk Montreal's Michael Ryder and friends would swap places with Alex Tanguay.

While Jokinen or Peter Forsberg (or Mats Sundin for that matter) would have done wonders to add what Sutter covets most -- a big, physical centre -- such moves were pipe dreams at best for a team with little salary cap room and so few moveable assets.

With eight proven NHL defencemen at the ready for the playoffs' war of attrition, a goaltender returning to form and two solid scoring lines, the Flames have every reason to be optimistic.

Tanguay, for one, must feel tremendous relief and, who knows, may be able to add the offensive aspects of his game he's forgone in the name of defence.

Sutter said Monday, he disliked the mental makeup of his squad a year earlier when he reached out to grab Wayne Primeau, Craig Conroy and Brad Stuart at the deadline.

Not so this year, as the team has done well to adjust to a new coach, poor goaltending early on and inconsistency while tracking down first in the Northwest.

With no glaring weakness, and few options available, staying the course was the logical choice.


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