6 Cities in 6 Days - Flames coach Sutter has many challenges

Bob McKenzie

9/22/2009 10:50:41 PM

The Calgary Flames should send a thank you card to the underachieving San Jose Sharks, who have become the poster boys and focal point for playoff failure in the Western Conference.

But as any Calgary fan worth his salt knows, the Flames have a richly deserved reputation as massive underachievers and have four straight first round playoff exits as proof.

Will it be any different this year? Good question.

New coach Brent Sutter's challenges are many. He needs to get Vezina-calibre goalie Miikka Kiprusoff enough rest during the regular season that the Finnish stopper can revert to his 2004 Cup Final form in the playoffs.

He needs to get more defensive consistency and structure from a blueline nucleus that with the addition of Jay Bouwmeester to Robyn Regehr, Dion Phaneuf and Cory Sarich, should be one of the most formidable units in the league. Although, how many times have we said that only to be disappointed with their play. 

He needs to get Jarome Iginla back on top of his goal-scoring game because as deep as the Flames are with solid, hard-working, physical NHL-calibre forwards, there is perhaps a scarcity of high-end skill and natural offence, which is why a journeyman sniper like Nigel Dawes could be a key player in the Calgary scheme.

It's hard to imagine that 41-year-old Theoren Fleury is the missing piece of the puzzle, but the little fella certainly has intangibles that the Flames could use so this trial will be fascinating to watch on so many levels.

The Flames - with or without Theo -  are deeper and better balanced up front and on the blueline than they have been in years, but consistency and success of any kind has been elusive and Jim Playfair and Mike Keenan have the pink slips to prove it.

This coaching carousel has to come to an end and the onus should be on this group of players - with Iginla, Phaneuf and Kiprusoff leading the way - to prove they're not the NHL's biggest underachievers...a team that has continually failed to be greater than the sum of its parts.

It's time to fish or cut bait with this nucleus in Calgary. The Flames should be a cut above division rivals Edmonton, Minnesota and Colorado, but will have to demonstrate they have what it takes to upend the Vancouver Canucks.

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