Darryl Sutter has been the General Manager of the Calgary Flames for seven years and six months. In his first full year as General Manager the Flames made the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons and made a stunning run to the Stanley Cup Finals. In the five seasons since, the Flames have won the Northwest Division once, placed second once and third three times. They've made the playoffs four times, but lost in the first round each time.
A significant part of the problem has been Sutter's management style. The Flames have been delivering mediocre results despite ranking fifth in the NHL since the lockout in total Salary Cap hit. Sutter mistook an average team that hit a lucky streak during the playoffs in 2004 for one that had a core capable of competing for the Stanley Cup every year. The 2003-2004 Flames ranked 11th in total goal differential and 15th in even strength goal differential. By comparison, the Lightning - the team that defeated the Flames in the Stanley Cup Finals - ranked 3rd in total goal differential and 8th in even strength goal differential.
Sutter has spent the last six seasons attempting to re-create a Cup finals run with various incarnations of veterans surrounding that 2004 core, and those veterans have come to the Flames at the expense of youth and the future. Sutter has traded away younger players and loads of draft picks, stripping the Flames of young talent and keeping them rather bored at the draft table each June. Hockey's Future currently ranks the Flames' system 27th in the NHL and the future does not look bright in Calgary.
Edmonton vs. Calgary - 8:00 PM MDT (CBC)
Read more about the Calgary Flames at Matchsticks and Gasoline
One stat I've referred to before is Marginal Cap Efficiency, first given to me by The Falconer of Bird Watchers Anonymous. Marginal cap efficiency tracks the number of points per million dollars in salary cap spent over the league minimum salary. It's a crude device for analyzing the performance of a General Manager in the cap era. When we last looked in on MCE, Nashville's David Poile was at the front of the pack and the Oilers' two-headed monster of Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini were pulling up the rear. Using the final standings and the final cap hits for each team in 2009-2010, I've updated the table below:
|Total Salary (MM)
David Poile is still in the lead and the two-headed monster is still twenty-nine lengths behind. Sutter is decidedly average, coming in at 15th in the league in MCE, fitting considering where the Flames have usually finished under Sutter's regime: over the last six years, the Flames have finished 12th, 7th, 13th, 14th, 10th, and 15th in the NHL in points, also decidedly average.
As mentioned above, one reason for this performance might be Sutter's tendency to trade away draft picks and young talent for veterans and his penchant for signing unrestricted free agents to fill the roster. Salary Cap dollars are saved in entry level deals, and to a lesser extent, on most restricted free agent contracts.
Since 2005, Sutter has traded 2 first round picks, 6 second round picks, 3 third round picks, 2 fourth round picks, 1 fifth round pick, and 1 seventh round pick. He's traded for 1 first round pick, 2 second round picks, 2 third round picks, 2 fourth round picks, 1 fifth round pick, and 1 seventh round pick. His net loss in five years has been 1 first round pick, 4 second round picks, and 1 third round pick.
Sutter also traded away a young soft-minutes center in Matthew Lombardi for an older, more-expensive soft-minutes center in Olli Jokinen. He dealt for aging defenseman Steve Staios and his $2,700,000 million contract in 2010. He attempted to fix the Jokinen mistake by trading him to New York for fourth line winger and power play specialist Ales Kotalik's two remaining years at $3,000,000 each.
Eventually Sutter's attempts to give away cheap contracts and draft picks will catch up with the Flames. He'll be forced to dump a contract in Abbotsford to get under the cap or sell off Flame forever Jarome Iginla to restock the system. Until then, however, Darryl Sutter and the Calgary Flames will remain decidedly average.