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Screen Shots: If Flames fail, finger must point at GM

Darryl Sutter and Brian Burke came together Sunday to make a seven-player deal that involved Dion Phaneuf heading to Toronto. (Getty Images)

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Darryl Sutter and Brian Burke came together Sunday to make a seven-player deal that involved Dion Phaneuf heading to Toronto. (Getty Images)

Four short months ago, at the beginning of this 2009-10 NHL season, I made no bones about my fondness for the Calgary Flames.

I thought they were solid enough on defense to make up for their offensive shortcomings. I thought they had it in them to contend not just for a playoff spot, but for a Western Conference title and a Stanley Cup championship. I thought they were the real deal.

Ah, the folly of youth.

That said, despite the Flames’ massive death spiral in January (including a 1-8-3 skid that dropped them out of the top eight teams in the Western Conference), I still held out hope that, with some tinkering here and there, coach Brent Sutter and his other brother Darryl (the GM) could pull out some sort of repair job and push Calgary into the post-season.

But now? After the pair of questionable trades Calgary made this week? I’m bailing on the Flames. I’m bailing fast and I’m bailing hard. I’m bailing like Tom Sizemore’s business manager during Mardi Gras.

I mean, sure, it’s more than likely Flames management will take advantage of the increased salary cap space the trades afford them and engage in further transactions to better Calgary’s shot at reversing their fortunes.

And yes, there’s a decent likelihood new Flames Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Ian White and Jamal Mayers (acquired from Toronto) and Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins (acquired from the Rangers) could resuscitate a sporting body that has looked primed for a toe tag of late.

However, while it’s admirable to see Flames supporters searching for potential silver linings, ignoring the gathering cumulonimbus (yes, that’s your word for the day) clouds isn’t going to make them go away.

And indeed, there is an Alberta horizon’s worth of dark clouds hovering over both of Calgary’s trades.

Perhaps it’s just that I’ve seen Stajan for too many years to imagine he’ll suddenly shift gears and turn into the game-changer thousands of Leafs fans hoped he would be.

Perhaps it’s the fact that, anytime you’re bringing in players who were part of a losing environment in Toronto – and more importantly, two free agent signings of Rangers GM Glen Sather – you’re gambling in a way four out of five gamblers would not recommend. (The fifth gambler was Charles Barkley.)

Perhaps it’s because I look at the Phaneuf trade and observe that the best asset Darryl Sutter got in return was White, a smart, skilled D-man who never could ascend to the heights Phaneuf still may. Perhaps it’s because I see that Olli Jokinen, who the Flames surrendered Matthew Lombardi and their 2010 first round pick to obtain from Phoenix at last season’s trade deadline, was dealt for two of the most massive disappointments from a Rangers team that specializes in massive disappointments.

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Whatever the case, what is undeniable is that a former NHL captain and future captain material got sent out of Calgary – and nothing of the sort came back to the Flames in return. If part of the reason for that was to ease the cap constraints on a team that had committed too much of its money to defensemen, surely we have to acknowledge the GM’s plan was flawed in the first place.

That’s why the heat ultimately should be on Darryl Sutter, not the coach nor Jarome Iginla nor Jay Bouwmeester nor Miikka Kiprusoff. If Calgary’s new acquisitions prove ineffectual and the Flames go further into the dumper, I think there’s a good case to be made that Sutter’s so-called “contract for life” should be snuffed out with the nearest large pillow.

You can argue Darryl Sutter pushed the panic button this week, but that would be like saying the cast of Jersey Shore are slightly narcissistic.

In both instances, the truth is tons more troubling. This time, Sutter smashed the panic button like a Mack Truck grill barreling into a bug.

His latest trades are guaranteed to get him back into the good books of Albertan hockey fans. The problem is, it could be Oilers boosters who wind up loving him for setting back a despised archrival.

Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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