Say what you will about the Calgary Flames dumping two of their most skilled players in exchange for second and third-liners. It had to be done.
Dion Phaneuf and Olli Jokinen just weren’t cutting it and GM Darryl Sutter was man enough to cut his losses. The book on Phaneuf was getting worse by the day and his market value was trending lower than his plus-minus line. It would have been nice for the Flames to flip him in exchange for a Vincent Lecavalier or Ilya Kovalchuk, but that wasn’t going to happen. Too many GMs have seen him wander aimlessly in his own end lately.
For whatever reason, Phaneuf didn’t and probably won’t have the capacity to grasp intelligent own-zone positioning or without-puck decision making. I say phooey to all those who make comparisons to Chris Pronger getting traded from Hartford after two struggling seasons. Phaneuf and Pronger are light years apart.
Sutter acted now before the $6.5 million salary – and four more years of it – became too much of an albatross for even old-school GMs like Brian Burke, who has a long and lasting memory of a young Phaneuf playing the game with skill and reckless abandon.
It’s still utterly shocking as well that Jokinen’s game disintegrated to the point he made Matthew ‘Too Bad’ Lombardi look like a sure-fire marksman. Jokinen just didn’t do enough playing on the first line and power play, regardless of how much he made. At least someone like Chris Higgins has a longer best-before date and decent credentials.
One word best describes the Sutter clan and that word is pride. The problem with proud GMs, however, is they often refuse to admit their mistakes and take them along until their final days on the job. In making these two trades, Sutter admitted his mistakes and for that he should be commended. Phaneuf had no business making $6.5 million a season and playing 28 minutes a game. He’s not nearly good enough. So coach Brent Sutter culled the ice time until the team could wait for him to flourish no longer.
Darryl Sutter made a big trade to get Jokinen last season and all of Calgary thought it would work out. Instead, the Flames fell to 29th overall in team offense with the big Finn driving the top line.
A crafty GM is one who can find a way to make his mistakes some other team’s mistakes.
This article also appeared in the Calgary Metro newspaper.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can find his blog each weekend.
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