Brent Sutter took over as head coach of the Calgary Flames in the 2009-10 season. He inherited largely the same veteran-laden roster that Mike Keenan led to a pair of impressive regular seasons (and disappointing playoffs).
Unfortunately two things happened in 2009-10. The Flames missed the playoffs for the first time since 2002-03, and general manager Darryl Sutter went into full-blown panic mode as the Flames sputtered down the stretch.
The season began with a four-game winning streak, signalling the arrival of Brent Sutter to the Calgary Flames organization. Good news, right? And the team strung together a few three and four-game streaks throughout the rest of the season. Overall, the Flames had seven different three-plus game winning streaks, and just five comparable losing skids.
So how come they missed the playoffs by five points?
Well, one of their losing streaks was nine games long. From January 11-28, the Calgary Flames went 0-6-3. Following the end of that streak, Darryl Sutter went nuclear and blew up the team. Granted, he didn’t move Iginla, Regehr, Bouwmeester or Kiprusoff – the big pieces whose trade would constitute waving the white flag and beginning a rebuild. But he jettisoned Dion Phaneuf on January 31 and Olli Jokinen on February 1. The returns were considered mediocre to awful. The team never really recovered.
The Flames finished the season with a four-game losing streak, just in case anybody had a flicker of hope left that they could go on a late-season run and make the playoffs despite the adversity.
Miikka Kiprusoff “only” started 72 games in 2009-10, winning 35 of his starts. His back-up Curtis McElhinney won three of his seven starts and was replaced at the trade deadline by Vesa Toskala, who won two of his three starts after joining the Flames – basically justifying the effort of trading for him. Playing slightly less than in previous years helped out Kiprusoff’s numbers, though: his even-strength save percentage rebounded to .928, putting him back among the league’s best netminders in that category.
In retrospect, this is when Darryl Sutter’s managerial madness set in. Look at how damn busy he was, including two mid-season panic moves – goodbye Phaneuf and Jokinen – and the ultimate taboo, making a trade with the Edmonton Oilers (the first time the two teams made a move together).
- July 17, 2009: traded a seventh round pick to Washington for Keith Seabrook.
- July 27, 2009: traded Wayne Primeau and a second round pick to Toronto for Colin Stuart, Anton Stralman and a seventh round pick.
- September 28, 2009: traded Anton Stralman to Columbus for a third round pick.
- October 7, 2010: traded Kyle Greentree to Chicago for Aaron Johnson.
- January 31, 2010: traded Dion Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjostrom and Keith Aulie to Toronto for Niklas Hagman, Matt Stajan, Ian White and Jamal Mayers.
- February 1, 2010: traded Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust to the NY Rangers for Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins.
- March 3, 2010: traded Aaron Johnson and a third round pick to Edmonton for Steve Staios.
- March 3, 2010: traded Curtis McElhinney to Anaheim for Vesa Toskala.
- March 3, 2010: traded Riley Armstrong to Detroit for Andy Delmore.
- March 3, 2010: traded Dustin Boyd to Nashville for a fourth round pick.
- June 29, 2010: traded a sixth round pick to San Jose for Henrik Karlsson.
- June 30, 2010: traded Jason Jaffray and a conditional pick to Anaheim for Logan MacMillan and a conditional pick.
Almost immediately, to be frank, the Phaneuf and Jokinen trades were seen as knee-jerk reactions and bad, bad trades. The Flames ended up having to pay half of Hagman’s contract after losing him on re-entry waivers, while they had to throw a second round pick into a deal with Buffalo to get Ales Kotalik out of town. The Primeau/Stralman moves were also awful, as the team effectively sent a useful bottom-six body and a second round pick to Toronto for a minor leaguer, a third and a seventh by the time the season had began.
Sutter’s free agency additions in the summer of 2009 were quiet and understated, but also reasonably useful: Fredrik Sjostrom, Staffan Kronwall and Brian McGrattan.
The 2010 Draft was one of Calgary’s better ones, despite the team not having a first or second round selection: Ferland may be an NHLer, Arnold is a useful pro, Reinhart was an asset, and Holland was used as an asset in a future big trade.
RETHINKING THE 2009-10 FLAMES
Why did the Flames miss the playoffs?
Well, despite being a good possession team, they had a few flaws. First, as usual, their goaltending was mediocre (and occasionally putrid) behind Miikka Kiprusoff. Their even-strength save percentage was 14th in the NHL, right at the midpoint. A decent back-up would’ve (a) bumped them up into the top third on his own and (b) given Kiprusoff some much-needed nights off down the stretch, probably bumping them up further.
The worst thing about Calgary? In terms of recent history, think of them as the exact opposite of the 2014-15 team – nothing ever went in for them. They had the fifth-worst shooting percentage in the entire NHL, so despite frequently out-shooting other teams, they often lost by a goal because (a) their goaltending wasn’t amazing and (b) they could never score the “next goal” they needed to win key games. They were also the third-worst overtime/shootout team in the league, putting up a 5-10 record in games that went to extra time. That’s a lot of points to leave on the table, and it cost them.
Good possession team. What gives? Was it their shooting percentage? (Yes.)