Calgary's Brent Sutter: 'We All Have to Be A Lot Better'
But the blunt Sutter is well aware of all the talk -- and yes, the giggles -- surrounding his team's re-signing of much-maligned center Olli Jokinen.
"I was made well aware before the free agent market opened that it was a possibility," said Sutter, whose brother Darryl is the Flames' general manager. "I stood with Darryl's decision. To me, it was pretty straight-forward. Our responsibility to our fans and to ourselves is to make the hockey club as strong as we can. If you looked at the players available as free agents this summer, and where we had a need, Olli was one of the strongest centers out there. He is a player that we know and we like. I'm glad to have him back."
When Brent Sutter puts it that way, it doesn't seem so comical. For all of the 31-year-old Jokinen's warts -- he has virtually no playoff record to speak of -- he had 15 goals and 50 points in a down season for him. Attempt to resist all the easy pokes aimed at the Finn, and yes, $3 million a year for the next two seasons is not an insane price for a 50-point center who has averaged over 20 minutes a game the last seven seasons.
On almost every other topic surrounding his Flames, Sutter -- clearly without intention -- included some variation of the phrase, "He has to be better" in his answers.
On top defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, who had three goals and 29 points last season after signing a five-year deal with a salary cap hit of $6.8 million: "Jay has to be better, like all of us do. Last year was his first with us and his first getting accustomed to my style. He is an outstanding all-around defenseman. Everyone knows the level of talent he has. I'm confident he is going to have a great year for us."
On franchise forward Jarome Iginla, who led the Flames with 32 goals and 69 points in 2009-10, his lowest totals in four years: "Jarome's a great player and an even better leader and person. I'm sure he knows he has to be even better than he has been. I'm looking forward to a second season with Jarome. I have no doubt he'll do a great job for us. I'm never concerned about the effort and the dedication we're going to get from Jarome Iginla."
On the over-hyped, never-ending search for the perfect center for Iginla: "I agree with you that too much is made of it. We have Matt Stajan now (acquired in the Dion Phaneuf blockbuster with Toronto). We have Olli. We brought back Alex Tanguay, who has played well with Jarome in the past. But all that said, it's not about just focusing on finding the right player for Jarome Iginla, but making the Flames an all-around better team. Everyone has to be better."
To be sure, Sutter was not pointing fingers. Throughout our conversation, he made it clear that of all of the players and staffers in the Flames organization, no one has to have a better year than him. The Flames were 40-32-10 in 2009-10, good for 90 points, but not good to qualify for the playoffs in the Western Conference. Calgary finished five points behind eighth-place Colorado.
"Last season was a learning experience for me, the players, the front office, everybody," said Sutter. "I don't want to get into specifics, but I can tell you there will be things I'll do differently. We have a great organization, a great fan base and a great core of players. There's no question that it's on me to get the most out of them this season and beyond. I have to be better than I was last year."