Sutter’s strategy should show Bruins’ Chiarelli what not to do now

Chiarelli must avoid Sutter's fate.

After acquiring Steve Montador at the 2009 trade deadline, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli expressed his admiration for the team then-Calgary GM Darryl Sutter had put together prior to a run to the ’04 Stanley Cup final.

Chiarelli didn’t need to verbalize the high esteem he held Sutter in because the Bruins’ roster reflected it quite well – with Montador joining incumbent Bruins Andrew Ference, Chuck Kobasew and Stephane Yelle as players that had been one win from the Cup with Calgary that were now on Boston’s payroll.

A year and a half later, only Ference remains with Boston from that quartet of ex-Flames. While Chiarelli’s philosophy of building around all-world goaltending and being a gritty, hard-to-play-against team still mirrors part of Sutter’s approach, Bruins fans must hope that that’s as far as Chiarelli will go with his replication of the Sutter strategy.

Sutter, who became Calgary’s GM in April 2003, resigned/was pushed out this week by Flamers ownership and turned the reins over to Jay Feaster. The Sutter stint as GM in Calgary hit its pinnacle at the start with the trade for superstar goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff in November 2003 and then that run to the ’04 final. However, the rest of Sutter’s run was decorated with first-round playoff exits, lost free agents and poor trade decisions.

As Globe & Mail writer Eric Duhatschek put it on Tuesday:

Feaster inherits an organization that is old, slow, overpaid and encumbered by nearly a dozen players on no-trade or no-movement contracts. It is a team with few blue-chip prospects in the development pipeline, thanks to a series of ruinous trades over the past two years in which the future was sacrificed for quick fixes in the present that backfired in big, meaningful ways (can anyone say Olli Jokinen?).

Jokinen was a player Sutter twice erred on. First, he dealt youngsters Matthew Lombardi and Brandon Prust, along with a first-round pick, to get the center from Phoenix at the ’09 deadline. Then after swapping him for marginal NHLers last winter, Sutter re-signed Jokinen last summer. This season, Jokinen has produced just 19 points in 34 games while hitting the Flames cap for $3 million this and next season.

Sutter’s sins went well beyond two poor decisions involving Jokinen. The GM failed to retain the likes of Kristian Huselius and Mike Cammalleri when they hit free agency, and he lost them for nothing. He traded for Alex Tanguay, who scored 81 points his first season with the Flames and then dropped off to 58 the next year and hasn’t been the same player since.

In explaining that the Flames were able to re-sign star defenseman Dion Phaneuf after his entry-level deal expired but then failed to put a championship-caliber team around him, Duhatschek wrote Wednesday:

But eventually, the Flames had to pay for Phaneuf’s early successes – and soon backed themselves into a corner by repeatedly overpaying just enough to retain all their core players and land players via free agency. The result was today’s aging, capped-out team that has trouble keeping up with some of its free-wheeling, penny-pinching, more-successful adversaries.

Sutter compounded the problem by dealing Phaneuf away to Toronto last winter and receiving just marginal NHL talent in return. An even bigger blunder was handing out no-movement and no-trade clauses as though they were candy. The Flames have 10 players signed for next season with an NMC or NTC, according to CapGeek.com.

That’s one of the areas where Chiarelli has obviously strayed from the Sutter blueprint. While Chiarelli gets criticized for being generous with his NMC and NTC distribution, Boston has just five players with such clauses signed for next season. In addition, he has managed to re-sign key potential unrestricted free agents in Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Marc Savard and Tim Thomas, and got Milan Lucic to commit to Boston without testing the restricted free agency market.

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