Just so we're clear, the Flames are only playing well because Darryl Sutter left. The locker room is a better place to be and everyone feels loved. That is the complete difference in the Flames. Sutter didn't understand personnel and he sure as hell didn't know how to manage the free agency system. Also, Charlie Sheen is a choir boy.
The storyline pendulum in Calgary has swung too far towards the anti-Sutter camp. I completely believe that Darryl Sutter was a grumpy guy who made the people around him just a little more unhappy than they wanted to be. I've worked with people like that. I honestly believe that when you remove a negative influence, the atmosphere in the workplace can improve. That said, hockey teams still need talent to win.
My point is, Darryl Sutter actually made some incredibly shrewd moves this summer, and the current version of the Flames are right in the thick of the playoff hunt because of those moves. We can argue about whether his vision of the franchise "going for it" was correct (I don't think it was), but with that goal in mind, the former Flames GM made some damn good acquisitions. He deserves major credit for the results we're seeing now. Not just regular credit, street cred.
Olli Jokinen, Alex Tanguay, Brendan Morrison and Tim Jackman were all signed this summer for a total cap hit of $6 million. That is four players for less than the price of Ilya Kovalchuk or what Brad Richards will likely get this summer.
The four horsemen have a combined Goals Versus Threshold (GVT) of 29.7. For $6M, we would hope to get at least 12 GVT from 4 players using Goals Versus Salary (GVS). So at this point, Sutter is 17.7 goals to the good, which is worth ~3 wins better than the salaries of those players would dictate.
Throwing the salary and non-production of the Raitis Ivanans experiment into the mix, the Flames are still 17.2 goals ahead of the curve with their free agents from this summer. If the season plays out according to pace, his signings could net the Flames close to 25 goals better than the salary he laid out. For all of our criticism on Darryl's inability to adapt to the cap era, he just had his "Summer of George" moment in the very system he struggled to manage for several years leading up to now.
Probably the most amazing aspect of the signings is that they aren't just bit parts in a greater juggernaut, like adding pieces to the core of the Red Wings, Canucks or Blackhawks. All four of the players mentioned are playing key roles on the team.
Among Flames forwards the top three in terms of quality of competition (using Corsi Rel QoC) are none other than Olli Jokinen, Brendan Morrison and Alex Tanguay. On top of that, Morrison and Jokinen have the second and third most difficult ZoneStart ratios on the team. Tanguay is deployed in a more offensive manner. However, it's amazing to consider that Sutter found his heaviest lifters on the free agent market at bargain prices.
Tim Jackman was obviously an unknown in these parts when he signed and even led one commenter to refer to Jackman and Ivanans as Thing 1 and Thing 2. There were some indications he could be a good find, mainly his 33.8% zone start ratio clouding his possession numbers. Since the summer, Jackman has become a fan favorite and part of a 3rd line that dominates possession.
I've spent most of the season second-guessing Sutter's decisions, suggesting the Flames trade Regehr, and even dubbing Jokinen one of the season's worst free agent signings only a month ago. Since then, I've changed my tune a little.
More than anything, I've been pretty vocal with my criticism of Sutter's direction. However, he believed this team was bound for the playoffs and for one glorious season he's gone and totally redeemed himself.