CALGARY — Brent Sutter is bent on bringing change to the Calgary Flames right down to where the players sit in the dressing room.
Captain Jarome Iginla now sits on the opposite side of where he was, but the more symbolic relocation is the defencemen’s corner, where Jay Bouwmeester, Cory Sarich, Robyn Regehr and Dion Phaneuf now reside side by side.
Those four represent the cornerstone of the Flames’ goals, which include a return to a defence-heavy system to lessen wear and tear on 32-year-old workhorse Miikka Kiprusoff in net.
Sutter left the New Jersey Devils with one year remaining on his coaching contract in June. Given his release from the Devils, he was promptly hired by his brother and Flames GM Darryl Sutter.
“Attention to detail” is a phrase Brent repeats often and not even dressing room configuration escapes his notice.
“Fresh start,” Sutter said Monday. “Whole new coaching staff. We see things differently. We want things done a little bit differently. It’s a fresh start for the players too, so why go half way?”
The Flames open the 2009-10 campaign Thursday at home against the Vancouver Canucks (CBC, 8 p.m.). Both clubs are expected to vie for the Northwest Division title.
Brent Sutter’s hiring and the signing of Bouwmeester to a US$33-million, five-year contract before he became an unrestricted free agent were Calgary’s major moves of the off-season.
Regehr speculated the dressing-room changes may be designed to shake established players out of their comfort zone.
“As a player, I don’t know if it makes a huge difference,” he said. “But what it does is, if some people were comfortable in the seat they were in, or in the situation they were in before, to try make them a little bit uncomfortable and get them out of that zone.”
After a fourth straight exit in the first round of playoffs in April, Darryl Sutter said finishing 23rd in the league in defence was unacceptable.
With the addition of the fleet, skilled Bouwmeester, Calgary’s top four defencemen are the envy of most clubs.
“One of them will probably always be on the ice,” Iginla said. “They’ll be a tough group to play against.”
Bouwmeester could also boost a power play that ranked 21st in the league under Mike Keenan last season. Bouwmeester, Phaneuf and Regehr are among the pool of defenceman under consideration for Canada’s Olympic team.
Brent Sutter is a stickler for precise positioning and adherence to systems. That approach can help Phaneuf’s game, as the former Norris trophy nominee finished minus-11 last season.
“Good defensive teams are hard working teams and teams that are very committed in doing little things like blocking shots, making sure they’re taking angles right and their sticks are in the right place,” explained Sutter.
“No turnovers in the neutral zone and making sure you pick the right men up in the neutral zone. You want the puck, you want to create things, but you’ve got to be smart with it and don’t throw pucks away.”
He prefers no more than 25 shots per game on his goalies. He doesn’t intend to play Kiprusoff 76 games during the regular season as the Finn did under Keenan last season. That means more starts for backup David McElhinney.
While Iginla led the Flames in points last season, Michael Cammalleri was the top goal-scorer and he is now with the Montreal Canadiens.
Iginla, centre Olli Jokinen — who was acquired at last season’s trade deadline — and Daymond Langkow will be asked to shoulder much of the offensive load.