The Calgary Flames are caught between a rock and a hard place, and it isn't easy to point the finger at who is indeed to blame for the situation.
The players couldn't get it done on the ice, Brent Sutter couldn't get it done behind the bench, and ultimately, Darryl Sutter didn't get it done upstairs—though it wasn't for a lack of effort on his part.
Frankly, Calgary's immediate future looks to be in more trouble than Tiger Woods with an open tab at a Las Vegas brothel.
With 17 players signed, consuming $49.1 million of cap space, that leaves $7.9 million for Darryl Sutter to spend on four forwards and a backup goaltender.
Not to mention they desperately need some offensive punch, as the team lost 16 games by the count of one goal.
Meanwhile, Craig Conroy, Eric Nystrom, Jamal Mayers, and Chris Higgins are all UFA's, though Nystrom and Higgins may be the only two worth signing, and considering their production shouldn't cost more than $1.5 million each.
It isn't out of the question that Sutter could work some magic and still turn this thing around for next season, he may just have to pull some savvy tricks out of his hat to accomplish it.
First off, 22-year-old Leland Irving is more than capable of being a backup to Miikka Kiprusoff.
Irving has posted a 38-35-4 record, with a 2.37 goals against average, and a .918 save percentage in two years with a Flames' AHL affiliate team that is, at best, mediocre.
Secondly, the club is still rich on the blueline, even without the sporadic Dion Phaneuf.
It is highly unlikely anyone would take on Jay Bouwmeester's rich $6.8 million, but Robyn Regehr is a player that a team needing an elite shutdown defenseman may be interested in.
With the 6'4", 220 lbs. Matt Pelech looking more and more capable of playing in the NHL each day, Regehr would erase $4 million off the books, and leave Bouwmeester, Mark Giordano, Cory Sarich, Steve Staios, the more than capable Adam Pardy, Ian White (if he is resigned), and Pelech, as the club's seven D-men.
That isn't a bad lineup, especially when you have one of the best goalies in the world between the pipes.
Up front is where it could get complicated.
Ales Kotalik is on the books for $3 million per for the next two seasons, and like Jokinen, doesn't look like a good fit here. Sutter could buy him out, which would free up another $1.25 million—or he can wait to see if he rebounds.
And while many see Matt Stajan's $3.5 million as money not well spent, at 26 years old, for a player who has averaged a point every second game over his six-year NHL career, it isn't too bad of a bargain.
The real key next season is for this team to get younger and more enthusiastic up front, which means Mikael Backlund and the 6'3", 200 lbs., 20-year-old center, Greg Nemisz should be given a long look at training camp.
If Sutter can make a move to dump some salary, there is no reason he can't take a run at a UFA like 27-year-old Alexander Frolov, just to change the dynamic of his team a bit and add a guy who is capable of scoring goals.
Or, he could take a run at a restricted free agent and give up a pick in the NHL Entry Draft.
It is very easy to give up on this club, especially after they looked lifeless in the last game of the season, and were thumped by a much better team in the Vancouver Canucks.
But, for those with short-term memories, it was just two seasons ago that the Flames handed those same Canucks a 7-1 loss, as Vancouver failed to make the playoffs.
Sure, we don't have two Sedins, but we do have a lot of Sutters, and if I was a betting man, that is all the odds I need.