It takes two Tanguay

Jean Lefebvre
July 18 2009 11:57AM

It’s a strange phenomenon – the more time passes since Alex Tanguay wore a Calgary Flames jersey, the worse he becomes as a hockey player and as a person in the eyes of Calgary Flames fans.

This point was driven home recently when some water-cooler conversation turned to the subject of Tanguay’s continued availability on the unrestricted-free-agent market and a Flames fan snarkily commented that NHL teams had gotten wise to former Av-Flame-Hab’s act. The fellow went as far to suggest that Tanguay was the most overrated player in the league when he signed the contract that was paying him nearly $5.4 smackers in 2008-09. (That deal, by the way, was co-signed by the Flames’ own Darryl Sutter)

Mr. Crankypants is hardly alone in his Tanguay bashing. A recent Flames messageboard thread about Tanguay touched off an avalanche of abuse. The guy was accused of being overpaid, overrated, soft, pass-happy, a malcontent, a money-chaser and a malingerer, among other slams. Even some of those who resisted the urge to kick Tanguay’s reputation in the nether regions could muster no stronger a counter-argument than the backhanded compliment that Tanguay was “a good complementary player.”

Frankly, the magnitude of the vitriol is hard to understand, especially since the human-resource price for two seasons’ worth of Tanguay in Calgary was Jordan Leopold (who could never stay healthy in Denver and wound up coming to the Flames anyway and curiously wound up being a part in the scheme to bring Jay Bouwmeester to Calgary) as well as draft picks that became Trevor Cann and Codey Burki. Meanwhile, the Flames received a first-round pick that they spent on Greg Nemisz when Tanguay was traded to Montreal a year ago.

This isn’t to suggest Tanguay is above reproach and in fact a certain doofus ex-Herald writer once wrote that No. 40 deserved some of the blame for the way the situation soured in Calgary. Heck, even Tanguay himself admitted after the fact he should have handled things better. But man are folks getting carried away with their criticism.

Here’s the thing about Tanguay – he’s a sensitive soul in a he-man’s, never-let-’em-see-you-sweat world. He’s hardly the only player who is prone to hurt feelings but unlike many of his NHL brethren, who hide their feelings with a veneer of indifference, Tanguay wore his heart on his sleeve.

One time, when a reporter wrote that his removal from the top line and insertion into the de facto checking unit had resulted in a drop in offensive production and accusations that he was overpaid, Tanguay approached the writer.

Quietly and inconspicuously, Tanguay asked: “Are you saying that I’m overpaid?”

“No,” replied the reporter, “the point of the story is that some fans are saying you’re overpaid because your role has changed and you’re scoring less.”

At this point, Tanguay nodded knowingly and acknowledged the fact that he was making too much money to be a checking winger, even if his utilization only loosely fit that description.

On another occasion, Tanguay was genuinely hurt and upset when a network TV talking head suggested that Tanguay’s contract with the Flames had made it impossible for the Oilers to re-sign Ryan Smyth. First of all, he resented being compared to Smyth and he didn’t understand why his name had to be dragged into that squabble in the first place.

There’s no doubt that Tanguay’s pride was hurt by the decreased offensive totals in his second year with the Flames and much of the Calgary fans’ negativity towards him is the result of the perceived whining when he used his removal from the top line and No. 1 power-play unit as reasons for the plummeting points.

All that said, it should be pointed out:

  • For all the wisecracks about Tanguay looking to pass when taking a shot in the shootout, Tanguay was as fine a playmaker as the Flames have had in a long, long time. His feather-soft feeds in perfect position were a thing of beauty, even if his colleagues weren’t always able to capitalize on the sublime set-ups.
  • Despite his discontent with Mike Keenan’s lineup decisions, Tanguay never publicly demanded a trade and in fact lied to the media when asked if he wanted out of Calgary. Darryl Sutter, who throws compliments around like they were anchors, praised Tanguay for the manner in which he handled the entire matter, a factor which no doubt helped the Flames get something approaching market value when the time came to trade the left-winger. You think the Senators wish Dany Heatley and his camp had showed similar tact?
  • Though it wasn’t his cup of tea, Tanguay was a very reliable defensive player. Despite facing the toughest competition most nights, Tanguay was plus-11 in his second season in Calgary. Matt Fenwick over at the Battle of Alberta frequently and very eloquently spoke of Tanguay’s attributes – here’s just one example.
  • This supposedly soft player played hurt for several weeks during the 2007-08 season and missed a grand total of five games in two years with Calgary.

Again, the idea here isn’t to suggest Alex Tanguay is Hall of Fame bound or that everything about his time with the Flames was peachy, but it just seemed something had to be said in his defence in light of all the out-of-bounds criticism that has arisen in Calgary this summer as the man searches for work.

And if this all seems a day late and a dollar short, take heart in the fact that the other topic under consideration for this space was a re-analysis of the Pat Riggin trade to Washington.

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Lefebvre is in that awkward stage of hockey following -- old enough to fondly remember the Cleveland Barons and too set in his ways to accept charity points and games where there's a winner but apparently no loser. As a long-time ink-stained wretch, he's also a firm believer in the old Bobby Knight quote about journalists: "All of us learn to write in second grade, but most of us go on to better things."
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#1 Kent
July 18 2009, 12:49PM
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Unfortunately, fans act like spurned lovers when an athlete asks for a trade from "their" team. It's pretty much universal. Dany Heatley is a good recent example. It's archetypal "sour grapes".

In addition, the Flames disappointing season correlated nicely with Tanguay's downturn in production. The fans frustration was channeled through him as a result, even though he wasn't a reason for the club's mediocrity.

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#2 Brent
July 18 2009, 02:34PM
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Thanks for the analysis of what went wrong in year 2. It's dead on.

I always felt Tanguay bore the brunt of far too much. When he came to Calgary, the Flames were constantly accused of being a one-line team and the Tanguay acquisition immediately laid that to rest for good.

Tanguay was always an intelligent playmaker, and it certainly wasn't a lack of effort that soured the situation.

It couldn't have been easy for him. Still, he held his head high. Here's hoping a class act finds a new contract and some success next season.

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#3 hummelj
July 27 2009, 09:19PM
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No one has said it better!!

A great player that just fell out of cohesion with the Calgary flames playing style.

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