September 23 2011 10:18PM
As training camp and the pre-season gets underway,it seems like the Flames are working hard to prove that the promises they made in the off-season were more than the usual smoke and mirrors the fans had become accustomed to hearing under the previous regime. Actually showcasing the talent in the rookie camp with media coverage, rather than a meager half-assed acknowledgement at its beginning, was a good segue from the 'talk-the-talk' to the 'walk-the-walk'.
The Flames feel they have improved this team, even though it doesn't look all that different from the team of last year. They are better fiscally managed; they are younger, faster and more mobile. That's what they said they were going to do. Tweak this team without blowing it up and avoid the dreaded 'R'-word that Edmonton uses like a sacred oath. It seems like the team and players are all on the same page... But what about the FANS?
There has been such a wide variance here at FlamesNation about the direction this team has gone and where it needs to go. As to who needs to stay, and who needs to go; even as to who needs to lead this team, and who will bring it to ruin. All articulately outlined in various articles from mediocrity to optimism. Speculations from the Nation's finest have the Flames finishing anywhere from 4th or 5th, to 11th or 12th in the conference.
"I still think this roster lacks the talent to go up against the big dogs in the league. We saw the club near it's best in the last half of the season and they struggled to get wins against the top teams. However, if they see certain players reach a new level and if Kipper rebounds they could be a decent threat." - Sincity1976
There are many comments like this, in various articles, and what I find most interesting, is that it's not really a definitive opinion one way or the other. Cautious optimism, if you will. The fan base, which was thrilled with an unbelievable second half from the Flames last year,was still critical that while Calgary was making a remarkable resurgence, still struggled to beat teams they needed to leapfrog to get into the post season. However... If the Flames were able to right some key wrongs and the core of this team, *cough* Miikka Kiprusoff, could somehow find his form circa 2004, this same team, without major changes could find its way back to the playoffs. Others, have a different take on the Flames second half and slightly less confidence in the core of this team.
"I go back to the team's record against good teams, top 4 teams, and it stinks. Smoke and mirrors would be how I would describe the surge. To me, you either think, like me, the team isn't good enough talent wise, which this offseason didn't fix, or you believe that the Flames took the first half of the season off, and then played in the second, which would imply, to me, there is a lack of urgency in the players, which this offseason didn't address." - Domebeers
So what is causing die hard Flames fans to not just look at both sides of the proverbial coin, but consider it and in some cases embrace it? Maybe part of the reason is that we have been to this show before, and quite frankly it didn't have a happy ending. Indecision from management and a lack of resources were the cause back then, but to the fans, it doesn't matter how the team got to where it was in the 90's, just that it was stuck there for so long.
"I remember how bad the team was during the late 90's and early 2000's, and it wasn't pretty. I honestly think during that time the only thing that kept the fan base enough to avoid relocation was Iggy. At that time he was our only promising young player. Now the Flames are far better than they were then. However, if we don't start to draft some promising young players soon, that same thing could happen again, except the dollar is better so they won't relocate. So far at least prospects are showing something. Erixon and Reinhart are maybe the signs that our drafting is beginning to improve. Time will tell." - schevvy
... And time has told. The Flames have done a better job at drafting and the organization now has a significant number of promising prospects in it's system, as was discussed by yours truly in my series on the Fountain of Youth. So is that enough to forget the past and get excited about the future? Well I have no doubt that come October 8th, the Saddledome will be roaring and the excitement of the fans in attendance will resonate through the walls of the building and into the Flames dressing room.
What I fear all fans will be thinking in the back of their minds is, 'Do the Flames hear us?' Can we as a fan base, ignite these Flames so that we don't see a repeat of what happened last year in the first half? Can we fully embrace the words and the actions of Feaster and King in the off-season so that we are cheering to the guy sitting in the seat beside us that, 'This guy is a FREAKING genius'... Or are we going to resort back to sitting in a church, that happens to have an ice rink in the middle of it, mumbling into our heroin beer, 'Great! Another whole lot of bull...', well you get the idea.
Scott Lepp, now of Matchsticks and Gasoline made an interesting comment in his submission to be the new FlamesNation contributor.
"Do you think Jay Feaster, as GM of the Calgary Flames, improved the team during the off-season? ... That answer is easy: NO.
... how can we reasonably expect any significant improvement from the Flames? We never even talked about how several of the Western Conference playoff competition crazily went out and improved their team during the off-season. I won't say the playoffs are out of the question and I won't ever rule out bounce-back-seasons - but, exactly how much is there to bounce back from? And, who will provide the bounce?"
Now I have to disagree with Scott here, and since I won the contributor search, I'm right and I get the last word. Feaster may or may not have improved the talent level of this team, which is up for debate in the comment section below. However, he DID improve the future of this team in a relatively short period of time. By freeing up a generous amount of cap space and the beginnings of what actually looks like a stable farm system, the Flames are showing the fans, even before the season starts, that they in no way intend to slip back into the 90's and spend nearly a decade watching the NHL like a group of spectators, rather than participants.
As the title here states, being a Flames fan is a 'lonely road of faith'. We wear our pride, our anger, our excitement and our disappointment on our sleeves; sometimes all at once. Something I have always found interesting over the years is that, when we speak as a fan base, we are united and devoted as the best of them. It's in the inner circles like the comments on FlamesNation, where we feel comfortable enough to express the doubts, concerns and skepticism. It's not a bandwagon attitude or even negativity, but it's the faith we have and defend.
I was so stoked the other night when the pucks dropped. Two games in the same night for the first night of the pre-season? There is an air of optimism to this season, but like I said before, it is cautious optimism. Flames fans have to be prepared to have a mighty thick skin this year. We are bound to take a lot of flak throughout it, but one thing is for certain. It won't take long to find out if we're all on the same page or not.