FOREVER A FLAME

Vintage Flame
February 17 2012 09:24AM

 

The Calgary Flames will launch the ”Forever A Flame” program on February 27th with a boom as they kick things off with Al MacInnis as its first inductee. The program marks the beginning of the long overdue process of former Flames being paid their due respect by the organization. Fitting since most of the booms historically heard in the Dome, came off the stick of the man we all knew as “Chopper”.

On the surface, the program cloud be nothing short of spectacular. However, marketing the program has gotten off to a shaky start and the direction and management of it has me as worried as the structure of the current team. What on earth could possibly be construed as a negative aspect of honouring former players? Well that’s just it, there is an apparent disconnect already on how the team is actually honouring these players.

THE PLAN...

... is to extend the upmost distinctions to the players that have demonstrated an equal dedication to the City and the organization when they donned the Flaming “C”. Such honour has so far only been extended to Lanny McDonald's #9 (in 1990) and seventeen years later, Mike Vernon’s #30 (2007). The Flames as an organization, and Ken King, have admitted that they have been absent in their responsibilities to some players that are still waiting to receive this acknowledgement. The “Forever A Flame” program is their initiative to correct these oversights and beginning with Al MacInnis is an attempt to right a wrong that is long overdue.

“We think (MacInnis) is the very best person on a long list of people we want to recognize. We wanted to begin a Calgary Flames way.”
- Ken King

I want to start off by saying that I think it’s great the Flames organization is doing this and that I agree with Mr. King that it is long overdue. However, what concerns me is the criteria that governs this program going forward. The term that is being emphasized in this process is “honouring”, and it is very suitable; the whole idea behind the program is honour. As it seems right now, the plan going forward will be to recognize past Flames players as honourees, but not limit future stars from perhaps wearing the same number if it’s deemed warranted by the franchise.

This is where I start to get concerned. Does this mean that the Flames will not ever officially “retire” another jersey number? And if so, what does that mean to the only two numbers that have been retired? Are they to be unretired and then “honoured”? I can’t for the life of me imagine that the organization would ever even imagine doing this as it would most certainly be viewed of nothing less than a slap in the face to both Vernon and McDonald. But then, what does it mean for future stars that earn the distinction? Where do they slot in as far as having their jersey honoured or retired? The best I can figure is that the “Forever A Flame” program is going to give Calgary the flexibility, or a loop hole if you will, to be able to pay tribute to multiple players without getting into the mess of conflicting numbers. In that respect, Vernon and McDonald are already safe from scrutiny, but there are a number of potential conflicts that will arise, and I think this new program will give King and the owners a way to save their integrity and still save face with the fans.

THE POTENTIAL CONFLICTS

Let’s start with some jerseys that for many fans are considered obvious but that the Calgary Flames may not be in any rush to lift into the rafters of the Saddledome.

#25 – Joe Nieuwendyk: I don’t perceive any conflict with the likes of Eric Vail or Willie Plett, or even current Flame, David Moss; rather the problem here is the strained relationship between Joe and the Flames organization. There is no doubting the merit of Nieuwy, and if it was based on merit alone then I would have no quarrel with seeing #25 go up into the rafters. However, the manner in which Joe left the Flames is a problem. In 1995, after playing eight years in Calgary, Nieuwendyk walked out on the Flames over a contract dispute; Calgary was forced to trade their franchise player with a gun held to their head. The return on Niewy turned out to be a home run in Jarome Iginla, and while that end result may have softened the hurt feelings of the fans from 1995, it may be a case of forgive but not necessarily forget for the organization. By honouring #25 in the future and not retiring it, I believe the fans are getting what they want without the team giving what they may feel is undue credit.

#14 – Theoren Fleury: If you are a strong advocate for Nieuwendyk having his jersey retired, then believe it or not, it might have been Theo’s fault it hasn’t been, or ever will, get done. It follows a certain logic that if the Flames had retired #25, then #14 would have to follow suit. Theo broke Joe’s record for all-time scoring leader as a Flame and he did it will far less support than Nieuwendyk had. When Calgary had Theo as the franchise player, Joe was winning the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe with Dallas, Gary Roberts only played 35 games in what was his final year with the Flames (1995-96), Sergei Makarov was long gone, and Jarome Iginla was a rookie that didn’t even join the team until the playoffs where he only played two games.

So how exactly did Theo spoil a jersey retirement ceremony not only for himself, but also Nieuwendyk? One again we have to look beyond the merits of the player on the ice. Fleury was always a fan favourite from day one and has always maintained a connection to the fans of Calgary no matter where he played and for what team. It’s no surprise that when the question arises as to who should be the next number to be retired by the Flames, Theo’s name is emphatically endorsed by the people. However, once again the team might have a different outlook on approving such honour. When Theo was signed by the New York Rangers, he ripped the Flames organization claiming that he was under appreciated - not by the fans but by the ownership. That’s a pretty big bridge to burn.

You probably also have to consider that as Iginla approached breaking Theo’s record, Fleury wasn’t exactly supportive. Instead he made comments like the game is easier now for players and the rules were changed to protect franchise players like Iginla. He went on to even boast that if was able to play under these protectionist rules, that no one would have broken his records. That would be strike two: you don’t go out of your way to discount the face of the franchise just because he is about to break your record.

Strike three would have to be when the Flames took Fleury’s attempt at an NHL comeback to heart. They signed him to a training camp contract with no special criteria or expectations; if he made the team, great. If not, both parties would part ways with no ill will. When the latter took place, Theo ripped the Flames again for not giving him a fair shot and that they were stupid for playing players like Craig Conroy (yes, he actually called out Conroy specifically), when he could score more goals than them anytime. While fans erupted that Theo wasn’t once again back in a Flames jersey and it will be hard to ever forget Theo scoring the shootout winner in his first pre-season game, the ownership group might just see him in a different light and not want to be reminded of it every time they look to the rafters.

The “Forever A Flame” program might give the fans what they want, Theo’s name and the number 14 recognized. The fact that he will be honoured and not retired might also allow for the ownership to get the final word as well.

It is entirely possible to see the Flames also put up #14 for Kent Nilsson. After all, he was the original “Magic Man”. Having him up there might just be a message from the Owners to Fleury - you may have been great, but you weren’t the only one.

THE SOLUTION

The Flames have the solution save for one small *error in the program. In the words of Ken King himself..

“The number retirement system works for some teams as their tradition, but there is no longer a universal tradition for honouring players,” King said. “This is a high, high honour not second to anything. We will have many more facets than this. It’s the beginning of a new tradition, and we need to be bold and brave enough to do it for all of the good reasons we have. There can’t be a downside to honouring a player we think so much of.”

This program is tailor made to circumvent any hard feelings over the decision to include some players, while excluding others. It can make the organization look good and appease the fans at the same time. It affords them the luxury to pay tribute to players that may deserve it but not to the extent where they have to say, “no other player will ever wear this number because of him.” Let’s take as an example, the two current faces of this team.

#34: There is wide support to see Miikka Kiprusoff number retired, and I can’t argue with it. Kipper has broken all the records set by Mike Vernon so it only makes sense that someday his name sits beside Mike’s in the Dome. But under the “Forever A Flame” program, the team might also have the ability to honour Jamie Macoun, a player that was very much a key part of this franchise and a name that is praised by the likes of Al MacInnis, your first inductee.

#12: Along with Miikka, there is no disputing that once Jarome Iginla is done with the number twelve, no one should ever even attempt to wear it again. He is the captain, the all time leading scorer, the face of the franchise and an icon in the city. There is no question that Iggy will have his jersey retired, but again under this new initiative, the Calgary Flames could honour a player like Hakan Loob. He may not have been with the team long enough to warrant retirement, but he does deserve distinction. A key part in the Flames winning the Stanley Cup in ’89, the only Swedish born player to score 50 goals in the NHL and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Not many fans would complain about that honour.

*THE ERROR

Don’t start off such a great program by making a mistake on your first inductee. Keep your options open on future possible conflicts, but there is just no logical argument that prevents the organization from a full out retirement of Al MacInnis’ #2. There is no one before or after that is even in the same class as Chopper, so there shouldn’t be an issue. It doesn’t seem right that St. Louis had no hesitation in their decision, yet MacInnis played 190 more games for the Flames and won both his Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe trophies with Calgary. Mr. King, you said you need to be “bold and brave enough to do it for all the good reasons we have.” So do this for the best reason, because it’s just the right thing to do.

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Vintage Flame is a Calgary based sports junkie that prefers to call hockey a "religion" rather than an addiction. He believes there are two types of hockey fans. Those who cheer for the Flames, and those who don't understand the sport yet. Follow Vintage_Flame on Twitter
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#1 otto
February 17 2012, 10:05AM
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Well done Vintage.That last paragraph pretty much sums up my feelings on this.

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#2 the-wolf
February 17 2012, 11:33AM
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The whole things is a ridulous farce. Either you feel a player is so monumental to the organization that he should have his jersey lifted to the rafters and his number retired or forget it.

You mention Macoun and Loob. What's the criteria? Is it points? Games played? Whether or not you ticked off ownership? "Sorry, you're awesome and all, but we hate you personally and don't like some of your comments, so go pound sand!"

Popularity? Conroy could win that. What about Suter. He was pretty awesome here.

Pepper is an icon in this town, but was average at best as far as skill.

The Magic Man? Wher do you end this? You could 'honor' half of the 1989 team.

Joe Mullen was pretty awesome in my books (and Cliff's worst trade).

Just being a great hockey player is not enough. Players come and players go. Even great ones, popular ones, ones who retire to Calgary after their career is over and all of the above.

But you can't just honor every great player and kind of/sort of recognize the number they wore that was maybe worn by another great player by sheer coincidence.

McDonald and Vernon shine brighter than the rest for obvious reasons. And frankly, if it's not something that's smacking the team and fans upside the head as an obvious 'you have to do this' then just don't do it.

This program is what I like to term 'half-assed' and oh, so typical of this organization. Stick with the traditional method. Do or do not (Yoda).

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#4 SmellOfVictory
February 17 2012, 12:07PM
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I think the reason MacInnis wasn't retired here is specifically because his jersey was retired in St. Louis. Not saying I necessarily agree with the concept, but I understand where they're coming from.

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#5 Bob in the Abbey
February 17 2012, 12:17PM
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It may not be perfect, but I think it allows for more options as to who can be honored. Don't forget there is going to be a display area (A FLAMES HALL OF FAME) done over the summer. If you leave it as just a Jersey retirement then it can become an unending debate as to whether certain individuals deserve it or not. I am with VF that MacInnis deserves to have #2 retired and they maybe should have picked someone else to start this with (Pepper being a good candiate).

But it is what it is, and I doubt you could come up with something that would please everyone. As already pointed out, this allows for more players to receive special recognition without getting into an argument about retiring jerseys or not. I think everyone would agree that Conroy's number should not be retrired, but when you consider what he has meant to this team and this city since he first arrived, I don't think anyone would have any complaints about naming him as a "Forever Flame".

And let's not forget what else this is about...MARKETING! Not to rain on the parade but with not making the play-offs for 2 years and almost out of the running this year, the braintrust felt the need to stir up some interest and get some butts back into the seats. Reliving the good old days and putting some special merchandise out for people to snap up is one way to generate some $$$.

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#6 shutout
February 17 2012, 12:24PM
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To me there should only be jersey retirements. And the criteria should be similar to the smell test for the hockey hall of fame. When you hear a players name what do you think of him as a player and person for the organization.

This whole idea of honoring somebody is nice, but I dont why you would want to do it is the sense that this program is indicating. If you have already retired two jerseys why would you not continue with that trend.

Iginla, Kiprusoff, MacInnis, and Fleury are the only players that I can think of that have the sort of cache "franchise player" sort of history with the team. And they should have their jersies retired.

Lots of teams have lots of good players, but why go about recognizing good players. Make it a special honor for only the elite, special players and do the right thing.

Players like Neiuwendyk, Peplinksi, Nilsson, Suter, Gilmour, Tanguay, Plett, Lemelin, Housley, and Mullen were good, and sometimes very good players for this team. But they were never what you would call franchise players. They were not the face and identity of the team. So why do anything for them.

Stupid program. Stupid idea. Stupid president in King. Stupid franchise for another middle of the road, fence sitting decision.

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#7 Monaertchi
February 17 2012, 12:25PM
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@Vintage Flame

Joe Mullen vs Kent Nilsson

Joe played 4 1/2 seasons as a Flame. Kent played 6 as a Flame, but 1 was in ATL.

Joe scored 406 points as a Flame. Kent scored 562 points as a Flame, according to your comment above.

Joe went to the Stanley Cup finals twice, winning once as a Flame. Kent never made it to the finals.

Personally, I don't think either is worthy of jersey retirement. As for this other honour, I don't really care.

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#8 the-wolf
February 17 2012, 12:27PM
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But that's kind of my point re: Nilsson. If he was that iconic he would've had his jersey retired years ago. Totally agree, a fantastic player, but so what? Not trying to sound flippant, but you have to go beyond being a very good player.

MacInnis is amazing, but he also left largely over money and while he was nowhere close to approaching 'jerk' status he didn't exactly 'miss' Calgary. St. Louis became his home.

Nieuwendyk didn't necessarily leave for money btw, Coates has publicly stated that there was a deeply personal reason as to why he held out, but refuses to reveal it to this day.

What I'm trying to say is that it's silly, IMO anyways, to run around and 'honor' every great player who has ever played here. Either you reach the status of going to the rafters or you don't.

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#11 the-wolf
February 17 2012, 12:55PM
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I get what you're saying, I just find it cheesey.

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#12 shutout
February 17 2012, 01:45PM
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I think that the program makes no sense.

And even worse is the argument that teams are going to run out of jersey numbers.

How many players are there really that are franchise players?

Regehr was a very good defenseman and so was Suter but neither of them would be considered a franchise player like MacInnis. After Iginla and Kiprusoff retire I can only see there being six numbers being retired. Six numbers in 30-35 years is only one every five years. You only need maybe 30 numbers for a team so even if we say 34 numbers with the six that I would have retired is 40 so there are 60 more numbers.

At one every five years (not a given unless you end up with a dynasty style team) the Flames would run out of other numbers in 300 years.

Wow, now I see why King would be worried about retiring jersey numbers. We might run out of numbers before we win another cup.

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#14 shutout
February 17 2012, 03:13PM
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@ VF

I would make #14 Fleury my sixth retired jersey. For as big of an ahole that he is at times, it would be hard not to think of those mid 90's without saying that he was the face and personality of the franchise. A player that was elite in the league and had the numbers in Calgary to backup his status.

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#15 Charleston Kingsley
February 17 2012, 04:48PM
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I think we should just retire Fleury, Nieuwendyk and Macinnis' numbers. They're all deserving of having their number hang beside McDonald's and Vernon's in the rafters. Next in line should be Iginla and Kiprusoff.

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#16 Nolan Moore
February 17 2012, 05:34PM
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Forever a Flame? Sounds kinda gay. My feeling is retiring jerseys is a must but should only be for the highest honor, Vernon/McDonald for sure. MacInnis, id agree. Two more should be considered in a few years. Most others should be honored as well but not retired. Here's my qualifications for retiring a number: 1)Long time Flame. 2)Contribut to team more than great stats. 3)Won individual awards and recognized during career as one of the best in game during his time. 4)Committee agrees it should be retired (Committee of former players, fans and exects).

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#17 RKD
February 17 2012, 06:48PM
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Here`s is what they should do, the program should honour the jerseys of all the aforementioned players.

However, the program needs to be flexible and should retire the numbers of 12, 14, and 34.

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#18 TheWinColumn
February 17 2012, 08:29PM
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I had a conversation with a Flames employee a couple years back and I asked him if he had any idea why #2 hadn't been retired yet. His response to me was "Let's just say that it was offered, and he respectfully declined.". Who knows how bad the circumstances were upon his departure, but maybe he still had a bad taste in his mouth from it all? And I think it would be absolutely absurd to allow another player to ever wear #12 again for the Calgary Flames. I think the Flames are just opening themselves up for a huge backlash a few years down the road.

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#19 Derzie
February 17 2012, 11:45PM
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I'm a newer Flames fan (post 89 cup) so my bias is towards newer players. From my perspective there are a whole lot of ex-Flames who I feel did as much or more than Vernon. Not saying he isn't a key Flames but is he really in the top 2 all-time? I don't get it. Can they restore his number and replace it with a Flames forever? Seems fair if Al McInnis gets that treatment. I may be way off to those who were fans prior to 1990 but it seems like a hasty retirement.

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#20 Nolan Moore
February 17 2012, 11:49PM
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@TheWinColumn

I agree. If Joe Blow from NW College wears #12 he will be booed. Retiring should only be the highest honor. Can you imagine someone on the Yankees wearing #3 or #4. There has to be some compromise.

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#21 Subversive
February 18 2012, 07:59AM
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shutout wrote:

I think that the program makes no sense.

And even worse is the argument that teams are going to run out of jersey numbers.

How many players are there really that are franchise players?

Regehr was a very good defenseman and so was Suter but neither of them would be considered a franchise player like MacInnis. After Iginla and Kiprusoff retire I can only see there being six numbers being retired. Six numbers in 30-35 years is only one every five years. You only need maybe 30 numbers for a team so even if we say 34 numbers with the six that I would have retired is 40 so there are 60 more numbers.

At one every five years (not a given unless you end up with a dynasty style team) the Flames would run out of other numbers in 300 years.

Wow, now I see why King would be worried about retiring jersey numbers. We might run out of numbers before we win another cup.

I agree with you. This program is a weak-ass cop out, most likely because the owners are too stubborn to make up and play nice with Fleury and Nieuwendyk. Lame, lame, lame.

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