The Flames Through 10: Identity and the Rebuild Continuum

Kent Wilson
February 12 2013 10:30AM

 


 

The Flames slow start, unfortunate early injuries and subsequent spanking at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks recently has caused the rebuild debate to rear its ugly head in Flamesland again. This is an inevitability until the club does one of two things: takes a firm step forward and becomes a meaningful contender again or bottoms out completely and starts from scratch out of necessity.

Even though the club currently finds itself in 14th in the conference, Calgary's start to 2013 has nonetheless muddied the waters no matter what side of the debate you fall on. On the one hand, the Flames have decent underlying numbers, have frequently outshot their opponents and it has only been bad luck or lousy goaltending that has sunk them to the bottom of the Western Conference.

On the other hand, the Flames are who we thought they are. There's been some improvement over the past Brent Sutter iterations of the club thanks to summer additions, the coaching staff and the progression of guys like Backlund and Brodie, but the truth is the team remains fundamentally flawed in a number of key areas. The top-end of the roster is expensive and aging, and there is a dearth of players at or near their prime age. And although the emergence of Baertschi and Gaudreau as potential bluechip prospects the last year or so is a good development, the truth is the Flames organizational cupboard is hardly bursting with talent.

Furthermore, Calgary's depth at center has been exposed as woefully lacking with the injury to Backlund recently. Center depth has always been a bone of contention in town, but there's no doubt with Alex Tanguay, Ben Street, Matt Stajan and Blair Jones currently counting as the Flames top-4 pivots at the NHL level, things haven't been this dire down the middle in Calgary in the post-lockout (both of them) era. Particularly since the coach is forced to play converted 32-year old winger Tanguay out as the club's power vs power option most nights.

Rebuild Continuum

While rebuilding vs. competing is often conceptualized as a dichotomy, I've mentioned previously I think it's better to think of it as a continuum, particularly since the act of building and maintaining a roster is on-going and perpetual. Technically all GM's are always looking to improve their teams at all times, but the motivations and moves will change depending on where they fall on that continuum.

The Flames are stuck solidly in the middle of that sliding gradient. They have enough quality NHLers to beat up bad teams, can compete solidly on many nights with good teams and occasionally beat the big boys. They also have a near complete lack of elite talent in the organization, whether we're talking active bobdies or guys in the pipeline (Baertschi and Gaudreau notwithstanding). The remaining, yet unanswered question is how they move forward without falling off a cliff.

Personally, I am paradoxically encouraged by the Flames start despite the poor record, the last two uninspired losses notwithstanding. Not to say that Calgary is suddenly a contender again, only that a quick turnaround is at least possible with some luck and prudent management. In the depths of the team's struggles under Brent Sutter last season I was mostly convinced the club would have to run aground completely before the ship could be righted, but the Bob Hartley version of the Flames seems to have nodes of hope around which the org could begin to build around. The blueline is strong, there is capable talent on the wings and the coaching staff at least seem to have things in order.

In short: I don't think the team has to be terrible in order to get better.

The Post-Iginla Identity

Perhaps the greatest misconception I notice in the rebuild/don't rebuild debate is the idea that trading Iginla or somehow proceeding without him (and Kipper for that matter) is necessarily indicative of a "tear-down". That is, if Iginla is moved at the deadline then the club might as well trade the rest of their veteran talent and burn the thing to the foundation.

This is predicated on the conditioned notion that the Flames simply can't compete without Iginla on the roster; that he remains the center tent pole of the Flames big top. This is also apparently the misconception under which management labors given their reluctance to even consider an Iginla trade (although that is probably informed by other considerations as well. No one wants to be the guy who traded Jarome out of Calgary, particularly if the return doesn't work out. Those kind of moves stick to a GM's resume forever).

Iginla remains a capable enough player who can put up some points and play a lot of minutes. But he's not elite anymore and he won't be getting any better as time moves on. Ideally he's a complementary piece on a good team. On the Flames, because he plays all night and gets a ton of PP time, he's probably a 10-13 GVT (goals versus threshold) player as things stand over a full season, comparable to guys like David Krejci, Blake Wheeler and Martin Erat last year. That means he's worth about two wins per 82 games more than your typical replacement level player. That's something, but it doesn't turn a lousy team into a good one, nor a good team into a basement dweller.

The Flames fortunes don't necessarily turn on the presence of Jarome anymore. Once upon a time that was undeniably true and his long history as the club's lone, implacable, elite forward is why his presence seems persistently crucial to the line-up. It doesn't help perceptions that the team has been unable to internally groom a replacement or two to take the torch from Jarome's hands as he ages, but the fact remains the bottom wouldn't suddenly fall out if Feaster finally decided to leverage Iginla for a good return. At least, no moreso than it would anyways.

That realization gives the organization options. Trading Iginla or Kipper isn't an acknowledgement that the club is terrible and needs to be ripped apart at the seams. Meaning, an Iginla trade doesn't have to inexorably result in a cascade of other trades where the org liquidates Bouwmeester, Cammalleri, Tanguay, Giordano, Hudler, Wideman, etc. because, hey! they are going to suck anyways, right? 

Let's be very clear then: the Flames aren't too bad now, they can continue to be not too bad even without Iginla and they therefore have an opportunity to leverage an asset or two and avoid a full tear down in favor of a quicker re-stock.

Moving Forward

Trading Iginla or Kiprusoff as they near the end of their tenure here isn't absolutely required either. What is needed is the Flames management to alter the staid and stagnant formula which has been used to create the roster over the last decade: namely, build around the iconic Iggy and Kipper. Erect them as untouchable pillars in the line-up and assume with the right alchemy the rest of the team will come together behind them and experience some sort of renaissance. 

Those days are past. The Flames have plenty of good to very good NHLers, but no true elite talent. The top-end is expensive and doddering and you can count on two fingers the number of prospects who are a good bet to be impact NHLers at some point in the next 4 years. The goal now isn't to supplement Calgary's former superstars - it is to find their replacements, one way or the other.

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Former Nations Overlord. Current Fn contributor and curmudgeon For questions, complaints, criticisms, etc contact Kent @ kent.wilson@gmail. Follow him on Twitter here.
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#52 kittensandcookies
February 12 2013, 03:49PM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

No thanks. That's entirely too long for a guy over 35 years old. If Jarome falls off a cliff at 37 or 38, you can't get rid of that cap hit.

How tradeable is he then? Because I figure he'll get a better contract than that if he goes UFA.

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#53 suba steve
February 12 2013, 04:10PM
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kittensandcookies wrote:

How tradeable is he then? Because I figure he'll get a better contract than that if he goes UFA.

And that's another reason why he should be traded. There will be big money offered to him as a UFA, but the Flames are in a position where giving Iggy a lot more money over the next 5 (or 4, or 3) can not help them, only hurt.

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#54 kittensandcookies
February 12 2013, 04:47PM
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suba steve wrote:

And that's another reason why he should be traded. There will be big money offered to him as a UFA, but the Flames are in a position where giving Iggy a lot more money over the next 5 (or 4, or 3) can not help them, only hurt.

Problem is teams will just wait until July then. All Calgary will get are junk offers if everybody knows that Calgary won't want to re-sign him.

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#56 kittensandcookies
February 12 2013, 05:01PM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

I doubt that moderates demand at the trade deadline. A bidding war will start if there is more than one team who thinks he can significantly impact their chances of winning in the playoffs.

Meh, I dunno. He's getting old, he's got one goal in ten games. He's almost turning into a reclamation project.

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#57 Avalain
February 12 2013, 05:03PM
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@kittensandcookies

The teams that will be interested in Iggy are the ones that feel they are 1 depth scorer away from winning the cup.

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#58 kittensandcookies
February 12 2013, 05:05PM
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Avalain wrote:

The teams that will be interested in Iggy are the ones that feel they are 1 depth scorer away from winning the cup.

And what are those teams going to give up? I'm think a #1 pick, at best - which of course will be a later in the round. No top prospects.

Isn't that a lot less than what people are hoping for?

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#59 suba steve
February 12 2013, 05:15PM
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@kittensandcookies

Do your homework man, look at what lesser players have cost those teams in the past. Iggy should get more then any trade deadline moves from last year.

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#60 kittensandcookies
February 12 2013, 05:19PM
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@suba steve

Yeah I know about the Gaustad trade.

But yeah, we get a #1 pick. Is that good? Bad? Enough?

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#61 mcculb
February 12 2013, 05:27PM
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The theme the last 5 years or so has been the same, "We just aren't good enough".

Jarome and Kipper use to be able to carry the Flames but they have been in steady decline since 2004. As you pointed out Kent, a lot of pieces have come and gone around them but no effort has gone into replacing them. Management has failed at accuiring top end talent and this in turn has made Calgary a team elite talent is avoiding.

We just aren't good enough. Echo, echo, echo....

I am tired of the same old. As a cap team we deserve better. At least the Oil can rerun 5 cup title seasons. With that in mind we are much more due than they are.

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#62 Willi P
February 12 2013, 05:31PM
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kittensandcookies wrote:

Meh, I dunno. He's getting old, he's got one goal in ten games. He's almost turning into a reclamation project.

Pretty much the same start as most years and still ends up with 30+ by the end of the year.

With the exception of the last two games, he played a much better team game in the first 8 and had 5 assists to go with his goal. Kent had commented several times (in a positive way) about his play in those games.

Reclamation project after 10 games? I bet just about any team in the league would like to "reclaim" him. I bet it is a different tune at game 20 and game 30.

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#64 kittensandcookies
February 12 2013, 05:40PM
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@Willi P

Rhett said it... He's just looks so unmotivated out there...

Thing is, he only has 38 games to turn it around, not 72.

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#65 Danger
February 12 2013, 05:48PM
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kittensandcookies wrote:

Meh, I dunno. He's getting old, he's got one goal in ten games. He's almost turning into a reclamation project.

If he's a reclamation project, why on earth would we give him 5 years at 3.5M per? Heck, I don't think anyone would give him more than 2 years, even as a UFA. Dude is way too long in the tooth for a five year deal.

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#66 kittensandcookies
February 12 2013, 05:49PM
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Danger wrote:

If he's a reclamation project, why on earth would we give him 5 years at 3.5M per? Heck, I don't think anyone would give him more than 2 years, even as a UFA. Dude is way too long in the tooth for a five year deal.

I just threw that out there as a starting point.

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#67 Danger
February 12 2013, 05:52PM
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@kittensandcookies

Ok, fair enough. I'd probably give him two years at that price, but no NMC.

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#68 suba steve
February 12 2013, 05:52PM
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@kittensandcookies

Four options:

1. you compete with the market and resign him for too much $$ and term

2. he signs for a lot less $$ to stay in Calgary

3. he walk as a UFA and the Flames have nothing to show for their loyalty to this player

4. trade him for the best package you can get. If you were going to lose him to free agency and you get more then nothing, then it's enough.

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#69 kittensandcookies
February 12 2013, 05:54PM
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@suba steve

Alright. I just think some people are going to get really, really, really angry at the return if he is traded.

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#70 kittensandcookies
February 12 2013, 05:55PM
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@Danger

Unfortunately I dont't think that's enough to keep him here. Also, he's BFF with Edwards, so there's no way the Flames would offer him such a reasonable contract.

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#71 Willi P
February 12 2013, 05:59PM
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kittensandcookies wrote:

Rhett said it... He's just looks so unmotivated out there...

Thing is, he only has 38 games to turn it around, not 72.

Ya, I listened to the interview. Rhett's a retired player that wasn't very good (as a player and he is a worse radio talk show person), living off of the coat tails in radio of a few seasons with the team. Boomer was just piling on. Rhett may have been in the room for a few years but from listening to him on the radio and his constant negativity, I doubt he had much respect in the locker room and suggest that there might be some hard feelings on his behalf.

Iginla looks more frustrated (at his back luck) than unmotivated and we have seen that before at the start of seasons. I am sure all of this noise from the media (and FN)doesnt help.

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#72 Danger
February 12 2013, 06:05PM
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kittensandcookies wrote:

Unfortunately I dont't think that's enough to keep him here. Also, he's BFF with Edwards, so there's no way the Flames would offer him such a reasonable contract.

It might not be, but if he passes on those terms then I guess you trade him at the deadline. I'm inclined to think they should do that regardless, so no big loss either way if you offer him that contract.

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#73 SmellOfVictory
February 12 2013, 06:08PM
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Avalain wrote:

The teams that will be interested in Iggy are the ones that feel they are 1 depth scorer away from winning the cup.

I don't think Iginla is seen as a depth scorer in the NHL. He's not a heavy lifter possession-wise, but he still, as of last season, scores like a top line forward.

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#74 Willi P
February 12 2013, 06:09PM
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Danger wrote:

It might not be, but if he passes on those terms then I guess you trade him at the deadline. I'm inclined to think they should do that regardless, so no big loss either way if you offer him that contract.

Or he doesn't let you trade him and we walks as a FA at the end of the year. His choice.

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#75 Scary Gary
February 12 2013, 06:09PM
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Willi P wrote:

Ya, I listened to the interview. Rhett's a retired player that wasn't very good (as a player and he is a worse radio talk show person), living off of the coat tails in radio of a few seasons with the team. Boomer was just piling on. Rhett may have been in the room for a few years but from listening to him on the radio and his constant negativity, I doubt he had much respect in the locker room and suggest that there might be some hard feelings on his behalf.

Iginla looks more frustrated (at his back luck) than unmotivated and we have seen that before at the start of seasons. I am sure all of this noise from the media (and FN)doesnt help.

Warrener was a pretty good D man in his prime with Florida and Buffalo, he also went to three Stanley cup finals, his bod/shoulder just gave out near the end and he ended up looking terrible. The guys in the dressing room loved him, he's typically hilarious, if you've met him it's near impossible not to like him.

Like Kent said, Iggy's will get hot and start putting the puck in the net closer to his career average, but so what? We're still not a playoff team, just improved over last year.

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#76 Scary Gary
February 12 2013, 06:13PM
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Iggy would look good as a penguin. Joe Morrow is an excellent young D prospect for Pitts...

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#77 Danger
February 12 2013, 07:14PM
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Willi P wrote:

Or he doesn't let you trade him and we walks as a FA at the end of the year. His choice.

Yeah, good point. I think he probably would take a trade to a contender, but that is why it's a bad idea to hand out NMCs like candy at Halloween. Speaking of which, wonder if the kids in Viking all get NMCs in their loot bags from the Sutter house every year?

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#78 HongKongHockeyFan
February 12 2013, 08:36PM
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I fear that the fast developing Trade-Iggy-Saga badly for the Flames and its fan. As recent flames fans have wrote, we will be selling Iggy well past his peak trade value. However, the bigger problem is the Flames Management (both Sutter and Feaster) and worse yet Ownership have shown a terrible weakness to "reward loyalty" or "exceptional short-term performance" with badly structured contracts.

Take the cases of Feaster resigning Babchuk and Sarich for US$2.5mn and US$2.0mn. Not only were both players overpaid and provided no-movement clauses, they provided them to third pairing defenders at best. I can see providing NMCs or NTCs to top four defensemen or top four forwards.

Fast forwarding to the present, imagine what the Flames would give to Iggy if they choose to resign him, who is now looking more like bottom-six role player. Not helping matters, Flames management have said they will not go out and trade Iggy unless he requests so. This is not management's role. Management is suppose to look after the team's best interest, not the player's. You cannot let a player dictate the team's future (look at how this has boxed in Gillis in Van). Worse yet, the rest of the league knows Iggy is on the steep downslope of his career and the speed of new league has changed dramatically.

Even Ryan Smyth, who is still a stronger, faster skater than Iggy, is sitting out games. The bottom line is that Iggy's trade value has diminished vastly. The only saving grace is that Flames management need to hope that some cup contenders (eg. Bruins, Pens, Kings, Hawks) suffer some key injuries and need a sniper to ride shotgun for the short-term. Otherwise, the Trade Iggy Saga ends very, very badly.

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#80 HongKongHockeyFan
February 12 2013, 08:58PM
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Oops, I wanted to also say that the growing tendency to "Reward Loyalty", I believe, is a by-product of previous Flames management in the 1990s, who did the opposite, where they quickly ties quickly despite exceptional strong performance. Take the cases of Doug Gilmour, Al Macinnis, Joey Mullen and Joe "I Score When I like" Niewendyk. I think Flames Ownership in retrospect realize this unexpectedly led to not only a sharp collapse in the performance of the team but in the support of the fan base. So collectively, Flames Ownership, not management, is reluctant to repeat this scenario despite the nature of the salary cap structure. The only problem is that Flames Ownership (e.g. Murray Edwards) really doesn't understand how the league has changed since the end of the dead puck era, which the Flames temporarily benefitted from briefly during the cup run. The bottom line is that Flames Ownership 'apparently' only care of making dollars, not necessarily building a cup winner. This is why Sutter and recently Feaster, with the consent of Ownership, have continued to trade draft picks away and grind up against the salary cap. Until Ownership decides that it truly wants to win a cup, which is likely a 10-year rebuilding process, the Flames will continue sit outside of playoff contention but yet never plummet to depths of the bottom of the league. Although I could be wrong this year.

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#81 Vowswithin
February 12 2013, 09:03PM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

I don't know if Iginla's trade value is that poor yet. He still puts up good counting numbers even if it's clear he's not quite elite anymore (few players are at 36). Things that also sell at the deadline for contenders are: experience, character, etc.

I am fairly certain more than one hopeful would make a bid for Iginla's services if he was put on the block.

Kent i am sure you are going to hate me for this but what would consider as a possible offer we might receive for Iggy rom Boston, Pittsburg, Chicago, Philly?

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#82 negrilcowboy
February 12 2013, 09:03PM
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wow, i have been calling for this for a couple of years now. heres a new angle, seeing that iggy is doing the sundin, offer him an extension of 2 years at 1 million per. if he wants to remain a flame take a big hometown discount and help the very people who rewarded him with hefty paycheques. the franchise benefits tremendously as nobody wears the black hat, also iggy can smile gees schucks it all he wants during the retooling process. test iggies loyalty if he feels insulted trade him. see what kind of leader he realy is. also jettison cammi and any other dead wood in the organization.

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#83 JD
February 12 2013, 09:13PM
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TRADE IGGY, BRING HIM BACK FOR LESS MONEY NEXT YEAR,

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#85 negrilcowboy
February 12 2013, 09:33PM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

I'd figure a first and a decent prospect to start.

hows any one of the following from pittsburgh plus their first for iggy, olli maata,joe morrow or scot harrington, or perhaps pouliot. pens have a wealth of young defensemen.

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#86 T&A4Flames
February 12 2013, 09:37PM
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negrilcowboy wrote:

hows any one of the following from pittsburgh plus their first for iggy, olli maata,joe morrow or scot harrington, or perhaps pouliot. pens have a wealth of young defensemen.

I had the same thoughts but I would think Morrow would be the target as he is closest to NHL ready.

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#87 Vowswithin
February 12 2013, 09:40PM
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Speaking of trading for players according to Dreger Avalanche are asking for a roster player and a prospect for O'Reilly.

Only problem in my eyes is that we don't have many players that are great contracts for the value ( or really just cheap players as that is what Colorado wants)

Glenx is maybe one, buttler is another but not really a motivating player...

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#88 negrilcowboy
February 12 2013, 09:46PM
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Vowswithin wrote:

Speaking of trading for players according to Dreger Avalanche are asking for a roster player and a prospect for O'Reilly.

Only problem in my eyes is that we don't have many players that are great contracts for the value ( or really just cheap players as that is what Colorado wants)

Glenx is maybe one, buttler is another but not really a motivating player...

hows comeau,stajan,jackman and sarich for o'reily and we will accomadate his brother too

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#89 negrilcowboy
February 12 2013, 09:52PM
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T&A4Flames wrote:

I had the same thoughts but I would think Morrow would be the target as he is closest to NHL ready.

olli maata is a horse as well, morrow has had a taste of the big show. maybe stevie y would part with one of his prized young russians, kucherov or nikita nestrov plus a pick for his old palm iggy.

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#90 Willi P
February 12 2013, 10:07PM
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@HongKongHockeyFan wrote " "

"imagine what the Flames would give to Iggy if they choose to resign him, who is now looking more like bottom-six role player"

???????????????

If Iginla is bottom-six, I would take a team of bottom sixes and kick a$$

"Even Ryan Smyth, who is still a stronger, faster skater than Iggy"

???????????????

Ryan Smyth has never been faster than Iginla or 99% of players in the NHL

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#91 loudogYYC
February 13 2013, 12:56AM
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Warrener didn't pull what he said out of his @ss. At worst it was his opinion and it sounded a lot like what Playfair said a few years ago when talking about Iggy and Doan as captains.

Kypreos and Maclean had a little argument on their afternoon televised radio show and talked about this. Kypreos agreed with Rhett in that Iggy looks frustrated and uninspired, difference is Kypreos fully believes he's still a 30 goal scorer and that he should get out of the comfort zone that he's in here.

I agree with that 100%, he's a professional athlete, not a senior board member of some oil company.

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#92 the-wolf
February 13 2013, 06:42AM
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@ Kent - I agree with everything in your article, but one point and that is I think there's a real psycholigcal road block in Calgary ownership and management as long as Iginla is there.

The team is still trying to build around him as though he's 26 and not 35. That, I don't think changes until he's gone. As far as team performance, I've stated before that the team wouldn't even know he's not out there.

Hudler for Captain!

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