Even if you had good seats at the Saddledome that night, you might have missed it. After all, it happened at a meaningless moment in just another of the 82 marginally meaningful regular-season games. The play had come to a virtual standstill because the puck was in the neutral zone and both teams were making partial changes. Suddenly, the puck squibbed over to Todd Bertuzzi who decided to whip his stick across his body so that he could collect the rubber and dump it into the enemy zone wronghanded. Hockey historians know that guys like Gordie Howe and Chris Chelios occasionally would occasional change hands to shoot the puck on net if the situation called for it, but who in tarnation makes dump-ins wronghanded?
In the end, the move was symbolic of Bertuzzi’s first and almost certainly only season in Flames silks — highly unorthodox, strangely entertaining and of questionable value. It’s the epitome of faint praise when the compliments paid Bertuzzi include such beauty lines as “well, he wasn’t too bad considering what they were paying him” or “I didn’t hate him as much as I thought I would.” On the other hand, his detractors were very forceful in criticizing his Ice Capades-style skating patterns, his ridiculously fancy but not always effective passes and his thoughtless and careless penalties.
Of course, what the braying customers thought of the Old Cannoli Truck hardly matters now because he turned in his No. 7 sweater for keeps Wednesday as the Flames went through that annual sombre ritual known as “Garbage Bag Day.” If there was any doubt left, the quick separation he has created between himself and the team — he referred to the Flames as “they” in his parting comments to reporters — should eliminate it. While some of Bertuzzi’s lukewarm fans suggest they’d consider welcoming Bertuzzi back for the right price, the simple fact is that the big galoot will be turning his circles for a sixth team in five seasons next winter. The Flames will be better off for it too because who doesn’t honestly think Bertuzzi’s 19 minutes a night, including four per contest on the power play, won’t be better spent on the likes of David Moss (13:35 average ice time), Curtis Glencross (14:40), Dustin Boyd (12:52) or Eric Nystrom (9:15)?
Letting Bertuzzi lumber out of town would be the right call under any circumstances, but the Flames’ exceedingly tight monetary situation should remove any threat of what would be a disastrous re-signing. The shortage of nickels and dimes means that Bertuzzi isn’t the only chap on his way out. Some will be allowed to leave reluctantly — thanks for coming out, Michael Cammalleri, we’ll see you, Dave Gagner and Chris Drury when we have Flames One-Season Wonders Night — and other departures will be cause for week-long Tequila parties for some, like that of the club’s top left-shooting Swedish defenceman.
Most everyone falls somewhere in between on the Please Stay-to-Don’t Get Your Whozit Caught in the Revolving Door On the Way Out spectrum. Even beaten-up rearguard Rhett Warrener, who has already been told by doctors not to bother donating his body to science, will be fondly remembered for his hard-nosed contributions to the club even if the fans are not so secretly speculating how they can spend the $2.5 million that went to No. 44 this past season.
In no particular order (OK, so it’s actually in order of 2008-09 salary) here’s a quick rundown of those with expiring contracts and a mostly arbitrary rating of their chances to be a Flame in 2009-10:
- D Adrian Aucoin ($4 million in 2008-09): Aucoin is kind of the reverse Bertuzzi. While some apologists excused Bertuzzi’s failings because of his relatively modest salary, some hardliners refused to give Aucoin any credit for his virtues (and he does have some) because he carried such a big ticket. There’s no denying Aucoin has his limits as a blue-liner and he shouldn’t come anywhere near the opposition’s top players without major support from a checking line and a certain Brazilian as his partner, but he’s a decent puck-mover and can work the power play. If he was willing to take a major pay cut (and there’s credible evidence to support that he might just do that) the Flames could do much worse for a third-pairing to guy. Return probability: 20%
- C Michael Cammalleri ($3.6 million): Even if the Flames dump a salary or buy out a contract or two, it’s hard to imagine any scenario that would allow them to afford the 39-goal man and ice a team of more than 15 skaters. Cammalleri was always careful to say all the right things about his tenuous situation, but his teammates started saying their goodbyes the second Olli Jokinen was acquired. His poor playoff will make it easier for management to send him out of town on Tanguay-Huselius Scapegoat Airways. Return probability: 1%
- D Rhett Warrener ($2.5 million): Cue the old cliche about the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Return probability: Less than 1% (as a player anyway)
- LW Todd Bertuzzi ($1.95 million): With hearty apologies to Joey Mullen, who brought more additional distinction to Flames sweater No. 7 — Michel Petit, Bryan Marchment or Bertuzzi? (Please, no write-in votes for Andrei Zyuzin) Return probability: 5%
- D Jordan Leopold ($1.5 million): Being paired with the adventurous Dion Phaneuf upon his return to Calgary didn’t help, but there’s no getting around the fact that Leopold struggled mightily in Part II of his Flames career. There’s little reason to believe either side was happy with the arrangement and Leopold certainly wasn’t back long enough to sink any roots here. Expect him to be an ex-ex-Flame by July 2. Return probability: 5%
- C Jamie Lundmark ($600,000, NHL portion of a two-way deal): Next question, please.
- LW Andre Roy ($550,000): The Flames wouldn’t be a poorer team for his potential loss, but they’d sure be a duller one. Darryl Sutter, who’s not at all keen on frivolity, has tended to operate on a rotating basis with his goons, so he may decide to again go shopping for cheap muscle. Return probability: 10%
- D Adam Pardy ($500,000): The lanky rearguard, who rumour has it is from Bonavista, Nfld., reportedly already has an agreement in place to remain. Return probability: 95%
- G Curtis McElhinney, Flames: Can anyone help feeling sorry for the guy considering the situations he was placed in? Sure, McElhinney had some struggles, but his pals didn’t help him much on those few nights he got into action. Even if Calgary brass decides none of the kid goalies are ready to serve as a big-league backup, finding a Patrick Lalime/Jocelyn Thibault/Craig Anderson type to play 10 games isn’t a real tough chore. And McElhinney would probably be much better off with a proverbial fresh start. Return probability: 20%