Hockey fans are great at creating idols out of their favored players. I’m certain that Jarome Iginla could announce his intentions to run for mayor of the city tomorrow and win the next election in a landslide. Robyn Regehr could body-check strangers on the street, scream “you just got Kotalik’d!” and the victim’s buddies would probably cheer and high-five him.
Of course, the unfortunate flip side is every fanbase has it’s scapegoats – the guys who seem to focus and channel the rage and frustrations of the faithful when things go wrong. I remember years ago after Roman Turek had signed his big contract and the club had fallen (back) into the toilet, he quickly became a lightning rod for sneers and cat-calls. For example, I attended a particularly vicious beat-down at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning one night; a night in which the entire club was hopelessly over-matched. One of the numerous goals allowed by Turek that evening was…uh…”questionable” and the antipathy towards the guy was almost palpable in the ‘Dome. At one point, with the club down several goals, a Flames defender made an egregious turn-over at his blueline. Nothing came of the error, but during the ensuing silence a leather-lunged comedian in the nose-bleeds bellowed “that’s your fault Turek!”
It was totally unfair. And it was the perfect summation of the mood in the building.
So, without further ado, here are some of the Flames potential ‘goats for 2008-2009.
1.) Dion Phaneuf
By all accounts, it was a rough year for Dion last season. He apparently battled injuries and his defensive short-comings were glaring. His prior results and the fact that he was hurt has given him a pass in the eyes of most Flames fans, but the locals are starting to glance nervously at Phaneuf’s plus/minus rate and his 6.5M cap-hit. If his development stagnates next season and he continues to be chaotic in his own end, it’ll take a lot of injuries or bodychecks or goals to keep the faithful off his back.
2.) Miikka Kiprusoff
Kipper was the 5th highest paid goalie in terms of cap hit last season and he didn’t even place inside the top 30 in SV%. There has been a lot of apologizing for Kipper’s mediocre results the last two years, from pointing to Keenan’s penchant for over-playing him, to the organizations lack of a proven back-up, to the perceived defensive short-comings of the club as a whole.
The excuses end this year. Brent Sutter (a guy who drove the Devils GA down with Scott Clemmensen in net) has been hired and Jay Bouwmeester was brought in to further fortify what was already one of the most expensive bluelines in the league. There really will be nowhere to hide for Miikka should he continue to be mediocre or worse going forward.
3.) Olli Jokinen
Acquired for Matthew Lombardi and a precious first round draft pick, Jokinen exploded onto the scene with 8 goals in his first 5 games as a Flame. Then he went into a bit of a slump – a 13 game goalless slump, actually. It was a slump that coincided with the Flames PP going oh-fer in 10 consecutive games and the club losing their hold on the NW division to the hated Canucuks.
This year, Jokinen will be the 2nd highest paid forward on the team behind Jarome Iginla. The roots of a solid goatdom have already been planted – if he can’t deliver results more in line with expectations, the fans with turn on him quickly.
4.) Jay Bouwmeester
A long-shot considering his past performances, granted. However, Jay is coming into town with a huge price tag and high expectations of both himself and the team. If he or the club falters in some manner, the excitement over his acquisition may turn to disappointment.
Those are my candidates. Feel free to suggest some of your own.