Learning curve or dead man’s curve?

In reference to a subject somewhat more important than a dozen fellows chasing a hunk of vulcanized rubber, Martin Luther King once talked about the “hearts and minds” stage of progress. In other words, once legal segregation was toppled, the more difficult task of influencing people’s convictions and thought processes could begin.

The comparison might be bordering on blasphemous, but we’re being led to believe the Flames are at precisely that hearts-and-mind stage in regards to the de-Keenan-ification of the hockey club. All the systemic obstacles to their success have allegedly been removed and all that remains is for the members of the squad to embrace the change and liberate the more well-rounded player within them. Or, in plain-speaking hockey terms, the guys simply have to “buy in.”

It’s not easy to judge the validity of the hypothesis but it makes for a pretty good working cover story as the Flames try to get their game order seven games into the Brent Sutter Era. In addressing the team’s shortcomings this week, Sutter suggested that his players all have good intentions but their ability to precisely carry out the coaching staff’s wishes needs plenty of work. Robyn Regehr made reference to the slow, painful process of exorcising all the bad habits acquired during the free-for-all Keenan administration.

Those are all effective time-buying explanations for a team that is getting routinely outplayed for long stretches of hockey games despite a more-than-respectable 4-2-1 record. And while hopeful Flames fans point to the clunky start by the Devils during Sutter’s first year in the Swamplands (7-10-2 after 19 games; 39-19-5 the rest of the way) as reassurance that the best is yet to come, no one is willing to declare a date when all the 60-watt bulbs over the heads of the Flames’ slower learners will start glowing and there will once again be light at the Saddledome.

At the risk of venturing into the same old “it’s-time-to-break-up-the-core” chorus that breaks out every time the Flames’ wagon starts wobbling, what if this team and its abundance of 30-something-year-old clay is beyond the remoulding stage? What if we get to the stage where the players are wholeheartedly willing to play Sutter’s way but realize they simply can’t?

Those are all questions that can’t and shouldn’t be answered after seven games, but the questions will keep being asked anyway.

With all the uncertainty that currently surrounds the club, here’s one near-sure thing — that gawd-awful minus-9 figure notwithstanding, Daymond Langkow will NOT be viewed as one of the major reasons for the Flames’ failures in the final analysis of this season.