Quick — when was the last time the Calgary Flames made it through an entire season without any braying about the top end of the depth chart at centre?
For some, the debate may go back as far as 20 years, when guys like Gilmour, Nieuwendyk and Otto were the men in the middle at the Saddledome.
There were thoughts (or perhaps they were crossed-finger wishes) the matter was finally put to rest a year ago when Olli Jokinen (the True No. 1 Centre™ the Flames had supposedly needed for years) finally joined the fold but if Jokinen is the answer, it’s only to a question nobody has ever asked.
TSN analyst (and former Hartford Whaler) Ray Ferraro brings up the topic yet again in his three-point essay on the ills plaguing the Flames.
Their centre ice position is a mess. Daymond Langkow has 11 goals and leads the Flames in production in the middle. That’s fine if you have say, 40 assists. But he doesn’t. Olli Jokinen has not had any consistency and for $5 million plus, 10 goals are not nearly enough. The Flames can’t seem to find the proper set of wingers for him. Craig Conroy has had his best days and he has two goals. This week, I helped call the Flames’ game against the Blackhawks and they created very little offence, only seven shots in the first 30 minutes. Name the last team to win the Stanley Cup without a top end centre. Certainly none since the end of the lockout.
By and large, Ferraro makes valid points about Calgary’s issues at centre but his conclusion — or at least his implied conclusion — is not very helpful. By semi-rhetorically asking about the last team to win a Cup without a premium centre, he’s suggesting the Flames don’t have one. Maybe that’s true, but Jokinen and Langkow make nearly $10 million between them so if Ferraro’s suggestion is that the Flames acquire that mythical No. 1 centreman to play with Iginla . . . well, that’s a luxury a team paying $7 million to its top winger and $7 million more to its goalie and $22 million and change to its blue-line brigade simply can’t afford.
It would obviously be helpful if Langkow and Jokinen picked up the goalscoring pace — the area of the pivots’ game of which Ferraro was especially critical — but for better or worse, the Flames are pot-committed to these two chaps as their top two centremen. If that gives Calgary a pair of No. 2 centremen (and that point is certainly open for debate) instead of a bona fide No. 1, then so be it.
And just for the heck of it and just because Ferraro focused on goals as the questionable basis for criticizing Langkow and Jokinen, let’s look at how many tallies the NHL’s division leaders (and Calgary) have from their top two centres: