I guess you can call Wednesday the official end of the season for the Calgary Flames, as the players did their traditional locker cleanup and exit interviews with the coaching staff and management. Monday it was Darryl Sutter and Ken King giving their thoughts on a disappointing season. While that session didn’t seem to satisfy anyone, I felt we heard a little more from players on Wednesday afternoon.
First off, it’s kind of a boring day. Us media horde hang out in the hallway outside the Flames locker room, doing more waiting than anything else. We’ll see players enter, head behind closed doors, and then come back out and do their final chat with the media. It’s a lot of standing around, which makes a good choice of shoes imperative — my 3-year-old Air Force 1’s were not the right choice.
To start the day, the media scrums are rather large; it peters out to two or three guys by the end of the day. I hung out the entire time, and here are the tidbits and interesting things I took from it.
Locker Room Issues? I Know Not What You Speak…
I wrote Monday that I thought D. Sutter and King glossed over the issues that existed in the locker room. It was interesting that day, because Sutter brought them up himself before being asked, then both of them said it wasn’t as big a deal as we thought… 23 different personalities in the same room are bound to lead to some minor confrontation. At that point, I felt there was more to it. I still do, but I did find it interesting how players reacted to those same questions today.
To a man, every player said they were kind of taken aback by what people were talking about. The new players (Leafs, Rangers) all said it was a great dynamic to be a part of. Guys who had been here all season all said any issues were blown out of proportion, and it wasn’t any different than any other team they’d been a part of it. Each and every player asked was pretty adamant about it and almost every player was asked about it. Could some of it be lip service? Maybe. We all know what happens in the room stays in the room. But some of the surprised reactions sounded genuine, so maybe some things were overblown. Who knows?
It was funny: Jarome Iginla was asked about issues perhaps leading up to the two big trades in late January/early February. Immediately he came to a rather impassioned defence of both Dion Phaneuf and Olli Jokinen. I found this very interesting, because again, it seemed pretty genuine to me.
The other theme of Wednesday? "What happens next." Again, it seemed as if the consensus among tenured Flames and new members alike, was this team is not in need of a major face-lift. Players admitted minor tweaks are always needed on any team, but this is not a group that needs to be gutted and rebuilt. They’re close and will be back next year.
Iginla and Robyn Regehr pointed to Vancouver from a couple seasons ago, going from missing the playoffs to two straight Northwest Division titles. I’m not sure I see this team the same way, to be honest, but the belief from the team is there, at least what they’re saying in public.
The most intriguing thing to me was the long media Q&A with Iginla. When talking about what needs to happen next with this team, or what should happen, he pointed to scoring numerous times. In questions where he wasn’t even asked about it, the captain kept coming back to scoring and how the Flames needed it. He made mention of how teams are winning with offensively deep rosters right now. I think it’s clear what Iginla believes needs to happen.
Leave Britney Alone
Phone calls have been coming in for the last month or so when it comes to the topic of Jarome Iginla’s future in Calgary. "Leave Iggy alone" has been the impassioned plea of some on the phone lines, and that was intensified Wednesday night after Iginla’s media chat.
Reporters were very keen on asking Iginla his thoughts on being possibly traded, or how he’d feel if that were to happen. Give credit to the captain — he stood in there and answered every single one, regardless of how many times it was asked with slightly different wording. One question was very well phrased, and probably drew the best response. The situation was compared to Ray Bourque in Boston, and how he needed a trade to finally win the Stanley Cup he deserved. Iginla answered the questions the only way he really could have.
To paraphrase: "If they asked, I’d certainly think about it, and if it was best for the team, I’d leave with no ill will."
Iginla couldn’t really have said anything else. So, no, there was never anything said of him actually being asked, nor did he ever come close to saying he’d think of asking out. In fact, he made sure he relayed over and over how much he’d like to stay. He couldn’t have said, "No, I’d never waive it," nor could he say "Yes, I’d waive it in a second, get me the F out." He handled it the only way he could, I felt.
I don’t know what happens next with #12. I know what I believe: he needs to stay, but the team needs to find the right people to play with him. That being said, I totally see the other side of the argument. It’s one of those debates with great points on either side. Does he actually want to stay here? I think he does, but I also believe he wants to be part of a good situation; whether or not he feels there is one as the off season continues is another story.
To finish this part, Head Coach Brent Sutter said that any reported dispute between him and the captain was just that — reported. He said there were no issues whatsoever.
Calgary sits with six regular roster Unrestricted Free Agents come July 1st, five of them being forwards. To me, three of them are really interesting, and those three all had interesting things to say Wednesday. The others? Brian McGrattan, who saw his last game action in January. Vesa Toskala, who didn’t talk to the media. And Jamal Mayers, who I didn’t see on Wednesday afternoon.
As for the three that intrigue me, Eric Nystrom leads the way. The 26-year-old has only known one franchise in his NHL career, and it sounded like returning would be something he’d like to do. Nystrom was asked about perhaps signing with his hometown New York Islanders, to which he was a little caught off guard. Entering his first UFA period, I think there’s a good chance Nystrom is back, which I’d be more than all right with, if the price is right.
Chris Higgins said returning to Calgary would certainly be a consideration, saying he had nothing but positive things to say about the organization and the city. Craig Conroy seemed to still be in the same boat he was the last couple games of the regular season. He’d like to come back, and Calgary would be his first choice, but he’s not sure if that’s in the cards.
Flames defenceman Mark Giordano confirmed he’d be heading to Germany for the World Championships playing for Team Canada. Good for him, and he’s damn well deserving with the season he just had. For my money, Giordano was the most consistent Flames skater this year.
Forward Rene Bourque hasn’t been asked to join the team as of yet, but said he’d go in a heartbeat if the question ever came. Bourque has never represented Canada in international competition, and it’s something he would be thrilled to do. I think there’s a pretty good chance you’ll see Bourque in Germany come May as well.
Both Nystrom and David Moss will head overseas as well, suiting up for Team USA at the Worlds. It’s actually a pretty cool story, as they played together at The University of Michigan before entering the pro ranks at the American Hockey League level at around the same time.
This and That
I guess this could go under the bad news heading — for some anyway. Ales Kotalik was completely taken aback by the notion that he would head to Europe and play there next season. It’s been something asked about by some in the past. But Kotalik’s tune was all looking to next season and arriving in shape to help the Flames.
Higgins confirmed his lower body injury was in fact an ankle issue. Nystrom revealed he played with a groin injury for most of the season, which was a huge reason for his 43 game goal-less drought. He suffered it late in October and wasn’t good again until after the Olympic break. Curtis Glencross gave an update on his injury, saying he would have been good to go, or close to it, had the Flames been playing postseason hockey.
So there you go… the last time we’ll see this exact group of Flames assembled. And now on to what should prove to be an interesting off season. Hopefully for us here at FN, it’ll be busy too.