Being a Flames Fan



During a recent appearance on Nations Radio, Lowtide asked me if the Flames fanbase would embrace a rebuild should the organization choose to go that route in the near future. My answer was a cowardly "it depends" with some caveats applied. Upon reflection I’ve decided to expand on that answer here, because I think it’s a question that will rapidly become more relevant – and more divisive – as the Flames travel further down the "post-Darryl" path. 

The Flames wondered the desert for nearly a decade, starting in the late-90’s when the Canadian dollar mimicked the peso and the execrable "young guns" era. The franchise could only promote hope, albeit dimly, back during a time when Todd Simpson was the team’s captain. "Hope", of course, being more marketing term than actual sentiment amongst Flames fans.

The Young Guns was the dark ages for this team. Established stars fled or shied away in droves. HIgh-end prospects faltered. Rare, expensive UFA signings turned out to be busts. The Flames became a punchline league-wide for a time; a sort of low-budget, B-grade comedy where only the brothers of stars, fading stars, and guys whose names kinda sounded like stars would bother to slum for a paycheck. "The Calgary Flames! Starring….Valerie Bure! Rob Neidermayer! Marty McInnis! Andrew Cassels! And Zarley Zalapski!"

Shudder. It was ugly. There was really no apparent rainbow on the horizon for the long-suffering amongst us back then. People gave their season tickets away, when they could. Hopelessness and cynicism hung on the club like a drab fog.

It’s this seemingly unending terribleness that older fans no doubt recall when the word "rebuild" gets thrown around. Victims of the Young Guns know all too well the promises that come with stripping a team to it’s foundations hold no guarantees. Your 6th overall draft pick might just become Rico Fata. Or Daniel Tkaczuk. Maybe you’ll pick Oleg Saprikyn 9th overall and then Brent Krahn 11th. Meantime, being lack of success can mark the organization with a scarlett letter, warding off worthwhile free agents. Suddenly, the way out of your self-dug hole seems beyond your grasp…

This is no doubt what the organization itself fears when it comes to blowing things up. From a business perspective, being consistently competitive is far more palatable than dynamiting things and hoping you can cobble it all back together from the wreckage. The risks of going full rebuild are large and apparent, which is why I’ve said on numerous occasions that teams almost never pull the plug voluntarily. Rebuilds start when they have to and never before that. 

There’s the other side of equation, of course. Calgary is probably closer to Detroit than they are to Edmonton right now in terms skill level and competitiveness. Unfortunately, those last few inches between the Red Wings and the Flames might as well be miles..

The Flames have exhausted all efforts to escape the NHL’s growing middle class since the lock-out, trying desperately to leverage the peak years of Jarome Iginla, Robyn Regehr and Miikka Kiprusoff, without success. "Solidly middling!" is the hypothetical critical reception of Darryl Sutter’s tenure – consistently able to beat up the lesser lights, never good enough to challenge the heavy weights. And now fans no doubt see the bright future promised by the 2003-04 cup run inexorably fading, the final step between their team and the venerated elite class of the league becoming insurmountable as their core stars age. 

As such, a different kind of hopelessness grips the modern Flame fan relative to those in the late-’90’s: the possibility of a never-ending cycle of mid-range finishes, mid-range draft picks and scrambles to make the post-season just to "see what happens". A gray, perpetual purgatory where ultimate success if denied but tantalizingly close enough to avoid sweeping away the vestiges of failed dreams to start anew.

As a result, the chilling spectre of yesteryear wars with the growing frustration of a vain pursuit. It’s traumatic memories versus a wild goose chase in the minds of many I imagine. I suspect the conflict will resolve itself as a matter of course one way or the other over the next few seasons, but the debate is going to be a hot one in the interim.

  • schevvy

    Good read Kent. I remember how bad the team was during the late 90’s and early 2000’s, and it wasn’t pretty. I honestly think during that time the only thing that kept the fanbase enough to avoid relocation was Iggy. At that time he was our only promising young player. Now the Flames are far better than they were then. However, if we don’t start to draft some promising young players soon, that same thing could happen again, except the dollar is better so theywon’t relocate. So far at least prospects are showing something, Erixon and Reinhart are maybe the signs that our drafting is beginning to improve. Time will tell

    • I dont think the drafting under Sutter was anything to write home about but I will say in the last couple of years it seems a little more promising than the others. Backlund will be a top 6, Nemisz likely will too. Erixson, Brodie, Reinhart all look to be pretty good choices; Erixson being the best out of that bunch likely. So far there is no true star player in the system that we know of but really those arent drafted every year so the expectations shouldnt be that high to expect that yearly.

  • The difference now from then being now we have billionaire owners and a cap system (fixed costs).

    Irony is dead. The Flames used to get into trouble because they didn’t have enough money, and now they get in trouble because they have too much.

  • MC Hockey

    Hey Todd, get a life and enjoy losing in round 3 to SJ or DET. Nice job Kent….I think you got the old thesaurus out a few times there, Mr. Fancy Speak (LOL). Anyways, I hope the Flames DON’T blow things up given the last half of the season but bring in a bit more youth or just keep the youth you have I shoudl say. My plan based on last season performance and using averaged salary #s to stay under cap of estimated 61.4M based on would be:

    Exiting: Buyout Hagman, Kotalik, and Ivanans (saves 4.2M for this season) and trade Kostopoulos and Sarich to save another $4.5M for this season (used capgeek calculator). Don’t resign Modin (obvious) but on the fence on Morrison if certain other re-signs below don’t happen.

    Entering/Staying: Keep Tanguay (long term deal averaging down to 3.2M avg), Glencross (1-year deal to re-prove himself at 2.2M), and Babchuk (2-year deal at 2.4M avg). Also re-sign for short time such as 1-2 years these guys: Karlsson (575K avg), Carson (525K avg), Pardy (750K avg), and bring up Brodie (541K + $200K bonus). Also bring up Bouma, Erixon, Nemisz, and even Pelech (perhaps a future Sarich/Reger-type player?) if/when you can.
    Go Flames! Please don’t suck for more than 5 games at a time in 2011-12 (LMAO).
    Marty C

    • Gange

      Todd’s a troll. He’ll keep trolling as long as he gets the attention his daddy isn’t giving him. Let it go.

      Why buyout Hagman, Kotalik, and Ivanans? Kotalik and Ivanans have to either be buried in the AHL or KHL. Hagman had a terrible season but we’ll see what he is in camp before he gets banished to the AHL or the KHL.

      Kostopoulos you could buy out but he’s a role player and may fit on a 4th line.

      Sarich might go at the deadline but I’m not sure the return on him will be great. In spite of the depth that this team used to have on the blueline that is long gone now. So you’ve got a hole to fill.

      Tanguay has to be resigned. His work with Iggy is undeniable at this point.

      Glencross won’t sign for one year, that’s a pipe dream. If he would have it would be long done by now.

      Babchuk can go.

      Pardy can be resigned as a 7th D-man on the cheap.

      Brodie and Erixon will have to get long looks at camp. It seems likely at least one will ride with the big club. The other juniors, I’m not sure are ready yet.

      Pelech is pretty much worth nothing anymore from what I can ascertain.

      Going into next year I suspect this club will be a solidly middling club again.

      Don’t lose hope though, the year after the books empty and there is a great deal of flexibility.

  • Gange

    I don’t want to go through a rebuild at all, I mean the Oilers rebuild looks good now, Omark, Magnus P., Hall, Eberle and all, but you have to hope they all have much better next year and that you can win anything before their third years are up and after the first year in the hole, well thats not looking so great.

    If we were to start a rebuild now this upcoming year could be a DISASTER and especially with the CBA expiring at the end of the 2011/2012 season I don’t want to go into that after a dismal season. I think this team can be competitive, we’ve seemed to have cut a lot of dead weight in the coaching staff and soon the players will follow. My offseason game plan looks something like this:

    The following players are going over seas or bought out:
    Ivanans(Buy out most likely)

    The following guys need to be traded:

    Jokinen was Sutters ball and chain, he just wanted him to succeed so badly that he just couldn’t let it go, he was servicable this season but I envision our next years centermen to look like:
    (1)Backlund, (2)Langkow, (3)Stajan, (4)Kosto

    Sarich isn’t bad in a 4 role, but he is preventing other younger, faster, more mobile players form advancing. My envisioning of next years defence looks a little like:
    Bouwmeester – Giordano
    Regher – Erixon
    Pardy – Brodie

    Maybe Babchuk, but I’m hardly sold on him at all, I think I’d rather given Erixon minutes after how well he was hyped in the Prospects report and how well he played in Sweden. With how sheltered Babchuk was I have a bad feeling with giving him anything big or long term.

    Last Priority is signing Tanguay, he was KEY to our top lines success and showed he still has it. A two or three year deal at a moderate raise I think is in order.

  • Ah, Calgary fans. Well good read Kent. Oiler’s fan here. Todd you’re a douche bag! You just made me cheer for Det that much more.

    Take it from a fan that’s watched the better part of 10 years in pure fan hell! Aside from the 2006 cup run the Oilers have been the perfect example Kent has mentioned in said article. At or near the cusp of the playoffs, bad trades, even worse UFA signings! Horrible late round draft picks from a scouting staff that was non-existent and uninformed, equals a very mediocre team and an equally mediocre farm system.

    Having said that the only course of action I see for the Flames is an almost total rebuild.
    I know it’s hard to wrap your heads around it, even with the great season Iggy had, I’m an Oiler fan and that was amazing! The Flames are trending downward, all of them. Including Iggy. Was Tanguay season a one off or legit? I’m as patient as any fan but can you afford to wait for Jay Bo? The thing about the Flames is they have quality assets; your rebuild should not take as long as the Oilers,

    The one thing I disagree with in Kent’s article was the comparison to Detroit, Flames are no where near the Wings, and the Flames points (regular season) are in fact inflated, the play in the arguable the worse division in hockey.
    Here’s to one day soon I may see the beloved Oilers vs Flames in the Stanley cup playoffs again.


    I would imagine next years team to look pretty much the same as this years. The organization will likely give this group at least the first half of next season to prove the last half this past year was no fluke. That said, the Flames (at best) will be slugging it out for a bottom seed in the playoffs.

    I’m sure, as always, changes will be made.
    -Kotalik will not be back.
    -Ivanins will be in Abbotsford for the remainder of his deal.
    -Staios also will not be back. likely opening a spot for Carson/Mikelson/Broodie (although Sutter recently said he believes Brodie and Erixon are a year or two away)
    -I wouldn’t be surprised Babchuck went else where, I’m sure someone will overpay and the Flames are not in a position to overpay 5-6 d-men.
    -I suspect Morrison also will not be back with Langkow now back in the picture.
    -I strongly doubt ownership will buyout any of the other whipping boys (Hagman/Stajan) these guys will be given another chance and at this point it dosen’t make much sense to throw cap dollars away on a player (stajan) who still has 3 years left on his deal.

    Also alluded to earlier 2012 the Flames will have cap flexibility and on the surface that is a good thing, but just because you have the money doesn’t necessarily mean you can just go out and spend money to acquire numerous quality players. case in point, the Toronto Maple Leafs had money to spend last off season and couldn’t seal the deal in terms of attracting an impact player. just cause you have the cap space doesn’t gaurantee much at all, and it seems the more important a player is, the more likely it is he will stay with thr organization he’s already with (ie Rick Nash, Sedin’s, M Koivu,) recent history would suggest there is one, maybe two, players a year that can immediately change an org’s direction. For example who is out there to be had this year? Brad Richards and after that?….Curtis Glencross? And I’d bet my next paycheque someone will overpay for GlenX because it will be a players market, dude will probably have 2-3 long term/big money deals to mull over come July 1

    I’m not sure how they are going to do it, but if the flames are going to get better, they need to get a little lucky and find a Claude Giroux, TJ Oshie, Milan Lucic, Shea Weber, in the draft. (hell, they probably need to find two). Either that or Greg Neimez, Tim Erixon, Leland Irving et all need to be a whole lot better than most of us think they are.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    If ownership is willing to throw $10M away, then a whole world of possibilities opens up. Without Stajan, Kotalik, Hagman, and Ivanans they can re-sign Tangs, Glennie, and Killer Karlsson. There’s room to bring up a couple of young forwards and defence, as well as bringing in some cheap veteran help while still having a cushion for the cap.

    If ownership is willing to throw $10M away.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    There’s no guarantees down this path either. Eventually, if you want to be among the elite you have to rebuild with high picks. You need that base.

    To repeat myself a million times, the proper attention, focus, time and energy spent acquiring picks/prospects instead of “something for now, something for the future” would have provided a very different ending to the YG era.

    There’s no plan around poor management.

    Lets not forget how we got Iggy and Regehr in the first place.

    Philly comes to mind as a team that chose the right time for a rebuild at their choosing isntead of being forced and it was realtively quick and painless.

    The Flames are rapidly losing the window to do that and are close to and Edmonton scenario than a Philly scenario than most would admit.

    Pittsburgh built from scracth twice and has 3 Cups. It’s also how we won our lone Cup, how Chicago got theirs, and Anaheim, and Colorado and Detroit and how Edmonton won 5 of them, etc. (see first paragraph).

    There are no shortcuts and the sooner people accept that the less the pain will be.

  • febreze

    I like the work put in by a diminutive Dave Gagner in 96-97. He brought a touch of class and respectability to us during dark times. He also, in a short time, had a profound effect on a young Jarome Iginla. But sometimes I wonder if he was actually a spy because now he scouts for Vancouver and his son plays for the Oil. Only SOMETIMES I wonder this because if you were unfortunate enough to watch the Flames during this era there were indeed…no secrets to steal.