In a recent post today "The Flames Head to Free Agency", Scott Reynolds had this to say:
The Flames are in a tough spot right now. They were a bit worse in 2010-11 than they were in 2009-10, and they figure to be a bit worse than that this year. They were probably a bit unlucky to miss the playoffs in both of those years, but if they did, they would have been lucky to win a round. Several of the team’s best (or at least highest-paid) players are quite old – Iginla, Langkow, Tanguay, Jokinen, Hagman, Sarich, and Kiprusoff are all over 30 – and the team doesn’t have much in the way of good young players, with the recent departure of Tim Erixon doing them no favors. The team’s defense has gone from a strength to a weakness, and yet the club’s forwards haven’t really improved. If the goal here is to win the Stanley Cup, the Flames are in one of the worst positions I can imagine.
Whatever you think about the particulars of the analysis, the overarching message is clear and inarguable – the Flames are stuck in a sort of purgatory heading into free agency on Friday. They aren’t good enough to challenge the elite squads in either conference nor are they poised to take a step forward due to their shallow prospect cupboard, a lackluster UFA crop and the advanced age of their best players.
The organizations goals are somewhat murky. They aren’t good enough to realistically compete for the cup, but aren’t bad enough to burn the thing to the ground. They exist frozen between the best and the worst in the league, with no clear path to escape their abominable stasis. Feaster was able to re-ink Tanguay and Glencross recently, but the overall effect is one of spending more money to essentially run in place. Absent Chris Butler taking a revelatory step forward this season, Calgary’s beck-end got worse in the wake of the Regehr deal, although given the Flames budgetary constraints it’s hard to blame Feaster for dumping salary.
These two courses of action obviously run roughly counter to one another: signing Tanguay and Glencross to extended deals with NTC’s attached signals the Flames willingness to continue to try to compete with the current roster. On the other hand, moving Reggie for cap space and a couple of youngsters seems to suggest the team has an eye on the future rather than the present.
It’s probable that the club’s plan of action is indeed paradoxical. In the near-term, the goal is likely to squeeze as much as possible out of the current roster. We’re talking about a business afterall and as we’ve mentioned in this space previously, teams in the NHL don’t blow things up until they are left with no other option. This is because napalming rosters comes with a number of risks and consequences, ranging from the possibility that the club can’t be re-built into a contender to the difficult task of having to sell future hope rather than present comeptitiveness. "Young Guns" type campaigns cost people their jobs when they stretch too long and/or are summarily rejected by the fanbase.
It seems inevitable that the Flames will have to enter a severe rebuilding phase at some point in the future, however. When Iginla turns 36-years old in two years, he will be long past his prime and facing free agency besides. Kipper will be 37 and Tanguay 33. There is nothing in the organizational pipeline that can replace players of that caliber, particularly Jarome. Keep in mind, of course, that the Flames aren’t even a playoff club with these guys in the line-up right now. Taking a step forward while the team is tied to these aghing lead horses strikes me as next to impossible – but then a purposeful step back is anathema as well.
The objective is probably to stay as competitive as possible in the short term while trying to make gradual changes which will improve the long-term forecast. It’s a tricky balancing act and one easily derailed since the opposing goals have to be delicately weighted against one another.
This is something to keep in mind as the Flames head into the free agent market. Of course, the true guiding principle every summer should be to acquire good players on value contracts, but the age of those players, their overall price and the length of their contracts will be moderated by the various factors discussed above.
I don’t envy Feaster his job. It’ll be a tough one this July, and will stretch on indefinitely until the point the team either turns a corner or falls off a cliff.