This is clearly one of those pieces that I’d rather not have to write, since I’m compelled to discuss a player that, if I had my druthers, would have had the chance to author a Conroy-style coda over the next few years. A player enjoying a period of graceful aging and a nice retirement ceremony is a rare thing to witness in the modern world, though, and yesterday, Daymond Langkow became the latest athlete asked to move along as he neared the gloaming.
Whatever people might think of these fin de siècle Flames, it’s fairly obvious that Daymond Langkow played an important part in the rebirth of the club as a competitive force. His acquisition from the Coyotes for Oleg Saprykin and Denis Gauthier in the late summer of ’04 turned out as well as any team could ever hope, as quality was obtained for flotsam, and the subsequent seasons revealed a player that could do something quite rare in the game. Daymond Langkow could play against the other team’s better players and not get throttled.
Langkow certainly prospered offensively in his first few years as a Flame, and it’s easy to think that his days as Jarome Iginla’s center were the pinnacle of his career. As a scorer that’s obviously so, but the time where my appreciation grew for what Daymond Langkow was really all about peaked in 2008/09 and 2009/10.
That first season saw the Flames move Langkow away from Iginla’s side and away from the offensive opportunities that can allow players to post shiny boxcar numbers. Mike Keenan moved him down the order with Rene Bourque as his primary sidekick, and added to the burden by asking those two gents to carry Sparklepants along for the ride. Instead of pouting his way out of town, he accepted his role as the anchor of the second line with no fuss, and before injuries and hubris from the management suite shot the season to hell, Langkow was a key cog on a very good team.
09/10 saw him fed to the toughs in order to paper over the club’s lack of depth through the first 50-odd games, and he and Bourque managed to make Nigel Dawes a break-even player against top line opposition without the luxury of percentages or any of the other qualifiers we look for to explain away good results. After the trades of that season, he and Chris Higgins spent their month together performing the same voodoo with Ales Kotalik, as they conspired to drag a mediocrity to some very healthy outshooting numbers.
That bit about his linemates might strike a sensible person as a pattern. Daymond Langkow, when provided with one other useful player (Bourque, Higgins), could carry an openly inferior third party to good results against top-six NHL competition. We often talk about difference makers. To my eye, what Langkow provided the Flames over those two years qualified as making a real difference, and as we saw from Bourque’s lackluster 10/11 performance, it seems apparent Daymond Langkow was the primary figure in that duo.
Irrespective of whatever misgivings I might have had about the club’s performance these last few years, watching a pro like Daymond Langkow operate was a genuine pleasure. There are any number of players that can dominate with physical ability, but what we witnessed with Langkow was a player that was able to thrive more on his wits than via any overwhelming athletic talent. He simply knew what to do at both ends of the ice, and as we’ve seen over the last year-plus, that commodity is in rarer supply than might be commonly acknowledged. Friend of the blog Matt Fenwick often referred to Daymond Langkow as “instant chemistry”, and no matter how one might parse results, it’s pretty clear that playing with Langkow was good news for nearly anyone the Flames had on their roster from the fall of 2005 onward.
That ability to make others better was why his dreadful injury two springs ago in St. Paul was such an unmanageable loss for the team. Calgary was suddenly bereft of its one reliable two-way center, and the team’s collapse in 09/10 and its failure to make the second season last year seems reasonable given how central Langkow’s presence was to Brent Sutter’s vision of the team. The Flames needed him to play the toughs so that others could prosper, and shorn of that option, the club never quite seemed to get things right, especially against better teams.
It’s not unreasonable for people to wonder what Daymond Langkow has left in the wake of his year away from the game, and I don’t doubt for a minute that the club has its own questions about his long-term viability as a top forward. Between perceived team needs and the invincible tyranny of the calendar, maybe it’s not that much of a shock that today’s events happened, and it might well end up being the proper move for all parties.
Even if that ends up being the case, I do hope that people can grasp exactly what sort of player the Flames had wearing number 22 these last six seasons, even if so much of what Daymond Langkow provided was beyond the reach of the boxscore. Fans often opine that they admire talent without overweening ego, that they want players that will sacrifice their own results for the good of the team in the collective. I can’t think of a player that exemplified those characteristics more directly than Daymond Langkow did during his stay with the Flames. He was a professional in the very best sense of that word, and the Flames are a lesser organization with him gone.
So with that in mind, I can only offer my best wishes to the man as he heads to the desert. In the end, players really only owe us their best efforts, and if there was ever a Calgary Flame of this era that paid that debt in full, it was Daymond Langkow. Good luck, sir, and thanks.