With most among FlamesNation believing this team needs to retool a tad and go in a different direction, it’s fueled more and more conversation about "the core" and how that group of players should look going forward. Whereas, at one time the core group of players was clearly identified, doing the same thing again with the current group is a much more difficult assignment.
The Old Core
One of Darryl Sutter’s crowning achievements during his time as General Manager of the Flames was locking up the "core group" of players, which started in July of 2007 when Robyn Regehr and Jarome Iginla signed long term extensions within two days of each other. Regehr signed on July 2nd, finalizing a five year extension at a $4.02 million annual cap hit; on July 4th, Iginla inked his own five year extension, with a $7 million cap hit.
The signing of Miikka Kiprusoff on October 29th of 2007 satisfied the goal of locking up "the big three", as Kiprusoff was given a six year, $35 million deal. The next focus was Dion Phaneuf, the phenom defenceman (at least thought by many at the time) who had energized the Calgary blueline. With 99 points in his first two seasons, Phaneuf was in the middle of his best statistical season (he’d finish with 60 points) when Sutter signed him to his own six year extension, worth a grand total of $39 million. One of the worries was whether the Flames would be able to re-sign Phaneuf with such good numbers in his first three seasons.
The final piece of the core was Daymond Langkow, who signed a four year deal on June 27th of 2008; his annual cap hit would end up at $4.5 million dollars. So, five pieces of a puzzle, and five players who would probably have commanded some good dough on the open market. Yet they all signed with the Flames, which at the time, was a very good thing. The consequences of these contracts wouldn’t be felt for a number of years.
So who still remains? Phaneuf was traded to Toronto just over a year ago, with a group of four players (two remaining) coming back in return. Langkow’s future status is very uncertain, as he’s yet to play since suffering a scary neck injury in March of last year; his return to the NHL is doubtful, at best, it seems. That leaves Iginla, Regehr and Kiprusoff…and it begs the question: what should the future hold for them in a Flames jersey?
Where Are You Going?
The direction remains undefined for the Calgary Flames at this point, as they continue to struggle through their 2010-11 campaign. Acting GM Jay Feaster has talked about "intellectual honesty" in evaluating moves for the team and making decisions going forward. In my eyes, it’s pretty clear: miracle run or not, the Flames are a middle-of-the-road team at best, and aren’t set up to be anything better in the coming years.
So, if the team is to do what a lot of people are hoping, how the three previously mentioned core members fit in will have to be a focal point. If the team is able to acquire assets for one or any of those players, there’s a growing contingent of the Flames faithful who would be in support.
Both Iginla and Regehr could net you fairly nice returns, even with both players in the "diminishing returns" category as they play out their contracts. However, Iginla is still a very good player. He may not be the elite, overwhelming force night in, night out as he was as early as three seasons ago, but he still has the ability to be a fairly high end forward. His name, his conditioning, and his effectiveness could net the Flames a package consisting of a good pick, a good prospect and a roster player right now Wouldn’t surprise me in the least.
As for Robyn Regehr, as I said in our Roundtable earlier this week, it’s not out of the question that a deal could net the Flames a high pick. He’s still a very good shutdown defenceman, and there are teams with an absolute need for that type of player right now. You’d probably have to take a player back in return, but would a lower depth defenceman along with a pick be that awful of a return? I don’t think so. Hell, a desperate team who really believes they’re within striking distance of a Cup may well overpay for a guy like him, if he’s on the market.
Kiprusoff is a different story, because the goaltending market is slim and the trend is moving away from having high priced goaltenders on your team right now. But, again, a team who’s suffered an injury or really does feel a need to upgrade their goaltending situation might end up brining him in, and might have to overpay if the situation dictates.
Now, all of the above is nothing more than media speculation and poppycock, because we don’t know what the Flames are thinking when it comes to direction. The question "where are you going?" is the question that needs to be asked, and then answered before the team decides to think about fielding offers for these three players. If it were me, I’d already have made my decision, and I’d be listening to any offer with an open mind.
Identifying The New Core
So, if the team decides to set themselves up for something a little further on down the road, they would have to go into the dreaded "rebuild mode". That’s not to say the Flames would have to suffer through five and six seasons of non-playoff hockey, but it would mean they’d have to dial back the "right now, and right now only" mentality for a time, and maybe suffer a few lumps. It can’t be any worse than it is now, and I firmly believe fans in this city would be all for it, if it was clear the team really was trying to strive for something.
If this were to be the case, an important step would be pinpointing who you’re prepared to move forward with, and who you want to be focal points of your team when they’d supposedly be realizing their goal. This becomes a little more difficult to do, as debate surrounds whether this player should or this player should not be part of the teams future.
Guarantees – I can think of only two who fit into the no-brainer category at this point, and they’re both on the blueline: Mark Giordano and Jay Bouwmeester. In many minds, Gio is a future captain on this team, and his play continues to evolve and impress. He’s a legit top three defenceman, and if he’s not ready now it won’t be long for him to be out against the very best competition on a nightly basis.
Bouwmeester may have a large, polarizing contract, but he’s also been one of the most important players on this team. He is constantly deployed against top opposition forwards, and more often than not finishes in the plus when it comes to Kent’s scoring chance numbers posted every night. Clearly, that’s not all attributed to him, but it doesn’t mean it’s a fluke that it happens on a regular basis either. Sure, his numbers aren’t in the same realm of what they were in Florida, but his overall game has taken leaps and bounds since he first donned a Flames jersey to where he is now.
The Contract Dilemmas – There’s not a whole lot you can do with Rene Bourque at this point. The contract is signed and the contract is long. However, we all know the ability is there, and we all know how valuable he can be to the team when he’s playing solid hockey. I believe he joins this new core of players for both hockey reasons and financial reasons, as the contract isn’t going to be easy to move and you’re probably not going to net anything in return close to Bourque’s capability when on his game. The other thing to rememember is this: he was pretty damn good last year, and while consistency has always been an issue, this recent extended stretch of perimiter play is a little out of character.
Matt Stajan was one of the principle players acquired in the Dion Phaneuf deal, and was in the midst of a career season when he joined the team. And then the bottom fell out. He has five goals in 64 games with the team, and shows no signs of turning into the player his $3.5 million annual cap hit suggests. I would rather see him elsewhere, but making that happen is easier said than done. In the long run, it might be easier to let his contract play out, and let him fill the role of a young-ish (26) forward that can take some minutes while other more important players develop.
The Tweeners – Here’s the interesting part. Identifying players who are on the team now and might not be bad fits in a minor supporting role down the road. The two for me are David Moss and Curtis Glencross. Moss has a history of driving possession in a bottom six role, and is a valuable player both on the ice and with his contract. His contract carries over through next season, and with a $1.3 million cap hit, he’s more than reasonable for what he gives you. He’s a guy you can keep for a similar cap hit, and is still relatively young at 29.
Then there’s Glencross. A guy who can dominate a game when he’s used right, a guy that can add quality minutes at even strength and on the penalty kill. Two problems as I see it. First, it’s the whole consistency thing. The fact that he played 15-20 great games for this team to start the season then completely fell off a cliff is a bit of a worry. But I think I’d still want him on the team even with that in my back pocket. No, the bigger problem surrounds his desire to return to the Flames, which I’m lead to believe is zero. It’s pretty clear Glencross hasn’t been thrilled with how he’s been utilized here and was extremely displeased with his benching earlier this season. He’ll command a little more than his salary right now when he becomes unrestricted on July 1st, so my guess is Glencross is gone.
To me, it’s the single most intriguing issue as the Calgary Flames (hopefully) move towards a new goal a little further in the future. Who does this team believe in? And who doesn’t fit the mold and the image of where they want to eventually be? These questions are easily answered by you and I, because there are no implications to flapping our gums or hammering a keyboard. For Jay Feaster, or whoever else has to make the real decisions, the fall out is a little more real. But I think we’d all much rather see a team making decisions than sticking to something that clearly isn’t working right now.