The Senators are in town tonight, a rebuilding team whom the Flames may well emulate in short order if a few more bets go the wrong way this year. Bryan Murray is one of the few NHL GM’s whose management of his assets was even more dire than late-stage Darryl Sutter, so the Senators erosion was more rapid and their fall from grace more stark than the Flames. It’s amazing he still has a job.
While the Sens faltered and then firebombed their roster in earnest last year, Calgary still teeters on the precipice between status quo and the plunge into their own rebuild. The indecision and the team’s continued mediocrity leaves the Flames fanbase in a sort of grey limbo.
That perpetual purgatory has fans hungry for any sign of significant change or notable contributions from anyone outside the normal circle of players. I’ve been asked recently from various angles why Nik Hagman on waivers or the contract status of Krys Kolanos has drawn so much interest recently. You can also throw in the popularity of rookies like Byron and Horak despite their sucessess in the big league being relatively modest.
As hopes for siginifcant success in either the regular or post-season continue to dim, the fanbase is looking instead for signs of metamorphisis and renewal. Unless the current iteration of the team turns things around forthwith, the faithful will continue to be hyper vigilant for things that are new and novel as their view shifts from the present to the more distant future.
I mentioned bad bets in the opening paragraph. Another one that seems to be going south is the Rene Bourque extension, signed by Darryl Sutter near the end of his tenure. I have to admit I was a big fan of Bourque in his first couple of seasons and a proponent of his being retained by the team. I wasn’t thrilled by the term and NTC Sutter offered up for Rene’s second contract, but I was nevertheless a tireless advocate for the ex-Hawk before he was re-upped. I share Darryl’s regret on this particular misstep as a result.
The Bourque issue came to a bit of a head this past weekend with Kelly Hrudey’s HNIC tirade on the Flames winger. Sometimes when the MSM starts pointing out character flaws as an explanation for a guys struggles the unfortunate truth is they are fabricating narratives to explain a drop in fortune. More often than not, a glance at a shooting percentage or save percentage is explanation enough for a dip in outcomes.
That is emphatically not the case with Bourque.
The eye-test and underlying numbers are in complete agreement when it comes to Rene. Previously paired with Daymond Langkow, the duo were a consistently strong top-6 option who could skate against any foe and drive the play north. They did this whether they were combined with Todd Bertuzzi or Nigel Dawes, which speaks to their effectiveness.
Some of that, of course, is Langkow. Even now at 35 years old and coming off a major injury, Daymond continues to drive possession in Phoenix. So some drop in Bourque’s underlying numbers in Langkow’s absence is natural.
That said, he’s gone from a top-six, hard minutes winger to a gross detriment in the space of two seasons. Last year, Sutter had Bourque and Jokinen take on other teams big guns more often than not and Bourque got his head kicked in. He had some of the worst corsi rates on the Flames and a team-worst plus/minus. Sutter learned his lesson this season and instead has Bourque in a more third-line role facing lesser lights and the third easiest zone start ratio overall…and he is still well under water by most measures.
Qualitatively speaking, Bourque looks awful most nights. Previously a bear along the boards and highly adept at pushing the puck into the scoring area, Bourque is instead mostly a periphery presence these days. I find no one on the club takes more needless shots from the outside and he is one of the worst for burying his head on the rush and ignoring his teammates and possible passing options. The speed and hard work that marked his emergence as a useful player in Flames colors seem to have all but evaporated as well.
Whatever the casue of Bourque’s terrible decline – be it lingering injuries (or fear of them), a lack of motivation due to his new long-term contract, Langkow’s absence or some other idiosyncratic factor, Bourque’s contract has become toxic and one the club needs to move if at all possible. His cache as a two-time 27-goal scorer may be enough to overcome the remaining
three four years on his deal in the minds of some GM’s, although as indicated by Hrudey, his reputation is already fairly tarnished.
– Speaking of mistakes, I understand the why of some fans demanding no more mentions of the Dion Phaneuf trade with each new, grotesque mutation the swap takes for the Calgary organization. It no doubt feels like the needless picking of a scab.
Unfortunately, like the Gilmour trade before it, the Phaneuf deal will forever exist in infamy going forward. It’s a wound that will form a never healing scar on the face of the franchise and it’s not something that will ever be completely forgotten or ignored. In short, get used to mournful sighs whenever a anything remotely connected to the principles of the transaction are mentioned. It’s as inevitable as the tide.