I asked the questions in the Flamesnation quarter pole roundtablem but I didn’t get to share my own thoughts on Flames and the season at hand. Now is as good a time as any.
End of an Era
On perhaps the most pressing debate in Flames circles today, plant me firmly in the "trade Iginla" camp. I’ll build my argument around a comment made by Jeff Lebowski in the recent Stoking the Fire (mostly because it’s a convenient starting point, not to pick on Jeff in particular) –
Trading Iggy and/or Kipper is the stupidest notion. You need Kessel type return to impact this franchise and no team will give that compensation. You can not get adequate return for what Iggy and Kipper mean to the integrity of this team.
It’s not 2004 anymore folks. Iginla and Kipper are two players in their mid-thirties with a handful of years left on their contracts who are drifting inevitably from their peaks – peaks that are quite obviously in the past. They aren’t going to be in Calgary forever and they aren’t pieces you build around anymore. The Iginla/Kipper epoch of the Flames history is pretty much in it’s denouement.
Calgary has finished 10th in the west two years in a row and are set to do so again this season. I’m not going to advocate the club trade Iginla for anything, but this notion that he and Kipper are integral to the success of this team is nonsense (what success?). The Flames current quest isn’t to retain the doddering stars of yesteryear. It is to find new stars.
Try this exercise: project what the Flames will look like in the summer of 2013 (that’s the summer after next). Jarome will be 36 and a free agent. Kipper will be 37 with one year left on his deal. Tanguay will be 35.
A transition is coming one way or the other. The team can either try to leverage depreciating assets like Iginla and Kipper for a return or they can keep them around and let them drift away for nothing, Markus Naslund/Matts Sundin style.
– Of course, I’m talking ideally and from a position comfortably outside the org. In reality, all the noise coming from the management office indicates the Flames have no interest in trading Jarome and that he’s here to stay. I think this stance comes from a couple of directions:
1.) PR – No one in the upper offices wants to be the guy who chose to trade one of the best players to ever don the Flames jersey. Moving folk heroes is tricky business – both the return and the optics need to be just right. As such, it looks to me like the club is setting it up so Iginla essentially has to be the guy to make the decision – then none of the suits can be made to look like the bad guy.
2.) Marketing – Iginla remains the most marketable face on the Flames roster and his absence would create a giant sucking vacuum on the roster in terms of selling the club. The decision makers may be reluctant to actively shop Jarome until they can find another player to take his place as "face of the franchise".
A New Hope?
Speaking of which, Sven Baertschi may become that guy if he continues to tear through junior. He currently boasts the best point-per-game pace in the entire CHL (2.37/game); a pace that would see him finish with 156 points in 66 games. Last year he scored 85 in 66 for context.
I’ve been tracking Baertschi’s point totals across game states and the kid has 24 even strength points, 20 on the PP and one SH. He started the year out mostly cashing in with the man advatage, but has been killing it at five-on-five recently (10 ES points in four games).
It’s worth noting that the Winterhawks are a very high scoring team which is obviously helping Baertschi post his numbers. It’s also unlikely he’ll continue on such a torrid scoring rate: last year no WHL player managed more than 116 points for instance. However, if he can post more than one ES point-per-game and finishes with more than 100 points this year, those are two big arrows pointing in the right direction for him.
Of note: I believe the last time a Flames pick scored 100+ points in junior was Cory Stillman (6th overall) all the way back in 1990-91. Matt Lombardi pulled a 130-point season out in his final year of junior, but that’s far more common for 20-year olds and is therefore less notable. Jarrett Stoll is the only other guy who kind of qualifies: he managed 106 in his 18-year old season for the Kootenay Ice. THe Flames failed to sign him though and he re-entered the draft in 2002 where he was drafted by Edmonton. Calgary returned the favor by picking Lombo, who had been an Oilers pick two years earlier as well.
– Where ever you fall on the trade Iginla debate, I think we can all agree that Rene Bourque needs to be moved. It pains me to admit that because I was a tireless Rene Bourque booster prior to his re-signing, but the dude has absolutely fallen off a cliff since he inked his long-term deal and he’s trending in the wrong direction. Last year, he played with Jokinen in a semi-shut down role so his near team worst possession and scoring chance differentials were somewhat justified and it was worth waiting to see if he would bounce back this season.
No such luck. In fact, he’s a few miles worse. He still lags behind just about everyone on the club in terms of driving the play by both chances and possession, except this year his assignment is a lot easier with Glencross/Jokinen/Iginla/Tanguay seeing the lion’s share of tough match-ups. That has left Bourque mostly to bat clean-up and he’s completely struck out: worst relative corsi amongst regulars, awul scoring chance ratio, middling competition and the easiest zone start situation (54%) this side of PL3. Getting beat up by other teams top-lines is one thing – utterly failing to take advantage of easy minutes is another.
Whatever the teams plans – be it rebuild, re-tool, status quo…Bourque needs to go. He’s a detriment on the ice and his contract is going to be exposed as an albatross very soon.
– As far as I can tell, the Flames are probably slightly better than their record indicates so far but have taken a step backwards from where they were last year. I think they are likely to claw their from the depths of the western conference basement, but not much farther. Last year they could have made the post-season as an 8th seed and it wouldn’t have been grossly out of line with their real talent level. Unless something drastically changes this season, though, 10th fits the Calgary Flames like a glove.
– Around the NHL, the most surprising coach firing for me so far is Randy Carlyle. The Ducks definitely suck, but I’m not sure there’s anything more he could have done about the situation. The problem this year so far is Cory Perry is not running hot and Jonas Hiller is not constantly bailing the club out with a sky-high SV%. The roster is puddle deep and Carlyle was one of the more active bench managers in the league. It will be interesting to see what Boudreau does in his place, since his use of Washington’s assets seemed far more middle-of-the-road.