The recent loss wasn’t the way the Calgary Flames wanted to go into the All Star break, but it shouldn’t deter the team from the task they have to prepare for once they get back to business next Tuesday. The Flames are going to have to put on a display for its fans, its level of resolve and determination to stay on track…or at least not fall off the rails.

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That being said, Calgary had a pretty good week. They managed to take 5 out of a possible 6 pts on the road and save for the Edmonton game they did it against some pretty stiff competition. The Tuesday game was one of opportunity for club with the Sharks being without Clowe, Burns and Havlat. Calgary had the chance to move into a temporary tie for 8th, but the loss left them 3 pts out and Minny holding a game in hand.

While the fans are in a happy mood lately with the relative success of the Flames, the coach isn’t quite as enthused. Brent Sutter is getting increasingly frustrated with the inconsistency of his players, specifically the top two lines. The fantastic thing about Brent Sutter is that you can read the expressions on his face like a comic book. This team is facing enough of a challenge over the next few months, they don’t need to make it more difficult on themselves. Sutter’s frustration reached boiling point and yesterday and blasted his players for being what he thought was a coasting squad.

So Close… Yet So Far

Anyone get the reference from this picture to the heading?

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The Flames have approached that highly coveted 8th seeding three times in the last seven weeks, and have failed all three times to grab it. It is a trend they need to find a way around if they hope to make any serious headway in the conference. As nice as it is to see Calgary play a tight game against an elite team like the San Jose Sharks (not once but twice) they still came away on the short end of the stick. It’s hard to get mad when they lose to a team who should for all intents and purposes destroy them, but they have had to rely on some pretty good luck in those narrow defeats, not to mention some of the victories as well.

What has made it easier on them is the strong play of a player not named Jarome Iginla. Curtis Glencross has been Calgary’s best player in my opinion: he has played the tough minutes against opposing top lines and is still at the top in scoring for the Flames, 3rd in points and tied with Iginla for the lead in goals. Undoubtedly the loss of Glencross is going to be a huge blow to the Flames, and you have to wonder if the team’s good luck is going to come crashing down around them if the injuries keep piling up.

Now they say every cloud has a silver lining, and in the Flames’ case, it has definitely been the play of Miikka Kiprusoff. Going into the game against the Sharks, Miikka was sporting a 1.21 GAA in the previous five games. That is something Calgary will have to depend on and hope he can maintain until all or at least some of the injured players can return. Going into the All Star break, Kipper is just two wins shy of 300, which will put him into a club that currently only has 26 members. Next Tuesday, when Calgary meets the Detroit Redwings, Kipper will suit up for his 526th game in a Flames uniform, tying him with Mike Vernon for the franchise lead.

Another silver lining appeared in the Sharks game with the return of Alex Tanguay from his lengthy, undisclosed injury. The longer Alex stayed out, and the more the club was unwilling to share the reason why, the more everyone thought Alex had a concussion and was possibly out for the remainder of the year; as it turned out, it was a neck injury. With Glencross out, the Flames need Tanguay to be healthy and hit the ground running. Sutter told media that the Flames don’t have the luxury of letting Alex take a few weeks to readjust and get up to game speed, they need him now and he will have to show early that he can help this team; now. Feaster has said that injuries are not going to be an excuse for Calgary or determine their playoff fate; which is probably why the team has been extra careful with Tanguay. He could have played against Edmonton, but was sat for precautionary measures and to give him some more practice time to be ready for the Sharks instead. After all, it’s not like Calgary really needed Alex to take care of the Oilers, right?

The loss of Glencross and the return of Tanguay had left questions as to where to slot everyone in the line-up; one that has been shuffled more than a deck of cards. It was highly unlikely that Sutter would place Tanguay at center for Iginla and Cammalleri after missing the past fifteen games, so there was an opportunity, once again, for Mikael Backlund to prove himself worthy of the chance Sutter would give him. A topic of constant controversy and defence, Backlund has walked the proverbial tightrope this year, and as Jay Feaster put it, had Calgary not been at the mercy of injuries and the suspension to Rene Bourque, that Backlund would have been sent to the AHL. No one more than Mikael had to have taken that to heart. Jay flat out told him that night, that he just went “whistling through the graveyard”. Did Backlund get the message? He had a solid game against both the Oilers and the Sharks, even potting a goal, finally, against the Oil.

So there you have it, some good and some bad; mostly speculation mixed with confusion. Do the injuries make the Flames buyers or sellers at the deadline, no one can say for sure. All we know is that for the most part, regardless of who is in the line-up, the Flames are in for a tough ride. But here is some more good news for you. No matter how many times Brent has to juggle the lines, he can rely on one thing… Olli Jokinen has been the common denominator in sparking the Flames whoever he plays with. Despite being named in Sports Illustrated top 15 list of over-rated players, his teammates would wholeheartedly disagree. Jokinen’s influence goes beyond his contributions on the ice. A player that has previously in his career been described as a cancer in the dressing room, is now referred to as a calming influence for the younger players on the team. In Scott Cruickshank’s common denominator article, Olli has received nothing but praise from guys like Comeau, Backlund and Lee Stempniak.

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There are going to be a lot of factors that the Flames all have to draw together once the All Star break concludes. The Flames are close, they can see where they want to be and they can taste it. But if last season has shown the team, and the fans, anything; it’s that close won’t cut it for the Flames.

  • NateBaldwin

    Good article VF (wait a minute…did I just say that?). If the Flames want to have some kinda shot at getting a playoff spot, they’re going to have to win games like the one on Tuesday night. Can’t go into the 3rd all tied up and come away with nothing. I disagree with Sutter though about that game, I really didn’t think the Flames played that bad. Of course, he has a way better view of the game than I do, so he must of seen things I didn’t.

    Glencross’ injury will be a tough one to overcome, he’s the team’s leading scorer, best PK man, and plays tough competition. He also plays well with Olli, so we’ll see how Mr. Postagain plays without him. Maybe Tanguay can somewhat fill in for Glencross, but I think so far this year when both were in the lineup Glencross was the better player.

    Last point: as I’m sure all of you have heard by now, the Flames have the exact same record through 50 games as they did last year, 23-21-6.

    • Vintage Flame

      If the Flames want to have some kinda shot at getting a playoff spot, they’re going to have to win games like the one on Tuesday night. Can’t go into the 3rd all tied up and come away with nothing.

      Exactly schevv. If the Flames are serious about making another run for the playoffs and wanting to get those extra few inches then they have to fond ways of beating these teams that they’re not supposed to. When you come as close as Calgary did in both games to SJ, then the close-but-no-cigar attitude doesn’t really hold much water with me.

      Great, they had the effort there, but.. they still lost. It’s like getting the participation ribbon.

      Glencross’ injury will be a tough one to overcome, he’s the team’s leading scorer, best PK man, and plays tough competition. He also plays well with Olli, so we’ll see how Mr. Postagain plays without him. Maybe Tanguay can somewhat fill in for Glencross, but I think so far this year when both were in the lineup Glencross was the better player.

      Yeah, what really worries me is that as Glencross spends more time away from the team, the Flames are going to undoubted slip at some point. The worry comes from how far we see them slip. As Kent mentioned before, the Flames are really going to need to continue to channel Hasek in order for them to survive. Can he? Then we still have to see what GlenX is like when he gets back. Can he step back in like he never left?

      Tangs looks like he has done that, but then again it’s only been one game right? I thought he looked great against the Sharks and the all star break should give him some valuable conditioning time.

      It’s going to be dicey, but I guess we’ll see what shakes out by the trade deadline.

  • NateBaldwin

    Couple things, my main concern is the Flames will continue to win 2 lose 2, float near that 8th spot but ultimately finish between 9-12th. Again that will get around a 10th overall pick. I noticed the other day the Flames are one of the few teams who have never picked in the top 5. Those players who the team picked in the top 10 is scarey. After looking at the top 5 picks since 2000 at least 2 of the 5 every year have turned into an impact player. I’m not saying that the Flames should tank but lets take a look. Also for Olli, he’s on pace to get almost the same amount of points he has the last few years, no improvement. For those of you who think the Langkow for Stempniak trade is great, they are only a few points different with Stemp having the upper hand on goals. Id still want Langkow who is a better all around player and will give 100% every shift. Stemp is notorious for scoring during contract years.

  • xis10ce

    Ya i hope that Feaster realizes this and trades him. Look what he did when he left toronto? Scored 14 in 18 games, but then dropped the next year. Also scoring a hat trick proves a guy is a goal scorer? HA! Many players fluke in to those like he did. As the great Bob McCown said, “even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.”

  • xis10ce

    Stempniak has been a streaky scorer his entire career. I don’t think Feaster needs to trade him, and if the price is right, I think Feaster should re-sign him. What I don’t want to happen is for Feaster to give him a contract based on a goal scoring streak. The fact is, Lee is most likely a 15-20 goal man. If they brought him back and signed him to a contract valued for a 15-20 goal scorer, I’d be happy enough.

  • wawful

    I have to admit, it’s a little scary how many contracts are coming off the books in the post-season. While there are plenty of guys we’d like to see replaced, it’s entirely possible there just won’t be better options available via free agency. Who do you guys think the team needs to resign?

    Backlund will undoubtedly be resigned, but hopefully for not much given his lackluster performance this year. Sure, his possession stats are nice, but he really needs to find the back of the net more. Jackman is worth resigning as an enforcer who a hockey stick isn’t completely wasted on. Moss needs to come back before the season is over and prove that his wheels haven’t completely fallen off. If he can do that, his play warrants another contract, although probably a short one. Jokinen will be resigned. He’s Calgary’s best center and, even if he’s not a piece of the puzzle moving forward, he actually has some trade value now. Stempniak is probably worth resigning, but Feaster should be prepared to walk away if the price is too high. He’s a player who could be very hard to trade if signed to an overly generous contract.

    Comeau is going to have to pull off a major scoring streak to be worth resigning even at a significant discount from his current $2.5M. Best case scenario is that somebody slaps down an offer sheet for him and gives up some picks, but I doubt that will happen. Morrison and Hannan are probably best given the opportunity to retire. Their ice-time is probably better invested on rookies, although I can see keeping Hannan for depth if we can’t find the D we need in free agency.

    Kostopoulos, Sarich, Jones, and Smith are all players I’d take or leave entirely depending on the available options and their cost.

    • T&A4Flames

      If Iggy and Kipper are still the keys then I think we are ok for top 6 wingers for 1 or 2 years with Tangs, Cammi & GlenX filling it out; although I would rather see GlenX in a 3rd line role and find a skilled scoring threat for 2nd line RW.

      I like Jones but he is only a 3rd liner C from I’ve seen so far. I think Backs will become a good 2nd line C but probably not a 1st. Comeau or Stemp are good 3rd line wingers but we only need 1. If Comeau can show some more offence he would be a great replacement for Moss. I like Moss but he is a bit injury prone these days and he isn’t getting any younger.

      Joker has been good and I wouldn’t be upset with him resigning but we REALLY need to get a legit 1st line C. If we were able to get someone like Statsny (unlikely) we would have no reason for Joker and Backs if Jones stays. That said, if we move Backs, it better be part of a package that brings back a solid, proven top 6 like Statsny or preferably, Ryan (I know… dreamin’; just making a point). I probably wouldn’t give up Backs straight up for Statsny, though. That would have to include more players + going each way.

  • wawful

    12 games until the trade deadline and I can easily see them losing half of them. Good news is that the games that they have a chance in are against the five teams that they are battling for the last playoff position.

    Calgary, Dallas, Colorada, Minnesota, and Phoenix all fighting for one playoff position. Is Calgary really that much better than them? Are they that much worse?

    I think that when it comes to talent and potential that the Flames have to consider themselves a contender for the 8th spot (wow what a great achievement for this franchise that would be). What the Flames dont have is the heart and spirit and competative drive that they need to make it into the playoffs. Funny listening to comments from Weisbrod about the type of player the Flames are looking for when they have so few of them on the current roster.

    The Flames have 32 playoff games that they need to play, just to make it into the playoffs. History would suggest that they can only do that in short spurts of 2-3 games before they go on a similar skid of laziness that drives the coach crazy. There is zero chance that the Flames make the 8th and final playoff spot.

    However, the Feast and his great “intellectual honesty” will believe that the team is so close. He will admonish and reprimand the media about injuries, but will then use them as an excuse for why the team is not in a playoff position. He will take this “truth” of his and he will trade some more future assets in a futile attempt to make the post season.

    Maybe that will be the best thing to do. If the core and key pieces to this team truly are Iginla and Kiprusoff than the mandate has to bring in players to help win now. Not some draft choice that will make an impact in 3-5 years. We need to look at trading our first round pick this year along with prospects like Howse, Horak, Nemisz, Arnold, Ramage, and Reinhart for a player or players that will help this team be the best of the worst and grab that rusted ring they call 8th place.

    The problem is that once again the team will only go part way with any initiative. The want to rebuild and get younger, but refuse to trade not only their oldest two players, but their two best assets in terms of return. They want to win now, but they are only willing to give away second and third round picks. Same thing will happen the this trade deadline. They will spend future assets, but they wont spend high end and will bring in players that wont have a real impact on the teams chances. They will go for it with a half-hearted effort that so often is exemplified by the team on the ice. In the end they will miss the playoffs, move farther from a successful rebuild, and doom this franchise in the future.

  • T&A4Flames

    I should clarify, I think right now Statsny is better than Backs, but I think it is important to continue developing our own picks and Backs is good while Statsny is a little injury prone as well.