As we get ready for trade deadline day, many Flames fans are wondering if this team is going to be a player and if so, what role are they going to play in the convoluted game? The Flames position right now is one that leads us to think they will be buyers rather than sellers, but there are also two games to go before the 27th. Are those two games enough to change their position and view of deadline day? Or, regardless of the outcomes, will they merely serve to justify the moves they do make.
Craig Conroy was on the Fan960 and said that regardless of whether or not the team pursues the buyer or seller routes, the one option that cannot be considered is standing pat. That line of thinking may not make sense to many, but if you think about it, it is what we have all been saying all season long. The core of this team needs to be re-vitalized, whether it comes on the 27th or at the draft, or after July 1st. Tuesday night’s loss to the Edmonton Oilers stung, but it isn’t the end of the road and really neither are the two remaining games before D-Day.
I have to assume that Feaster and Company have a plan and aren’t just flying by the seat of their pants. As Mark Spector said, this is a One-off and move on type of game. The Flames have fought too hard, for too long; there is no turning back now.
So even if the Flames are buyers at the deadline, what have they possibly got to offer in exchange for any commodity that is obviously going to also be coveted by team with much deeper pockets in terms of moveable assets? Calgary’s biggest asset is Olli Jokinen, but as Steve MacFarlane points out, there is no way Feaster deals his most marketable asset when he is also a key part to not just the Flames getting into a playoff spot, but keeping it once they are there. So, what’ll it take for the Flames to land a big fish? Steve runs through some scenarios and why they may be attractive options for the Flames. Now if Feaster can just manage the other GM’s to listen!
The last thing that the Flames want is a repeat of last year. At one point the team sat as high as the fifth seed only to have a disastrous March, where they fell out of contention and into tenth. This year, management will want to be especially careful in weighing their options as to what moves to make that will avoid a repeat of a March meltdown. In essence, the playoffs have already started for Calgary. They have taken a similar path and this time they’re hoping there is a better route to the second season. The Flames don’t have the luxury of ‘working smarter, not harder’ – they are going to have to be efficient in both areas. Something they clearly forgot against the Oilers.
One thing that is obvious to everyone, be it fans, players or management, is that in order for Calgary to make the post-season, they will need to rely once again on Miikka Kiprusoff. His play thus far in the second half of the season is the only reason why any of us are even having this conversation. When you look at his numbers, they are not quite what we all saw in 2005-06 when he won the Vezina Trophy, but they aren’t too far off.
He trails in the 42 wins and the 2.07 GAA, but his .924 save percentage is slightly better. He is by no means a favorite to win a second Vezina. However if he continues to quietly go about his business then maybe, just maybe, if he can lead the Flames into the playoffs, he would have to at least be in the conversation.
“I mean, I think he’s better,” agrees assistant to the GM Craig Conroy. “This is the best hockey I’ve seen Kipper play. He looks so relaxed, so calm.”
Part of what takes the awe out of Kiprusoff’s play is perhaps that the fan base has just come to expect the highlight reel saves that we see on a regular basis. Even the captain admits that the more you play with Kipper, the less surprised you are to see him bailing the team out of one mess after another.
“All of us as players, we talk among each other, and some of the guys who’ve come here say they’ve never had a goalie play that well that consistently. We who have been here, well, you never take him for granted, you’re always impressed, but … you tend to get used to it.”
– Jarome Iginla
Four times the Flames previously approached a spot in the playoffs, only to let it slip away. The fifth time they actually had the star align. Even though they only held that spot for a few days, they are still in the mix and still control their own destiny.
"If you’re winning, it’s way more fun," said Kiprusoff, who has compiled a 10-3-3 record and a 1.65 goals-against average in his past 16 games. "That’s what we have to do anyways. It’s hard. There’s so many teams right there and we have to be that one team that’s going to make it so we have to really push hard here.”
We have already acknowledged the contribution of Miikka Kiprusoff as he leads the Flames season resurgence, but the players to have had to adapt and help out where needed.
Olli Jokinen is the first name that comes to mind when considering those alternatives. Even when Curtis Glencross went down, Olli maintained his level play and even chipped in in the scoring department. When the Flames then lost Mikael Backlund to an upper body injury (shoulder) and then Blair Jones until at least late March, another member of the core stepped up: Mike Cammalleri may have taken a few minutes to adjust to being moved to the center position, but has looked quite comfortable as the team’s second line pivot. Not only has he been comfortable there, he also has the confidence of his head coach as well.
“You know what? I’ve been happy with Cammy,” Sutter says. “He had the puck a lot, he made some really good plays. At centre ice right now, he’s finding some flow. He’s not getting caught standing along the boards having to make plays. I think he’s done a really good job.”
Chris Butler may not ever show up on a noted scoring list, but he has become a statistic. He will now be added to the Flames 255 man-games lost to injury. There are those out there that are not thrilled with the play of Butler and don’t see this as a major loss to the team but… Consider that he plays 20 plus minutes a night against the opposition’s top lines and that there is not really anyone set to just jump in and take that spot.
The loss of Butler is a bit more serious than people realize. Even with the approaching return of Derek Smith, I highly doubt he will step back in and join Bouwmeester in the top pairing. I think more likely we see Brodie brought up to play with Jay, leaving Sarich on the third pairing with one of Babchuk, Carson or Piskula (Yikes). On a positive note, Butler avoided serious injury, despite requiring some 30 stitches to close the gash left from Kiprusoff’s skate.
After being injured for what has seemed like an eternity, David Moss began skating again for the first time since his ankle surgery in December. Moss is still expected to miss a few more weeks, but at least he’s back on the ice. The biggest surprise though had to come from Vicki Hall, and is probably the best news Flames fans could ask for right about now. Weeks ahead of schedule, it is possible that the Flames could have Curtis Glencross back in the line-up as early as tonight for the game against the Phoenix Coyotes. Is it too soon for GlenX? The doctors say no, he’s good to go. He’ll wear a knee brace for the rest of the season, and undoubtedly there will be some rust to shake off; so what will the effect be of having arguably the team’s best player (prior to injury) back in the line-up?
“Everyone is hoping to go in and pick up where they left off,” Glencross said. “That will be my mindset. I’ve got to keep my standards, come back and bring my compete level.”
– Curtis Glencross
Although the final decision will come from Sutter and Glencross, from a timing standpoint, this might seem like a rushed decision. From a fan position and probably all of his teammates, the timing could not have been better.