With the winter winding down and the city of Calgary blanketed in it’s annual pre-spring snowfall, Flames fans moods have turned with the weather. Since breaking the surface of the West’s top-8 for a single day in February, Calgary’s fortunes have predictably turned with the team losing five straight on dome ice and sinking to 11th in the conference. They remain three points back of the San Jose Sharks for the final spot, but the gap between the two – both in terms of actual talent and true record – is greater than that. The Sharks are a legitimately talented club on a uncharacteristic slide who are a good bet to turn things around. They also have two games in hand on Calgary.
– The Flames are a good bet to miss the playoffs for the third straight season as a result. As the finger pointing begins, it’s worth noting the Flames have been both lucky and unlucky this season. Lucky, in that Kipper’s rebound, Jokinen’s resurgence and Glencross uncanny 25 SH% were all unlikely, unpredictable events that have helped Calgary stay in the thick of things. Unlucky in that the bottom end of the roster has seen some career worst percentages (Jackman, Backlund in particular) and the spate of injuries that began some time in December has stripped the team down to it’s bare bones more than once.
If Kipper doesn’t rediscover his form and if guys like Jokinen and Glencross don’t get the bounces, the Flames are no doubt fighting for a lottery pick right now. On the other hand, if the team had stayed healthy and if the Backlund’s and Jackman’s counting stats better reflected their underlying numbers, the Flames are probably comfortably in a playoff spot right now. That’s the life of a bubble team though: if the coin lands on heads, you make the post-season. If not, you plumb the depths.
– Speaking of injuries, the Flames announced today they have recalled Desbiens, Kolanos and Greg Nemisz from Abbotsford. With Comeau and now Cammalleri and Bouma joining Jones, Backlund, Stempniak and Butler on the sidelines, Calgary has once again been forced to dip deep into it’s depth chart. Not the best tidings for a team struggling to remain in the race.
As many know, the number of post-deadline recalls is capped at 4 in the NHL. The Flames already burned one on Leland Irving, so it’s of note whether this mass of call-ups represents one, two or three of the final recalls. It will depend on how many of the Nemisz, Kolanos and Desbiens are considered "emergency" replacements I suppose.
– On Nemisz, it will be interesting to see where he slots on the big club. The sophomore has been frequently passed over by other options this year when the organization has gone looking for guys from the Heat. He’s had a decent although hardly eye-popping season for Abbotsford (12g-13a-25pts in 41 games) and has always looked completely overwhelmed during his prior cups of coffee. He beat out Paul Byron for a recall this time, so the team is clearly intersted to see how he fares against the big boys.
– On a completely different topic, I have a growing anxiety about Jarome’s remaining time in Calgary.
There’s no question Iginla is an iconic athlete in this town and one who will probably be fondly recalled years after he’s left the game. On the other hand, I wonder if the team continues to falter and strain under perceptions of under perfomance if his halo will be…tarnished somewhat.
He’s been a pillar on the club forever – a cornerstone player, the bedrock upon which the rest of the roster was built upon and around. That task, those expectations, will soon be beyond Jarome (if they aren’t now) simply because, at some point, time and wear take their toll. Iginla turns 35 years old this coming July and unlike Steve Yzerman he hasn’t been allowed to decline gracefully with a team of heir apparent superstars grown up around him.
The Flames have made it clear they don’t intend to trade Jarome, ever. It’s a sensible tact in some regards: nobody wants to be the bad guy who moves one of the team’s most beloved players of all time. Further, one wonders how the organization would market the team absent a marquee personality like Jarome. Unfortunately, in keeping him through his sunset seasons, the ever present expectations that he remain the leader and offensive fulcrum may prove to be a burden too great for the captain. In fact, it’s a weight under which the entire team may groan – in effect, Jarome is converted from support pillar to unwieldy golden monument if he stays and the franchise struggles reinforce the team around him. He becomes not the cornerstone of the roster, but a millstone around the necks of coaches and team mates alike.
As long as Iginla remains, the team remains "his", even if the task of carrying them has grown beyond his capabilities. And if the club continues to struggle or further declines, questions about Jarome’s leadership, personality and fitness as the Flames captain will grow around water coolers and in messageboards.
I haven’t been shy in criticizing Iginla’s performances the last three years or so, but only because I think the perception needs to match the reality of his true abilities. I will nevertheless find it altogether unpleasant if Iginla and the team sink together and the esteem the city and fans accord the man sink with him.