Flames End of Season Thoughts

 

 

It’s still not time for a full and proper eulogy of the Flames season since there remains a couple more games on the schedule. It’s going to take more than a single article to truly get ahold of what went wrong and, more importantly, where the club is headed as well. But here’s some things that are rattling around my head as the Flames prep for the golf course for a third straight April.

The Old Grey Mare

I’m entirely blase about his coaching, but one has to somewhat feel for Brent Sutter after reading this interview today. He sounds like a man who desperately wanted to win and tried for all the world to get his club over the hump. Unfortunately, it still sounds to me like he’s still coming to the wrong conclusions. 

"For three seasons, Sutter has tried to instill an up-tempo style of game. He still believes in that system — noting it’s the same used by the Boston Bruins, St. Louis Blues, New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings — but couldn’t seem to be consistently executed by the Flames.

The easy response is the Flames are too old, too slow, not talented enough and not built for a punishing forechecking game.

Sutter says the winning streaks over the years proved this club had the players to win with the gameplan. They just didn’t do it on a consistent basis.

"It’s re-assured me when this team has done it right how good we can be. And it’s reassured me when we’re not doing it right, we’re not at the level we need to be," he said. "The game isn’t played like it was six, seven years ago. It’s not played like it was before the lockout (which wiped out the 2004-05 season) and even the first year after the lockout. When all the rules changed, it took a year or two for everyone to get acclimatized to that environment, and the teams that had success with it, are the teams that really took it and went with it.

"You look at all the teams that have had consistent success the last three or four years, the players have adjusted to how the game is played, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re the top guy or the guy down here, everybody has to play a certain way, but we fight with that."

(emphasis added)

With apologies to Sutter, the Flames winning streaks proved nothing of the sort. Every team in the NHL goes through spurts of success, even the very worst in the league. Remember when the Oilers were leading the NW division in November? Remember, also, the Wild’s climb to the top of the WC heap for the first 30 games of the season? The natural ebb and flow of chance plus the parity in the league means everyone gets to feel like a winner in the NHL now and then. The true test of excellence is consistency.

The answer that the Flames aren’t talented enough is the easy response because it’s the correct one. You can whip an old mare all you want but she’s never going to run as fast as a thoroughbred.

Let’s put it another way – if the teams who have consistent success play "that certain way" (I can assume he means strong, two-way type hockey) then even if you match that level of commitment or energy level or whatever, that means the determining factor is going to be talent. Trying to out-Red Wings the Red Wings is a tough gig because they have Datsyuk and Zetterberg and Lidstrom and you don’t. Particularly if you’re the Calgary Flames.

It’s seems self-evident and glib, but elite teams play that way consistently because they can.

The Secret

Related – the organization seems to have this idea (going back to the Darryl Sutter era in fact) that the Flames are an elite club that is simply held back by some enduring character flaw. I think that’s probably a popular sentiment in many fan circles as well…if the big guys had bigger hearts, more will, better leadership, then the untapped potential would be released and the club would finally affix itself atop the Western division. Heck, they even hired an in-house sports psychologist a year or two back.

The decision makers need to disabuse themselves of this notion if the club is to meaningfully move forward. The Calgary Flames don’t have the horses up front to be anything more than a middle of the road team in the league. Full stop. The assembled crew isn’t good enough to hang with the best and many of them are on the wrong side of the development curve. It’s not that Jarome Iginla is a terrible cancer or Jay Bouwmeester has somehow infected the lockerroom with a loser mentality. The team needs better players if they want to take a step away from the ledge and start competing with the big boys again. It’s a simple, but daunting, fix.

For the sake of a thought experiment, let’s pretend the issue is, in fact, entirely mental. That a championship skill level is being suppressed by a problem of will or emotion. At this point, after three seasons outside the playoff picture, one has to admit the issue is intractable, not transient. Fixed and unalterable. It’s not a bout of depression that can be talked or medicated away – it’s a persistent personality disorder.

I don’t subscribe to this notion, personally. But either way, the idea that the Flames as constructed would suddenly rocket up the standings if a magical, psychological button were pressed should be abandoned with prejudice.

King of the Hill

For those who think Ken King is part of the problem, the recent news that the Flames bought a majority stake in the Stampeders is probably bad news. The Flames were already the gorilla in the room when it came to sports entertainment in Calgary, but after acquiring the Hitmen, the Roughnecks and now the Stamps, they are pretty much the only game in town.

And King sits at the top of all of it.

Say what you will about KK, but the Flames sales have been consistently strong with him and he’s managed to increase and consolidate the organization’s power (and, therefore, his own) in a sort of impressive, Machiavellian manner over the last few years. Even as the club’s fortunes have flagged on the ice and various other figureheads have been sacrificed to answer for those failings (various coaches, Darryl Sutter, scouts, etc), King’s position on the throne has only grown more and more secure.

It will be interesting to see what happens if/when the Flames Sports and Entertainment conglomerate approaches the city about a new arena. Given their growing stature, they may not even arrive with hat in hand.

Silver Linings

Even in the  gloom, there are bright spots to be excited about. Some of the Flames kids, including Baertschi, Ferland, Granlund and Gaudreau, had unexpectedly good seasons and the Flames will likely be choosing 11th overall again this June. Perhaps the organization will be able to really start building a strong base of prospects going forward. We’ll explore Calgary’s prospects and the upcoming draft in much greater detail in the off-season.

In addition, the Flames aren’t starting from a place of zero big leagues assets as well. There are some decent middle-tier players here and the blueline is fairly strong as well. While the team’s needs are big and difficult to obtain (excellent-to-elite ES forwards), at least this ship doesn’t have multiple big leaks across it’s hull.

  • Jeff Lebowski

    First step of the rebuild is to move enough key pieces to suck bad enough to get a shot at MacKinnon. You always start to build around a centreman and from all reports MacKinnon is the guy.

    It is starting to appear this maybe the Oilers first mistake – taking Hall instead of Seguin, especially with the injuries Hall is starting to rack up.

    Moving Kipper might be all that needs to be done, especially for draft picks or a young prospect. Perhaps to Columbus to solve their net problems, that way you get two shots at MacKinnon, Certainly no trade for someone that can help next year. One more development year for Sven so he does not get mired in losing.

    Then in one year you add two lottery picks, bring Sven on board and your core of elite players maybe in place.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    @Chri$ and @Jeff Lebowski

    I don’t think that The Dude was suggesting that the Flames should ice a 4th line of Ivanans, PL3, and name-a-dancing-bear-of-your-choice. I think he means guy who CAN fight, not guys who ONLY fight.

    Personally, I would like to see a 4th line of Kosto-Jackman-Desbiens, or perhaps a slightly younger version of that. Tough guys that can fight when called upon but who can also skate better than me and score tho occasional goal.

      • Protech

        There is a great deal of sadness in Calgary because of this past season. Things have been running downhill for a long time. I don’t think we can blame anyone in particular….except…
        The Execeptional Vancouver Canucks……Hey Flames fans…..na na hey hey it’s over again for you and your negativism. Accept it….you are not in the same league as Vancouver talent-wise. And Olie Jokeagain really does look like the Minecraft dude, eh!

  • Graham

    The Flames have a number of contracts expiring this year, and the expectation’s are that the Flames can ‘add’ through free agency.

    Unfortunately for the Flames, the UFA crop, especially at center, looks to be fairly weak this year. The likelyhood is that even second line talent is going to be priced at a high premium. (lack of supply will drive up prices)

    The Flames may find themselves having to pay premiums to replace / keep the current guys, in effect, paying more for the same or lesser talent. Jokinen is a case in point, in a weak center marker, the Flames may well have to resign him at a $ or contract length that may not make long term sense.

    It may be a difficult off season for Feaster, and the fans looking for hope next season.

  • T&A4Flames

    I think it would be best for CGY to make sure that they leave themselves a decent amount of cash for the next free agency (2013). The next crop of UFA’s is potentialy anyway, much better than this year. I hope they don’t spend just for the sake of spending. If we get even worse, we have a shot at some pretty good prospects in 2013 as well (MacKinnon, Lazar).

  • Graham

    character is mental toughness and accountability. two very important factors in a team concept. if it wasnt semen would be sought after by every team, the issue with semen is character. the bruins beat the nucks last year on character, case closed.

  • everton fc

    Warrener’s right, and I find myself thinking about guys like Donovan, Gelinas, et al. That ’04 team had heart. A killer instinct.

    As for the current cast of characters and also-rans… I still don’t trust Feaster with our future. I think he will make some brutal signings, with brutal contract terms (see Richards offer as the obvious example)

    Everyone talks of a potent first line. I like the one below, if you can build it:

    Baertschi/Statsny/Iginla

    Of course… I’d take a younger RW than Iginla… Most would.

    Statsny for Cammy will never happen. Avs need salary space. Stajan and a 1st round pick… and maybe Backlund or Horak… Might get that one done. Horak would most liekly be more valuable to the Avs over the oft-injured Backlund.

    As for the 4th line, I’d take this one below, if the salaries were “right”:

    Comeau/Moss/Jackman

    Or, the more likely scenario

    Bouma/Moss/Jackman

    As for 4th line grinders w/hands… Dorsett in Columbus has 12 goals (but 218 PlMs may be too much). He’s an RFA, but also plays on the right side, which is currently owned by Jackman. To me, Comeau is a grinder. He’ll never score 24 goals. He can skate. Play both ways. With Moss he might be able to make some offence. Jackman’s never going to score many goals, though… (Desbiens might have the better hands, actually – look at his AHL stats prior to last season) Kyle Chipchura with Phoenix… Another role player w/character… Grit… A guy like Aaron Asham, though he’s too old now… But in his prime…

    As for the draft… We need d-men, I again offer Eric Roy of Brandon as a prospect. Ferland’s teammate. Level-headed kid. Not eligible until 2013, but if available…

    http://www.nativehockeynews.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=82%3Abrandon-wheat-kings&catid=29%3Amajor-junior-hockey&Itemid=1

    I have hope… But not if we don’t get the right coach… and a different GM. Then, I have less hope…

    • RexLibris

      Re: Stastny

      I don’t see how that trade could happen. To my mind, what the Flames have to offer the Avs aren’t buying and vice versa.

      Why would Colorado trade down at centre in acquiring Backlund and an 11th overall pick? It doesn’t really make sense on paper. If Backlund’s numbers were better then perhaps, or if Colorado were looking to offload Stastny to create some cap space (not an issue) or bring in some youth (again, not really an issue). As well, it would have to be one heck of a deal for the Avalanche to want to move a centre to a divisional opponent with whom they have been jostling for playoff position this season.

      For the Flames to upgrade at the forward position via trade here is what I perceive them having (and willing) to offer which is of some value to other teams: first and third round round picks, Ferland or Reinhart, Ortio, one of Giordano or Bouwmeester, or Backlund. The two defencemen have NTCs as well as the majority of the top rotation at forward.

      For Dorsett, are you suggesting that the Flames trade to acquire him? They can’t offer sheet him because they would have to trade to re-acquire the picks necessary (for Dorsett, likely their own second-round pick to make it worth it – $1,567,043 — $3,134,088). The Blue Jackets are going to have lots of cap space but may value the picks more through a trade, but again, I’m not certain what the Flames have that could convince Howson to part with such a valuable, and value-laden, player.

      Not likely going to get a new GM. A coach, yes. But a GM….

  • Sobueno

    The thing about this continuing mediocrity, is that it allows significant room for justification on the part of everyone on the team – from players up to top management. If only we hadn’t lost so man man-games, if only we were more consistent, etc. The self-deception perpetuates and we continue to fail to make the necessary changes for long-term real improvement. Any guesses as to just how bad we’d have to be for ownership et al. to finally admit the obvious?

    • RexLibris

      Lower than 30th? At least that’s what Feaster suggested when asked about Kiprusoff.

      I’m not really sure how Feaster does math, but that seems a touch sketchy to my reckoning.

  • RexLibris

    You have to wonder about a team that gets rid of a guy (Gelinas) who scored 3 (maybe 4) series winning goals. All so they can go out and sign Amonte.

    Darryl gutted the leadership of that 2004 team and I still can’t figure out why.

    BTW, for the record, while I think this team lacks character and leadership, I also believe they lack talent.

    Real leadership would put them in the playoffs, but only to 7 or 8th where, due to a lack of talent, they would then get hammered.

    Bad idea to build a team based on the hopes of a 2nd miracle run.