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.

  • icedawg_42

    Some interesting points. The Flames ownership of all professional sports franchises in Calgary is concerning on a number of levels. As a fan, I think it enables a degree of price fixing and manipulation that should not be allowed in a single market. Quite frankly I am surprised the NHL allows this (the NFL does not).

    I don’t agree that there are no major leaks in the Flames. The 2 cornerstone players are in their mid thirties and we are thin on the prospect side. We also have a number of over priced assets with no or limited movement clauses.

    This combined with poor management and fat, comfortable owners means we could be in for a long draught as Flames fans.

  • icedawg_42

    Anyone with more than a speck of “intellectual honesty” could have seen this coming waaaayyy back in October. Same roster, same result. Yes – I know i’m a broken record.

    • everton fc

      Exactly.

      And Feaster stood by this group. Fundamentally.

      Can anyone tell me if Brent wanted to move players, or wanted to make moves at the deadline to acquire the pieces he thought he may have needed to be a more up-tempo team? Is there any evidence at all that Brent wanted to make moves and Feaster either didn’t, or couldn’t??

      Not saying I don’t think Brent’s time has come. It has, and he’ll probably be greatful for it, once it’s all over. But I still believe Feaster has to take a fair amount of blame here. Defending Feaster for last year’s draft – none of the players mentioned have played a professional game outside Sven, and Ferland was drafted in the 5th round by Darryl.

      Feaster and Sutter both need to go. I know King is cemented in. For the long haul.

      Rex – Excellent post.

      • RexLibris

        Thanks everton, and good luck against Norwich Saturday.

        King and Feaster likely seem to be, as you say, cemented in (and not perhaps in the way some Flames fans would have in mind) for awhile.

        If Sutter is replaced, has anyone thought of Craig MacTavish as his replacement? Or Cory Clouston?

        Feaster shouldn’t get all of the credit for last year’s draft, but he does deserve some. It would all depend on the instructions and degree of autonomy that he has given to the scouting staff as well as whether the Flames can deliver another year of decent prospects this June.

        As for Baertschi’s games here in the NHL, take a look at Robert Vollman’s Black Box for the week. He plots out each player and Baertschi is off in a corner all by himself. Small sample sizes and all, true, but at least it would appear that Sutter recognized the limitations of the young man.

        I think Sutter probably wanted to do Stajan for Joe Thornton at the deadline but Feaster wouldn’t budge.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    I totally agree with all of that.

    The idea that the Flames ‘apparently’ try to play the same system as the elite teams mentioned by Brent seems ridiculous to me. Playing the same system but with a far less talented group of players is a recipe for disaster.

    If that’s his coaching philosophy, he ought to be fired for it. I’m not a coach, and I have no idea what better system might have been put in place, but designing a surefire failure system should not be acceptable.

    You coach the team you have, not the team you wish you had.

    I guess the caveat to the above is, is there a system that could have been successful, given the players on the team?

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    The thing I don’t really understand is vehement opposition to a proper rebuild. I get it from an emotional fan perspective because it sucks. The thought of it pains me to consider…. Penguins got 30th-30th-29th or something like that before they became an elite team. But how else do you get Crosby, Fleury and Malkin? Not by trading 35 year old Iggy thats for sure….

    This city is loyal, and I see no reason why ownership wouldn’t be able to admit its time to reboot. Top to bottom, sell off every moving part (Iggy, Jbo, Kipper, Gio) and start building towards Baertschi’s team in 2016 or 2017. It would be ugly for a few years… But the dome will be sold out 100% of the games, so the bottom line won’t be impacted. And if anything they’d sell more jersey’s if they brought in some exciting kids that we could get behind and dream about instead of being upset with Iggy for not being able to become 25 again.

    Take for example the last 3 years. We’ve sold out every game, never made the playoffs, and have nothing to show for it except frustration and a lucky pick (and still not proven) on Baertchi.

    The Oilers have also missed the playoffs the past 3 years, but have completely reorganized and now have Taylor Hall, Nugent Hopkins, Eberle AND another top 3 pick this year….

    Both teams have sold out 100% of their games, neither have 1 single playoff game to show.

    Of course hindsight is 20-20 but wouldn’t we have been better off to reboot as well? Ownership would likely make more money by being well under the cap for a few years, but still selling out. The fans COULD be sold on it if it was communicated properly as a real plan for the future. And in 3-4 years we might not be perpetually fighting for 8th with no hope of becoming an elite playoff team.

    I’ve been advocating since Sept to blow it up and face reality. Now we are just 1 year older but no further ahead.

    The Leafs tried to do a “mini” rebuild, or a rapid rebuild or whatever you want to call it. And look where they are now… Starting back at ground zero after 7 years out of the playoffs. If this team doesn’t face reality we’ll be the Leafs just starting our rebuild in 2016.

    I really hoped my kids could see a proud Flames team one day, and they just might, I just might not be alive to enjoy it with them at this rate.

    • RexLibris

      I have been very hesitant in too often contrasting the situation of the Leafs with the potential future of the Flames and have been accused here of using every opportunity to compare the two franchises.

      That aside, I’m glad you brought this up as it has been argued again and again that the Flames don’t need a total rebuild and can simply swap out some parts on the side of the road and get back in the race right away. The Flames need more than an oil-change (sorry, no pun intended) and a paint job.

      I disagree with Kent about his assessment of the team and there being glaring holes. I believe that there are serious, deep issues within the roster and that while the number of expiring contracts does allow for a great deal of turnover this summer, the pieces that are perhaps most in need of being shown the door (as an exercise in accountability and character) are almost guaranteed to remain.

      Brian Burke believed (believes?) he was smarter than everyone else and that he could fast track the team to the top of the standings. Has Jay Feaster said or done anything differently, in spirit, than what Burke communicated? Both have argued that things aren’t that bad with the team and essentially told fans “just quiet down and let me handle this and you’ll see”.

      Not a good situation, in my opinion, and depending on Feaster’s decisions this summer Flames fans could be sitting here next season after missing the playoffs reading another post-season eulogy under the heading “shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic”.

      • Derzie

        I have a question for you Rex. What do you think classifies a ‘rebuild’? Would you recommend whole sale changes, such as trading major assets and bringing in boatloads of picks and prospects, or simply integrating their prospects into the lineup??

        • Reidja

          I think with this team, trading Kipper & Iggy would constitute a majow blow up. Yeah its only 2 players, but how long have those two players been basically the only 2 pistons that drive this hockey team. I think we have the players that will step up & we have players that we will have to move along as well.

          I think we know if Kipper & Iggy are moved , we have a few years of wandering but it sure would be nice to see some young players suprise us & we have success when we arent expecting it. It just kills when we have all this expectation & always fall short.

          I think the first step is for ownership & Ken King(he aint going anywhere, face facts) to agree if it is time for a rebuild. If so, then everyone from Iggy to Feaster need to decide if they are with the program. Feaster will get his chance( like it or not) & if he still stands at this team is still good enough, then part ways due to irreconcilable differences. Same as Iggy. His call, if he stays, he will probably retire with no cup & he will be playing a reduced role starting next year which will be reflected in his next contract.

        • RexLibris

          To my mind a rebuild is any deliberate move to establish a new core of players with the intention of changing the franchise.

          Examples of “traditional” rebuilds that have focused on the draft in the last ten years would be the Islanders, Penguins, Blackhawks, Kings (to start), Oilers, Panthers, Blues, Avs and Washington.

          Other rebuilds that may not be considered traditional by focusing on the draft but have tried to sign and trade for the pieces necessary to alter their core group of players while retaining aspects of their internally-developed key players would include the Blue Jackets, Leafs, Kings (lately), Flyers, Flames, and Buffalo.

          All teams will make trades to augment and add pieces on their way to an attempted championship, but those pieces are almost always complementary pieces, not the major cogs required in a top-line centre or starting goaltender.

          Of course the ’06 Oilers did that by trading for Pronger, Spacek, Samsonov, Peca, Roloson and so on, but that was an anomaly both in those acquisitions and their post-season success.

          As to what I would recommend: The Flames could inject some youth into their lineup, but from the perspective of an outsider with no emotional connection to any of the roster players, the Flames don’t have any young players who are dynamic enough to make enough of a difference. Adding Baertschi to the lineup will make the Flames better, but they have so far to climb that it isn’t the answer.

          What needs to happen, in my opinion, and I’ll try to keep this as short as possible, is for the Flames ownership to have an epiphany and be honest with the fans. Tell them they are going to tear it down, start over, and build it properly. Correct the philosophy and attitude surrounding the team, and then find a GM who is willing and capable of doing it. Feaster may have decried the act, but if it means his job he’ll go through with it.

          They need to find a new coach, trade Kiprusoff, Iginla, Glencross, Cammalleri, and either Bouwmeester or Giordano. Not because I’m an Oiler fan who loves tearing it all down, but because all of these players have become a part of the culture problem that I think is crippling this organization.

          If the Flames inject some youth into the lineup and finish 7th in the West and lose in the second round of the playoffs before facing a summer where Iginla turns 36 or 37, is that success? Does that help the franchise in the long run in any way?

          I guess I would ask: what are the goals of the organization? Are they to try everything to have Iginla win a cup in Calgary? If so then it will take a Herculean effort and an semi-trailer full of horseshoes. At this point the chances of Iginla winning a cup are slim to none, and of him winning one in Calgary, even less. So, if thats the goal then trade Baertschi, try to sing Parise to a $9 million dollar deal, offer sheet Weber and lose four first round picks.

          It has been said here on FN that this team is dominated by the personage of Iginla and I think that the trauma of his leaving will have to happen sooner or later. How the team approaches and recovers from it will go a long way to determining their future.

          If, however, the goal is for the team to win a cup, regardless of who plays on it, then they need to trade Iginla and Kiprusoff and start over.

          No players on the Oilers roster were sacrosanct when the rebuild began. This helped them in the long run.

          Anyway, I hope the answer you were looking for is in there somewhere.

  • I wanted to say one thing re:King and his roles.

    He was on SNET, I wanna say last week, but it was after the announce they purchased the Flames. Bobcat asked him if he was President of the Flames (Hockey team) and President of ‘Flames Corp’ (roughnecks, hitmen, stamps, sales, marketing, etc). Ken King answered that he was, that he was President of ‘necks, Hitmen, Stamps, Flames AS WELL AS President of Flames Corp.

    I bring this up to highlight the fact that he doesn’t seem to think there is a problem with this arrangement.

    Too many hats, IMO.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • jeremywilhelm

    After last season, management and players were tainted and made decisions with their heart. Let’s hope that decisions made this off season are made with their heads. Objectively!