Instead of a few individual posts on what went wrong this year and what the future may hold, I collected a few chaps from around here (Justin Azevedo, Ryan Lambert, Vintage Flame and Rob Vollman) and invited M&G editor Arik Knapp to discuss a few key points. In this year in review round table, I asked the guys about Brent Sutter, the Flames strengths and weaknesses and what they would like to see done this off-season.
1. Another season, another year out of the playoffs. That makes three straight. If you could pick one direction (stay the course, retool, blow it up) what would it be?
Rob Vollman: The Flames are still within a stones throw of the playoffs. Unfortunately, the additions they need to make in order to get over the hump (quality top-6 forwards) are difficult to find. If the club is unable to shore up it’s singificant weaknesses this summer, they will be forced to consider a blow-up.
Justin Azevedo: Re-tool. "Blowing it up" results in Edmonton-like levels of suckage. Now, that doesn’t mean that there are players I wouldn’t be willing to move, but just trading everyone for magic beans is a notion I find idiotic. No one is untouchable, unless it’s Sidney Crosby and it’s foolish to think otherwise.
Ryan Lambert: Blow it up, obviously. Retooling implies that there are tools worth a damn available but just not being put to their best use, and I’m not sure that’s accurate. The Flames of the past three seasons performed probably just about as well as they possibly could have, give or take a few points over that time. Maybe a couple breaks go their way and they sneak in one of these years, but probably not, and even then, it doesn’t actually do much good. This is as much as anyone could have expected.
Staying the course would be foolhardy. So the only solution is blow it up, because it can’t be any less productive than what’s happening now.
Vintage Flame: There is no way that the team can "stay the course" and I’m not convinced they can "blow it up", I just don’t think they have enough interest from around the league in enough of their players; so I guess that leaves a "re-tool".
I thought at the beginning of the year, they were going to have to be very smart with the deals they made regarding their UFA’s. I still believe that and I think that’s what Feaster will try to do. At trade deadline, Jay mentioned that he had some deals that were appealing to other teams, but they wanted to wait until the season was over. Well it’s over now, so I’m interested to see what those deals were/are and if they still come to fruition. If they can keep nostalgia out of the UFA process and they can make a few smart moves, then they can probably call it a successful start to a re-tool.
Arik Knapp: As I’ve been preaching for two years – blow it up, blow it up, blow it up. There is no singular issue with the Flames. There is no quick and easy fix for this team. It is poorly constructed from the ground up. The cap space is poorly invested, the wrong players are on the wrong side of 30, and the philosophy that initially went into player selection is ideal for a style of hockey hasn’t been effective since the year the Flames lost the Stanley Cup.
With issues like that- you’re left with little choice but to blow it up; a poor foundation can’t be fixed with new drywall- you need to tear the foundations out and relay the cement.
2. Would you re-sign Brent Sutter? (Question asked before the news yesterday. Answers retained for interests sake)
RV: No, but things could easily have turned out differently. During his three seasons Calgary was the league’s top non-playoff team (if not for 1 point to Dallas in 2010-11), and he could just as easily have been sitting on three straight post-season appearances, and possibly one lucky run.
The team seems to be leaning instead towards Craig Hartsburg, who didn’t have much success in Chicago, Anaheim or Ottawa. In that case they might as well stick with Brent Sutter until someone better comes along, much like Anaheim or St. Louis did.
JA: No. Absolutely not. I’m not convinced another coach can cure the team’s ills, but it’s extremely frustrating to watch Sutter’s deployment of players and I feel as though that’s a large part of the team’s failures this year.
RL: I would, they won’t. He’s a good coach with a team not built to be competitive in the NHL today. You can see that this bad roster and the two that preceded it were simply not good enough, but given that I think the organization probably believes in its heart of hearts that this team could make the playoffs, they must also feel that Brent let them down. So, good-bye.
But for me, the question is, "who replaces him?" Can’t imagine there’s a line of great candidates around the block to take this job.
VF: This is a tough call for me. There are a lot of mitigating circumstances that would determine my final decision. Brent is a good coach with young players, but as we all saw, struggles with dealing with the vets.
In his media scrum on Tuesday, he said that if the Flames bring him back, he will do things differently. I’m not sure what that means; if he is talking about how he deploys lines or specifically how he deploys the top line, then I’m interested. I think the crux of the matter comes down to Iginla. If they keep Iggy, then I think they can’t bring back Sutter. If they decide to deal the captain and go forward with a more youthful movement, then Sutter probably gets the call. After all we don’t exactly know who is available out there to coach, and if they are…would they want to come to Calgary?
AK: It depends: do the Flames blow up the team over the summer? If so, why not? He can probably be had at little expense to the owners (and yes, despite the fact that coaches salaries don’t affect the cap, it does affect owner spending), given how few teams will likely want to take a chance on him in any capacity.
If the Flames decide to give the old Iginla-Jokinen truck one more spin then get rid of him. Sutter has shown himself to be unaware of how to use those two whatsoever – whether together or apart.
3. What is the Flames biggest weakness?
RV: Their top players can’t compete with other team’s top players – they’re losing the puck possession battle by a longshot. They need a top-six up front and a front-four on the blue line that can at least play even with their opponents.
JA: A lack of possession-driving players, especially on the front-end. Teams that are routinely out-shot don’t typically win the majority of their games.
RL: They are old, slow, loaded with bad contracts that carry no-trade and no-movement clauses, have little in the way of strong prospects, are completely directionless, and seem unwilling to budge from their directionless-ness.
Oh did you only want one?
VF: They need a bonafide #1 Center, we all know that so no point getting into specifics. The biggest problem they have is on defense. If the team is smart, they let Sarich and Hannan walk in the off-season because they are position fillers and not solutions. They already have Babchuk to be stuck with in that regard.
Calgary needs a #2 D-man to play with Bouwmeester. Yes Butler served well in the spot considering he played way over his head, but if they could move him to the 3-4 pairing with Gio, and find a legit #2, then they would be a lot further ahead.
AK: Management? I kid I kid.
Mobility. I know this isn’t a specific position, but it’s the issue the Flames have with all their positions. Only about half of the defensemen can skate well enough for post-lockout offense: Bouwmeester, Giordano, and Brodie (Smith could get there, but he’s not going to improve a lot defensively regardless. I have mild mild hopes for Butler).
Iginla’s still in shape and has speed, but he’s simply not as agile as he needs to be. The same can be said for most of the bottom lines. Cammalleri was a refreshing bit of actual skating talent (as is Backlund when he isn’t injured). Still, the Flames are simply immobile. Both on and off the ice. *ZING*
4. Does Calgary have any notable strengths?
RV: Absolutely – lots of money, a tremendous fan base and easy access to a great deal of hockey expertise. Lots of teams would trade places with Calgary in a heartbeat. On the ice there’s a little less to be excited about, but they do have great depth up front.
JA: Calgary has a true #1 defenseman and a couple of guys who could be considered elite shooting talent. Past that, though, I feel as though every other way you could measure the team would result in an average or below-average grade.
RL: They have a good coach. OH WAIT.
VF: Apart from Curtis Glencross, the Flames are probably pleasantly surprised by the play and development of their youth. TJ Brodie was less than impressive in training camp but once called up, he was pretty damn good. He’s definitely solidified his spot on the roster. Derek Smith seemed to go the other way – he was good until he got injured and then just looked like he struggled a lot when he got back. Despite that, Calgary is probably more optimistic about his play prior to the injuries.
I’m also going to include Troy Ward as a notable strength. He seems to have the developmental side down to a science in Abbotsford. You look what he’s done with Krys Kolanos and Ben Walter and you can’t help but dream of what he can do with more talented players like Ferland, Reinhart, Ramage, Arnold and Gaudreau. While up with the Flames, Akim Aliu said that Ward "saved his career".
AK: A WHOLE LOTTA CAP SPACE.
I get that’s not an innate strength of the players who will necessarily be on the team after July first, but it’s absolutely a strength of the Flames going into this off-season, and it’s a very good strength to have. In the salary cap era, how much you’re allowed to spend is huge – the Flames could make significant changes due to that flexibility that other teams could only dream of.
5. What are you looking forward to most this off-season?
RV: July 1st should be exciting. I assume they’ll re-sign Olli Jokinen, but for how much and for how long? It will also be interesting if they make any big moves, or just continue the gradual phasing-out of older, higher-priced players for younger and less expensive players that they began last year. I wouldn’t expect any dramatic moves, like trading Jarome Iginla or Miikka Kiprusoff, but the suspense will keep things exciting.
JA: I look forward to seeing the development of the young kids – Max Reinhart, Michael Ferland, John Gaudreau, etc. Should be interesting to see how they’ve progressed year-over year at Rookie Camp. I am also excited for free agency, although that excitement could taper off quite quickly.
RL: The unloading of players they should have unloaded last summer, but perhaps I’m just deluding myself.
VF: I’m looking forward to seeing just how serious Feaster was in his declarations on Tuesday. Many of the handcuffs are now off and this is the first off-season that he has been able to pretty much do what ever he wants, so it will be interrsting to see how far is willing to push the envelope now.
In his press conference, he stated that there is no interference from King or ownership. Now while I don’t believe that’s true, going on what Jay said, he should be able to make significant changes in the summer. There is little doubt that Feaster is about to put his mark on this organization, whether the fans give it the seal approval or brand him with the Scarlett letter remains to be seen.
AK: Related to the last question and my answer therein: FREE AGENTS. It’s silly, I know. It’s media hype, sure. But with this cap space and flexibility – it’s a thing of terror and beauty.
What absurd amount will Calgary offer to Suter? WHO KNOWS?! Parise? ANYONE’S GUESS! Carle? Dunno, BUT I CAN’T WAIT TO FIND OUT.
The free agent class this year might not be "excellent" in the sense it is a lot of years, and I don’t think the Flames will land any huge fish, but just the reports we’ll get from the Flames brass of "We offered more money than anyone to anyone and therefore we rule!" will make July 1 the best day ever.
6. If the Flames change direction, are you confident in the current management group to make the right decisions?
RV: I don’t know a great deal about what really goes on behind closed doors, but Calgary does have the 11th best record since the lock-out – 9th best in regulation-time losses, and goals against. Perhaps some people would prefer tanking in order to get the blue chip prospects needed to bust into the top-third of the league, but there’s something to be said for playing meaningful hockey in March this past decade instead.
JA: Honestly, no. But I don’t think Jay Feaster’s the problem; it’s the higher-ups. King needs to go and Edwards needs to let the people he pays to make decisions make decisions.
RL: No, but then to say that the team would "change direction" is to imply that there is one now, and there isn’t. So any direction, even one with some bad decisions is better in the end than the current one, which is no direction with some bad decisions.
VF: For me, this question ties back to the previous one. I am confident right now, because management has not given me a reason not to be. My confidence comes by default if the Flames change direction, because that’s what they need to do. Where my confidence would be shaken is if the Flames decided not to change directions and just stay the course. If that happens, I’ll start to worry because it tells me they still don’t recognize that there are issues, or if they do, they don’t care or know how to rectify them.
AK: No, but admittedly I’m not confident in 90% of the management groups in the NHL to make good decisions. Still, I think Jay Feaster is better at his job than most give him credit for, and certainly better than many management groups. To name a few:
Edmonton, Columbus, Cirque du Solei (Montreal because they’re a circus, get it?), Toronto, Washington (Washington? Really? – ed.), Florida, Minnesota, Buffalo, Islanders, Dallas, Tampa Bay (yeah I said it and I fully expect to see a burning Maple Leaf in my yard tomorrow as retribution for sacrilege against Canada’s favorite son), Carolina, Winnipeg.
Okay, so being better at your job than about two fifths of the league isn’t really a bragging point, but it’s better than being one of those two fifths – especially if you trade with one of them (and especially since the Flames management recently was among the worst in the league).
7. Look into your crystal ball and name the Flames top three forwards and top defense pairing come October. Also, who is the starter?
RV: It’ll probably be Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay, Mike Cammalleri, Jay Bouwmeester, Mark Giordano and Miikka Kiprusoff yet again.
Hopefully Kipper’s great season will get the Flames some great offers, and it’ll be Leland Irving, Henrik Karlsson or Karri Ramo in nets instead (one of whom will hopefully be next year’s Mike Smith or Brian Elliott), and hopefully the aforementioned front trio will be Calgary’s sheltered Sedin-like line because they spent the off-seasion putting together a tough-minutes Malhotra-like line.
JA: Tanguay, Cammalleri, Iginla. Bouwmeester, Giordano. Irving.
RL: Cammalleri-Tanguay-Jokinen (he’s back!!!), Bouwmeester-Giordano, Kiprusoff.
VF: If I’m going to hold true to my belief that the gloves are off now and we see a sweeping change, I can see 2 significant additions.
First, Paul Stastny is a target since Colorado decided to bring back Joe Sacco. He and Matt Duschene are not a fit in Sacco’s system and I believe they can be pried out of Denver. Calgary doesn’t have the assets to acquire Duschene, but the size of the Stastny contract might make him more attainable. So I could see Calgary’s top three looking like this:
Alex Tanguay – Paul Stastny – Mike Cammalleri
Matt Carle is a UFA this summer and the Flyers are already up against the cap. They are probably going to be on the hunt for a replacement for Pronger, which means they are going to have to pay for it. I see Carle being available and the Flames won’t have to pay Bouwmeester type money to get him. That being said, he’ll play with Jay in the top pairing.
Even though I think it’s a mistake, the Flames aren’t going to go into full cardiac arrest in their first kick at this, so if Iggy is moved, then expect Kiprusoff to stay. Look for him to man the crease once again as the Starter.
AK: Black crystal ball of despair (worst case scenario): Iginla, Jokinen, Cammalleri Bouwmeester, Butler Kiprusoff
Clear crystal ball (most realistic scenario): Tanguay, Cammalleri, Glencross Bouwmeester, Butler, Kiprusoff (Yes, I do in fact believe Iginla will be traded this summer. No, I don’t believe Kiprusoff will)
Rose tinted crystal ball (a nice mix of what I’d like to see and could realistically happen): Baertschi, Cammalleri, Stoll, Bouwmeester, Carle Harding
Red marble crystal ball (I can dream, right?) Parise, Baertschi, Semin, Bouwmeester, Suter Harding