I mentioned in another article recently that Jay Feaster would be well served to make some very real alterations to the Calgary Flames this summer in the face of fan’s shifting perceptions of the team. In my estimation, selling a "shift in gears" will be easier both short term and long term given the club’s low chances of succeeding via the status quo.
To be fair, the Flames have hardly been the picture of stasis and stagnance since the lock-out. In fact, the club has made numerous, drastic changes in their pursuit of success. Perhaps the perceived "status quo" doesn’t really exist? After all, this is the same organization that recently replaced their long-time GM and have fired or replaced four coaches in the last eight years. Major roster players like Dion Phaneuf, Robyn Regehr, Daymond Langkow and Rene Bourque were traded while other big names like Mike Cammalleri, Alex Tanguay, Jay Bouwmeester and Olli Jokinen were acquired (in many cases, more than once).
So the vision of the Calgary Flames franchise as overly content and fearful of change isn’t quite accurate. There have been periods where the club’s decision makers have been positively manic in their attempts to push the team over the top or halt a losing skid. It’s safe to conclude that success matters to Calgary’s tie and suit crowd.
So the Flames have changed their pants, shirts, hats, shoes, belts and even hair color over the years. Unfortunately, there are overriding assumptions that are encoded into the very DNA of the organization. A framework of thinking that guides the team’s true form outside of merely cosmetic changes.
The issue for Calgary is they have been unable to move on from the Iginla/Kiprsuoff era of the team. The franchise has failed to either develop or acquire heir apparents for those two guys who even now remain pillars of the org in their mid-30’s. Since the cup run in 2004, the game plan has always been to build around the elite talents of Jarome and Miikka.
The talk has always been about finding a center and toher line mates for Iginla. And during seasons where Kipper has been less than stellar, a large portion of the fan base and punditry asked what was wrong with either Calgary’s coaching or defense rather than the goalie. Indeed, sometimes it has seemed the team exists to promote the success of its two stars in the minds of some, rather than the other way around.
It’s this idea that will need to change if the club is to move forward – the conception of the Flames as Iginla’s team or Kipper’s team; that the club can’t have success unless it is carried on the backs of its now fading heroes. Tinkering around the edges, however frequently or frantically, will have limited effect until the organization understands its dependence on the captain and the starter is not a strategy – it’s nostalgia.
Tyler Durden’s words of wisdom apply here. To move forward, the Flames can’t fear the end of the Iginla era – instead, they have to accept that its end is not only inevitable but also rapidly approaching. Iginla is 35 this July. His current contract is over after this season. Even if he decides to re-sign in Calgary, which is by no means a given, Jarome’s next deal will be his sunset contract. He will be a complimentary player at best through the majority of his time remaining in the league, a guy inked as much for his presence and reputation as his ability to contribute on the ice.
Kipper is in a similar situation – 36 years old with two years left on his contract.
Both guys have transitioned from cornerstone pieces to the sort of seasoned, solid veterans GMs add to complete the puzzle. The Flames needs to transition in response to a club that treats them as such.
The overarching assumptions regarding Iginla and Kipper manifest themselves in the org and on the ice in a number of ways, including the idea that whatever line Iginla is on must necessarily be the top line; that Jarome must always be granted the most ice time amongst forwards, and the best linemates on offer; that the club simply can’t compete without Miikka Kiprusoff in net and they will inevitably sink to te bottom of the league in his absence.
Further, that both of them are faces of the franchise and without them the team will not win and cannot be sold to the fan base. Even if this was true today, the problem is both players are aging and their contracts with the Flames are ending – the team has to realize and admit that there will be a post-Iginla/Kipper era one way or the other and, as such, must begin to prepare itself for that inevitability.
What It Means
A shift in thinking away from the Iginla era doesn’t necessarily mean the Flames must immediately trade their two stars or apply a scorched earth rebuild. Only that the goal moving forward isn’t to compliment Iginla and Kipper with support pieces. The focus now is to find replacements to whom the torch can be passed. The Flames are beyond the days of "looking for a number one center for Jarome". Calgary doesn’t just need first line guys to play with Iginla – they need first line players period.
The Iginla epoch in Calgary is ending. The 2004 cup run is 8 years in the rear view mirror. Retaining both Jarome and Miikka with the expectation that they can continue to drive the club forward is ill-fated idolatry and doomed for failure. Both guys remain functional NHLers and their contributions to this franchise should never be minimized or questioned. But the future lies beyond their horizon.