Pursuing True Change

 

 

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. 

Metamorphisis

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.

"First, you have to know, not fear, know, that some day you’re going to die"

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.

Manifestations

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.

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  • RexLibris

    @the-wolf

    “Subban would fit into that whole cocky swagger thing that Edmonton loves so much”

    Interesting. Is this something you see in the players or the fans?

    Most of the fans I have spoken with want to avoid the cockiness (also arrogance) that the Canucks have shown so much of these past few years. So I’m curious if this is something that Calgary fans are actually seeing, or is it implied by the talent of the young core.

    @everton fc

    I would be very concerned about the center depth of this team going into this season.

    Looking at the options available right now to start for September and I don’t see much there.

    KevinR likes to use comparables and looking at the Flames down the middle from that perspective I could ask the same questions there that many others asked of the Oilers’ defensive corps last season. There are a number of depth players who probably shouldn’t be playing higher than 3rd line minutes right now. Backlund and Cammalleri are the exceptions in that Backlund has a ceiling higher than the 3rd line but he hasn’t shown the ability to consistently perform there and Cammalleri is a diminutive converted winger.

    Cervenka, who may be the most popular player on the roster right now despite never having played an NHL game, is an unknown and can’t be factored in until after the exhibition games.

    If the topic turns to the Flames acquiring a center then the names available are likely James Van Riemsdyk, Ryan Getzlaf, Joe Thornton, Jordan Staal, Nik Antropov, Derek Roy, Artem Anisimov, Jarret Stoll, and perhaps Brayden Schenn.

    I’m not convinced the Flames have the assets they would be willing to deal to acquire the signed players listed, and the free agents would only be further muddying the waters.

  • RexLibris

    @Rex- it’s something that the Oilers in the glory days had in spades. Trouble was (from my POV) that they knew how to keep it in check, so it served them well. Others would call it confidence to the Nth degree. Obviously it was a combination of immense talent and youth. And some them were just @$$holes.

    The Oilers now only a have fraction of that, maybe half, but I think it’s something that Lowe would love to see return to the organization.

    A goalie who can make a save and a boost in the standings and would probably bump it up signifigantly.

    I just see Subban fitting that mold they’re after and from a pure hockey standpoint I think it would be a decent deal both ways given that Subban is not that well-loved in Montreal by some fans. Not saying that one or the other side wouldn’t want or add something else to ‘even it up,’ but I think as the crux of the deal it has potential. Oilers get a true top 2 puck-moving D and the Habs can rebuild around the Russian Road Runner (or is that sacreligious?).

  • RKD

    Can’t disagree, everything else has been changed except for Iggy and Kipper. The organization completely failed in trying to find complimentary players to Jarome. He’s managed 513 goals with a revolving door of sub-par or average second line centers at best.

    They have recycled players and put band-aids on the solutions. I would say if you keep Iggy and Kipper, next season they should be in supporting roles.

    Jarome isn’t/won’t convert his game to a defensive forward. He should now play RW on the second line if a younger top 3 forward can be found. Kipper needs to play less games, Irving has to go in, regardless of where they are in the standings.

    I think management is hoping Sven Baretschi is the saviour.

  • RexLibris

    @the-wolf

    The dynasty roster certainly had it. I thought you were referring to the current roster, which kind of had me scratching my head.

    Cockiness has it’s place in sports, provided that one can at least claim to have earned it. Thus the ridicule and impatience for the Canucks’ behaviour.

    @RainDogs

    I actually tend to agree with you about Kiprusoff’s valuation. I don’t want to come on FN and start telling people that he isn’t the most valuable goaltender available on the trade market this summer, but I do think that there will be other options for team’s to pursue that might provide better overall value.

    I wonder if many Flames fans don’t share Feaster’s view and see Kiprusoff as this thin red line that has stood between their team and the basement of the league for the last three or four years and in doing so have come to vicariously overestimate his value to other teams?

  • RexLibris

    Just looked at what good teams have. Young guns, veteran leadership and quality goaltending, not to mention size and grit. The Flames MAY have young guns, I’m skeptical, have little in true veteran leadership and not much size or grit. Look at Boston and LA this year they have tools. The Flames aren’t going anywhere with this group. Player changes are needed but more importantly management and philosophical change is required.

  • RexLibris

    @Raindogs: Fair enough, we agree to disagree on value of Kipper & potential demand. Personally, I dont think it will be hard to trade an 11.6 mill cap hit with an actual $$$ cost of half that. Sounds to me a team like the Islanders would be all over that one. I cant show you facts of numbers supporting a higher value & you really cant show me facts the other way. You can spew all these save percentages all day long but this game has so many factors that add up to performance, I find it more entertaining than gospel & pegging a trade value or straight goalie comparison is, well not the be all end all. I guess your view is a recipe for underselling player assets, Feaster needs to upsell.

    • BobB

      I guess your view is a recipe for underselling player assets, Feaster needs to upsell.

      No, I just don’t assume that the Flames somehow have the only intelligent GM in the league, while every other GM is a complete idiot.

      We’re not making 6 figure salaries to pontificate about rosters, but GM’s are. I’m sure they can put together then same four points about 5 (or more) elite goalies that I can. Luo, Vokoun, Thomas, Harding, Kipper.

      1. Who’s the best?

      2. Who’s the youngest?

      3. Who’s cap is the cheapest?

      4. Who’s contract is the “easiest”?

      ….and 5. what’s my need vs the demand/offer?

      Flames fans are saying fair is somewhere around a low 1st round pick, and a top 6 forward for Kipper.

      Yeah… right… ask those five questions again.

  • RexLibris

    @KevinR

    Well, we all know that Garth Snow loves adding goalies.

    He has DiPietro and Nabokov under contract for next year and is very unlikely to trade a 1st round pick given their recent draft history so I don’t know that the Islanders are specifically one to mull over a deal.

    But it never hurts to look around the league. Too often the temptation is to limit oneself to just a handful of teams.

  • RexLibris

    I already know the answer to this. But for shits and giggles what about trading Kipper for Bryzgalov. Bryz still has the potential to be a strong starter. Taking on that contract adds more to the pile (JVR/Schenn?)

    Won’t happen. Shouldn’t happen. But it certainly would be a high risk, hire reward, dramatic move.

  • RexLibris

    Insane? Yes. But the more I think about it the more it makes sense.

    Philly needs out of the Bryzgalov contract and they need to find a new starter. Calgary needs to trade Kipper for assets, but can’t afford to as we don’t have a replacement.

    So:

    Kipper (CGY) for (PHI) Bryzgalov, JVR, Voracek

  • RexLibris

    Great article Kent. Once again your article demonstrates what many Flames’ fans have passionately debate and discuss on a daily basis.

    Although the speculation of trading or not trading Iginla and Kiprusoff is the main topic at this time, I think the organization as whole now realize that there are many holes to be filled with this team outside of just trading a couple of aging stars/core players. In order to be competitive and successful, it begins with sound and sometimes lucky drafting and developing. Under Sutter there was no idea or concept of such philosophy. Only in last two seasons their has begun a mind shift with this team. For example, Feaster and company have built a stronger farm team with a full time goalie and fitness coach. As well, the players who have played well at the AHL level have been rewarded with play at the NHL level.

    In addition to the Flames farm system being pointed in the proper direction, from my POV, the Flames are starting to draft better. IMO the draft should be the foundation of a team. Far too often, I believe not just under Sutter, but the Flames as a team and organization as whole lack an identity. No matter how good/bad of a coach you have or the players on the ice which are playing, success begins with thorough and sound drafting. The reason Calgary Flames are in perpetual flux is they (until recently) draft poorly and trade away too many valuable picks.

    So no matter what happens with Iggy and Kipper, whether they stay or go, I feel the importance for Feaster and the Flames is to draft and or trade with emphasis being placed on who will best fit Sven Bärtschi, TJ Brodie, Gio, Glencross, Irving and maybe Backlund. The opportunity to succeed with Iggy and Kipper was wasted by prior regimes, so I can only hope that this current management have learned by past mistakes and will get it right going forward.

  • RexLibris

    @the-wolf

    ha, yeah, sorry for the brevity I only had a second to respond.

    Subban is one heck of a defenseman but I have some concerns over his behaviour in games and in practices.

    If this pick can net the Oilers either a dynamic playmaking RW, a high-end 2nd line center or a cornerstone puck-moving, and intelligent, defenseman then I don’t see any upside in moving that kind of advantage, regardless of the timelines involved, for a player whose talented displays, while undeniable, are still in too small a sample size.

    Subban is a great defenseman for the Mike Green type of player. I wouldn’t want Mike Green either, though. They are great players and this isn’t meant to disparage them, but I would rather find a player who can strip the puck, make a single strong stretch pass and find the best position to support the rushing forwards. Subban is often collecting points off of his own stick rather than making the right plays to make his teammates better. The Oilers need to find a defenseman who will earn a tonne of first and second assists because that will mean that he is activating the forwards and allowing them to do what they do best. We have a few in the system to match all the available types – shutdown, smashmouth, highwire acts, pointshot, puck distributing, etc.

    The Oilers have the high-end finishers and need a strong supporting cast right now.

    It is essentially the same philosophy that has me leaning towards Galchenyuk over Yakupov right now. Putting it this way, if the Flames were offered either Kane or Toews today, free of charge, who would you select? For me, it would be Toews. Galchenyuk could be a reasonable comparable to Toews. He has high-end skill, is absolutely driven to be better, and plays a terrific two-way center game.

    The Oilers would be reaching down to take him and leaving considerable talent on the table, but if it makes the whole team better without any serious roster moves and makes other players expendable to recoup other assets then perhaps this would be the best long-term pick.

    As for exchanging Subban for the 1st overall and the risk that a draft pick entails versus a proven commodity in a relatively established player (because I know that many Flames fans have raised this issue), Subban was a second round pick and was a longer shot to make this kind of impact on the NHL than a 1st overall. And if draft picks are so dangerous and risky, then why weren’t Flames fans interested in having Feaster trade away their first round pick this year?

    If the Canadiens wanted the first overall then the most likely exchange that would balance the trade and interest the Oilers (and there is no way that the Canadiens would do this, mind you) would be the 1st overall, Dubnyk and Olivier Roy for the 3rd overall and Price.

    My gut feeling on the draft is that the Oilers want Murray and a center and will probably try to find a way to draft Murray, then move out some bodies (roster and prospect) for another pick at either 4th or 5th to pick up their second target. Emphasis on “try”.

    This may sound like infinibuild, but the progression of Eberle makes Hemsky or Gagner expendable if they can move out either of those players for a pick that could replace that roster spot. Also, if they draft Murray then the defensive depth of prospects means that they will almost have to trade one away in Musil, Plante, Klefbom or Marincin.

    Again, I’m not saying that this will happen or that other teams will simply accept the trade regardless of the cost, but I believe it is something that the Oilers will attempt to negotiate.

  • RexLibris

    I agree on Murray – if I’m Edmonton , that’s who I pick, but D take a long time to develop and ruining Murray is not an option.

    That’s also why I don’t think the Oilers can part with any D prospects. It’s too hard to say how long their development time will be.

    This is why I think they should try to snag a current top 2 D, another solid veteran D and a #1 goalie. Not impossible given their draft ranking and stable of prospects.

    I still don’t get the flak Gagner takes. To me, he is an ideal 2nd line center who thrives with talented linemates. I also like his character.

  • RexLibris

    @the-wolf

    If the Oilers draft Murray I expect that they will send him back to junior, although I also suspect that they will be pushing hard for Everett to find a new home for him rather than have him waste away on a rebuilding squad. They may ask Bob Green to make inquiries about adding Murray to the Oil Kings in a trade, but Everett already got shafted very badly by the Oil Kings in the Maxwell trade this season, so who knows how the Silvertips respond.

    Adding Murray doesn’t preclude adding defensive depth by other means. Justin Schultz is still very much the talk of the town and I expect that he sees Edmonton as a good opportunity. He could play two or three years in Edmonton, raise his stock and then try for an even larger second contract. Both parties have something to gain from each other.

    There is no way, in my opinion, that the Oilers can afford to trade for a top-pairing defenseman right now. They can’t subtract Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins or Hall and a 1st overall in this year’s draft just isn’t going to be worth it all by itself unless you are talking about Washington (who have a soft spot for Russians). Could the Oilers deal the first overall to Washington for Alzner and Colorado’s 1st round pick? Is it worth it?

    As for a goaltender, that is a complete non-starter. Dubnyk has shown enough to get the chance at a starting role next season and Tambellini has been frustratingly stubborn in his commitment to Khabibulin.

    I’ve been a Gagner supporter since his draft year. He is small and not very fast, but he thinks the game fairly well and his level of competitiveness is quite high (I’m sure most Flames fans remember him taking on the much older and larger Olli Jokinen). There are a lot of Oiler fans who are sour on him because they forget that he was rushed in as an 18-year-old and simultaneously still feel cheated for being told that he was the next top-line center.

    He’s a good 2nd line center, would be a better 2nd line RW, and with some other pieces might be a good fit for the Leafs. Chicago has also expressed some interest because of his relationship with Kane. If the Oilers draft Yakupov then Gagner plays center. If the Oilers draft Galchenyuk then Gagner plays wing. He only becomes expendable if they draft a center or both Yakupov and Galchenyuk by some magical draft day sleight of hand.

    The article on Subban is intersting, but I’m not entirely sold on Staples’ assessment. Also, it is from January and the Oilers’ needs have changed a bit since then. Petry’s emergence has taken some of the heat off of the defence for the short-term and limited the team’s needs to a single defensive stalwart rather than two.

    Whenever a team goes into a rebuilding process there begins a long lineup of suitors kindly offering to ease their pain by trading some of their veteran and established players for the rebuilding groups prospects. It happened in Edmonton in the early 80s when every GM was willing to help Sather out by swapping a few veterans for some youth.

    I’m absolutely not drawing comparisons between that roster and this one, but the overall valuation of youth and faith in one’s drafting and development is similar. In this case the Oilers need to retain their own prospects and develop their own veteran leaders. Then in time maybe the Oiler GM (whomsoever it may be) can offer similar “assistance” to rebuilding teams for their developing players.