(We’re at the mid-point of the season, so it’s time for another FN roundtable. Ryan Lambert, Ryan Pike, Justin Azevedo, Vintage Flame and Book of Loob all weighed in on a few of the club’s current pressing issues.)
1.) Despite some decent showings and a capped out roster, the Flames are currently at the bottom of the Western Conference. Do they hold on as long as possible and hope for the playoffs yet again? Or does the rebuild start now?
Ryan Lambert: I’ve actually heard and seen more and more talk that People Around The League(!!!) think this is the year they trade Jarome Iginla, actually and finally. That’s supported by the Calgary Sun about how they haven’t even started talking extension for the captain. I think they still hang on as long as they possibly can to milk a few more bucks out of the fanbase but I think given how bad they’ve been this year, this really is the last straw. About damn time.
Book of Loob: The team says they have an internal policy not to ever tank out and go full on rebuild, and history suggests this is true, so I doubt that they do, at least not in the way we all typically define a rebuild.
One look up north shows that consistently drafting first overall picks is not necessarily a blueprint for success, so I understand why the team doesn’t want to take that path, nor, I think, should they.
As far as guys like Jarome and Miikka go, I’m sure they’re available (assuming they’d be willing to waive NMCs), but they’re not going to give them away for the sake of getting a return. If they can’t get anything they need, they won’t trade them.
Vintage Flame: The disturbing thing about this question, is that I don’t think anyone in the organization even knows the answer. The logical answer is that nothing is going to change between now and the time playoffs start, so why fool yourselves; in fact nothing has changed over the past four seasons… what are they waiting for? Start the rebuild now.
The problem remains is that who exactly should the team be building around? If they continue to "build" around Iggy and Kipper, then by default you are not building around the likes of Backlund, Brodie and even Baertschi. This problem is going to be compounded every year they wait to fundamentally shift this organization.
Justin Azevedo: To me, it doesn’t really matter if they try for the playoffs as long as they don’t buy at the deadline. The assets they have to sell, save Iginla, won’t make the team appreciably worse than it is already. If they’re smart – of which I’m unconvinced – they’ll sell in a way where they could actually make the team better. The forwards and defence have been better than the record states, but the goaltending has sunk them. The only goalie who hasn’t cost them points in the standings is Taylor – between Kiprusoff, Irving and MacDonald, the Flames are down 5 points compared to replacement level goaltending. Not average, replacement.
If they can get some luck and some replacement-level goaltending, they definitely have a chance to make a push into 7th – hell, they’d be in 9th right now with two games in hand with RLG. I say roll with Taylor and MacDonald and go for it. Lastly – the Flames are 15 goals below replacement level right now. Their goal differential? -16.
Ryan Pike: Let’s be honest, the rebuild should have begun a couple of years ago. As soon as Jay Feaster came in, ideally he should’ve been swinging the wrecking ball. He didn’t, because the team’s core was competitive. Two years later, they’re longer in the tooth and less competitive. If I’m Jay Feaster, I’m listening to any and all offers. I may not shop specific pieces, but I listen to everything.
2.) Who would you trade at the deadline?
RL: Every veteran who’s not nailed down.
BoL: Seems to me like most guys are fair game to be traded. If you can shuttle out all the dead weight on the bottom D pairings for, oh, anything, do it.
I think the only untouchables on the roster are Brodie and Baertschi, unless an offer the Flames can’t refuse is made. Bouwmeester probably fetches you a pretty big return, I’d probably be dangling him, just to see what bites you get.
That said, I don’t see the Flames getting rid of a lot of these guys, because that would in fact be a "rebuild".
VF: If the deal is out there, don’t wait for the deadline. But given that’s when most team are willing to "overpay" to make a run at the Cup, then the top three targets have to be Iginla, Kiprusoff and I think Mark Giordano.
JA: Giordano and Kiprusoff. Get what you can/waive Comeau, Sarich, Babchuk, McGrattan, Begin and Jackman. You can fill out the roster with Jones and Sven.
RP: I’d make any trade that would (a) improve the team’s core going forward or (b) got the team more draft picks. Specifically, I think guys like Curtis Glencross, Mark Giordano and Mike Cammalleri probably get the team a nice return.
3.) How would you grade the Flames major off-season acquisitions (Hudler, Wideman, Cervenka) so far?
RL: Hudler and Wideman have been exactly what I expected, or maybe even a little better. I never thought they weren’t serviceable NHL players, but I thought they were overpaid in terms of money and years on their deals, and that their signings were counter to what the team should be doing. The latter roosters are already coming home to roost.
As for Cervenka, when you give him the kind of deal that comes with that cap hit, and then he ends up a healthy scratch a few times, that’s not good. We were told he could turn into a top center. He’s not close. That was the worst-case scenario in signing a KHL star who had never made it in North America, and it’s not looking good for the kid. At least it’s only a year.
BoL: I don’t know…I guess a C? Cervenka, I think, has had a tough time adjusting to the NHL game, but it doesn’t seem like the coaching staff has any faith in him, because he’s not getting the opportunities or the ice time anymore. I don’t see how you justify parking him on the bench while simultaneously trotting McGrattan out to elbow someone and fight a goon and then not see him for the rest of the game. Cervenka just hasn’t been used the right way.
You have to consider this is all a very big transition for him. He is in a new continent, doesn’t speak English, and the KHL is not the NHL…it would take anyone time to adjust properly, but it seemed like Cervenka has been on a shorter leash than he should be.
I think Hudler and Wideman have exceeded expectations, but are both significantly streaky as well. Wideman has done what everyone thought he would do on the power play and we’ve been given the added benefit of him not being a defensive liability, but he’s shown that all that good play can dry up, which it can for any player, I guess. Hudler is the same way.
VF: I have liked all three. Hudler was instrumental early in the season when the top line *cough Iginla* wasn’t scoring and I have really liked his game in general. Part of what has made this a more exciting season, despite the losses, is the creativity of Hudler and the jump he has brought here. Wideman obviously has been a dramatic improvement on the Flames power-play and it shows. I don’t think he’s been the defensive liability that many thought he was going to be either. That has to be considered a bright spot. You could see from the start the talent that Cervenka had, he was just tentative and not in game shape. Over the last 5-10 games though, you could see him starting to become more familiar with the North American game and his adjustments to the plays. I think he is going to be something special to watch next year, if the team is able to re-sign him.
JA: I wasn’t happy with the contracts of the first two, but they’ve played well this year. B for both. I’m not sure if that’ll be the case in 2015, but the ink has dried. Wideman’s been the Flames’ third best dman, which is what he was brought in to be, and Hudler has been a good 2/3 wing option, which is what he was brought in to be. Cervenka is interesting – when he’s played, he’s been the 2C I thought he would be; but the issue is there’s nights where he just hasn’t played. It’s not due to performance, it’s due to conditioning, which is understandable. However, since he can’t be out there physically from time to time I have to give him a C.
RP: Hudler’s been very good. Wideman’s helped out the power-play. Cervenka has been making good plays but watching him, I think he’s still trying to get comfortable with the timing and the language barrier.
4.) How would you grade Bob Hartley?
RL: Not well, because his roster management is strange to say the least. But I have to give him a bit of a pass as well given the pile of turds he was asked to make a winner. You see how it’s working out. Let’s call it a C- because while I had minimal expectations for the Flames overall, he’s not even meeting those.
BoL: Bob Hartley confuses the hell out of me, I just don’t get what goes through his head a lot of the time. In a lot of ways, he’s done some very good things. He’s found a diminished role for Jarome lately, and that’s allowed Iggy to succeed a little more. He’s addressed the notion that Jarome can’t be out there in a power vs. power capacity anymore, and that’s good. But I don’t think he manages his players very well. We’ve been over Cervenka…I don’t understand why he plays Cherv the way he does, why he doesn’t put him in a position to succeed. He and Hudler play well together, and I think with Backlund returning, the three of them make a dynamic line that all three were thriving under before Mikael’s injury.
The grit factor too, man, I don’t know. Blair Jones or Roman Horak are far more capable players than guys like Aliu, Begin, or McGrattan, and if a team like Calgary expects to have any success, they need to assemble the best players they have available every night, and Hartley does not do this. Going those 6 or 8 games where the only option at center was Matt Stajan? That was downright wacky. Bottom line…I was never a fan of the Hartley signing, and I’m still not.
VF: I’ve liked what Hartley has done so far. He’s only had 23 games with virtually no training camp, so I’m not prepared to run him out of town yet. Has he made some questionable calls so far? Absolutely, but what coach hasn’t with this team? The fact that he seems to have picked up on how to utilize Jarome properly to avoid playing him PvP and he is scoring now, leads me to believe he knows what he’s doing. I’d give him a "B" so far.
JA: He’s made some, uh, puzzling decisions at times, but in terms of deployment he’s miles ahead of his predecessor. I’ll say C+.
RP: I think he’s doing the best he can with the roster he’s been given.
5.) Can the organization turn this around in a hurry? Or is a re-tool not enough at this point?
RL: They’ve tried that already, haven’t they? Wasn’t that what this summer was? Look how it’s going. "The core" needs to go, and in turn I’d like to see little attempt to replace them with comparable players. I’ve heard a lot about what that "culture of losing" is doing to the kids in Edmonton but they’re a team that’s run phenomenally poorly. While you’d like to think Calgary’s a little better-operated than that (given the quality of players drafted in the later rounds the last few years), it all remains to be seen.
BoL: Nothing happens overnight without an influx of talent. Rebuild, or retool, it’s going to take time. Calgary has a decent prospect system, but like we’re seeing with Sven, they take a long time to develop, seeing as none of them are marquee Crosby kind of players. The Flames can get better with a retool and the right system in place, but it’s a steady march, not a sprint.
VF: No they can’t. They’ve been running this hamster wheel for too long already. Every time they go on a late season run and fall short, it just gives them false belief in the way things are being run. That’s when we hear the, "We’re only one or two pieces away." *Sigh* Honestly though, with this team… what is the difference between a re-build or a re-tool? Personally I think one is a solution and the other is an excuse. The only hope of a re-build starts with #12 and #34 right? So two guys constitute a team re-building? Or is just that trading anyone else falls under the re-tool category and is therefore useless and futile?
JA: The organization’s main issue is the lack of young, elite talent. There’s probably not any way they can go about getting that except through the draft, so that’ll have to come naturally.
They have a ton of depth, which is a good thing. There’s three things they need for next season in my eyes: a top-4 dman, a goaltender who can stop 92% of shots taken against him at even strength and a centreman who can handle tough minutes. You don’t need more elite scoring talent if you have a line that can take on tough minutes and give high ground to another line. Maybe try and get Brian Boyle from the Rangers for cheap?
If they’re smart about it, they could be in the playoffs next year even.
RP: It occurred to me after Saturday’s game that this is the group the team has to go to war with. There’s no cavalry coming, barring Sven Baertschi returning down the line like a house of fire. Unless this group finds their consistency, I don’t think they can turn it around.
6.) The ROR thing was the right move hockey-wise, but a debacle thanks to a misreading of the CBA. Would you have fired Feaster and company as a result?
RL: Well, I’d have never hired them in the first place and fired them long before this, but yeah, they’d have to go. That was embarrassing on a league-wide level and they dodged a fatal bullet only because Greg Sherman is almost as bad a GM as Feaster. Imagine if it had happened; the comparisons would have been Milburyesque.
BoL: Yes, but not because of the ROR thing alone. O’Reilly is just the final nail in the coffin, as far as I’m concerned. Feaster has been all bravado since taking over for Darryl, but he’s never had the tools to back up the talk. Every term we’ve heard Feaster use ("meritocracy" "intellectual honesty", etc.), they’ve all been just words and have yet to mean anything.
It’s too early to tell if his draft record comes out positive, but he has done nothing earth shattering to improve the team. That’s not all his fault, of course, but it’s his job, and if he can’t do it at the level he’s expected to do it at, he’s got to go.
VF: Hmmm… No I wouldn’t have, but that comes with a caveat. From what we have been told, it was the right move. How do you fire a guy for not knowing that the waiver rule was there? If that’s the case then there is a line of people that should also be fired. It’s not like Jay was the only ignorant one in this matter. Colorado didn’t know about it or else they would have told everyone to get rid of any leverage ROR had. Ryan’s agent didn’t know about it, and I don’t believe for a second that Gillis knew about it, despite what he says.
Now the caveat. IF Feaster knew about the waiver predicament but thought that his interpretation was more valid than the guys that wrote the CBA, then that’s just stupid. If he thought he had a good case to present in a court of some manner, then that was a careless risk he should not have been willing to take, and he should be fired.
JA: Yes. The fact that the team has access to the MoU, the NHL Executive’s Office and NHL’s General Counsel and yet still allowed something like this to happen is a total joke. Did no one realize he had played games in the KHL? Did no one ask about that stuff? I don’t buy the "we’d challenge the league" excuse, because if the Flames did, they’d lose and it would be decisive as well as even more embarrassing for the franchise.
So it either comes down to they knew about the clause and were willing to risk the player, cash, picks and dignity against 29 other teams and the actual league or they had no idea about it. Either way, both are colossally moronic and would have resulted in the complete destruction of the team.
RP: I’m not going to judge somebody for not reading a CBA that isn’t finished yet. That said, somebody either didn’t call the right person at the NHL offices or was given the wrong information. That’s not necessarily a fireable offense, but it’s pretty ugly.
7.) Do you have faith in this management group to make things better going forward?
RL: Not even a little, at least not with what we believe to be ownership’s continued interference in their operations. You can’t tell the guys cutting the checks to go screw, but at some point someone has to have the autonomy to say enough is enough. They haven’t done it yet, and you get the feeling they’re little more than marionettes at times.
BoL: Uh..no. It blows my mind that John Davidson was unemployed this summer, and he ended up in Columbus. The day his contract was terminated, the Flames ownership group should have been on the phone with him immediately, offering him the entire world to come save the Flames. Ken King has his fingers far too deep into this cookie jar, and he needs to have them taken out immediately. The Flames now own the Stamps, Hitmen, and Roughnecks, and he’s been promoted to oversee all of them and make sure they keep making money. That’s great. He’ll be good at that. Remove the "President of the Flames" moniker from your LinkedIn profile and get the right people involved.
Obviously that includes Feaster too, and yeah, I’d can Hartley as well. Change starts at the top. If the Flames do intend to rebuild, they’ll need to do it with more competent people in place. You can’t improve your team if your decision makers don’t know how to do it.
VF: If they can show the fanbase that they have the stones to make the tough decisions, like trading Iginla and Kiprusoff, then yes. If they keep trying to snow the fans with the same crap they spew out every year about blatantly ignored cliches like "Meritocracy" and "Intellectual Honesty", not a chance.
JA: See the above answer. That, plus the constant meddling in Hockey Operations by King, Edwards, etc. are all minuses in my book. The drafting record (aside from the best pick they had last year…) looks good, but until those players start making an impact at the NHL level they’ve done nothing. Throwing away assets, however small, for nothing players (PL3, McGrattan, Modin, etc.), signing insane contracts (Wideman, Sarich), refusing to divest assets before they depreciated (Kiprusoff, Giordano) and making gaffe after gaffe in the media are all just things that lead me to believe that HOPS don’t know what they’re doing.
In this situation, if you’re going to build the team from the ground up, you get rid of everything you can at all levels.
RP: Going forward? Yes. I’ve had enough conversations with people around the team, particularly relating to player development and drafting, that I think the team will get some nice pieces coming in going forward. I’m just not sure how long that will take.