The Flames Through 10: Identity and the Rebuild Continuum

 


 

The Flames slow start, unfortunate early injuries and subsequent spanking at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks recently has caused the rebuild debate to rear its ugly head in Flamesland again. This is an inevitability until the club does one of two things: takes a firm step forward and becomes a meaningful contender again or bottoms out completely and starts from scratch out of necessity.

Even though the club currently finds itself in 14th in the conference, Calgary’s start to 2013 has nonetheless muddied the waters no matter what side of the debate you fall on. On the one hand, the Flames have decent underlying numbers, have frequently outshot their opponents and it has only been bad luck or lousy goaltending that has sunk them to the bottom of the Western Conference.

On the other hand, the Flames are who we thought they are. There’s been some improvement over the past Brent Sutter iterations of the club thanks to summer additions, the coaching staff and the progression of guys like Backlund and Brodie, but the truth is the team remains fundamentally flawed in a number of key areas. The top-end of the roster is expensive and aging, and there is a dearth of players at or near their prime age. And although the emergence of Baertschi and Gaudreau as potential bluechip prospects the last year or so is a good development, the truth is the Flames organizational cupboard is hardly bursting with talent.

Furthermore, Calgary’s depth at center has been exposed as woefully lacking with the injury to Backlund recently. Center depth has always been a bone of contention in town, but there’s no doubt with Alex Tanguay, Ben Street, Matt Stajan and Blair Jones currently counting as the Flames top-4 pivots at the NHL level, things haven’t been this dire down the middle in Calgary in the post-lockout (both of them) era. Particularly since the coach is forced to play converted 32-year old winger Tanguay out as the club’s power vs power option most nights.

Rebuild Continuum

While rebuilding vs. competing is often conceptualized as a dichotomy, I’ve mentioned previously I think it’s better to think of it as a continuum, particularly since the act of building and maintaining a roster is on-going and perpetual. Technically all GM’s are always looking to improve their teams at all times, but the motivations and moves will change depending on where they fall on that continuum.

The Flames are stuck solidly in the middle of that sliding gradient. They have enough quality NHLers to beat up bad teams, can compete solidly on many nights with good teams and occasionally beat the big boys. They also have a near complete lack of elite talent in the organization, whether we’re talking active bobdies or guys in the pipeline (Baertschi and Gaudreau notwithstanding). The remaining, yet unanswered question is how they move forward without falling off a cliff.

Personally, I am paradoxically encouraged by the Flames start despite the poor record, the last two uninspired losses notwithstanding. Not to say that Calgary is suddenly a contender again, only that a quick turnaround is at least possible with some luck and prudent management. In the depths of the team’s struggles under Brent Sutter last season I was mostly convinced the club would have to run aground completely before the ship could be righted, but the Bob Hartley version of the Flames seems to have nodes of hope around which the org could begin to build around. The blueline is strong, there is capable talent on the wings and the coaching staff at least seem to have things in order.

In short: I don’t think the team has to be terrible in order to get better.

The Post-Iginla Identity

Perhaps the greatest misconception I notice in the rebuild/don’t rebuild debate is the idea that trading Iginla or somehow proceeding without him (and Kipper for that matter) is necessarily indicative of a "tear-down". That is, if Iginla is moved at the deadline then the club might as well trade the rest of their veteran talent and burn the thing to the foundation.

This is predicated on the conditioned notion that the Flames simply can’t compete without Iginla on the roster; that he remains the center tent pole of the Flames big top. This is also apparently the misconception under which management labors given their reluctance to even consider an Iginla trade (although that is probably informed by other considerations as well. No one wants to be the guy who traded Jarome out of Calgary, particularly if the return doesn’t work out. Those kind of moves stick to a GM’s resume forever).

Iginla remains a capable enough player who can put up some points and play a lot of minutes. But he’s not elite anymore and he won’t be getting any better as time moves on. Ideally he’s a complementary piece on a good team. On the Flames, because he plays all night and gets a ton of PP time, he’s probably a 10-13 GVT (goals versus threshold) player as things stand over a full season, comparable to guys like David Krejci, Blake Wheeler and Martin Erat last year. That means he’s worth about two wins per 82 games more than your typical replacement level player. That’s something, but it doesn’t turn a lousy team into a good one, nor a good team into a basement dweller.

The Flames fortunes don’t necessarily turn on the presence of Jarome anymore. Once upon a time that was undeniably true and his long history as the club’s lone, implacable, elite forward is why his presence seems persistently crucial to the line-up. It doesn’t help perceptions that the team has been unable to internally groom a replacement or two to take the torch from Jarome’s hands as he ages, but the fact remains the bottom wouldn’t suddenly fall out if Feaster finally decided to leverage Iginla for a good return. At least, no moreso than it would anyways.

That realization gives the organization options. Trading Iginla or Kipper isn’t an acknowledgement that the club is terrible and needs to be ripped apart at the seams. Meaning, an Iginla trade doesn’t have to inexorably result in a cascade of other trades where the org liquidates Bouwmeester, Cammalleri, Tanguay, Giordano, Hudler, Wideman, etc. because, hey! they are going to suck anyways, right? 

Let’s be very clear then: the Flames aren’t too bad now, they can continue to be not too bad even without Iginla and they therefore have an opportunity to leverage an asset or two and avoid a full tear down in favor of a quicker re-stock.

Moving Forward

Trading Iginla or Kiprusoff as they near the end of their tenure here isn’t absolutely required either. What is needed is the Flames management to alter the staid and stagnant formula which has been used to create the roster over the last decade: namely, build around the iconic Iggy and Kipper. Erect them as untouchable pillars in the line-up and assume with the right alchemy the rest of the team will come together behind them and experience some sort of renaissance. 

Those days are past. The Flames have plenty of good to very good NHLers, but no true elite talent. The top-end is expensive and doddering and you can count on two fingers the number of prospects who are a good bet to be impact NHLers at some point in the next 4 years. The goal now isn’t to supplement Calgary’s former superstars – it is to find their replacements, one way or the other.

  • Vintage Flame

    @T&A4Flames

    Since we’re talking about this, I also think it would be nice to see who a poster cheers for. Ex. below my name it would say “Flames”, below RexLibris it would say “Oilers.” Or something along those lines.

    Somethimes its hard to decipher where a poster is coming from in their comments. Just a thought.

    That would be cool actually.

  • Given that the ship has sailed on any “significant” return for Iggy, especially in light of his recent play and perceived “lost a step”.

    What do the flames offer him in the way of an extension? If they get down to that negotiation post haste and find a very wide chasm between flames money and Iggy camp money then in effect its easy. Take what you can get and hope it turns out better than the bags of pucks the Oilers got for Smyth from the Isles.

    Also…. I find it very indicative of the empowerment of the idiot in media when Rhett the human pilon can hold forth on the perceived “leadership” failings of Jarome Iginla. Yes; he is entitled to his opinion, but suffice it to say there is a huge credibility issue in my attempts to digest said commentary on a legitimate level.

    ~no idea why~

    CLEARLY Rhett is auditioning/begging for a CBC job. So far… hes a front runner.

    • NateBaldwin

      I heard the comments this morning from Rhett. While you can quibble about the credibility of the source, there have been lots of informal comments about the perceived leadership of Jarome. One can quibble about their legitimacy as well. I think it was last year that Playfair was pretty candid in his comparison of Jarome to Doan.
      I also heard Duhatschek also say that trading Jarome would leave a leadership void. I used to believe that. However as one looks at the record over the last few years (say 4), the only real constant on the underachieving Flames is Jarome. I am not sure how he has become this mystical leader we all give him credit for. After all, to be a great leader, don’t you have to win? Phoenix wins. Leaders don’t’ cough up the puck for the first Minny goal.
      Last piece of anecdotal evidence is that when the last time Jarome was injured for any length of time the team actually played better without him.
      I think the flames have to move away from being Jarome Iginla and the Calgary Flames. They are likely better without him.

  • Rubberbadger

    It frightens me that Feaster said “Stajan has been our most consistent forward”…. Is it true? That can’t be good. If you take away Hudler and Cervenka, it might be…

  • T&A4Flames

    Since we’re talking about this, I also think it would be nice to see who a poster cheers for. Ex. below my name it would say “Flames”, below RexLibris it would say “Oilers.” Or something along those lines.

    Somethimes its hard to decipher where a poster is coming from in their comments. Just a thought.

  • Kind of figured Kipper’s injury was worse. The thought of going 2 more weeks at least plus reacclimatizing with the future schedule we have in Feb & early, ohh boy, that truly was a panick move. Rightfully so, 2 goalies with game experience you can count on 2 hands is trouble. By the time Kipper is back we could be literally mathematically eliminated. I still would have liked to throw Irv & Taylor to the test but I understand why they did it. Irv played good last night but his inexperience in the shootout sealed last nights deal.

    Kent, totally defend everything you say about the approach to the future. Wideman & Hudler, along with Brodie, Backlund, Sven, Cervenka has given us some that we have decent pieces to rebound with quickly. Thing I think is, if we did trade Kipper & Iggy, then I think we get lean & give ourselves Cap room. I would entertain offers on JBO & Cammi as well. That frees up about 35% of next years cap space & then see who is in cap hell next summer & try to do some rape & pillaging.

  • Top-10 for now. I expect that to regress once the Flames face more teams, particularly on the road and especially because Backlund is out of the line-up. Their outshooting is almost completely based on middle-tier guys like Backs, Stemps, Brodie, etc.

    The big guns are once again middling and that makes it tough to maintain good numbers once you start facing good teams.

  • There’s not enough data on Irving. His career in the AHL was mediocre at best. Over 4 games this year, he has a .900 SV% which isn’t a save rate you pay for in the NHL.

    Frankly, we don’t know much about Irving. That’s the problem the Flames have faced for years: to really understand a tenders talent, you have to give him a lot of starts.

  • SmellOfVictory

    If you just hadn’t stuck the ‘more than’ in there, I would have let it go. It’s more than the three games you mention. Goaltending is almost all mental. His comments consistently make me think he doesn’t have the mental makeup. Definitely nothing I’ve seen or heard from him have changed that opinion.

  • SmellOfVictory

    I must half agree with this. Irving is good positionally and fairly athletic, but he has a massive achilles heel in that he overcommits harder than a serial monogamist. The shootout made that painfully obvious (although holy crap, Parise and Koivu are good in the shootout), but it was quite evident numerous times during the game when he’d spit out a rebound and there would be two feet of open net in that exact direction; same goes for the goal he let in.

    Kent: general consensus seems to be that the Flames are somewhere between “okay” and “crap” (depending which camp you ask). I mentioned this in another thread, but from what I can see, the Flames look like they’re top 10 in outshooting at ES (via BtN), which indicates a team a little better than just “okay”. It is a small sample, but is there something I’m missing?

  • smith

    Kippersoft has not played at an elite level for years. Moving him now I believe will have little impact. Agree with you Kent about Iginla.

    Move them both. Restock, go after a free agent or two and quickly become relavent again.

  • jakeryley

    I can’t begin to see why you think otherwise. He was very good last night, was good Vs. Columbus, was good Vs. Detroit, the Vancouver game was nowhere near his fault and it could have been a lot worse (Irving made some HUGE saves).

  • beloch

    Off-topic question regarding the website:

    Would it be possible to add to the message system a way for us to not see posts by specific people if we’re logged in? e.g. Perhaps an “Ignore poster” button?

    It’s a great sign for the site that it has grown to the point where the occasional troll slips through the cracks (none have shown up on this thread so far!). It’s a lot easier to avoid “feeding the trolls” if you can block them once and be done with it.

  • jakeryley

    News that Kipper is out for (at least) an additional 2 weeks is interesting.

    Irving has, by all accounts, played better than Kipper has so far this season. Miikka has lost the Flames a game, Leland has not.

    Problem is, for this team to compete for a playoff spot, they needed Kipper to play at an elite level – and another two weeks without that elite level goaltending will spell the end of any playoff hopes.

    So now the question becomes…how can Feaster justify maintaining the status quo as the season falls apart before his eyes?

    The blueline is coming together nicely with Bouwmeester, Brodie, Giordano and Wideman all in place. The team is heavy on the wings with talent (Hudler, Cervenka, Cammalleri, Tanguay, Baertschi, Glencross, Stempniak), Irving is proving himself to be more than competent at the NHL level and if reports are to be believed, Ramo will/should be our starter next season.

    Dealing Iginla and Kiprusoff this season, coupled with another strong draft and solid summer in the UFA market by Feaster should get the Flames right back into the fold next season.

    Standing still with the roster as-is though would do nothing more than hurt the organization that so desperately wants to become relevant in the NW Division again.