Nov 262011

The Calgary Flames have posted more than 40 wins in each of the past five seasons but have been eliminated in the quarters three times and missed the playoffs twice. They’re in danger of finishing below the 40-win mark and posting their worst record since 2003.

Jarome Iginla and Brent Sutter aren’t getting along. They have very little cap room to spare and 11 of their players have some form of no-trade clause. They don’t have any notable young players ready to step in unless they somehow trade for Kyle Turris. Iginla can stay if he wants to, but it’s in the Flames’ best interests to start thinking about re-building.

In the Flames’ case, I don’t think blowing up the roster is a panic move. It’s not like the Flames are just off to a poor start – they’ve missed the playoffs two seasons in a row, and if there’s any justification to making sweeping changes, it’s that. The season records speak for themselves.

It’s not necessarily poor coaching that’s costing the Flames, although hard-line coaches like Sutter do have a certain shelf-life. The team that Darryl Sutter had assembled and Jay Feaster has kept together just isn’t good enough anymore – most of the key pieces from the 2004 Cup run are gone, and neither Iginla or Miikka Kiprusoff fit anywhere in the “league’s best” conversations anymore.

The good news is that the Flames are projected to free up around $20M in cap space for next year. The bad news is that Matt Stajan and Jay Bouwmeester are signed through 2014 and the Flames still don’t have enough quality rookies to promote. If the Flames want to be competitive again, they have to solve those problems, and the earlier the better.

Worth keeping: Alex Tanguay, Rene Bourque, Curtis Glencross, David Moss, Roman Horak

The wild card is Iginla; what the Flames decide to do with him will set the tone for how the rest of the roster is (dis)assembled. If Iginla’s traded out of Calgary, that means no one is safe. If Iginla’s allowed to stay and mull over his options, then the incentive to keep players who have had success playing with him, like Tanguay and Bourque, becomes greater.

The Flames shouldn’t even consider bringing back Olli Jokinen and have to somehow try and trade Stajan. Even if they can’t get anything higher than a third-round pick for Stajan, getting his contract off the books is already a good enough reason to deal him. (How Flames fans kept in their breakfast the day the extension was announced astounds me). Streaky scorers like Lee Stempniak aren’t needed and roles filled by Tim Jackman and Tom Kostopoulos can be given to younger players.

Worth keeping: Mark Giordano, Anton Babchuk

Even though Bouwmeester’s contract a bigger headache than Stajan’s, at least he can still play. There is a market for vastly overpaid defencemen as long as teams are looking to reach the cap floor (ahem, Brian Campbell). Bouwmeester’s been such a disappointment in Calgary. He whined about the lack of hockey culture in Florida and when his wish to leave South Beach was granted, he responded with seven goals over two years (Jason Garrison already has eight this year). There’s no question that even though Dion Phaneuf and Iginla butted heads, the Flames kept the lesser defenceman.

Mark Giordano has been the Flames’ best defenceman over the past two years but even on a good team he’s merely top four. He’ll need a sufficient support group, and having Anton Babchuk and his cannon from the point won’t be enough.

What the Flames need to do is stock up on picks and prospects. Sven Baertschi looks promising and is tearing up the WHL without Ryan Johansen, but Baertschi’s not a franchise player/saviour. The team needs oodles of high-end talent, not the Kris Chucko or Lance Bouma-types that the Flames love to collect and hand out no-trade clauses to.

It’d be wise of the Flames to start thinking about selling the players they don’t wish to keep beyond this season. In Calgary it’s not really a question of why anymore, but when and how the firesale will begin.

  3 Responses to “Is it time to blow up the Flames?”

  1. […] ARMCHAIR HOCKEY: Jason Chen asks, “Is it time to blow up the Flames?” […]

  2. I agree wholeheartedly. The Flames are a team that is heading in the wrong direction, and fast. Not only that, they have been heading in the wrong direction for several seasons now. Lets be honest here, the Flames were not really one of the top teams during the 2003/2004 season. They got hot at the right time, and rode out of this world goal tending to the 7th game of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Since then, a dogged loyalty to that core saw an eventual decline, followed by a mass exodus of assets out of the franchise. The Dion Phaneuf trade may also be one of the most lopsided of the past decade. They need to tear this roster apart in the off season and start fresh next year. They may miss the playoffs a few more times before it pays off, but that should not be anything new to Flames fans.

  3. Good article Jason. I agree completely, they have to go into a rebuilding phases, starting off by trading Iginla for prospects and picks. Mr Sutter did an excellant job of ruining the franchise.

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