CALGARY – Jarome Iginla believes the Calgary Flames can be a Stanley Cup contender with the personnel they have, plus the addition of one of two players with offensive skill.
The Flames (40-32-10) packed their bags at the Pengrowth Saddledome and embarked on a long summer Wednesday after missing the NHL playoffs for the first time in six seasons, finishing in a tie with St. Louis for ninth in the Western Conference. Calgary was the league’s lowest-scoring team at 204 goals, but ranked sixth overall in defence at 210 goals allowed.
A veteran team spending close to the NHL’s salary cap of US$56.8 million and missing the playoffs did not sit well with Flames Nation. Speculation is rampant over the future of everyone from general manager Darryl Sutter on down through the lineup and that includes Iginla, the captain.
The armchair general managing isn’t likely to end any time soon. Sutter and team president Ken King said Monday no major personnel decision will be made until they’ve concluded a review of the team’s season and operations, which will take two to three weeks.
Iginla, 32, has won two Olympic gold medals for Canada, but he has yet to win a Stanley Cup in his 14-season career with the Flames. The captain has three seasons remaining on a contract that pays him $7 million a year.
“We do have good pieces and we’re not that far off,” Iginla said. “I think we have guys who are capable of scoring more goals. With some adjustments, maybe there’s one or two creative players who could help the mix that would give us more potent offence.
“I think we can do it here. I’m definitely not giving up on that.”
Staying the course and hoping the forwards find their scoring touch in 2010-11 is one option. Stripping down to rebuild is another. That would be a major renovation with 18 players under contract. Iginla likely wouldn’t relish the latter as his NHL career is closer to the end than the beginning.
Iginla insists he wants to remain in Calgary, but accepts the possibility the Flames could ask him to waive his no-trade clause. His team-leading 69 points (32 goals and 37 assists) were his lowest numbers in his last five seasons, and Calgary does not have a pick until the third round of this year’s entry draft.
“It’s professional sports and organizations need to do what they feel they need to do to be the best they can be. If that’s what it came to, I wouldn’t take it personally,” Iginla said. “I want to win. There’s only so many years and the years go by fast. I believe with some adjustments, we can be a lot better team than we were this year.
“If they want me here, I do want to be here.”
Head coach Brent Sutter would not asses the performance of individual players Wednesday, saying that would be part of the season analysis.
“This is a terrible feeling to have and you certainly don’t to have this feeling again and we’re all responsible and we all have to work together to fix it,” he said.
Wednesday’s exit was anticlimactic because the team had been eliminated from post-season contention over a week earlier with a 2-1 loss to San Jose.
The players had little insight as to what changes may happen to the club in the off-season, although they tried to eliminate some theories as to why the team underachieved during the regular season.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” said 38-year-old free agent forward Craig Conroy. “I don’t think they know exactly what’s going on here yet. Once they sit down and have all their meetings and figure out what’s going on as far as Darryl and all that … he’s been under the gun a little bit lately, but like anything else, the first day everybody wants him gone and now it’s calmed down and people are like ‘OK, let’s regroup and give him another chance.”‘
Darryl Sutter hinted Monday personality problems in the dressing room were among the reasons he dealt Olli Jokinen to the Rangers forwards Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins on Feb. 1, as well as sending Dion Phaneuf to Toronto a day earlier for forwards Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers, Matt Stajan and defenceman Ian White.
Iginla insisted there wasn’t friction in the dressing room.
“I didn’t see it,” the captain said. “Not everybody on every team gets a long all the time. Over the years there are sometimes where people struggle with battling with the coaches and things like that. This year, we didn’t perform, but I don’t believe that was the case.”
Added Conroy: “Everybody is disappointed and everyone is upset and mad, but as far as getting along, there wasn’t a yelling match, there wasn’t any fights. We all tried to come together as quickly as we could and it didn’t work out. Whether I’m here or not, I think it’s going to be a very tight locker room next year.”
Iginla also says he and the players did not have a problem with Brent Sutter’s coaching style.
“I’ve read that a lot and that honestly isn’t the case. I’ve had a good relationship with Brent. I think he’s a very good coach,” Iginla said. “The guys bought into it. We make mistakes on the ice and it might look like we’re not doing all the right things all the time, but it’s not because we disagree with the coach.”
Among the highlights for the Flames were the play of goaltender Mikka Kiprusoff, who put up solid numbers of a 2.31 goals-against average and a save percentage of .920.
Defenceman Marc Giordano, 26, developed into a top-two defenceman with a plus-17 rating and 11 goals and 19 assists in all 82 games. Ian White had an immediate impact on the club upon his arrival with 12 points in 27 games and a plus-7 rating.
Forward Rene Bourque had a second straight 20-goal season since the Flames acquired him from Chicago in 2008.
White, 25, is due for restricted free agency and a substantial raise on his $850,000 salary.
“I think we were a little better than a playoff team,” White said. “We have all the elements: great goaltending, great defence and a lot of depth up front. It’s a shame we didn’t get in this year because we do have some talent in that locker room.”
The lowlights were a home record of 20-17-4 and a nine-game streak without a win in January that included six games at home where the team earned only one point.
Jokinen, acquired at the trade deadline in 2009, never panned out as a No. 1 centre on Iginla’s line, which contributed to his departure. Hagman, Stajan and Kotalik combined for 11 goals after they were acquired by the Flames.