For only the second time and the first since 2001-02, both NHL arenas in Alberta will be dark this spring.
Get used to it. The Edmonton Oilers are years away from respectability and the Flames, well, the Flames appear to be going directly to hockey hell in a hand basket.
The sense is the Oilers have bottomed out and brighter days are ahead. At the very least, the Oilers can tell their fan base their two best players were hurt most of this season and Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, Anton Lander, Linus Omark and, at the very worst, the second overall pick in this year’s draft are on the way.
But what do you tell your fans if you’re the Flames? ‘Hey, everybody, we have more than $53 million tied up for next season in the core of a team that couldn’t score and wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs. And Matt Stajan is our No. 1 center.’
Oh, and don’t forget about Jay Bouwmeester, who will be around four more seasons at $6.7 million per.
So what do you do if you’re the Flames? That’s not a rhetorical question, by the way. Really, what do you do if you are the Calgary Flames and you find yourselves with no draft picks, no decent young prospects and bumping up against the salary cap with a team that looks old and slow?
It’s all well and good to say GM Darryl Sutter should be fired. Lord knows, he deserves it. But even firing Sutter won’t revive the scorched earth he has left behind. It will still be a long, painful process rebuilding the Flames and it will require some difficult decisions to be made.
About the only thing that should save Sutter is if he is able to convince ownership this season was an aberration and this current crop of players will be better next season.
But if you don’t buy into the notion that Ales Kotalik and Ian White are going to make the Flames a contending team, the options are few and ugly.
The first one is to trade Jarome Iginla and get nowhere near market value in return. But you would get $7 million in cap space, which goes to $11 million if you decide to trade Robyn Regehr as well – assuming both players waive their no movement clauses.
But by doing that, you’ve essentially given up on the immediate future and stripped it down to the bone. That won’t go over well if you’re trying to sell season tickets.
You could also either bury Bouwmeester in the minors or have another team take him on re-entry waivers and be on the hook for only half of his salary for the next four seasons. Since Bouwmeester has a no-trade clause and not a no-movement clause, the Flames could take the bold step and do that with a player who has been a colossal disappointment simply by being the Bouwmeester he has always been. Perhaps they also could buy-out Kotalik.
Any way you cut it, Sutter’s disastrous decisions will cost this team dearly for the next couple of seasons. Leading up to the trade deadline this season, the Flames acquired seven new players – Stajan, White, Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers, Kotalik, Christopher Higgins and Steve Staios. With two games remaining this season, that group had played a total of 153 games for the Flames and contributed all of 16 goals, with no one player accounting for more than three.
So unless Winnipeg gets the Phoenix Coyotes back this summer, Canada’s prairies could be a sad and lonely place during the playoffs for the next couple of years.
But at least there’s hope in Edmonton, which is more than you can say for Calgary.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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