I hope you’re sitting down, because the following sentence may blow out your kneecaps as well as your mind: It’s time to blow up the Calgary Flames.
I kid, of course. That notion isn’t new at all. In fact, people have been arguing for the demolition of the current Flames roster since former GM Darryl “Sunshine” Sutter was turning the world on with his smile and acquiring former Maple Leafs like he was the ghost of Harold Ballard. In spite of the numerous cries for change, when Sutter was asked to resign Dec. 28 of last year, his replacement, Jay Feaster, saw enough worth salvaging and chose not to clear out the team’s veteran core.
I have a ton of respect for Feaster, who, in John Tortorella’s world, has won a Stanley Cup and thus has earned the right to have it his way. But in many regards, that decision was akin to looking at rotting road kill on the side of the highway and focusing on the sole sliver of meat that was still technically edible.
All the doubling down Feaster has done on the Flames has not paid off in standings points. Despite a solid turnaround from the spiral that got Sutter fired, Calgary still failed to make the playoffs last season. And although coach Brent Sutter and his players understood full well they needed to charge out of the gate this year like a bucking bull, they instead have been much closer to one of those shopping mall children’s horse rides, posting a 4-5-1 record and the fourth-lowest goals-for number in the entire league, tied with Detroit at 23.
Only the woebegone Columbus Blue Jackets have a worse record in the Western Conference than does Calgary. In the East, only the Islanders (who’ve played one fewer game) and Bruins have fewer standings points than the Flames.
But wait, it gets worse: with just two goals and four points in 10 games, Flames captain Jarome Iginla is on pace for a 16-goal, 32-point season (his lowest totals since 1997-98) and is a team-worst minus-3. Star goalie Miikka Kiprusoff has posted a rather ordinary .913 save percentage and no longer appears capable of singlehandedly carrying his offensively challenged teammates as he once did. Center Matt Stajan – who received a mind-boggling, four-year, $14 million contract extension from Darryl Sutter before he was canned – has been a healthy scratch twice so far.
Hardcore Flames devotees are within their rights to accentuate the positives they’ve seen, but realists can see the franchise is expending all its energy simply to tread water. At a time when the provincial rival Oilers have steamrolled to the top of the Northwest Division based on patience and a roster restocked by a long-term rebuild, Calgary’s stagnation is all the more painful to see.
There’s no other way to say it: Feaster has to, at the very least, trade the 34-year-old Iginla and explore offers for the 35-year-old Kiprusoff. Moving both players would fetch a wealth of prospects and/or draft picks and signal the beginning of a new era in Calgary. And no matter how painful the years immediately following a fire sale would be, I’d bet fans would show more understanding for it than they’ve shown with the piecemeal group they’re watching at present.
Five of Calgary’s next six games are on the road – and their opponents in those five games (Detroit, Buffalo, Chicago and the Avalanche twice) are anything but pushovers. By the time the trip is over, it is entirely plausible the Flames will be in just as big of a hole as they were last year before Feaster took over.
But there can be no cosmetic changes or off-ice moves held up as the answer this time around, no waiting like a distressed damsel for the cavalry to arrive and save the day. The day, like this edition of the Flames, is essentially unsalvageable. And the hockey chiropractors charged with straightening out the organization’s spine need to accept the time has come to cut the cord.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. Power Rankings appear Mondays, his blog appears Thursdays and his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.