Despite the Calgary Flames’ 5-4 victory Monday night over the Dallas Stars, a five-game winless skid (0-2-3) before that threw their playoff hopes into jeopardy.
The Flames are jockeying with the Stars, San Jose Sharks, Phoenix Coyotes, Los Angeles Kings and Colorado Avalanche for one of the two remaining post-season berths in the Western Conference. As of Tuesday, they sat two points behind seventh-place Dallas and eighth-place Phoenix with only five games remaining and the Sharks, Stars and Kings each holding a game in hand.
Since overcoming a slow start to this season, the Flames have clawed their way into playoff contention, but have been unable to secure their hold on a berth.
They now face the reality of having to win all their remaining games – and for those clubs to lose more of their remaining games than they win – to have a realistic chance at making the playoffs.
Even if the Flames do clinch a berth, the odds are against them getting past the first round.
They have one of the league's oldest rosters, lack offensive punch (currently 25th in goals per game and 26th in shots per game) and their faceoff percentage is last in the league at 45.8 percent.
Defensively, they've been middle of the pack in goals against per game (15th) and ninth on the penalty kill, but they've also given up the seventh-most shots per game.
Whether the Flames make the playoffs or not, GM Jay Feaster has considerable work ahead of him this summer and his first order of business could be determining the futures of right winger Jarome Iginla and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff.
Iginla, the team captain, all-time Flames leading scorer and face of the franchise, has one season remaining on his current contract worth $7 million with a full no-movement clause.
Kiprusoff, their long-suffering starting goalie and franchise leader in victories, has two years left on his deal with a cap hit of $5.8 million. His no-movement clause expires at the end of this season.
Trade rumors about the pair surfaced almost immediately following the end of last season after the Flames missed the playoffs and if they miss the dance again this year, it's a safe bet those rumors will resurface.
Both would undoubtedly attract considerable interest if shopped in the off-season. Kiprusoff, lacking a no-movement clause, would be easiest to move, while Iginla's NMC ensures he has the final say on where he plays.
Iginla has said in the past he wouldn't request a trade, but that didn't put to rest the suggestion he would consider it if Feaster were to approach him about it.
Feaster has repeatedly denied the pair would be moved this season, but it remains to be seen if he'll offer a similar denial at season's end.
He hoped to build around Iginla and Kiprusoff, but they’re now in their mid-30s and don't have many productive years left. It's also possible they could test free agency over the next couple of years, which could put more pressure upon Feaster to trade them.
If Feaster decides it's time to rebuild, this summer would be the best time to consider shopping the pair.
A lack of quality depth in this summer's unrestricted free agent market would only bolster the pair's already considerable trade value, potentially bringing the Flames the kind of returns in quality draft picks, prospects and/or young players needed to commence the rebuild in earnest.
Feaster will also have to decide if he'll re-sign veteran center Olli Jokinen, who's on pace to surpass the 60-point mark for the first time since 2007-08.
A UFA in a market where there's a dearth of quality centers, Jokinen could attract considerable attention if he's not re-signed before July 1. He has said his preference would be to remain with the Flames, but of course that will depend on how much money he's seeking, as well as where the 33-year-old fits into Feaster's plans.
With more than $47.8 million invested in 17 players for next season, and assuming the salary cap doesn't drop significantly next season under a new collective bargaining agreement, Feaster won't have much cap space to re-sign Jokinen and bolster his offensive depth in the off-season without shedding salary elsewhere on the roster.
If the Flames fail to clinch a post-season berth, it'll mark the third consecutive season they've suffered that fate. Rebuilding around their aging franchise players hasn't worked and there's little evidence things will improve if Feaster sticks to the same script next season.
Iginla and Kiprusoff have given the best years of their careers to the Flames and certainly no one wants to run them out of town, let alone blame them for the club's failure to make the playoffs. In better circumstances, they've earned the right to retire as Flames.
But the simple fact is they're also at an age where those best seasons are behind them and they're on the downside of their careers. If Feaster wants to engage in a serious rebuild of the Flames, moving them this summer could be the best opportunity to bring in returns that could jump-start the process.
Rumor Focus appears Tuesdays and Thursdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla's Korner.