Ken Holland, the incredible general manager of the Detroit Red Wings, has often said you can truly tell what a team is and who they will be for the balance of the season by the December break.
If Calgary’s own GM Jay Feaster feels the same way, he best hope the Flames play turns around drastically in the four weeks leading up to the holiday season.
With the season now nearly a month and a half old, Cow Town’s big club are already looking to be burning more like ambers than the Flames of several years passed. The pieces are still there — Iggy, Kipper, Sarich, Giordano, and Bouwmeester — but the results aren’t.
It was a revelation in the past that secondary scoring could be found from alternative sources, as Rene Bourque, Alex Tanguay, Curtis Glencross, and even the nearly long-forgotten Brendan Morrison were all contributing. Alongside the core that was there, it seemed like the Flames were, at the very least, a playoff team. On paper, they should be, of that there is no doubt.
Key word: on paper.
The results just haven’t been there for Calgary of late, and this season looks like it is headed in the exact same direction. Last year I remember vividly writing about Jay Feaster and the decisions he had to make; was it time to trade Iginla, Kipper, or any of the young pieces to try and get a quick fix or should he start a long-term rebuild? I also remember the weeks following that piece where the Flames began to climb the Western Conference at a rapid rate, turning crow into a delicacy often eaten by those who have cleansed their palette by removing their foot from their mouth.
Jay Feaster’s Flames haven’t exactly been what the Calgary faithful had hoped
An amazing run, however, fell short. The Flames fizzled out as the playoffs were very near, and the dream died. The Flames missed the playoffs for the second straight season, this time by a measly four points. For Flames fans, it was a tough pill to swallow. But it gave them hope for what was to come. Maybe the promotion of Jay Feaster to GM, and the removal of his interim tag, was the team moving in the right direction.
Then came this season’s regression. Last year’s team seems to have taken the ice again, but it’s not that squad that made the incredible playoff push; it’s the team that couldn’t quite figure it out when they hit the ice.
And with that, the question arises once again: Is it time for a fire sale in Calgary?
The thing that makes this most interesting, and very plausible, for Feaster and his front office is the amount of contracts that are set to come off the books next season. Hitting Unrestricted Free Agency next season are Olli Jokinen, Lee Stempniak, David Moss, Brendan Morrison, Tom Kostopolous, Tim Jackman, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, Cory Sarich, and Scott Hannan. Nine contracts off the books — a total of roughly $14.1 million off the Cap.
Of those guys, come trade deadline especially, some teams will be looking for cheap depth scoring, and a handful of the players listed there — Stempniak, Moss, Morrison — can bring that to a team. If a team needs a shutdown defenseman at deadline day, Cory Sarich’s availability would certainly be of great interest.
Add to this the possibility of trading away Jarome Iginla, another $7 million off the books, and what he would bring back to the team. Iginla moving at the deadline would bring a wealth of riches back to Calgary, of that you can be sure. A player of his calibre and one who has been to a Stanley Cup final, meaning he has that all important experience we talk about every playoffs, would at least fetch a player who can play now, a prospect, and a high pick. His worth to any team is at least that, and you can be sure Feaster would be looking for that in return.
The thing that will hurt the Flames, especially if he cannot turn it around, is the contract of Rene Bourque — an annual cap hit of $3.3 million per year until 2015-16 — which is looking like a massive mistake right now. Last season, the contract looked like an absolute gem, but the tides are quickly turning on Bourque. His 27 goals last year, tying a career high, and 50 points were good for fourth on the team in scoring, and the price the Flames paid for those points wasn’t exactly egregious.
This year, though? We’re seeing a different Bourque. Different in that to this point, 16 games into the campaign, Bourque has a mere five goals (setting him on pace for 25 this season). That total, and his numbers, are somewhat deceiving. Bourque has gone eight games without a point, let alone a goal, and this stretch without a point is his second extended period without a his name appearing on the score sheet this season alone.
Could 2011-12 be the last season we see Miikka Kiprusoff between the pipes for the Flames?
In general, nothing is working for the Flames right now. At times, it seemed the only thing keeping the team together was the play of Miikka Kiprusoff. While his save percentage, a more than respectable .923, is a good sign, the fact that he isn’t exactly stealing games is hurting the team thus far. In past years, the Flames have counted on Kipper to do exactly that: win them one himself. He hasn’t done that this season.
So what does Feaster do?
Moving players out tells the fans, some of the most dedicated and supportive fans in the league, that they’re going to have to put up with some less than satisfactory play for a while. But if the fans can deal with it, it looks like the right move. Iginla, Kipper, and all their stars are only getting older, and if you look to the farm system, well, there isn’t much to write home about.
Calgary’s top prospects look to be Sven Baertschi, fellow winger Greg Nemisz and defenseman T.J. Brodie, but aside from those three the talent is far from deep. Bringing in the picks from trading away the top talent would help to restock the farm, something absolutely necessary for the team to begin to succeed and something Flames fans should be pointing to as a reason for this shift into the bottom half of the Western Conference.
For the long-term success, and any general manager in the situation that Feaster finds himself in would likely tell you that it’s a long-term plan at this point, Feaster needs to move players out to strengthen the team for the future. It seems that it is not a matter of who, how, or what Feaster does, it is a matter of when he decides to and what he gets back. That will be the true test of the fans faith in Feaster, the support of the ownership, and what direction he wishes to lead the Flames.
It’s time to start making moves in Calgary, before the Flames burn out altogether.