Keeping the candle burning

The Flames are out again. Can’t say I’m all that surprised, I had the ‘Hawks in six at the beginning.

They actually played pretty well tonight, good pressure by the forwards, outshooting the Hawks by a bunch, but mistakes in their own zone doomed them again. Injuries killed them down the stretch, but the unfortunately-routine fall from grace at the end of the season started before the sickbay became popular, and the Flames have always been lucky in terms of injuries to their star players. Save for the ’04 playoff run, anyway.

Pinning blame is a fun exercise for sports fans, and there’s no shortage here. Certainly, the injuries hurt them a lot… none of their defensemen were totally healthy, and they definitely missed Robyn Regehr, with all the breakdowns in their own zone. Mike Cammalleri had a quiet postseason, and Miikka Kiprusoff and Dion Phaneuf did little to earn their hefty paycheques, continuing on a disturbing trend from the season. Jarome Iginla was mostly taken out of the series by the Blackhawks top defense pairing.

If changes are in the offing for Calgary, it’s likely to start at the top, since they don’t have a ton of wiggle room for what they can do with their players, with a bunch of guys signed to big deals (Iginla, Kipper, Phaneuf, Jokinen, Langkow, Regehr, Sarich), and the cap likely to go down. While coach Mike Keenan’s hiring in the first place was (and continues to be) inexplicable, letting him go would be probably a cosmetic move at best. It would give the impression of change, since they can’t do much with the roster. I made the point a while back when Keenan was hired that when he was fired, GM Darryl Sutter should probably go with him as well. So they might do that. If I were to place a bet, it would be on Keenan getting his walking papers now, and Sutter just on the clock.

After the cup run in ’04, it was contended far and wide that while the Flames were a gritty team, they needed to add more skill. They have in subsequent years, with Dion Phaneuf coming into his own as an offensive defenceman, and Jokinen, Bourque, and Camalleri adding a little flash up front. But it seems at times as if they’ve lost that hard working edge, which is stranger under a coach of Keenan’s pedigree.  Certainly, Miikka Kiprusoff is not what he once was, but there’s not a lot Calgary can do about that, with the contract he signed. Very ominous shadows of Roman Turek, though this one’s a little costlier in tightening economic times.

What’s to be done? There will be some turnover on the roster, for sure, with a lot of free agents (Bertuzzi, Cammalleri, Roy, Lundmark, Peters, Aucoin, Warrener, Pardy, Leopold, Erikkson, McEhlinney), but there’s not a lot of room for improvement, barring a trade- and it’s unlikely that many teams will be taking on salary in this climate. The Flames already have $46 million committed to 15 players (from, so here’s how I figure it should break down:

Staying: Lundmark (showed a little), Pardy (got good by the end of the season), Peters (cheap labour)

Going: Cammalleri (way out of the Flames price range), Bertuzzi (I think I’m projecting), Roy (What did he do?) Erikkson, Aucoin, Warrener, Leopold (overpriced, the lot of ’em), McEhlinney

Which leaves a bunch of roster spots, and not nearly enough money to fill ’em, depending on where the cap ends up. Great.

Moving Miikka Kiprusoff or Dion Phaneuf may sound like blasphemy to some, but those that have watched them play would quietly nod and approve of the notion. Phaneuf is the more likely of the pair to get anything in return, since his perceived value is more than his actual value, and his youth would work in his favor, even with an excessive contract. So we see if there’s a team that’ll hire Pierre McGuire as GM, and then deal him there for about eight hundred draft picks and someone who actually knows how to play in their own end, and a lot of cap flexibility.

The Flames are, for better or worse, stuck with Miikka Kiprusoff, and we can clearly no longer count on him to steal games as he once did. But one way they could perhaps help that- and I’ve been saying this for a while- is to GET AN ACTUAL BACKUP GOALIE. Not a placeholder made of cardboard at the end of the bench. You used to be able to justify the lack of a backup with how well Kipper played, but the numbers no longer bear it out. And perhaps playing that backup more will give Kipper more energy, or motivate him to play better. Teams seem to be able to find these Alex Aulds and Curtis Sanfords on the cheap, why can’t Calgary?

It’s hard to know how good this team is. As fans, we get too close and involved and nitpicky, but at the same time we like to think we know them better than some, as if they’re family. This was a team that led it’s division for much of the season, and had a healthy offense, but showed a disturbing streak of inconsistency, and some leaks on the back end.

I thought that Calgary hadn’t changed enough to be successful this season, and was pleasantly surprised until the very end, when it came unraveled as it had the year before. To us fans, the fact that the same problems seem to be repeating themselves without any moves made to address them is a little disturbing.

That said, as fans, we are legally obliged to say: Go Flames go!


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