Yeah, okay. So, this was originally going to be a short post, but I decided to break it down into two posts. This is the first one, dealing with hockey. I’ll stop beating those two drums (and ONLY those two drums) soon, I promise. I’m working my way through a couple of books and will post some reviews. Also, maybe some ridiculous declarations of affection on albums I was listening to while growing up.
Let’s get to hockey, really quick. The Flames and Sharks both went down tonight, getting thoroughly owned in the process. I honestly have zero idea as to what is going on in San Jose with the Sharks. They revamped the defense, brought in a new coach and new role players, have a solid goaltender and great talent up front. They’ve been a consistently good team for the last couple of seasons, so it is puzzling trying to figure out what exactly is the problem. Folks want to point to Joe Thornton who, for a Hart Trophy player, ought to be showing up far, far more. It’s a reputation he had earned in Boston, but people excused it because he was ‘too young’ for the captaincy and yadda yadda yadda. Well, Thornton’s a veteran now, no stranger to playoff hockey or ‘Western Conference’ hockey and he’s still not contributing at a high level. For a player of Thornton’s size and skill, it’s utterly baffling. He should be out there dominating, not looking disinterested and lazy. I’d say move him, but I honestly don’t think he’s the issue (no, seriously!) If I were the Sharks, I’d be looking at bringing in a veteran player, someone who truly does lead by example and would complement Thornton’s game. Yes, there are players that Joe works well with now, but, to the best of my knowledge, there isn’t a player like that who is both a veteran AND complements Thornton.
Therefore, I’d take a serious look at making a pitch at Jagr (cue laugh track now.) Yes, Jaromir Jagr is playing in Russia. Yes, he’s been known to take games off for long stretches. But he’s also shown that he will show up if motivated. Playing in California on a strong Sharks team should be all the incentive he should need. Added bonus, he should work beautifully with Thornton, assuming he has enough gas in the tank.
Beyond that, I have no idea. I’d gut the core (Nabokov, Marleau, Thornton and Cheechoo) and move on. Seriously, I’m suggesting grabbing JAGR as a solution to the Shark’s problems. Shows how utterly stumped I am.
As for the Flames? Well, I won’t lie and say that I wasn’t upset at seeing them exit in the first round, [b]yet again[/b], particularly after Sutter chose to make some wisecracks regarding the Canucks pickup of Sundin in order to ‘make the playoffs.’ Har, har, Sutter. Stop trying to be a comedian and focus on running your team.
In all honesty, you have to wonder exactly how much patience Ken King has for Sutter. Beyond 2004, where they lost in the Finals, there hasn’t been a whole lot to show for Sutter’s ‘magic.’ The cult-like influence Sutter had on Flames fans, with ‘In Sutter We Trust’ and so on and so forth went beyond the usual adoration fans had of their GMs when the team is doing well. It was frightening. But since that fabled run in 2004, the Flames have had very little to show for themselves. Four straight years of having a mediocre start, an okay middle to the season and then fumbling to make the playoffs. I believe 05/06 they won the NW Division, but since then, they’ve lost (and/or squandered) opportunities for home ice to Vancouver and Minnesota. Kipper’s stats have been declining at an alarming rate. Sutter has had a revolving door of players, involving such talent as Mike Camellari, Kristian Huselius, Olli Jokinen, Owen Nolan, Todd Bertuzzi and Alex Tanguay to ‘help out Iginla.’ None of them have made a significant impact for the team and, depending on which Flames fan you ask, actually seriously cost their team, Bertuzzi’s stupid penalty (does he take any other kind?) being the most recent example of this.
Now, I know that some Flames fans would point to the devastating amount of injuries they sustained as proof that things aren’t as bad as I am making them out to be. The thing is, the Flames have been a relatively healthy squad for most of the past 4 seasons. Furthermore, aside from the loss of Phaneuf in the latter half of the Chicago series and Regehr for the entire duration of the same, the Flames’ best players have been more or less healthy. Iginla and/or Kipprusoff have come up short and have not shouldered the load when they were needed the most. This is particularly true the past 2 seasons…Kipper was stellar against the Red Wings in ‘07, while Iginla was great in ‘06. Much like San Jose, there are problems with the team. However, unlike San Jose, I think the issues are easily identified and can be fixed.
In short, here’s what I think the Flames ought to do:
- Get rid of Sutter. Look, I know that Sutter did some great things for the club, but it seems that he is past his expiration date in Cowtown. He gambled huge with Olli Jokinen, a player who is rumored to have personality issues, and came up short. This year was obviously Sutter’s year and he failed. Furthermore, his method of going after aging veterans and/or big, slow players, seems to me to be counter-productive. You need mobile players, not hulking brutes. His trades have also cost the team a lot of their defensive depth, which USED to be a primary strength of the Flames. Chuck Kobasew, Stephane Yelle and Jamie Lundmark are all players who have been traded off for (supposedly) better players, yet their inffectual PK and GA have become increasingly horrid. There are also the cap issues which plagued the Flames in the home stretch, leaving them to having to dress 15 skaters due to a lack of cap space.
To me, it’s clear that Sutter’s idea of what ‘works’ is flawed and he needs to go.
- Get a freaking backup. This, to me, is the BIGGEST issue with the Flames problems in regards to the actual players. Kiprusoff plays WAY too many games, which affects his play. Why does he play so many games? Because the Flames have consistently fielded crap for a backup and cannot afford to give him any nights off. Flames fans are proud of Kipper’s win record this year, but they should be concerned with the fact that he was obviously playing fatigued come playoff time. That is Not Good. Look at it this way: if you have a backup that allowed the Flames to have won just ONE more game this past season, you’d have a division title and a (potentially) easier opponent with the St. Louis Blues.
- Trade Phaneuf. Yeah, more blasphemy on my behalf, but hear me out. Phaneuf is a strong, solid player, but he is a member of the team’s ‘core’, is young, and has great value, as he is signed to a pretty reasonable deal. Calgary’s blueline needs to be upgraded and you cannot gain something without losing something. As it happens, there is a great, young blueliner who is going to be hitting the market come July 1st. He’s also reportedly interested in signing in Calgary and is having a house built for his girlfriend there. Yeah, Jay Bouwmeester is, in my mind, the kind of player the Flames desperately need on their backend. He can skate, he’s got a solid two way game and can play a ton. Phaneuf, despite the Red Mile’s proclamation that he is the next Scott Stevens, is not, nor ever will be such. He’s a great offensively minded d-man, but he doesn’t play ’smart’ hockey and can be slow. Bouwmeester can log huge minutes in any situation, which would take some of the pressure off of Calgary’s other solid d-man, Regehr. Make a move for J-Bo, akin to the Malone trade Tampa Bay did. Phaneuf for Bouwmeester, straight up, on the condition that Bouwmeester signs with the Flames. As a Canucks fan, I’d be incredibly pissed were this to go down, as I’d rather have Phaneuf than Bouwmeester to play against.
- Look into trading Iginla. I can hear the angry mob with torches and pitchforks assembling outside my house as we speak, but hear me out. I am not advocating ‘getting rid’ of Iginla, but having the GM look into what options are available and going from there. Look, Jarome Iginla is a hell of a player, you’d be an idiot not to want him on your team, but there are some things that the Flames faithful need to realize with Jarome.
One, he’s 32. Or will be by the start of next season, to be more accurate. Jarome plays a very physical game, a game which, unfortunately, cannot be held up as players get older. Case in point: Mike Modano and Jeremy Roenick. I think there are some signs that Iginla is starting to decline and, if there is an option to replace Iginla with someone younger, they should go for it.
Two, the Flames’ cap situation is ridiculous. They have something like $29.3M assigned towards five players going into next season. That is more than half of your cap spent on FIVE players. Unless you’re looking to fill your roster up with pluggers, which would hurt your overall team depth, this is NOT GOOD. Look at teams that have won the Cup recently: they were strong teams with depth on all four lines and usually on D. Sure, there are exceptions (San Jose) but depth is always good. The Canucks had issues in the post season when they were a top heavy team, the Flames are experiencing the same pains now. Jarome could fetch a handsome return and would help bring some stability to the Flames’ cap situation.
Three, and this is probably going to be the most contentious point, Iginla hasn’t exactly shown that he can get it done at the top level. 4 years of first round exits, plus a rather embarassing stint in Torino as a focal part of Team Canada isn’t exactly a strong record to rest on. It’s possible that the reason why the Flames don’t appear to be mentally ‘up’ come playoff time might rest on their captain. If so, it would be useful to move Iginla. Yes, I know, I’ll take my place at the stake so you can roast me alive now. But, before you do, just think about it.
So yeah. Those are my thoughts on the Flames and what I think needs to be done to ‘fix’ them. I’d also argue that Keenan ought to go as well, but I believe that if you’re going to sack the GM, move your captain and another of your team’s leaders, you need some sort of stabilizing force. Keenan, I believe, has one more year left on his contract. Let him play out his contract and let the new GM select a new coaching staff once he has had an opportunity to familiarize himself with the club.