After their loss last night to the Los Angeles Kings, the Calgary Flames, who have missed the playoffs three straight years, are currently sitting in 14th place in the Western Conference with a 5-7-3 record. Many would say its early, but this shortened 48 game season is nearly 1/3 complete.
The Flames, who have not won a playoff series since their dramatic run to the Stanley Cup final in 2004 continue to live off that former glory. Management led first by Darryl Sutter, and now by Jay Feaster, have executed a number of short-term band-aid like moves over recent years in an attempt to surround the core of Jarome Iginla and Mikka Kiprusoff with enough talent to go on a similar type run.
In recent years we’ve seen moves that have worked, such as free agent deals to bring back Alex Tanguay, and last summer’s signing of Jiri Hudler. But we’ve also seen moves that have been puzzling, and in many ways turned out to be disasters. The trade of Dion Phaneuf and Keith Aulie to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the lack of impact players received in return is one that stands out. The subsequent big money deal given to Matt Stajan is another. And last, but certainly not least are the big trades/free-agent signings of Jay Bouwmeester (-21 last season, $6.68 million cap hit), and Dennis Wideman ($5.25 million cap hit). Put it all together and we keep seeing the same aging core surrounded by a group that is just good enough to finish on the outside of the playoffs.
Meanwhile the Flames have not been amassing a great stable of prospects. While 2011 first round pick Sven Baertschi is an absolute stud and the jury is certainly out on 2012 draftee Mark Jankowski. Earlier high draft picks such as Greg Nemisz, Mitch Wahl, and Leland Irving have turned into what can best be described as busts. Tim Erixon was a good pick who spurned the organization and ended up traded to the Rangers. Meanwhile the 2007 second round pick, 2009 second round pick, 2010 first and second rounders, and 2013 second rounder, have all been traded away in search of short term fixes for the organization.
They say the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. If that is true, then the Calgary Flames are insane. Despite an aging core that continually loses in the first round (2006-2009), or misses the playoffs (2010-12), the Flames have never committed to a full scale rebuild of this organization. They continually try to paper over the holes of the team with big money free agent signings, and trades that sacrifice the future of the team in order to try and win in the present. Its not working, and Calgary management needs to realize that its time to move on.
The Flames would be best served to take a good, hard look at their team, and start the rebuild now. This team is not a Stanley Cup Contender, in fact with the way they are currently playing, they are likely to once again miss the playoffs. Yes, I realize this means some painful decisions need to be made. Its time for franchise icon, Jarome Iginla to be moved to a contender for a package of picks and prospects. He is still a great player, but is getting older, and moving him can really accelerate a rebuild. A similar move should be made with Mikka Kiprusoff once he recovers from his recent knee injury. Other soon to be UFAs such as Anton Babchuk and Blake Comeau should be dumped for whatever the Flames can get, and trades for veterans such as Mike Cammalleri, Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Tanguay, Cory Sarich, and Lee Stempniak should be explored. Yes, I know that some of these players have “No Trade Clauses” or modified NTCs; however there have been many trades of players with such clauses over the years.
One player where a decision must be made is Roman Cervenka. He is certainly young enough to be part of Calgary’s long term vision, however he is also scheduled to be a UFA this summer. A new contract should be explored, but if he chooses not to re-sign prior to the trade deadline, a move must also be made.
In short, its time for Calgary to stop chasing the impossible dream, and to make the painful but smart decision to rebuild their club from the bottom up. It may feature some short-term pain for fans in the Saddledome, but the long-term payoff of a proper rebuild, and becoming a true Cup Contender can not be achieved by continuing down the team’s current path. The past several years have shown that. Its now time for GM Jay Feaster to take a leadership role and make the choice to look towards the future of the Flames.
And that’s the last word.