A lot has been said about the Saddledome and the team that inhabits the arena. Calgary Flames were poised for Cup glory ever since their last trip to the finals in 2007, but things haven’t quite gone to plan and the team is now second from bottom in the Western Conference. I know the analysts and panellists from TSN and CBC have weighed in on the teams’ struggles as well as many bloggers before me, but I wanted to add my two pence (as the English saying goes) into the conversation.
After thinking about it and discussing the situation with an avid Flames fan, I’ve drawn a few conclusions of my own. Despite being a sworn Habs fan I’ve got a soft-spot for the Flames. After all they’ve got a few Finns playing for them and I generally follow any team that has Finns on the roster. Additionally one of my favourite players Theo Fleury established himself with the team.
First off, if we break down the team from the goal upwards, Kiprusoff is one of the best, if not THE best goalie in the world of hockey today. Remember it was his fairytale play once traded from the Sharks in 2007 that was the backbone of the Flames’ Stanley Cup effort. Kipper is poised to carry the team by playing 80% of the games if not more this year. Kipper played 73 games last season and is again backed up by a relatively in-experienced goalie (Henrik Karlsson) again. This goaltending tandem means that Kipper is poised to carry the team through the season, an incredible strain on a goalie. Of late, the trend in many Stanley Cup winning teams are the strong goal tending tandems. Think back to Anaheim with J-S Giguerre and Bryzgalov as one of the most recent examples or the Redwings duo of Chris Osgood and Howard. However, strong goaltending is not always a guarantee for the cup, as seen last year with Blackhawks and Flyers.
Defensively, the Flames have relied on Jay Bouwmeester since Dion Phaneuf was traded to Toronto, leaving the defensive crops weak. Bouwmeester is the undoubted leader of the Flames’ defence and his stats stand at +/- 7. Other than Bouwmeester, defence men in the + side of the stats are: Cory Sarich, Mark Giordano and Robyn Regehr.
Offensively, Flames were at a centre of controversy after it acquired Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay during the off season. Tanguay has been great, Jokinen however, has been a dud. Only five players out of 15 have posted a positive +/- statistic this season. You could, of course debate it by ice time and so forth, but these are just quick observations. Captain Jarome Iginla has come under a lot of criticism for lack of offense early, but it looks like he is heating up as the season goes on. The Flames need offense, but they are getting it from far too few players. Jokinen for example is on pace to score a measly 8 goals this season. Though I wouldn’t want to count Jokinen off just yet, he might hot up in important games like he did for team Finland in the Olympic bronze final.
On Jokinen though, I find it strange he can rack up the points in pre-season, but as soon as the real games begin he disappears, which didn’t happen in his previous teams (Florida and Phoenix). However, I will not criticize Jokinen anymore. He is a far better player than I will ever be.
With the roster that the Flames have together, it should by all intents and purposes be a play-off contender, maybe not a cup winner but nothing is certain in the world of hockey.
For me the Flames’ problems seem more to be at the office side rather than anything else. The thing that I find difficult to grasp is that the players have, or should have had time to get used to the coach and the new style he brought. For Sutter, I’m going to say that he has pretty much the same tools in use as last season so I find it difficult to understand why he can’t get it done. He is surrounded by a core of good, talented players who aren’t producing at the level that they should be (apart from Tanguay). I know the Sutter family has been great for hockey and they have been hugely successful on the ice, behind the bench and in the front office, but I think having a Sutter in the front office and behind the bench was a bad move for Calgary. Firing someone is always difficult, but even more so when it’s family that you have to let go. It always gets ugly.
The team has tried a shakeup of the roster by acquiring Anton Babchuck and Tom Kostopolous from the Hurricanes, but it still isn’t happening for the flames. There are the odd few moments of brilliance and signs for the better, but it will not do the team any good what-so-ever if the good performances are followed by a string of bad ones. Consistency is king in hockey, its as simple as that.
Given the Flames’ spectacular slump last season and the poor start to this season, the team needs to do something to quickly wake up the team. I know firing a coach is more common in the European leagues than it is in the NHL but do the Flames have any other options? Sutter should be giving Sutter a long hard look and think whether his work is best for the franchise and their chances of success.
It’s a tough situation to be in, but I know I would’ve pushed the panic button long time ago.