Calgary Flames Post Mortem
The Calgary Flames missed the playoffs. Again. That’s two in a row for people that are keeping track.
After spending five straight seasons in the post-season the Flames have now fallen on tough times in the competitive Western Conference.
The question on most people’s minds for the better part of the last 2 weeks is, simply put, why?
Why did this team not make the playoffs? Why did it take so long for this team to come together? What exactly went wrong, and is the current direction of the team the right one?
Well, here are my two cents on the season that was, whether you want to hear them or not.
On July 1st, 2010, the Flames signed Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay. I applauded the signing of Tanguay, given the dollar figure and his history with Iginla. Darryl Sutter bought on a low, and cashed in big time when Tanguay immediately put up numbers, finishing top 30 in league scoring, and helping Iginla finish 7th in scoring, which included 43 goals.
Sutter, in his time with the Flames, did some good things and Tanguay has to rank as one of his finest signings.
The signing of Jokinen was another story entirely at the time, and I might add, a much more controversial subject. The entire TSN panel laughed when this was announced. The entire city of Calgary gasped and collectively hid in the proverbial corner to avoid laughter from their friends. Jokinen’s tenure in Calgary has been anything but smooth. He arrived with a bang, quickly disappeared from the score sheet, and then was subsequently booted out of town. Then Sutter, surprisingly, went out and re-signed the guy to a two-year contract at $3-million a season. Oh, and did I mention Sutter gave him a No Movement Clause.
Needless to say, I, along with Flames fans everywhere, were sceptic. But, I must say, that Jokinen actually over performed this season. Well, over performed because most thought he would produce less than nothing. He scored 17 goals and added 37 assists to finish third on the team in scoring – four points ahead of Bourque (who makes $1 million more than Olli in terms of money made this season),and 23 points ahead of Matt Stajan. For the first time since he arrived, Olli was not the goat – regardless of how much I desperately wanted him to be.
Sutter finally realized that the Jokinen Iginla experiment was an experiment gone wrong and made Jokinen a 2nd line threat, which is where he thrived with less pressure. Is it a good thing that Calgary has a player that hates pressure situations? Probably not, but the Flames are stuck with him for at least another year.
Moving on, the Flames also signed Tim Jackman and Raitis Ivanans. Jackman was a diamond in the rough, while Ivanans played all of eight minutes and twenty seconds of ice time before saying hello, and then goodbye, to Steve MacIntyre’s fist. $600,000 for 8:20 of ice time equals money well spent. The Flames have this guy for one more year.
The season itself started off with reserved optimism for the Flames as they went 6-3 in their first nine contests. The power play was struggling, going 5 for 42 in those games, but the Flames were still managing to put the puck in the net averaging just under three goals a game.
Then, the wheels came off the bus.
The Flames lost 10 of their next 12 games and Flames fans were starting the worry. The team was still scoring goals, but their defensive game had already flown south for the winter allowing an average of 3.4 goals per game during that span including giving up a seven spot to Ovi and the Caps on home ice and another six to the Avs – also on home ice.
The team languished in obscurity for much of the late November and into December winning one and then losing the next for a period of eight games.
It wasn’t until late December where this team decided to pull one of the biggest U-Turns in recent memory.
On December 28th, 2010, the Flames asked Darryl Sutter to resign as GM of the Flames.
The Flames players lament that it was the December 23rd game against Stars where everything started. Whether it’s cutting Darryl some slack or something else, it doesn’t really matter, as I believe that when the players found out that Darryl wouldn’t be running the show anymore, there was a collective sigh of relief felt from the Flames dressing room.
No more grumbling. No more Debbie downer atmosphere. There was a new man in charge and he was hell bent on changing the feeling around this team.
Jay Feaster wanted his players to have fun and enjoy hockey, which is something most Flames players weren’t used to under the dictatorship that was D. Sutter’s reign.
The Flames subsequently went on a tear, as everyone knows, and went from ac couple points ahead of the Oilers, to fourth place in less than two months. Calgarians were shocked, but that winning feeling back in the city again for the first time in a couple years.
Things were looking good until March 10, when the Flames travelled to Phoenix and were stonewalled by Ilya Bryzgalov and the Coyotes defence. After beating Dallas the previous night in an overtime thriller, the Flames let their foot off the gas pedal and never re-gained the momentum.
In the final 13 games of the season, including the shutout loss to the Yotes, the Flames played eight teams who were in the playoff chase or had secured a spot in the dance. Of those eight games can you take a guess as to how many the Flames won?
They lost to the Yotes twice, the Canucks twice, the Ducks twice, and the Kings and Sharks once. That’s enough right there. There is no excuse and the Flames simply weren’t a good enough team for a full season to be granted a playoff spot. The early season fumbles, coupled with a late season collapse does not a good season make.
So often this season the Flames would fall down two or three goals early, only to claw back and either lose late or pull out some epic victory.
These instances, which were many for Flames this season, were a microcosm of the entire season. Unwilling, or unable, to play a full 60 minute hockey game and incapable of playing a full 82 game schedule cost the Flames a playoff berth.
Inconsistency. Is it a coaching thing? Is the system just too hard to keep up with?
Don’t blame this on injuries either. Morrison and Moss going down hurt the team, but it wasn’t the reason this team didn’t make it. Guys like Stajan should have picked up the slack, but we all know that didn’t happen.
In saying that, the Flames were not deep enough. Their depth ended with Glencross, Bourque, Moss and Jokinen. Moss goes down and you’re left scrambling with the likes of Lance Bouma and Greg Nemisz, who were either not good enough or not ready, or both.
Backlund really came into his own when he was given the chance on the top line, but emerged too late.
The rest were inconsequential.
So where do the Flames go from here?
What happens with Jay Feaster? What about Brent Sutter? What has he done in the past two seasons to warrant keeping his job? Two years and two years without the playoffs. I don’t necessarily think he should be canned, but I think it’s an issue this team needs to look at. Once his brother left, everything seemed to rebound.
Was Darryl’s influence too much for Brent? There were rumours of them not talking, but then again Sutter’s don’t really talk in the first place – they kind of mumble and gurgle until the media or whoever might be listening walk away in utter confusion. But I digress.
Is he right for this job? Is he right for this team? Does Calgary need a less hardnosed, hard assed, bench boss.
It was just announced that Rob Cookson and Jamie McLennan will not be back this season as the Flames did not exercise their contract options. Cookson is the longest serving Flames coach, as he has been with the team since the 2001-02 season. Out with the old I guess.
McLennan has been with the team in a coaching capacity for the last two seasons and has apparently been offered a position within the organization and is thinking about it. I liked the addition of “Noodles” as Kipper and him get along quite well. Not sure what other position he was offered, but it will be interesting to see where he ends up.
Back to your regular scheduled program...
When it comes down to it the Flames weren’t good enough this season.
The off-season brings a lot of questions and will test the Flames management’s creativity and negotiating skills.
With less than $4 million to work with and a couple of key players left to sign, the Flames will be busy.
It seems they have already begun by cutting ties with some of their coaching staff.
Coming soon: A look at Jay Feaster and what the Flames should do this off-season.