As I watched last night’s Flames/Devils game, I found myself increasingly frustrated with what I saw on the ice in Newark, New Jersey. Jokinen coughing up the puck in both the offensive and neutral zone, an overall lack of effort in creating sustained offensive zone pressure and the appearance of playing down to the quality of their opponent.
After coming off a 7-2 victory versus the Black Hawks and an excellent 57 minutes against the Red Wings, where they coughed up a 4-2 lead only to lose in overtime, questions have to be both posed and answered by the Flames’ organization about their two lacklustre efforts against the Rangers and the Devils.
When I look at the rest of the regular season for the Flames, it is probably safe to say that based on past results in the western conference, 96 points is probably the line that will be required to make the playoffs.
After last night’s game, the Flames have played 21 games and sit with a record of 8-11-2, or 18 points. Based on the results thus far, the Flames need 78 out of a possible 122 points, just to get a sniff of the playoffs.
To put it even more into perspective, the Flames would have to go 17 games above .500, just to reach the 96 point mark. Is it impossible? No, of course not.
The Detroit Red Wings went 16-3-2, in the final 21 games, after the Winter Olympic break, last season. Unfortunately, the recent history of the Flames does not suggest that this kind of run is in the offing for the fans of the C of Red. Since the start of 2010, the Flames have gone 24-32-5 over the past 61 games.
GM Darryl Sutter made a blockbuster trade last January, trading away Dion Phaneuf and Keith Aulie for Jamal Mayers, Ian White, Niklas Hagman and Matt Stajan. Then two days later, traded Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust to the New York Rangers for Christopher Higgins and Ales Kotalik.
The Jokinen deal was so poorly handled, he actually played in a game, against the Flyers, after many news outlets across Canada had already reported that the deal was done between the two clubs.
During the offseason, the Flames give up on Jamal Mayers and Christopher Higgins, Mayers signing in San Jose and Higgins signing in Florida. They placed Kotalik on waivers, trying to unload his salary and lack of offensive production to any takers, there were of course none and Kotalik has been on the injured reserve list since the beginning of the season.
The Flames replaced Mayers and Higgins with Jokinen and forward Alex Tanguay.
Tanguay was traded out of Calgary in 2009 for a pair of draft picks and has seen his numbers decrease from 81, four seasons ago, down to 37 points last season, despite playing with the likes of Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier in Tampa Bay.
As I look at the Flames roster today, there are currently three Flames draft choices on their NHL roster. Mikael Backlund, Adam Pardy and David Moss. Only Backlund and Pardy are draft picks made by Sutter and Backlund is the only Flames’ first rounder currently on the roster.
To put it into perspective, the Washington Capitals currently have 10 draft picks on their roster and nine of them are first rounders. Now you may say that the Capitals had a lot of high draft picks, and of course they will have a lot more players on their roster, but only Karl Alzner, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin were top five draft picks.
Players such as Alexander Semin in 2002, John Carlson in 2008, Jeff Schultz in 2004 and Mike Green in 2004 were all taken after the Flames made their first round selection. The Flames also had an opportunity to draft players such as Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, David Perron, P.K. Subban, Michal Neuvirth, James Neal, Patrice Bergeron, Loui Eriksson, Paul Stastny, Kris Letang and Mason Raymond. Just to name a few.
Since the end of the lockout, the Flames have seen four coaching changes. Darryl Sutter made way to Jim Playfair. After one season, Playfair made way to Mike Keenan, and after two seasons, Iron Mike made way for Brent Sutter.
Over the same period time the Flames have gone from 103 points and a Northwest Division crown in 2005-06, down to 90 points and a 10th place finish in the Western Conference last season.
Thus far, this season, I now believe that they will be lucky to top last year’s totals and may be in line for a top five pick in the up-coming 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Now you may ask yourself, what the solution is. What will make the Flames a consistent Stanley Cup contender?
The current ideas of how to make up a legitimate Stanley Cup contender are old and out dated. If Darryl Sutter is not willing to change his philosophy, then he must be replaced with a person whose goals put a priority on scouting all over the world, not just the CHL.
A priority on the development of these prospects and allowing them to mature at the AHL level first and a priority on drafting players that show a great deal of speed and puck-handling ability. That can make precision passes and generally show a great deal of skill. They must look for players that can create offense, off the rush but are still responsible defensively.
Doesn’t sound like too much to ask, does it? Chicago did it, Washington is showing success during the regular season and may be ready to take the next step this season and Philadelphia after one bad season, changed their philosophy, got younger, traded players for draft picks and re-built themselves into an eastern conference power and Stanley Cup finalist last season.
The templates for success are out there. You must take three years and fall off the playoff landscape. Draft in the top three for the next three to five years. The proof of that success lies with teams like Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Washington.
It’s time to move players such as Miikka Kiprusoff, Jarome Iginla, Robyn Regehr, Jay Bouwmeester and Rene Bourque. It’s time to trade them for first round picks and younger players who can provide a stop gap that will allow the draft picks to develop in the AHL.
The Flames organizationally must follow the long term success of teams like the Detroit Red Wings and the New Jersey Devils, allowing their prospects to develop even after the team once again has long term success.
I believe in order for this to happen the Flames ownership group need to make wholesale organizational changes and need to start with GM Darryl Sutter, Director of Player Personal Duane Sutter and Director of Scouting Tod Button.
These men need to be replaced with men that are willing to build this team for long term success. They need to be allowed to re-build this organization from the AHL level first, not the other way around. Not only were the Washington Capitals, the President Trophy winners last season but their AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears were the Calder Cup champions for the second year in a row.
If the Abbottsford Heat are successful, the future is bright for the Calgary Flames.
The fans must also understand what the Flames are trying to accomplish and continue to support their hockey heroes during this process.
The problem with Calgary’s seven year absence from the playoffs was they never finished bad enough to get the superstar draft picks and were very mediocre with their drafting selections during that period. They must take the time and do it right this time.