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Calgary, Alberta, Canada
I'm a Communications student who devotes essentially all of her free time to documenting the ups and downs of life as a die-hard Flames fan. If I can somehow turn this into a semi-successful career I will be over the moon.
Showing posts with label Darryl Sutter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Darryl Sutter. Show all posts

Friday, March 5, 2010

My stance on Darryl Sutter...


During Darryl Sutter's tenure in Calgary, my opinion on his abilities as a general manager has wavered with great frequency. My exact words on Wednesday night, when my dad asked me why I was in such a foul mood: "Because some maniac is running my favourite team into the ground."

It's fairly apparent that Sutter's philosophy on how to build a winning hockey team has not changed much since 2004. After losing some key players during the lockout season, Sutter acquired Huselius and Langkow to fill out his top six and then depended on veteran role players like Nilson, McCarty, Amonte, Richie, and Donovan--all of whom's effectiveness was limited. On defence, he adopted the same blueprint--Regehr, a rookie Dion Phaneuf, Hamrlik, and Leopold made up the top four while Mark Giordano played seven games and Cale Hulse, Rhett Warrener, and Bryan Marchment shared bottom-pairing duties. The Flames won the division that year despite being somewhere near the bottom of the league in goals for. Jarome Iginla accumulated only sixty-seven points.

It appeared Sutter had finally satisfied a long-standing need when he acquired play-maker Alex Tanguay at the draft; he had a career year with eighty-one points, Iginla found himself back near the top of the league in scoring, and Langkow, Huselius, and Lombardi also had career years for the Flames. Scoring improved by a wide margin, but the team struggled on the defensive side of things and barely scraped into the playoffs, where their lack of mobility, speed, and skill relative to the Red Wings was exposed, yet Sutter was still relying on those aging vets and fringe-NHLers to fill out his roster, most of whom proved to be slow and ineffective in the new, more wide-open game after the lockout.

The 2007-08 season was much of the same. Despite a career season from Iginla, scoring continued to drop and goals against continued to rise. The lone bright spot on an old team largely made up of grinders and role players was the emergence of Boyd, Nystrom, and Moss, --all drafted and developed within the organization--as possible cheap replacements.

Then, a moment of sanity in the off season. In what were some of his more brilliant moves since he managed to defy the odds and lock up his "core" players to long-term contracts, Sutter purged the team of its dead weight--gone were Eriksson, Nilson, and Warrener and in came Cammalleri, Glencross, Bourque, and Giordano (Round Two.) It seemed like he was finally getting the hang of this whole post-lockout hockey thing, and the team was benefitting from it, up until the debacle that was the final month and half of the Flames' season.

After overpaying for Olli Jokinen at the deadline, a move that I instantly hated but will admit made sense at the time, untimely injuries and poor salary cap management didn't allow the Flames to dress a full roster--and they paid dearly for it, stumbling down the stretch and blowing what appeared to be an insurmountable thirteen-point division lead, ultimately resulting in another early playoff exit. I jumped on the Fire Sutter Bandwaggon at full speed for the first time that spring.

In the summer, Darryl redeemed himself somewhat. He gave the coaching staff their walking papers, rid the team of more bad contracts by letting Aucoin walk, dumping Primeau on Toronto in return for two solid prospects (Stralman would later be traded), and re-acquiring Prust from Phoenix in return for Vandermeer. After acquiring the rights to and then signing Bouwmeester, the little money that was left for forwards was put to relatively good use given the limited pool of free agents available. The loss of Cammalleri was bemoaned to nauseam around these parts, but it was generally thought that Bouwmeester's addition to the blueline as well as a full season from Olli Jokinen would make up for it.

Needless to say that wasn't the case, and three-quarters of the way through this season with his team unable to find the back of the net and plummeting down the standings, Sutter traded one of his biggest assets in an underperforming Dion Phaneuf to Toronto for what essentially appeared to be Niklas Hagman and a considerable amount of cap space. The move left many Flames fans feeling unsatisfied due to the lack of a draft pick and a real difference maker coming back in the deal, but the potential for immediate scoring help was there. Mere days after that, a rumoured trade sending Jokinen to the Rangers came to fruition, and the acquisition of Ales Kotalik and his three-million dollar contract signed through next season perplexed fans yet again.

After signing both Bourque and Stajan to reasonable but lengthy contract extensions in recent weeks and acquiring Steve Staios and his $2.7 million cap hit for next season, the money Sutter saved by unloading Phaneuf is once again tied up in a group of fairly average players. Rather than using the cap space to chase a player the Flames actually need in the off season, like, I don't know, a first line centre or winger, and giving himself some flexibility under the cap going forward, he has again dug himself a hole in salary cap hell. There seems to be a pattern here; for every step forward, Darryl Sutter takes two steps back.

As for the team's well-documented drafting capabilities, it's impossible to predict whether or not success in Junior or NCAA will transfer into success at the NHL level, but Mitch Wahl is having a fantastic season with the Spokane Chiefs, as are Greg Nemisz (Windsor Spitfires) and Ryan Howse (Chilliwhack Bruins). Mikael Backlund was recently recalled from Abbotsford after being named AHL Player Of The Week, recording six points and a +6 rating in three games. Most of the Flames' recent picks are looking a hell of a lot better in comparison to the players Sutter drafted in his first couple years with the team, but the team's scouts probably deserve most if not all of the credit for that.

In my opinion, we are looking at a man who potentially saved the Flames. That might sound a little dramatic, but who knows where this team would be if the 2004 cup run had never happened, after seven years of missing the playoffs? If he had never acquired Miikka Kiprusoff or re-signed Jarome Iginla? I really do respect Darryl's continued efforts to build a winning team; his dedication to making this franchise competitive year after year really is amazing, and he certainly cannot be criticized for lack of trying.

He has always had the right intentions, but some of his efforts have been misguided and old fashioned. At the end of the day, it's not his fault that the players he signs don't perform as expected, but this time it seems that he's made one too many mistakes and has played all his cards. The only real bargaining chips he has left are the big name players--Iginla, Kiprusoff, Regehr, Bouwmeester--and trading one or more of them would almost certainly mean the beginning of the dreaded "rebuild."

Since Ken King essentially admitted that Sutter has an "infinite" contract, It can be assumed that the only way we will see him go is if he resigns when he sees fit. Maybe missing the playoffs will help that process along. I just hope it happens sooner rather than later before I resent him forever for paralyzing the franchise with bad contracts and a murky future, which will likely be pretty damn soon.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The deadline and the damage done


Darryl Sutter is officially grasping at straws.

Vesa Toskala, Kipper's bestest friend, is a Calgary Flame.
Vesa Toskala and his $4 million salary.
Vesa Toskala and his thirty-two -year-old wonky groin, his 3.66 GAA, and .874 SV% is a Flame.

And it doesn't stop there.

Shortly thereafter, Dustin Boyd, a victim of the great forward surplus in Calgary, was shipped to Nashville for a fourth-round pick, which Sutter will probably end up trading it in some other bone-headed deal, if he's still employed at the draft. But hey, that's probably better than him using it to draft some bum who will probably never play a game in the NHL, right?

And finally, Sutter put the cherry on top of his annual Deadline Day sundae by acquiring thirty-six-year-old Steve Staios from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Aaron Johnson and a third round pick. Staios' cap hit is $2.7 million, and he is signed through next season. On top of that, he is -19 and has all of seven assists in fourty games.

Some people might see this as trading spare parts for spare parts, only older and more expensive ones, which seems like the exact opposite of what a modern-day NHL general manager should be doing.

My ideal deadline day scenario for the Flames would have been this: minimal activity, maybe trading a few forwards for picks and maybe a prospect or two. Asking for Cory Sarich to get shipped out was probably a little excessive. But adding an oft-injured defenceman near the end of his career, a goalie whose departure from Toronto made Leafs fans happier than they've been since the early nineties, and almost seven million dollars in salary was not my idea of a solution.

Curtis McElhinney wasn't cutting it as an NHL back-up, that's no secret, but unless Toskala can regain the form which allowed him to battle for the starting job in San Jose and strike a rich deal with the Leafs, I fail to see his addition as an upgrade, especially with his salary, health issues, and the fact that he's an impending unrestricted free agent.

The Staios deal baffles me entirely. Johnson was a serviceable seventh defenceman who wasn't the most mobile guy in the world, but was both considerably cheaper and younger than Staios. While known for his toughness and presence in the locker room, Staios's age, injury history, price tag, and -19 certainly raise some red flags. Plus all those years he spent with the Oilers. This move was purely a salary dump for Edmonton, and getting Aaron Johnson and a third-round pick in return makes Steve Tambellini look like a genius; no small feat.

While Boyd was likely expendable due to the emergence of Mikael Backlund, I'm very sad to see him go, especially for what essentially feels like a sack of pucks. Maybe Boyd will never emerge into the 20+ goal scoring, second line centre that we all envisioned, but he was one of the few players drafted by Sutter who seemed to have made the jump to the big league with potential for success, and at only twenty-three years old. He presented us with flashes of skill, speed, and toughness, and will certainly be missed.

At the end of the day, the Flames are still left with fifteen forwards, a questionable back-up goaltending situation, no true first-line centre, no picks in the first two rounds of this year's draft, and a world of troubles salary-cap wise with the extensions given to Stajan and Bourque, newcomers Hagman, Staios, and Kotalik all signed through next season, and some key UFAs to re-sign in the off season. All Sutter's really done here is pile onto the heap of problems already plaguing this poorly-run franchise rather than solving them. Huh. I pretty much declare this deadline day a massive failure.

Every move made since the Phaneuf trade has reeked of desperation. Today's are no different.

It's going to be an interesting month and one hell of an eventful summer, especially if the Flames fail to earn that coveted post-season berth.

Up Next: The Flames currently sit in ninth place in the West, and the hunt for the playoffs begins tonight with an eight o'clock tilt against the Wild (Sportsnet West). Neither of the new Flames will be in the lineup, thankfully.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Crunch time


In 2004, Darryl Sutter motivated his Flames team, largely made up of grinders and checkers, by dividing the remaining games left in the regular season into seven-game playoff series. In each series, the team had to win four games with the reward being a playoff seed. With a hard working, never-say-die mentality, they approached each and every game as if it was a must-win. It was this strategy that not only got the 2003-04 Flames into the post-season, but prepared them for their lengthy run to the Stanley Cup final and made them virtually unstoppable throughout four rounds of playoff hockey.

Making the playoffs this season will be one hundred times more difficult than it was six years ago. This is a new era. We're talking about a Calgary Flames team that is only ten points ahead of the fourteenth-place Blue Jackets, six points ahead of twelfth-place Anaheim, and four points clear of the Dallas Stars. On top of that, they have to contend with other teams in their division as well as teams that are, admittedly, more skilled, faster, and younger than themselves. It would seem that now more than ever, a resurrection of the "mini-series" strategy is required.

The Flames now sit in an extremely precarious position. Theoretically, they could catch Vancouver, sitting only five points behind, but having played two games more than the Canucks. A lot of things would have to go right for that to happen, however. In a less-than-ideal situation, the Wild, currently five points back of the Flames, could catch their division rivals with a hot streak of their own. For a team whose mettle has long since been in question, especially with the recent personnel changes, separating themselves from the pack and making the post season will be a very difficult task for the Flames.

After semi-encouraging victories against the Hurricanes and Panthers, Saturday's overtime loss against a slightly better Tampa team in the same position as the Flames was a major letdown, especially considering that it was Daymond Langkow's 1000th game, against the team that drafted him. They controlled the play for fourty minutes, holding the Bolts to only ten shots on goal, and carried a one-nothing lead into the third period.

The Lightning poured on the pressure to start the period and tied the game before the two-minute mark of the third. After that, the Flames completely fell apart. Playing on back-to-back nights, some fatigue was to be expected, but not when they had played so well for two-thirds of the game. Tampa spent what seemed like the majority of the period in the Flames' zone, outshooting them 13-6 and scored a goal that should never be scored to win the game in overtime when Andrei Meszaro's shot found its way between Kiprusoff's arm and the post.

All this on top of a cheap shot by Kurtis Foster, who blind-sided Rene Bourque coming out of the penalty box, causing the Flames forward to miss time with a shoulder injury. Losing Bourque doesn't hurt as much now as it would have without the recent additions to the team, but the Flames still lose one of their best and most consistently competitive players for an unknown amount of time. There was no penalty on the play and it appears Foster will escape further punishment. Typical.

Every point the Flames can earn is of critical importance, so I won't complain too much about an overtime loss, but I'll take a win over a loser point any day.

Finally, I'd like to offer my condolences to Brian Burke and his family after his son Brendan was killed in a car accident this weekend. I really can't imagine a pain greater than losing a child. Brendan aspired to a career in professional hockey like his father, and was best known for his dedication to making sports more tolerant and accepting of homosexuality. He was a brave, smart, and courageous young man whose work should never be forgotten and will hopefully be built upon. Wrap Around Curl has a lovely tribute to Brendan over at Pension Plan Puppets and on her own site as well. Donations can be made in his name to either PFLAG (Parents, Families, Friends of Lesbians and Gays) Canada or the Xaverian Leadership Institute.

Up Next: The Flames visit the Senators tomorrow evening (5:30PM, Sportsnet) to conclude their three-game Eastern road trip. Jamie Lundmark will draw into the lineup with Bourque out.

Go Flames Go.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

An ode to Olli Jokinen/Sex Panther/Pumkin Head/Olli Postagain
















On deadline day one year ago
Your arrival in Calgary caused quite the show
A number one centre, he's here at last!
But your effort was rumoured to be half-assed

"He's a cancer!" they said, "he's not worth the trouble"
And for Lombo, Prust, and a 1st-rounder? You paid double!
Then you scored twice in Philly, and all was well
But soon, everything went to hell

Bourque went down, and Gio soon after
Then Glencross, Reggie, and Lanks--what a disaster!
At the worst possible time, your failed to score
And your deficiencies we could no longer ignore

We made it to the playoffs, fifth in the West
Against Chicago, a very tough test
You scored twice, five points in six games
One of the best players for the Flames

As summer wore on, there were some changes
Coaches fired, and player exchanges
Cammalleri was gone, and in came J-Bo
Both are making lots of dough

As the season began, you got off to a slow start
And the deal began to look less smart
Playing with Iggy, you two lacked a spark
With you on his line, it was a shot in the dark

We tried every line combo, nothing seemed to work
And it was driving Brent Sutter bezerk
The losses mounted and frustration grew
And we began to get pretty blue

We all thought you'd be gone in the summer
But on a Monday night, along came a stunner
You were dealt to New York with Brandon Prust
For Higgins and Kotalik--what a bust!

"It makes no sense!" we said in a panic
We began to wonder if Darryl was manic
In Calgary you wanted to finish your career
Too bad you had to leave to a jeer

So farewell Olli, I can't say you'll be missed
Without our first rounder, we're all pretty pissed
Good luck in New York, I hope you do well
On your absence, we shall not dwell

In April you might need a caddy
And apparently your wife hates Puck Daddy

So long, Sex Panther.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Late to the Party: An ode to Dion Phaneuf













In 2003, Darryl Sutter took the floor
"The Flames select Dion Phaneuf," he announced to a roar
Your ticket to the big league was instantly booked
And from the beginning, we were all hooked
"He's the next Chris Pronger," they whispered, "Scott Stevens, too"
Little did we know, it was too good to be true

After a 20-goal season, most fans were in cahoots
But three years after that, you got too big for your boots
You blew off Team Canada at the Worlds that spring
Then we saw you in Hawaii, having a fling

You started hanging around with some Hollywood bimbo
And your fan-favourite status was now in limbo
Then it came time for a new deal
At 6.5 million? Come on, get real!

We grimmaced and groaned as Sutter worked his magic
The 2008/09 season would prove to be quite tragic
You were injured throughout it, but played through the pain
Our patience with you was beginning to wane

As injuries mounted and cap troubles grew graver
You began to fall out of favour
They shouted: "You're lazy, you're stupid, you look like a troll!"
And your shot, well it rarely ever hit the goal

Darryl hired his brother, your coach as a kid
In hopes that he could stop your skid
As the season went on, you didn't progress
Then the team started losing, and it was a mess

Then came the rumours; Oh, how they flew!
He fights with his coaches, his teammates too!
The fans they were vicious, they booed and they jeered
And you wanted out, or so it appeared

So Sutter dialed up his old friend Burkie
And your future as a Flame was looking quite murky
On a cold Sunday morning, he pulled the trigger
And shipped you away to Toronto with vigour

Now you're a Leaf, I hope you're happy
I'll try to keep this short, and not too sappy
Good luck in Toronto, you'll be a star
Word is they have a good karaoke bar

The media is tough and the fans can be mean
But score lots of goals and they'll treat you like a Queen
Just don't pull a Brian McCabe
Or they'll run you out of town, you and your babe.

So long, Double Dion.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Wanna get really depressed?


On the surface, a six-game losing streak and falling out of a playoff spot is extremely disheartening, but if you want to get really depressed, I suggest you take a peek at the Flames' real time stats so far this season. I dare you. I'm no stats buff, but even I know when a team's numbers are in the toilet, and the Flames are in the bottom half of the league in nearly every statistical category. Normally, I avoid Sportsnet's articles because, well, they're not all that good, but it's hard to deny the merit of these two scathing indictments written by columnists
Mark Spector and Mike Brophy.

I know that statistics are not always indicative of a team's play/record, just look at the Avalanche this season, but it's the fact that the Flames are weak in areas where they are supposed to be strong which bothers me the most, and their losing ways of late don't do much to de-emphasize that. Sixteenth in the league in hits is not acceptable for a team that is supposed to be punishing and tough to play against at both ends of the ice. Thirteenth in team +/- , and a -3 on home ice, twenty-fourth in the league in giveaways, and fifteenth in blocked shots do not indicate the makings of a good defensive squad. Thirtieth in faceoffs is an abomination for a team whose coach is hell bent on puck possession. A six-game slide has seen the Flames fall to tenth in penalty killing. Poor stats can be masked by an overachieving team, as we saw with the Flames early in the season, but in this case, there seems to be a clear disconnect between philosophy and results.

On the offensive side of things, the numbers aren't surprising, but still appalling. The Flames are near the bottom of the league in all categories--twenty-sixth on the powerplay, twenty-eighth in shots per game, twenty-sixth in goals per game. Even during stretches when these numbers appeared to be on the upswing, it wasn't enough to vault the Flames out of the offensive basement.

As for Brophy's article, his assertions that the Flames lack firepower up front/on defence and are built like a pre-lockout club certainly have some truth to them, but it is not for lack of trying. Sutter tried to build what he thought would be a more mobile defence, and has had success with Bouwmeester and Giordano. He tried to add what he thought was skill and speed with Jokinen, Dawes, and Sjostrom, and tried to give his young drafted players like Moss, Boyd, and Nystrom a chance. Perhaps he was naive and stubborn in believing that these players would make up for the offence lost through the departure of Cammalleri, et al. in the offseason, but weren't we all? Brophy argues that Bouwmeester has not produced as much as was expected of him offensively, which is true, but as a defenceman, that is not necessarily in his job description despite past offensive success with Florida.

He points to the goal Sidney Crosby scored against the Flames earlier this month, where he split the defence and went around Bouwmeester to the front of the net, as evidence for why Jay was rightfully left off of Team Canada. I think Crosby has made nearly every NHL defenceman look silly at some point in his young career, even if Bouwmeester has been victimized by Sid on more than one occasion. One play hardly summarizes his defensive play so far this season, and it's hard to argue that he hasn't played as well as expected in his zone when he leads the team in +/- at +10, which, when you think about it, is a little sad.

Even more so is the stats comparison between the Flames' "Big Three" on defence--Regehr, Phaneuf, and Bouwmeester--to the Capitals' Mike Green. Green has fifty points so far this season, one less than these three players combined. While Green is considered an "offensive defenceman" and scoring on a regular basis is expected of him, the same thing can be said of Phaneuf, based solely on his first two seasons in the league. Regehr has and never will be counted on to score goals, while Bouwmeester is expected to contribute offensively, but not at a detriment to his well-rounded defensive game. The only top-four defenceman to escape criticism this season has, coincidentally, been the only one who has exceeded expectations thus far--Mark Giordano.

It's nearly impossible to defend Darryl Sutter's decision to trade for Jokinen, given his downward trending stats and his performance since arriving in Calgary. This is only amplified by the season that Mike Cammalleri is having in Montreal. With twenty-six goals and fourty-six points, he would be the Flames' leading scorer had Sutter opted to resign him instead of completing the ill-fated deadline deal that signaled the beginning of the end for Cammi in Calgary. As much as Sutter contends that he signed Bouwmeester over Cammalleri vs. Jokinen over Cammalleri, the absence of Jokinen's 5.5 million dollar salary would have probably allowed him room to sign both Cammalleri and Bouwmeester in the off-season.

Brophy rightfully points to Miikka Kiprusoff, who, aside from a few blips, appears to be having another MVP-calibre season, as one of, if not the only, saving graces for this year's Flames squad, but emphasizes that he is desperately in need of assistance, which has been apparent in most of this team's recent losses. With Dawes and Moss placed on Injured Reserve yesterday, the Flames are now lacking forward depth more than ever, and at a time when offensive production has all but shut down completely.

Now would obviously be the time for any potential trade to be made. It doesn't have to be a flashy, Kovalchuk-esque deal; the slightest addition could bolster this team's offensive attack, perhaps in the form of a player like Ray Whitney or Colby Armstrong, both of which have been mentioned in trade rumours involving the Flames on separate occasions this season. But we all know Darryl's MO--he has once again stubbornly overestimated the skill and depth of his team, and he will likely ride it out to the bitter end, regardless of results, regardless of obvious deficiencies.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

St. Louis tomorrow. The Blues sit just six points back of the Flames, now tied for eighth in the West with the Red Wings.

Go Flames Go.

Monday, January 18, 2010

An epic clusterfuck


A nine to one loss to the San Jose Sharks. A five-game losing streak. What now?

The motherfucking Blackhawks, that's what.

I don't know how to respond to this; really, it's surreal to me that a team, only four points out of first place in its division, could play so poorly against a team that they are supposed to be competing with for one of the top spots in the Western conference. How a team, mere pennies away from the cap ceiling and stacked to the gills with supposed top-tier talent, can concede nine goals in a game, allowing fourty-six shots on goal, while answering with only one? How any group of NHL-calibre players can finish a single game with a combined rating of -18?

After losing a close one last night in Anaheim, not one single player on this team showed up focused and ready to play. It showed, as the Sharks exploited the Flames' barely-there defence and went all Harlem Globetrotters on their asses within minutes of the opening faceoff. This seems to be an ongoing problem with this team, no matter the coach, no matter the assortment of players. I'm not going to make accusations of character flaws, complacency, lack of commitment to winning, or off-ice distractions. All of those things are certainly possible, but petty nonetheless.

Brent Sutter offered up the same old diatribe as he does after each and every unflattering loss; they're embarrassed, he's speechless, there are "issues" that need to be resolved. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that if these "issues" haven't been resolved by the 50-game mark, they're not damn well getting resolved. And that's not Brent's fault; regardless of the "systems" he is preaching, these players know what they have to do, how they have to play, not only to be successful, but to win on a consistent basis. These guys are NHL players. They know what it takes to win, at any level. The problem is, they're not willing to do it nearly often enough.

The Flames have been "embarrassed" far too often for a team contending for a division title and a playoff spot, in my opinion. They blew a five to nothing lead to Blackhawks in October. Lost seven to one on home ice to the very same team in November. Turned in a listless effort at home in a five to one loss to the Canucks just last month. Hell, I found getting shutout one to nothing at home against the Predators embarrassing. This is beyond embarrassment; this is an epic clusterfuck.

How many "wake-up calls" does this team need? At this point, it appears they've OD'd on sleeping pills and the front desk at the hotel is closed. It's up to the players, the leaders, and management to see if they can be revived or not.

It's frustrating because Brent Sutter is not a bad coach, Darryl Sutter is not a bad general manager, and these are not bad players. So how do you explain this team's nosedive into mediocrity, unless they were simply overachieving until now?

I commend Darryl Sutter and Flames management for their ongoing commitment to building the best team possible. He's done almost everything in his power to build a winning franchise, and hasn't gotten the desired results. It must be discouraging to watch the team you thought could compete with the league's best flounder. Cap management issues and failure to address the team's scoring needs aside, he has dragged this organization back to respectability, and it appears that he's done all he can do. I think it might be time for him to move on.

Is a trade really going to fix things, or just act as a band-aid solution? A hasty deal can't be done in order to appease impatient fans. If a trade is going to be made, it has to make sense for the team going forward, beyond the end of this season, and will likely occur at the deadline or the draft. Do we trust the management team's judgement after the way the Jokinen deal turned out? If this losing streak has taught us anything, it's that this team's problems aren't going to fix themselves, that the bounces maybe aren't going to even out over time like people were saying mere days ago, and that even consistent good play can't be counted on to produce results.

We are in a world of hurt here and don't have a glorified history to fall back on. In a small, Canadian market with a hockey-crazed fan base that wants a winning team, what is there to lose? The Flames built on the momentum of one successful season and dragged it on for as long as humanly possible. Clearly, that is no way to build a team that is going to be consistently competitive in the future.

Am I suggesting that the Flames hire a new general manager, scrap everything, and rebuild? No, there are some very good players on this team and others that they could probably do without, but when you're not getting results, changes have to be made, and not just to the coaching staff. Maybe tanking the remainder of the season in hopes for a shot at Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin isn't such a bad idea after all. Then again, the Flames would probably use their pick to draft some unheard-of centreman with hands of stone because of his "size."

I am envious of Oilers, Senators, and Leafs fans. You know what you're getting, straight up: a shitty team that probably isn't going to make the playoffs. What do we get? A team that parades around like a big tease, looking all shiny and promising and talented, only to prove year after year that it's nothing but a facade. False advertising. And every year we fall for it, buy into the hype, ignore the warning signs, only to have our hearts broken yet again. The Flames are the man-eaters of the NHL.

You'd think we'd know better by now, but alas, our vision is clouded by unconditional love for a franchise with little indication of long-term improvement and/or gratification. Such is the plight of a sports fan, I suppose.

I don't know what the solution to the Flames' problems are. I don't really know anything apart from the fact that, for some reason unbeknownst to me, I love this team and want them to do well. Any decision that somehow facilitates that is alright with me.

Somehow, this post has transitioned from unadulterated anger to quiet acceptance. Funny how that happens.

Chicago on Thursday.

Cheer when they're up, cheer harder when they're down. And boy, are they ever down.

Go Flames Go.

Monday, January 11, 2010

I want Craig Anderson dead


Seriously, how many times can this happen?

Aside from a ten-minute lapse which saw the Avs score twice to tie the game at two in the second period, the Flames dominated this game. They fired fourty-six shots at Craig Anderson and were gifted with a powerplay in the dying minutes of regulation, which carried over into an eventual two-man advantage in overtime, on which they failed to score.

As per usual in games against the Avs, the end result left me with a hoarse voice and the desire to chuck my BlackBerry at the nearest wall, like I did after the loss to Columbus on Friday. I know the Flames aren't exactly stacked offensively, but how can any team accumulate fourty-six shots on goal and only score twice? Yes, Anderson was good. He definitely stole the game for the Avs, but he is beatable, as the Flames proved earlier in the game. He also got plenty of help from the team in front of him, who blocked twenty-seven shots, and the Flames also missed the net on eleven attempts.

They weren't all top-quality shots, and the Flames sometimes appeared as if they were trying for the perfect play or the perfect shot, but at the end of the day, Anderson stopped all but two.

Which brings me to this conclusion:

I want Craig Anderson dead. I'll hire Keith Ballard if I have to.
He looks like a mouse and is too much of a goody-two-shoes to say "ass" on TSN (around the 1:25 mark).

Watching this team try to set up a play or a shot is sometimes painful. Watching the game at home, you can see that shooting or passing lanes are opening up, but the players don't take advantage. They pass when they should have shot and shoot when they should have passed. They wait too long and fire the puck into an opposing player's shinpads, often resulting in an odd-man rush against. Obviously, this is most evident on the powerplay, which the Flames haven't scored on for five straight games and have scored just three powerplay goals in their past eleven games. They had three prime opportunities to end the game with the man advantage and were unable to capitalize on them, which cost them the extra point.

Again, we all went into the season knowing that this team wasn't outrageously talented, but the inability to finish, with the man advantage when a point and sole possession of first place in the division is on the line, is unacceptable and needs to be rectified. Jarome Iginla is in the midst of a four-game pointless streak, and the Flames' secondary scoring has all but disappeared, with players like Dawes, Sjostrom, and Boyd (until tonight) experiencing lengthy droughts. I don't know if it's going to require something as simple as switching up the players on the first and second powerplay units, changing the strategy with the extra man, or acquiring a more creative forward, but it has to get better, especially with games against teams like the Penguins, Hawks, and Sharks coming up. This team's inability to finish is costing them points and wins, which become even more crucial as the season wears on and the division and conference standings become more highly contested.

I've said it before when this team has been struggling offensively, but that Ray Whitney deal which was supposedly close to fruition earlier this season may not be such a bad idea after all, especially if he scores goals like this, against Colorado to boot:


Think about it Darryl; for the sake of my (questionable) sanity.

Unrelated:

I hate Alex Burrows as much as the next Flames fan, but his shocking testimony of referee Stephane Auger's
pre-game threats and sub-sequent exaction (is that a word?) of revenge for previous grievances is a huge blow
to what little credibility NHL officials have left.

Up Next: The defending Stanley Cup champions are in town on Wednesday (7:30PM, TSN) for a game
which I have been begging for tickets to since before the Flames' schedule was announced. I will be living
vicariously through those of you in attendance.

Go Flames Go.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Game day musings--Stress city, etc.


Here is your collection of miscellaneous thoughts for the day:

- Theo Fleury has taken down a blog entry slagging the NHL and the Flames organization, saying it "wasn't worth the headache." Write this one off as a classic case of Theo being Theo. He's always been an emotional guy and says he didn't mean to hurt anyone, but clearly he didn't think before he blogged. It happens to the best of us.

As for Craig Conroy, the one targeted in Fleury's tirade, he says he's "disappointed" in his former teammate, but acknowledges that he has the right to express his opinion. It's no secret that Conroy is likely near the end of his career and is not producing as much as he would like, but he's accepting any role given to him--whether it be suiting up on the first line with Iginla or grinding it out on the penalty kill--and he always does it with class. There's no need to criticize a man who has done everything this organization has asked of him and more.

Fleury goes on to admit that he doesn't think his body would have held up over the duration of another eighty-two game NHL schedule, which many fans and pundits speculated during training camp. Eric Francis kind of goes the extra mile in pointing out Fleury's flaws in the article, which I don't agree with, but he certainly clears the air.

Apparently Theo is quite the thespian. Why am I not surprised?

- Darryl Sutter sounded off on the Phaneuf trade rumours yesterday in his typical gruff demeanor, referring to said rumours as "crap." Dion himself also shoots down any scuttlebutt, saying, "I've never asked for a trade and I'm very happy here."

- Is it just me or does there seem to be an unusual amount of negative energy surrounding this team so far this season, what with the whole Phaneuf saga and the tragic Dan Ryder news?

It appears I spoke too soon on the Flames' defensive brilliance, as they laid an egg the other night in Minnesota, allowing thirty-five shots on goal in a losing effort. Things weren't much better on the offensive side of things, as Olli Jokinen's early tally was all the Flames could muster on twenty-six shots directed at the Wild keeper. The Flames are now 0-2 against the Wild this season.

I spoke to the importance of overcoming fatigue during this Olympic-induced condensed schedule in my last post, and it appears that was lost on the Flames' personnel. Having also played the night before, Minnesota was able to bounce back from an early deficit and carried the play for the remainder of the game.

The ability to play with the same level of energy and determination on the second night of back-to-backs has long been a weakness of the Flames, and they're going to have to find a way to change that if they hope to remain in contention for top spot in the Northwest, with games against two teams breathing down our freaking necks for the division lead coming up on Saturday and Monday. As of now, I am not confident in the possibility of positive results in Satuday's match-up, in fact thinking about the game makes me squirm uncomfortably. So does thinking about upcoming games against Colorado, Pittsburgh, San Jose, and Chicago; or any game, for that matter.

Aright, one game at a time. Let's focus on the task at hand: the Columbus Blue Jackets (7PM, Sportsnet). Jamie Lundmark has been called up in place of the injured Craig Conroy (foot), and will skate on the first line with Langkow and Iginla. Glencross will share second line duty with Jokinen and Bourque. McGrattan, Kronwall, and Johnson will sit this one out while Curtis McElhinney will get the start in goal.

The Jackets are a basement-dweller, much like the Minnesota Wild. They are coming into Calgary on a high, having beaten the Oilers last night and earning their first road victory in two months. Not to mention Kristian Huselius and Anton Stralman, who always seem to have it in for their former mates. They could very well pose a threat to a rested and complacent Calgary team.

The Flames learnt not to take desperate teams lightly the other night, or so I hope. They have been playing relatively weak opposition recently, with the exception of the Kings and Predators, and they haven't exactly made it look easy. Every game has been close with the exception of that pseudo-rout against the Oilers back on December twenty-eighth. I can't remember the last time the Flames really dominated a game on the scoresheet; probably that 5-0 win over the Predators, one which still stands out as their best effort of the season thus far.

There are no easy games. There are no safe leads. Every game is a playoff game, competing for that all-important division title and that coveted home ice advantage.

TSN thinks that there is no way the Washington Capitals could possibly blow a fourteen-point lead in the Southeast division. We beg to differ.

Go Flames Go.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Game day rant--Flames@Stars


Last time the Flames played Dallas, Sutter iced the line of Nystrom-Jokinen-Iginla and as Kent illustrates here, they were terrible for the most part. In what parallel universe is Nystrom a first-line winger? More to the point, what has he done recently to earn a go-around on the top-line carousel? Is Sutter just doing this out of desperation, curiosity, or does he genuinely believe that this can/will be a good line, competing against Dallas' top unit?

I know he wants to keep the second line together because they are the only ones producing right now, but would it kill him to try one or both of Langkow and/or Bourque on the first line with Iginla? Perhaps playing with the team's leading scorer will enable him to put up a few points and get the ball (or the puck) rolling in the right direction. Eric Nystrom is a good hockey player, but he's not first-line material and likely never will be; which is unfortunate given that the Flames drafted him 10th overall in 2002.

Does this team even have a legitimate first-line left-winger? In comparison to other teams with playoff/Stanley Cup aspirations (San Jose, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Washington, etc.), I would have to say no. The sheer incompetence of this line in all areas of the game, specifically generating shots on goal and scoring chances and lately, the powerplay, makes me think that that Whitney trade may not be such a bad idea after all. Phil Kessel had 10 shots on goal last night against Tampa...TEN! That's almost half of the Flames' shot total last game against the Wings. I die a little inside every time I see Mike Cammalleri score a goal or set up Gionta/Gomez (i.e. A LOT. Even in those weird stripe-y jailbait uniforms) and long for the days when petite #13 laced 'em up alongside Iggy and Langkow.

Nystrom's unexplained promotion to first-line duty makes even less sense when one considers his play as of late (1 point in his last five games, 0 SOG and -1 vs. Detroit); he has not been especially noticeable and if any young forward in the bottom-six rotation is going to get the job it should be Dustin Boyd (3 points in his last five games). I know LW isn't his natural position, but name someone else more deserving of the position based on his play so far this season. Step right up folks, everyone gets a turn on the wacky, unpredictable Flames first line that will shortly be the laughing stock of the entire NHL! Don't worry if you screw up, you'll get another shot in a few games because we've exhausted all of our other options and don't have the resources to trade for a viable top-six forward!

At least call up Mikael Backlund or something; he has more goals than Jokinen and is quite possibly playing against stronger competition in the American league. I would look into some trade possibilities but frankly, I can't be bothered. Trading Jokinen would imply that a) some other team actually wants him and is willing to give up something in return and b) Darryl Sutter would have to admit he was in the wrong. I don't know which situation is less likely to occur.

OK, rant over. Deep breaths...

Let's focus on the task at hand: getting two points against the Stars IN Dallas, something that has proven to be very difficult for the Flames.

Miikka Kiprusoff (illness) will not start in goal tonight for the Flames; he showed up to the morning skate and was promptly sent back to the team's hotel to get some rest. Karma? Irony? Poetic justice? You decide.

I have already made my thoughts on the H1N1 vaccine debacle clear over at M&G, but I absolutely cannot believe the backlash the Flames organization is experiencing. One man claims to have sold his season tickets and a woman in Airdrie is boycotting the Flames and the NHL, forbidding her children from watching or listening to hockey games and attending Flames games until the organization issues an apology. The vaccine shortage is in no way a direct result of Calgary Flames players, coaches, and their families receiving the vaccine, and I think anger at the players and the organization is misguided and wrought with hypocrisy.

OK, rant over for real this time.

So McElhinney will start for the Flames tonight, and the team in front of him supposedly has a renewed commitment to hard work and a newfound attention to detail. I'll believe it when I see it.

Marty Turco, Jere Lehtinen, and Mike Modano are all healthy and will return to the Stars' lineup tonight.

The lines/pairings:

Nystrom-Jokinen-Iginla

Dawes-Langkow-Bourque

Glencross-Boyd-Moss

Sjostrom-Conroy-McGrattan

Regehr-Phaneuf

Bouwmeester-Sarich

Giordano-Pardy

* Brandon Prust is scratched with an apparent upper-body injury

The Flames desperately need two points tonight. They have four games in hand on Vancouver, but are now three points back after the Canucks won a fight-filled match vs. the Rangers, complete with some hilarious sound bytes. The Flames also have three games in hand on the Avs, who have lost two straight but play the Coyotes tonight.

I'm not overly optimistic that the Flames will come away with the victory, but if I see signs of improvement from the first line and/or that this team has learnt something from their past two losses and subsequent "tough" practices, I will consider it a small accomplishment.

Game time: 6:30 PM (TSN)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Semi-eventful hockey day here in Calgary


With the Flames' roster for their home opener on Thursday just about set, Darryl Sutter made a surprising move on this blustery September day, trading defenceman Anton Stralman to the Blue Jackets for a third round pick in next year's draft. My immediate reaction was: a) confusion and b) frustration followed by c) acceptance.

By my observations, Stralman had an impressive pre-season and stood out as one of the Flames' better young, puck-moving defencemen. He didn't get a whole lot of ice time, but seemed to make the most of what he got, playing mostly with Adam Pardy. The pair looked like a capable 6/7 option on the blueline.

Apparently, the Sutters didn't agree. Instead of risking losing Stalman on waivers, Darryl opted to trade him and keep Kronwall on as the seventh defenceman. The situation gets murkier when you consider that Kronwall is not only older than Stralman by four years, but also significantly less mobile. The only real advantage Kronwall has over Stralman is his size and his slightly cheaper price tage, and we all know Darryl likes his big defencemen.

We can probably conclude that this was a salary cap issue, and trading Stralman made more sense than having him sit in the press box eating up valuable dollars. With Jaffray, Lundmark, and Stuart being placed on waivers today, it looks as if the Flames will opt to carry a roster of 21-22 players to start the season, leaving them with a little more flexibility under the cap if the injury bug strikes again.

If McGrattan is placed on IR or LTIR while he recovers from off-season shoulder surgery, that could also free up a bit of cap space. These moves make sense, but exposing a player like Jaffray, Lundmark, or Stuart to waivers seems significantly more risky than going through the same process with a player like Brian McGrattan. If the three aforementioned players clear waivers, they can always be called up in the event of an injury. It's a shame to see Jaffray sent down after what I thought was a pretty good pre-season, but like Boyd last year, someone had to fall victim to the cap crunch to start the season.

These moves leave the Flames with seven defencemen, thirteen forwards, and two goaltenders on their current roster. While McGrattan won't be ready to start the season and status of defenceman Cory Sarich, who missed a significant chunk of pre-season play, is unknown, the Flames could ice a lineup of only twenty players on Thursday night. This is my best guess at what that lineup would look like:

Bouwmeester-Regehr
Sarich(?)-Phaneuf
Giordano-Pardy
Kronwall

Moss-Jokinen-Iginla
Bourque-Langkow-Dawes
Glencross-Conroy-Sjostrom
Nystrom-Boyd-Prust

Kiprusoff

In other hockey-related news, Theoren Fleury announced his retirement today, saying in his statement: "as I left the Saddledome on Friday I knew that this part of my life had finally come to an end. The emotions that I felt were the ones of someone who had left it all on the table. I did everything within my power to prolong the inevitable. So, as I say goodbye today, I am at peace. I don't have anything left to prove to myself."

He went on to thank his family, his fans, his teammates, the Flames organization, the NHL, and the doctors who helped him achieve sobriety and get in shape. In a heartwarming touch, Fleury added: "I want you all to know that I could not sign with another team. I get to retire as a Calgary Flame."Fleury is currently working to establish a new recovery centre in Calgary and his tell-all book Playing With Fire is due out next month and is supposedly chalk-full of nitty gritty details about the darkest moments in #14's struggles with addiction and depression. Ken King revealed today that he has also been talking to Fleury about future employment with the organization, and will remain in contact with him over the next few months as he embarks on his book tour.

Seeing Fleury retire as a member of the Flames will forever be a special memory for fans of the team and the many others who idolized the feisty forward and his never-quit attitude. I don't know about you, mysterious blogosphere folk, but I'll definitely be reading Playing With Fire (insert "Reading...Give it a Shot!" pun here)

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