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Timely or not, a reality check in Calgary

Posted by oldnews, 22 February 2012 · 999 views

The Calgary Flames have worked themselves into what seems to be a perennial catch-22 situation... They have been a pleasant surprise of late, getting themselves into playoff contention – it is not entirely shocking when they step up with a few wins under pressure, when you consider that they have solid veterans and a goaltender who has stolen countless wins for that organization. In fact they seem to be doing this year after year, making late runs that put them at the edge of playoff contention. But this year, it will be shocking if they manage to sustain the pace they have set of late, and this year is of course, yet another year later; one has to wonder if these late runs are as much curses as they are blessings…

On some levels, it was surprising that Edmonton skated into Calgary and handed the Flames their most embarrassing loss of the season. Calgary may need to brush this off as their second worst performance of the season and get back to business, but there are a number of things that make the Edmonton reality check far more significant than the loss to Boston. First, and most obvious, it was their bitter rival Edmonton and not the Stanley Cup Champions who made them look like an AHL contender and NHL playoff pretender. Second, it was in Calgary’s own building, where they were 16-8, and not the intimidating confines of the Boston Gardens. Third, Calgary came into the game with momentum and confidence, and the timing of the drubbing could not have been worse.

On another level let’s not underestimate the Oilers or suggest that those two points should have been a ‘gimme’… Facing a young team like Edmonton, despite Calgary’s overwhelming head-to-head advantage and their recent success, may not have been exactly what the doctor ordered. With nothing to lose and an opportunity to rain on Calgary’s run at the playoffs, the fleet Oilers were no doubt primed to catch the Flames off-guard, forcing the issue with a pace of game that Calgary was not prepared to match. The result no doubt made Jay Feaster take note… Is there a possible way of finding a silver-lining under such circumstances?

Having to over-ride their aging horses is no doubt bound to catch up with them... Calgary has been cursed by injuries, and obviously doesn't have the depth to handle any more - at all - and at this time of the season the going gets rougher, and guys get battered and tired as the long season takes a toll... Being short of healthy bodies creates a snowball situation of having to rely even more on those still standing - a bad combination for any team, but for Calgary it means depending even more on aging veterans and inexperienced young players.

Hopefully Feaster's decision to "make a run" doesn't come up just short (again), AND prevent them from making the moves they probably should get around to, in order to retool their team for the future. It is easy to sympathize with the Flames, but the situation they find themselves in is not entirely unpredictable, nor the result of injuries alone… It is hard to make a whole lot of sense of the messages sent this season, or be a fan of the majority of moves this team has made.

As much as it stung, the Edmonton game might be a timely wake up call for the Flames. With an opportunity to hold onto their newly acquired playoff positioning, the Flames did not lose a tough battle with the Oilers – they came out absolutely flat and lifeless. The troubling thing is that they are not a club that lacks character – if they didn’t show up for that vital game, in my opinion, it is a sign of something else. Exhaustion. They have been getting out-shot every game and depending on the magic of their go-to goaltender. The Flames are already over-taxed and undermanned, and yet the most challenging and contested part of a playoff run has only just begun. They were already living on a prayer, and despite their run, the chips have not exactly been falling into place for them.

Some people felt the Flames should have faced the music and started rebuilding long ago. Other people feel that it is too late now that they have set their course for a playoff run - their success of late, if anything, has solidified that stance. So what are the Calgary Flames? As the trade deadline approaches, they are clearly not buyers - they have no cap space to use, and don’t want to be parting with any more young assets. They seem to have made a statement that they are not sellers, not intent upon making decisive moves, and have been managing to keep pace with the other playoff hopefuls in the Western Conference. Are they a better club than Los Angeles and Phoenix? What should they do at the trade deadline?

Playoff run or not, I was not necessarily in agreement with people who felt they should “blow it up” and move Jarome Iginla or Miikka Kiprusoff. I would be inclined to hold onto those guys at least another year, if not until retirement, as they are still productive, but perhaps even more important, they are the identity of the Calgary Flames. As a result, they may be considered exceptions to the rule of moving aging assets. There has been a whole lot of talk about contracts in Calgary this season - they have moved a few and added another, but the moves haven’t necessarily added up to making a great deal of sense. If the Flames had not just added him, Cammalleri’s might be a contract worth parting with in the interest of adding youth, depth, assets and cap space. In Feaster’s defense, Rene Bourque has not faired much better in Montreal, but the Habs gained $3 million in cap space in the move, while Cammalleri is still producing at the rate of a guy worth half his cap hit.

As far as I am concerned, if there is one decisive move that needs to be made in Calgary, it is convincing Jay Bouwmeester to renegotiate his no-trade clause, and move his $6.8 million cap hit. Whether Bouwmeester is “over-rated” is one question that is debatable, but whether he is their best defenseman is also debatable, and whether he is overpaid… not as debatable. The Flames may not be terribly deep on the blueline right now and would need to acquire a young defenseman in return as part of a package, but if the decision between making a run right now, or making moves for the future is in balance, perhaps the scales should tilt slightly towards the latter. Moving Bouwmeester would not necessarily represent throwing in the towel on the playoffs. Trading Bouwmeester’s cap hit may be no easy task, but there might be no better timing than the present, with a high demand for veteran defensemen, and Hal Gill already off the market. There is likely a GM or two who may be willing to take the chance on Bouwmeester regaining some scoring form with a change of scenery, and with the premium for defensemen at the trade deadline being what it appears, Calgary may actually be able to acquire a roster player or two that it needs, and/or young assets.

Perhaps just as importantly, Calgary could gain a little breathing space under the cap – there are legitimate Cup contenders who have more cap space than the playoff question mark that is the Calgary Flames. If the Flames are trying to get better and compete at the same time, - that does not preclude making decisive moves – and the time to start the bidding is not at the deadline – it is now. Perhaps it is time to let the shopping begin – if a move could be made before the deadline, Calgary would actually have a little time to work with. As things stand, they remain in a familiar position; the chance of making the playoffs may be exciting, but idling up against the cap, with an aging core and lack of depth… that must also be getting uncomfortable.

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