Alternate title: Flames Beat Wings; The Stupid Trade Rumor That Just Won't Die.
Miikka Kiprusoff finally got his first shutout of the year, making 38 saves as the Flames beat the Wings 1-0 on Friday night. Alex Tanguay scored the winning goal 12 minutes into the first, stealing the puck behind the net and doing a Steve Smith special, as he sent the puck in front where it bounced off Brett Lebda's chest and past Chris Osgood. This is an important win for the Flames in the standings. With Colorado's 3-2 shootout win over the Coyotes, the Flames are in 6th (tied in points with Nashville and Anaheim) with 72 points, now just a point behind the Wild for the division, and ahead of the Canucks by two points and Colorado by four.
The Flames' inconsistency is making me refrain from calling any wins "huge" or "momentum-building" but this was undeniably a huge game standings wise, just as the last two have been. RinkLighter said to me on Tuesday after the win in Phoenix that the next three games - Dallas, Detroit and Minnesota - would determine the Flames' fate this year. Well, they've now won two of those three games. I still believe, though, that what will truly determine the Flames' fate this year, beyond whether or not they will make the playoffs, as a first round exit is not satisfactory to me, is Darryl Sutter's actions over the next four days. That will make up the majority of this post, specifically my frustration with the current trade rumors surrounding a certain Flames left winger.
Tanguay's game winning goal - his third in the past two games - just further re-affirms a rant I'd been meaning to post earlier in the day. The subject of the rant is the rumored deal sending Alex Tanguay to the Habs for Michael Ryder.
I believe this rumor was first "reported" on January 16, during the Flames' 3-2 shootout win over the Wild. Gord Miller noted the attendance of Montreal's assistant GM Pierre Gauthier, who was scouting the Flames for the second straight game. Naturally, Miller and Pierre McGuire immediately began trade speculation. The first deal McGuire came up with was Alex Tanguay for Michael Ryder. On the surface, it looked logical - trade one underachieving winger for another, the Habs get a good return for a pending UFA, and the Flames get to dump salary. The rumor ended up on the front page of Hockeybuzz the next day, and over the next few weeks it was circulated heavily by both the Calgary and Montreal media. However, it eventually died down, only to be resuscitated this week by TSN's Bob McKenzie.
I have strongly opposed this deal from the very start, as have most Flames fans I've talked to. I have yet to talk to a single person who liked the deal who wasn't a Habs fan.
Supporters claim that Calgary needs to dump salary and Ryder is a good fit in Calgary since his brother Daniel is in the system, albeit suspended for leaving Quad Cities (although some argue that bringing Michael on board would motivate Daniel, who was one of the Flames' top prospects prior to his suspension, to return.) It is true that Calgary needs to dump salary and Tanguay's $5.25 million salary is probably the easiest way out. However, this still does not justify Tanguay for Ryder.
Calgary could have as little as $8.5 million (if the cap only rises to $53 million) to an only slightly better $11.5 million (if it rises to $56 million which seems likelier to me) to re-sign Daymond Langkow and Kristian Huselius. Langkow could command at least $4 million or more, if he wants Patrick Sharp money (what a phrase of the new NHL.) Kristian Huselius could make a case for getting Tanguay's salary of $5.25 million, and it simply isn't affordable for the Flames to afford both of them without trading Tanguay. The key word here that should factor in Darryl Sutter's decisions is consistency. Let's look at a statistical comparison between the three big names of Tanguay, Langkow and Huselius.
Although Langkow is a second line center who is playing the first line, he is one of the Flames' most consistent players, year in and year out. Sutter's trade of Denis Gauthier and Oleg Saprykin for Langkow is undoubtedly one of his finest moves. Langkow is a rare instance of a player surpassing his statistics after joining the Flames. He is on pace for 30+ goals and 70 points for the second straight season. To me, he is the most important UFA for the Flames to re-sign, and I hope he does not command much more than $4 million.
Huselius is often mentioned as a valuable part of the Flames because he has great hands and scoring skill. He too was acquired in another coup of a trade by Sutter - Steve Montador and Dustin Johner. He is on pace for about the same point output as Langkow. However, he should not be called consistent at all compared to Langkow. He has not scored in over a month and went six games without any points at all (though he has scored six assists in the past eight games - this is textbook inconsistency.) He also has slightly inferior playoff statistics to Langkow - 2-6-8 to Langkow's 3-7-10.
Alex Tanguay was acquired in a draft day blockbuster trade with the Avs in 2006 and what a trade it was - chronically underachieving and defensively challenged Jordan Leopold and a 2nd for Tanguay. His acquisition generated a lot of excitement but Tanguay's goal totals have declined since arriving in Calgary, from a career high of 29 with the Avs in his final year there to being on pace for just 17 this year. Pessimists point to this as proof of him being an overpaid underachiever. However, statistics can be decieving sometimes if you don't look closely at them, or in their context. Tanguay's specialty is passing, and although his goal total declined in 2005-2006 by seven, he also put up 59 assists for a career high point total of 81. Looking at his statistics one can also see that his goals and overall point totals have fairly significantly fluctuated throughout his career, so it's not like Tanguay's never been completely consistent. I believe the problem with Tanguay is his spot in the lineup. Although he has shown great defensive chemistry with Langkow and Owen Nolan, he simply belongs on the first rather than second line. His playoff numbers are also sublime, with 54 points, mostly with Colorado including 21 points in Colorado's 2001 championship (in which he also scored the Stanley Cup winning goal in Game 7). He has shown grace under pressure, getting plenty of assists during his goalless streak prior to the last two games, after which I was firmly convinced trading Tanguay would not be worth it.
I am firmly convinced that Tanguay is worth more than Huselius, and at this point he should not be salary dumped. In my opinion, Huselius should be the one on the trade block, not Tanguay. He could net a significant return as a rental. It is still entirely possible in my view that both Tanguay and Huselius will not be with the Flames next year, but salary dumping Tanguay would only be justifiable under one condition: a legitimate top line center comes to Calgary, and the only one Calgary can possibly afford is Olli Jokinen who coincidentally has the same cap hit as Tanguay (I am still very against renting Mats Sundin). Tanguay wouldn't be traded for Jokinen as I doubt he'd accept a trade to Florida, but salary dump him in a separate deal and I'm fine with it.
Even under this condition (longshot as it is) is Michael Ryder really the best cheap winger the Flames can get in a salary dump with Tanguay?