The 2008-2009 version of the Calgary Flames was very unique. Probably the most talented group of players ever collected in cow town since 1989. So why did they once again get bounced out in the first round? How did they blow a huge lead in the division? Should Rich Preston still behind the bench after the power play went 0 for 40 to finish the regular season? Why was Anders Eriksson on the ice last night? That question is complete mystery to me.
The Flames started the season as they always do, slowly. But as they seem to do they bounced back and were leading the Northwest division for a majority of the regular season. They won six in a row at the end of October and only lost six times in regulation from November 22nd through to the end of January, going 19-6-4 and vaulting them into a comfortable lead in division. They went 7-4-2 in the month of February, finishing the month off with four straight wins and giving them a seemingly insurmountable lead over the Canucks.
March 4th, 2009, the Flames acquire Olli Jokinen from the Coyotes for Matthew Lombardi, Brandon Prust and a 1st round pick in either 2009 or 2010. A move that was thought to give the Flames that number one centre they have always craved. The player that can play with Iginla, and open up even more space for the Captain to take over the game. A move, I think, crippled the chemistry of the Calgary Flames. As much as acquiring Jokinen had been the ideal dream of the Flames for roughly the last four seasons, they did not need another power forward with a rifle of a shot. The Flames had eight wins and ten losses in following 18 games of the season, losing the division lead, losing home ice advantage and ultimately punching out in the first round for the 19th time in the past 20 years! Putting injury excuses aside, Sutter made a gutsy move to propel the Flames into a long playoff run, but the move backfired on him again, (remember the Ference Kobasew for Stuart Primeau debacle, I sure do.) In my mind, he did the same thing, and in the process gave up on a player (Lombardi) without realizing his ultimate potential. Something the Flames are synonymous for( Hull, St. Louis, Stillman, Giguere, etc.) Quick prediction: Lombardi has a career year next year in the Desert. He was never given the chance in Calgary, and people that say he does not score should think twice, because he was constantly shoved onto the third line with grinders and checkers. The limited time that he was put on the top unit with Iginla he opened up space with his speed and freed up the Flames top player. Did anyone else watch when he lit it up playing in the World Championships last year?
The Flames power play. The Flames power play.... The Flames are powerless. It failed to score a goal in the last month of the season and faltered heavily in the postseason at crucial times in every game. The inability to set up in the offensive zone when they have a man advantage was laughable for last portion of the season and spurts throughout the last four or so years. The fact that Rich Preston still has a job is unbelievable! If Sutter can not fire him, then why hasn’t he been taken off the main controls of the PP. You have Iginla, Cammalleri, Jokinen, Phaneuf, Aucoin, Langkow and Bertuzzi as your first options and you still can not produce a scheme to score a goal. Earth to Preston, a static power play with zero creativity is not how the Wings, Sharks or Bruins operate with one or more players on the ice. Maybe take a look at what they do and come up with some better ideas. Sutter, if you do one thing this off-season, please get rid of this bafoon of a coach. Maybe something Preston failed to realize is that your top five guys are all snipers, with not one bona fide disher of the puck on the ice. When Todd “I Love throwing the puck between my legs” Bertuzzi is your best passer, you have issues. Again Sutter messed up, as I referred to above, by going out and getting another sniper and not a passing centreman. Perhaps it was not available at the time, but then why mess with a winning formula, which he clearly did.
There are people I have talked to that blame Kipper for not being good enough when he had to be or not being the 04’ Kipper we used to have. The truth is, his supporting cast, especially down the stretch is not even close to what it used to be. With Regehr out, Sarich breaking his foot and Phaneuf playing hurt(and not being all that defensive to begin with), how can you expect Kiprusoff to be half as good when he has inexperienced defensemen giving the puck away or not covering the right man. Take Luongo for instance, he only became a goalie god when he started playing on a defensive first Canucks. No one berated him in Florida when he had a bad game, because he was the reason they won the games to begin with. Kiprusoff is an amazing talent and stole us game 3 against Chicago and anyone that blames him for the lost season is out of line. He played 76 games, more than any other goalie, behind an average defence core that is too slow for the today’s game. Bringing back Leopold, a smart puck moving defensive minded defensemen, was a great start to fixing the problem we have. Why don’t we bring back Lydman, Ference, Commodore and Montador while we are at it? Just kidding on the last two.
I was listening to the radio today to a fan calling in saying that, and he quotes “Iginla is the problem and with him we are never going anywhere and we should trade him because the amount of picks and prospects we can get will be worth it.” Sometimes I wonder why people speak about things they know nothing about? Iginla is not the problem. He may have not been at his best in game 5 or 6 but he is far from the core problem with the Flames. Without Iginla the Flames lose their heart, much like the Oilers lost theirs with Smyth, but on a much greater scale. He is in the prime of his career and the Flames need to continue to build the team around him in order to go farther into the spring hockey season.
The Flames had issues this year. Yes, injuries took a toll on them and could be reason for the early exit this year, but the lack of ability to produce on the Power play is the major downfall of a team riddled with immense amounts of talent up front. You turn that 0-40 something streak into a 6 for 40 pace and you could have locked up a couple more wins and possibly the Northwest title and I might not be writing this today. I know that hindsight is 20/20 but I never liked the idea of trading away Lombardi; and getting Jokinen was a mistake. We are now stuck with another sizable contract, and are now committed to just 5 players (Iggy, Olli, Langkow, Dion, Kipper) at just over $30 million. The Flames have an long and interesting off-season ahead and I will be fascinated to see how it plays out.
And one more thing, to the supposed Flames fan who was sitting in section 305, row 6, seat 9, you should be ashamed of yourself for cheering for Chicago and booing at the end of game 6. You are moron and I wish I would have ripped that jersey off of you myself.
This has been,
Newman on the Flames