When the Calgary Flames made the Dion Phaneuf trade and drank down a fifth of the Toronto Maple Leafs roster, sticks, stones, and names were thrown at a then floundering team. They were called Toronto West, had taken five struggling players from the John Ferguson Jr./Cliff Fletcher dynasty (including Vesa Toskala), and had fans that felt the team had one too many Sutters (a notion never before conceived of).
Darryl Sutter was later fired as the Flames’ General Manager and in came Jay Feaster, who this past Monday, traded for former Leaf Lee Stempniak. Although the move can be seen by optimists as a salary dump, a comparison to the dark days in Toronto begs to made again, while being further explored.
At a Flames fan forum this past Thursday, Team President Ken King and GM Jay Feaster were on the defensive before the questions even started. Mr.King knows his fans (or is he thinking about Toronto again?) : “We know that you reside in one of three groups — you love everything that we do no matter what happens; you are loyal but frustrated; or you think that we’re total idiots that have never known what we’re doing and never will know what we’re doing. If you’re in [the third] group, I’ll meet you in the back alley in a couple of minutes”. Whoa there, cowboy! Then after some questioning, Feaster also seemingly lost his cool. When asked if a slow rebuild was in order, he denounced the Edmonton Oilers for their focus on the draft and stated flatly that “If the idea is ‘Burn it to the ground’, then Ken can find another manager to do it”. Rawhide!
Feaster has been quite clear about not deconstructing his roster, though messages remain muddled. Daymond Langkow was apparently expendable: “…because of our depth and options at centre ice, this trade presents us with an opportunity to positively impact the organization in a number of ways.” (TSN.ca, August 29). Wait, depth? Options? Opportunity? Back at the fan forum, Feaster clears things up: “I’m not going to sit here and say that we have a legitimate number one centreman”. But if careful cap management would explain moving Robyn Regehr, Ales Kotalik and Langkow, why try and blow it all on Brad Richards when you could positively impact the organization “in a number of ways”?
So, a team that has at times resembled the mid-2000’s Maple Leafs is now acting like them as well. A team who, after hiring a new manager, is trying to sustain its mild stretch of success (going back to the ’04 Cup run) by building a veteran team around a diminishing core (more on Jarome Iginla below). Perhaps the Flames’ impressive push for the playoffs last season convinced Feaster to believe in his group and to stick with them. Sound familiar, Leafs Nation?
Former GM and current TSN analyst Craig Button has experience with both teams. He was the general manager of Calgary during the fruitless beginnings of last decade and went on to become the Maple Leafs Director of Player Personnel under JFJ. While in Toronto, he “saw a huge company and sporting institution that thought small. And he saw Ferguson constantly bowing to the pressure to come up with short term solutions to long term problems”.* The Hockey Writers own Ryan Pike makes a similar claim about Darryl Sutter as GM of the Flames: “…if Sutter had a flaw, it was that he continually was trying to recapture the magic of 2004, despite the fact that post-lockout, the game changed entirely. […]As the old saying goes, foolishness is following the same course of action regardless of the changing circumstances”. The Maple Leafs own “magic of 2002” spawned derivative Leaf teams with aging stars, stop-gap solutions, and a captain that naturally faded away, ending an era of middling success. Which brings the focus to Iginla.
The Flames still have a star and a leader in Jarome Iginla. With him, they have a good shot of maintaining consistency and respectability. He will be built around in order to compete for the Stanley Cup. Without him…they are not a playoff team. Many Leafs fans, though mostly with reservation, wished their team could have been made better for the future by trading Mats Sundin near the end of his reign. The team haphazardly built around Sundin, without their captain, failed and the tedious reconstruction plan was instituted. For several reasons outlined in Anjul Virk’s THW article, trading Iginla is a business deal worth risking. His departure could mirror his arrival in Calgary. Traded for the veteran Joe Nieuwendyk who still had a Conn Smythe in him, Iginla became the captain and the focus of the franchise for more than a decade and counting. But how could Feaster ask him to leave? Apparently, that will not happen.
Another writer doubts the Calgary Flames. That’s not news. But watch for “Blue & White disease” spreading in Calgary. Trading Iginla sooner than later would not burn the franchise to the ground but gain valuable returns and lay a foundation for other opportunities at extended success. If the hiring of Jay Feaster signalled change, why is it more-of-the-same with the Calgary Flames?
*From Leafs Abomination: The Dismayed Fan’s Handbook to Why the Leafs Stink and How They Can Rise Again, by Dave Feschuk and Michael Grange; 2009
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