There is a significant amount of uncertainty swirling around the Calgary Flames for the first time in over a decade. Call-in shows and local discussions over that time have made the gradual transition from discussing who the Flames will play in the opening round of the playoffs, to how well the Flames need to play to make the playoffs, and finally to the current conversation about who the Flames should draft this year.
With nine games remaining in the season and the Flames firmly hemmed in to a bottom-three overall position in the standings, there doesn’t seem to be much enthusiasm to discuss the current on-ice product. The Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester trades are still lively topics of debate, Jay Feaster’s performance as general manager is increasingly scrutinized by the day, and theories of the organization’s upcoming summer are discussed, denied, and argued.
Despite this, there are still nine games left on the Flames docket. While the results of the games certainly will serve to do little other than influence their position in the draft lottery, there are reasons beyond offseason ramifications to tune in to Flames games. There may not be much relevant winning to be done, but the franchise is beginning to embrace a new direction and every journey begins with the first few steps. These remaining games can serve as those steps.
The Swan Song of Miikka Kiprusoff
Although confirmed by neither Kiprusoff or the Flames, the star goaltender’s refusal to agree to an extension and a trade with/to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the trade deadline last week seems to fall in line with former coach Mike Keenan’s claim that it was always expected Kiprusoff would retire at the end of the 2012-2013 season. The numbers seems to back up Keenan’s assessment, as the goalie is set to make just $1.5 million in salary next season – also the last year of his contract. Kiprusoff’s contract is similar to those of Chris Pronger, Marian Hossa, Roberto Luongo, and Ilya Kovalchuk in that the latter years seem to have incredibly decreased value in order to bring down the average annual cap hit.
If this is indeed the case, these last few games will serve as Kiprusoff’s last ever as a Calgary Flame – maybe even as an NHLer. Acquired for a second round pick in 2003, Kiprusoff became a cult hero during Calgary’s Cinderella Cup-Finals run the subsequent spring. He followed that up with a Vezina trophy in 2006 as well as eventually surpassing Mike Vernon to become the all-time wins leader for the Flames. While this year is certainly not consistent with his sterling reputation, it would simply be unjust to not recognize his career down the stretch.
Young Guns 2.0
During the first rebuilding phase of the Flames, from the late 1990s through the early 2000s, the franchise marketed its product as “The Young Guns” and fans refer to this period of missed playoffs and disappointing draft picks (hello Daniel Tkaczuk and Rico Fata) as the Young Guns Era.
While ideally the following rebuild will not be a repetition of the franchise’s darkest times, the current franchise does afford young players with quality NHL ice time much like those Young Guns teams did. Max Reinhart earned an assist in the sole Flames goal during the Flames 4-1 loss to Vancouver last night while earning 14:11 of ice time. Sven Baertschi has also been recalled from Abbotsford after a rocky start and an injury saw him garner only one assist in 12 games to start the year and played 17:23 in the game against the Canucks. Both will be interesting players to watch as this stretch essentially serves as an early audition of their skills for 2013-2014.
Defensemen T.J. Brodie will also see expanded minutes, particularly due to the trading of minute-muncher Jay Bouwmeester. His 26 minutes on the ice paced the entire team last night and he saw over two minutes of power play opportunity. While his offensive capabilities are certainly adjusted to the NHL level, the expanded workload will allow him consistent opportunity to adapt to defensive play as well.
Calgary’s Next Captain
There are numerous suitors that will be looked upon to assume the throne vacated by Jarome Iginla. Their attitude and play during this stretch could heavily influence who will become Calgary’s first new captain in a decade. With so many young bodies now playing big minutes, it has never been more imperative that veterans set work ethic examples as well as stress the importance of competitive integrity despite the lost season.
While even rookies probably can appreciate the important values of simply trying hard and competing, this still is a lost season and frustrations could still conceivably be aired. Prominent Flames veterans under contract next season include a Stanley Cup winner in Alex Tanguay, a playoff performer in Mike Cammalleri, a gritty goal scorer in Curtis Glencross, and utility defender Mark Giordano. These are the four most likely candidates to lead the next era of the Calgary Flames, although this list could certainly be trimmed this summer in further personnel moves.
Despite a lost season, there are still reasons to watch the Calgary Flames before the much anticipated off-season begins- one that is shaping up to be one of the most crucial periods in the history of the franchise.