Well, here we are. This writer’s birthday, and instead of the anticipation of the playoffs and their possibilities ahead adding to the day, its time to pull the plug on this year’s edition of the Flames and ink the eulogy of this year’s assortment of players. An assortment that took its fans up and down, once again, over the course of the season, with the same result witnessed, and the lowest point total in 9 years. Change ahead, but the Flames and its players, coaches, management owners and fans, will have a long 6 months worth of soul searching to build the roster, and fan anticipation, back to the level it was a distant 6 months ago. Although its the end and for some, the beginning of the next stage in the Flames franchise’s development, the end is the end, and its always hard for the involved fans who spend time day to day and week to week staying on top of each and every move and even every word by management, to have that day to day routine vanish for the next 6 months, when all the future moves will start to actually play out on the ice, not on paper.
First things first, the game this afternoon.
On The Line
The Jays comes off a dramatic comeback 2 days ago in Cleveland. The late inning heroics to tie the game in the 9th, the solid work by the bullpen to hold the Indians to 11 scoreless innings, and the 3 run Arancebia blast in the longest opening day game in MLB history, have the Jays in high spirits, and hopefully will spill in today’s game, where on the line is the potential first series clinching win of the season. Oh, and there’s a hockey game in Calgary between two non-playoff teams, which has less relevance to most watching on TV and in the Saddledome seats, than the Toronto Blue Jays’ second game of the year.
Let’s keep this short, shall we. This game was dominated by one story, and that was the play of Akim Aliu. After pinballing his first NHL goal in 4 minutes in, he becomes Ducks’ enemy #1, drawing all sorts of attention from various members of the Ducks. Such interest in the young Flames player resulted in all 4 of the Ducks penalties against him on the afternoon. The Flames did not take advantage, and the Ducks pulled level after some terrible officiating giving Mark Girodano a high sticking call for having his skate come up and hit Andrew Cogliano in the ear. Follow that up with a diving Jason Blake drawing a second penalty on Cory Sarich for a 2 man advantage. Just after the first penalty expires, Bobby Ryan pots his 30th goal of the year through the wide open legs, with stick nowhere to be found, Henrik Karlsson. Another two man advantage 5 minutes later for the Ducks gets killed off by the Flames. With any interest and motivation had for the Ducks now gone, the Flames tack on two late second period goals 25 seconds apart, from Jay Bouwmeester and Anton Babchuk. Aliu’s memorable night continues in the third, with a second goal fluttering into the net after hitting his posterior and popping up into the air, and the getting a 10 minute misconduct from referees not wanting their bosses to be asking any more questions to them about this game, and preventing any flair ups as the season winds down. Bobby Ryan with an after thought of a second goal, and just like that, another edition of the Flames franchise, is in the books. 25 -23 shots for the Ducks, but its the home fans going home seeing the hometown team walk out with the victory.
- Miika Kiprusoff: Not playing today, but his outstanding play all season, some of his best work yet in another 70+ game season, kept the Flames in it all year, and the team’s MVP by a wide margin…and those are on the saves that look tough, never mind the ones he makes look easy.
- Teemu Selanne: Lead the Ducks in points this year, at age 41. A class guy on and off the ice, lets hope the NHL has yet to see the last from him, and one always wonders how the Flames of the mid-90’s would’ve fared if Winnipeg never matched that RFA offer sheet almost 30 years ago.
- Akim Aliu: Two goals are two goals, however awkwardly achieved, but his fiestiness drew all sorts of reaction and penalties from a plethora of Ducks players, who made him a focus of the game. Far too early to judge if this is a one off for his ability to get under the skin of opponents, or if he has the staying power in the NHL to play a regular shift playing that way, given the circumstances of the last two games of the year, but that sort of edge and nastiness hasn’t been seen around Flames’ parts basically since Ville Niemenen was running goalies and Stanley Cup finalist captains from behind.
Aliu hammers Cam Fowler twice, once seconds preceding his goal where Fowler was a step slow in covering the Flames forward, the other in the second, where he draws a penalty as Sheldon Brookbank takes a shot at Aliu.
The Flames shooutout and OT this year. A dreadful record, that, if closer to the NHL average, may have meant, that by playing the same way, yet winning more skills competitions than they did, that today’s game may have meant something. Alas. However, this is certainly something to be addressed in the offseason as much as you can possible devote to working on that aspect as individuals and collectively.
Odds and Ends
Flames finish 23-12-6 at home but 14-17-10 on the road, good for 90 points, the lowest in almost a decade (2002-03). Depending on outcomes this evening, good enough for 9th or 10th place in the conference, 4 points, at best, away from 8th. Last year it was 93 points, missing by 3. As mentioned, the shootout to blame in part, and injuries, and basically just inconsistent play, frustratingly so. For the little its worth, proper credit to the Flames for getting the job done for the fans in the last two meaningless games, after an extended break, already knowing April 7th is the end of the road this year. Certainly the last we’ve seen from some players that are UFA’s, and maybe one that has a contract, being backup goalie Henrik Karlsson. Just not good enough, and another goalie that does not have the confidence of the coaches. With Leland Irving showing his wares, one thinks the writing is on the wall for a player that has 2 wins in over 14 calender months as the Flames back up (at least) goalie. Flames season stats leaders: Iginla in points and goals. Jokinen in assists. Tanguay in +/- Bouwmeester in average ice time (and tied with 4th liner Tim Jackman for worst +/-).
The Blue Jays wrap up their series in Cleve……never mind. Next up is waiting for the shoe to drop on the future of the franchise. The usual exercise at garbage bag day on Monday or Tuesday with soundclips of players likely never to suit up in the Flaming C…good players that just didn’t work out or have become expendable. If coaching and or managements shakeups are coming, which may be simply that Brent Sutter is not being renewed, one suspects that to come out sometime in the next month, or sooner if GM Jay Feaster is one and done in order to bring an entire sweep for the forward looking vision of the franchise. Brent Sutter is a good coach and a good person, and he’ll land on his feet and be successful, if he’s not a part of the Flames past today’s game, and although this is a performance business, there are many moving parts and the buck certainly doesn’t deserve to land solely at his feet.
Past that, its draft time, and some key UFA decisions, mainly Olli Jokinen. David Moss, Tom Kostopolous, a likeable energy guy, Cory Sarich and Scott Hannan (one of whom you think will be back to provide the stability that they as veterans can and have provided) amongst others like Blake Comeau, are all serious question marks, depending on the way the Flames want to move ahead with the roster makeup. With the July 1 UFA crop not lined with star studdedness this year, the cap room the Flames have may be used more creatively (or, gasp, the Flames don’t spend up to the cap), and other moves may have to be made to bring in the roster whichever coach and GM wish to form the team into.
Related, and the next big question, is the best goalie the franchise has ever seen, and the player that solidified the goaltending and almost singlehanded propelled the Flames back to respectability on the ice due to his rock solid play, lack of injury, and calm under fire for almost a decade between the Flames pipes, again be the catalyst to propel the franchise to the next step, with the assets gained in his trade? It would be a sad day in the Flames franchise, but the return for such an absolute certainty in net, should return a king’s ransom that hopefully would payoff for the next decade.
After July 1, the dog days of summer, and only come early September, will everything come together once again. A long way away it seems, with a lot of turns in the road until then, and at this point, ownership has to start making some tough “now” decisions, along with the “3-5 year plan” decisions. Everything in this organization is at least up for debate and scrutiny. From the Sportsnet presentation, which took a step back this year in this writers opinion, to the on and off ice operations and management. It wasn’t just Darryl Sutter that purportedly messed this team up, his predecessor did worse standings wise, and, to be quite honest PR wise. Being more “open” to the press meant more leaks, it also meant not nearly the personal vendetta’s from local and national media types as were common to be directed at Darryl. However, the outbursts by Feaster did not reflect well on him and his position outwardly, and who knows about behind the scenes. A far as the state of the franchise goes, the owners have blame in this, Ken King has blame in this, and everyone, from owners to upper management and areas like the business and marketing departments also have to re-convene and come out with a plan to return the shine that this franchise held as one of the class organizations of the league post-lockout. Certainly some of that luster has gone, and a re-focus to make sure it returns its way to the model franchise as opposed to sinking deeper into the depths on an off the ice.
It’s been a blast friends, hopefully in 52 weeks, this writer is doing up a playoff preview rather then carving out the season’s all-to-early tombstone. Enjoy the long summer and hopefully an early Fall.
Lines (To Start):
Cammalleri – Stempniak – Iginla
Comeau – Jokinen -Glencross
Jones – Stajan- Aliu
Bouma – Kostopolous – Jackman
Bouwmeester – Butler
Giordano – Hannan
Sarich – Babchuk