Decision Time In Calgary

March 20th, 2013 | Posted in Commentary
By: D'Arcy McGrath

Assumptions are almost always dangerous.

When a scientist takes a key variable and applies an assumption any hypothesis or result that comes from testing will only as valid as that assumption, meaning the very nature of the assumption could render his life’s work completely useless.

And really what is a hockey team, and the building of a hockey team than that of an experiment? An experiment in drafting, developing, projecting, and team building. An ability to assess the growth of a team’s prospects, the development of players on their roster, the shape of a roster both this season, next season, in two seasons and in ten.

When Darryl Sutter ran the team he had an infamous binder with players projecting out over the years. Every player drafted, in the AHL or on the big club were either in the binder in the now, the future, or omitted because the team didn’t see that player in their plans. This binder seemed to be overlooked near the end of his tenure, but it was a big part of how Sutter saw the future of the franchise.

However today the assumptions that rule the day in Calgary have little to do with development, but rather an assumption of a fan base as to the ability of an ownership group and management team to make big decisions, and inversely the assumption of a hockey team about how a fan base will react to changes that may include a rebuild, and the trading of the team’s franchise player.

Chances are, as with any assumptions, both sides have each other completely wrong … or do they?

Inside the Saddledome

In my experience the average hockey fan always guesses wrong as to what is going on inside the inner workings of their team. A conversation over suds and nachos usually takes a black and white direction when in reality there is a lot more going on behind the scenes. But are they this time? Is the team afraid to make a mistake in dealing a franchise player? Are they afraid of what the fan base will do? Do they not run the same probability models that show the Flames needing to win at a .650 clip for 21 games to get themselves into the playoffs?

Or have they kicked the tires on trades in each of the past two seasons only to find the interest in Iginla and the like lukewarm at best?

My gut suggests the Flames really really want that Lanny McDonald finale for Jarome Iginla. The two players are actually similar in age (Iginla a few months away from being Lanny’s age when he retired). Back in 1989 McDonald was no longer a force he was a healthy scratch on and off through the season, and played more of an energy role on the fourth line with the likes of Jiri Hridina and Theo Fleury the rookie. The team didn’t need McDonald to carry them offensively, but it was a good story to have a dominant team and a winding down hero coming together at the best of times.

The owners love Iginla, they love his brand on their franchise, and I would guess they’d love to see that story line.

Is it possible that they’ve bought into that “the Kings did it!” mentality that says if you make it into 8th spot you can go on a magical ride to the cup, but that will never happen if we trade away our captain?

If that’s the case it’s a shame, as the Kings, a team near the bottom of the standings for years; drafted some high quality players, and then used some of those assets to gain more experienced players like Carter and Richards. They are not the Calgary Flames.

And the Flames are not the L.A. Kings.

There has been something seriously wrong with this team for almost 6 years. They’ve tried four coaches, two general managers, and have made a bunch of roster moves, but no where in this shuffle of assets and guys wearing neckties has the product changed all that much on the ice.

The years 2007-2009 the team made the playoffs largely on the goaltending of Miikka Kiprusoff but were unable to handle the opposition when games became more serious and the favoured teams found that next level. The Flames often look unprepared or unwilling to take their game to the level required to win.

Things got worse in the next three years (four including this season) as the team slipped a further notch, and found themselves in that middling part of the standings; too poor to actually be a playoff team, but too close to blow the whole thing up. As a result the club didn’t make the radical changes required, and now find themselves in the exact same situation three plus years later.

The fear of making a mistake is real. Sometimes it’s easier to do nothing and hope it gets better than be bold and jump out and effect change.

But now things have changed. It’s no longer a fan base and a hockey team. It’s national and local media, it’s Hockey Night in Canada chuckling at a franchise so stuck in their ways that the world is passing them by all the while laughing.

It all comes down to assumptions.

The Flames are owned by several well respected business architects that have to be fully aware of their asset on the wane. From my chair I hope they aren’t assuming that the Calgary market is happy with the “win now” mentality that has seen the club neither win now nor build now for almost a half decade.

The team needs to trust us.

It’s a Canadian market, and with that you get knowledgeable hockey fans that understand the ebb and flow of franchise building. The Flames had a good run from 2004 through 2009, they made the playoffs four straight seasons wiping out a log of bad feelings from the previous rebuild. It’s time to take that step back again. With corporate Calgary managing a good chunk of the team’s season tickets the futility floor in Calgary is much more concrete than that of many other cities, even within Canada. It’s not Toronto, but it’s certainly not Edmonton nor Winnipeg either.

Nobody is suggesting the scorched Earth method that was used in Edmonton. That club is in essentially the same spot as Calgary, and looking for answers as well. However, we’ve seen the Hurricane’s, Senators and Canadiens all take bold steps in the past few seasons and re-tool much faster.

The city wants change, a new era, and something to project into the future.

The owners need to stop looking into the past.

Trust us.


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