July 22nd, 2013 | Posted in Game Takes
By: D'Arcy McGrath
We all saw it coming, urged it to happen, begged for those in charge to see the same.
Yet year after year after year after year, the Flames continued to plug along with a roster and core that just wasn’t taking steps forward.
Did they evaluate the team in a more positive light? Did ownership not care about the roster as much as the gate receipts and felt it was better to forge ahead with an inept group of declining stars and a full building then risk a 70% full building and less revenue?
Were they afraid the city wouldn’t accept a rebuilding phase in Flames history?
Given their absolute abject fear of the word rebuild in March my guess is exactly that. The didn’t understand or give the Calgary market the credit they deserve as being sophisticated hockey fans that understand the ebb and flow of team building.
This isn’t Nashville or Carolina.
Part of the reason for such a vast understatement of the market’s resolve is the last big rebuild that took 7 years through the mid 90s to the turn of the century. That team was gutted due to financial reasons, and there was little hope to marry up to the gloom. The Flames sucked, and even if they didn’t suck they’d just lose their players to bigger market teams. There was no now, and there was very little future.
When the curtain was raised at the Flames development camp ten days ago the buzz was palpable. The Flames brain trust was visibly thrilled when interviewed on line or for local and national TV.
As is always the case, people that are assessing public sentiment have to be careful not to pay too much attention to the really loud minority, and dig deeper to find the sentiment of the quiet but happy majority.
People that really understand hockey are starved for a true rebuild, as was seen at Winsport for a week straight. People came out of the wood work to watch practice drills. They showed up 90 minutes early to find seating to watch red/black games. They waited between ice times to watch players, get pictures, and get autographs signed.
Predictably the Flames brass noticed this and have altered their vernacular away from coy terms like retool over to the more accepted term of rebuild.
It’s here. The city appears ready for it.
Calgarypuck was launched in 2000, and over those 13 years I’ve seen a lot of development/rookie camps. Many regulars on the site could certainly claim the same thing.
We as a group would have a tough time denying the difference between this July and any previous incantation of a summer camp; more players to keep an eye on, and more creme at the top of the pile.
As a fan of the Flames, and a fan of their fans it’s exhilarating to see the energy and enthusiasm in the web site these days. I know I’m personally a lot more interested in the future of the team then I was watching the current roster become the past year in and year out.
The psychology of this process is fascinating to watch however.
Calgary fans have had a veteran team with very little to project in recent years. They’ve witnessed an Oiler rebuild with young players, and all the hype that comes with projecting rosters with green players, talented or not.
With that you get two very different types of Calgary fans, that appear to be acting like book end balances to the two extremes.
Group one is falling off a chair drooling about the potential of individual players, and the collective going forward. They run out names like Kane and Toews and gulp Gretzky as they try and find real life examples of how these young Flames will project when or if they finally pull on a Flame silk.
This enthusiasm however has led to the birth of the other group; the nay sayer. The fan that is trying really hard to depress this enthusiasm to a) avoid the Calgary group sounding the like the Edmonton chapter that they’ve so ridiculed over the years and b) to keep their own excitement in check as they almost fear letting themselves get carried away.
Both have given the site an interesting balance which is likely pretty healthy going forward. The extremes define the playing field, creating a deep bell curve in the center that know the limits.
The bottom line? The reasons to be excited are impossible to ignore.
Deeper and Deeper
This year’s camp was set up for success due to recent moves.
The team took a prospect base that was already picking up steam; regardless of the lack of buy in from national media, and boosted it considerably with the departure of Iginla and Bouwmeester.
Adding four prospects and two first round picks does a tonne to add to the body count of the prospect pool; three first round picks in a deep draft substantially added to the marquee feel of the top of the group. Having polished players like Sven Baertschi and Roman Horak still on entry level contracts provided yet another push making Flames fans’ collective heads swim in taking in the sights. An early summer deal for a player like Corban Knight was almost like piling on.
There is no denying that the number of players worth discussing at this summer’s camp was geometrically higher than any other camp I’ve witnessed; in fact it was almost difficult to keep a mental list of the players you wanted watch when attending due to the depth of the group.
Pick a position and you have names to toss around.
In goal you have Jon Gillies continuing his climb to be Kiprusoff’s anointed replacement down the road. His calendar year has been the stuff of dreams, but he wasn’t the only story as Laurent Broissot had a solid camp, and older youngster Reto Berra looked solid as he acclimatized to the North American ice surface.
On the blueline all the right players seemed to be doing all the right things; Patrick Sieloff was at his surly best, Tyler Wotherspoon was almost invisible with his mistake free three zone style, and John Ramage impressed many by entering the same conversation. Late round picks Ryan Culkin and Brett Kulak continued their push for contracts, making the 2012 draft potentially the watershed moment in modern Flames hockey.
Up front the injection of Sean Monahan to the mix was a sight to behold, as the 18 year old fused with the pint sized John Gaudreau for the camp’s biggest story. Jankowski’s added girth and confidence was plain to see, while the NHL shot emergence of Markus Granlund forced fans to add his name to the list for potentially making the big squad this fall.
Long gone are the days where Eric Nystrom and his camp number #23 were the only story.
Where these players end up in the grand scheme of things is impossible to predict. Players are drafted at 18, but if they don’t continue to improve they don’t go on to successful NHL careers. The Flames similarly are without any guarantees that they have a stable of players set to take the team back to the playoffs and beyond in the next three to five years.
But what they do have is a wide band of names that all appear to be well on their way to doing just that.
Some will come up short of expectations; others will exceed even the most excited fan’s view from the development camp.
And meanwhile two opposing forces in cyber space will fight tooth and nail to make sure the rest of us stay on a sober yet excited even keel somewhere in the middle.