Recipe for Success

Looking Forward: Steps to Success
D'Arcy McGrath
April 16th, 2002

The Flames are broke, but how do we fix them?

That's the question at hand this week as the 2001-02 season comes to a screeching halt for 47% of National Hockey League's players, and the playoffs get ready to start.

Some will suggest major renovations; the knocking down of walls, the tearing up of shingles, the removal of all carpet and underlay, or perhaps a complete demolition.

Others will take a more conservative approach; an accent or two to an already emerging foundation, a helping hand to make that next step.

Sadly the carpenter in question, general manager Craig Button, will be forced to work with rickety tools, a pick up truck that may stall on the way to the job site, and salvaged parts in attempting to complete his project.

But ... can it be done?

Why sure it can Craig, just follow these steps, along with no brainers like the signing of Jarome Iginla.

Calgarypuck.com Steps to Success

The Ciampa Plan
The Charlton Plan

The McGrath Plan
The McCracken Plan

1. Determine Bad Apples from Bad Seasons

Several players simply failed to carry their weight during the 2001-02 National Hockey League season. While it's true that every team has players suffering off-years, the margin of victory in small market Canada is too tight meaning this drag needs to be eliminated to take that next step forward.

Some players struggle for a season, but then bounce back, learning from their mistakes, while others trend further down the slippery slope to mediocrity, and act as an anvil to the team's playoff hopes. A decision on the following players needs to be made.

  • Marc Savard - Marc Savard will never be compared to the game's greatest leaders; there will never be a letter sewn to his chest, and the Flames new that when they acquired him from the New York Rangers three seasons ago. This season, however, the dimminutive pivot put him self above the team in refusing to adopt Greg Gilbert's system and in requesting a trade. Yesterday in packing up his gear Savard stated "this is the last bad season for Marc Savard, I'm looking forward to building off the season two years ago and helping the Calgary Flames". If taken at face value it appears Savard wants another chance, but if I'm the general manager he's on his way out of town this summer.
  • Rob Niedermayer - Six goals? That's a goal every $350,000. U.S.! The Calgary Flames can not afford to have that much budget tied up in a player that gets out scored by Chris Clark, Scott Nichol and Steve Begin. However, with a problem, comes an opportunity, as the Flames now have some bargaining advantages with Niedermayer's contract this summer. If he insists on his current rate they'll qualify him at 2.1 million, but a better guess is to dangle security for a longer pact at a lesser rate. If not ... expect to see Niedermayer dealt before the qualifying date.
  • Derek Morris and Robyn Regehr - both players plateaued this season, and in doing so they played a part in stalling the Flames accent to a playoff spot this season. If these players have indeed hit a wall one should be moved in order to secure more scoring talent up front.

2. Coaching Style - Do As I Say, Not As They Do

Hockey fans and purists are quick to suggest that they'd rather watch an exciting loss, than a boring, trap laced victory. I say ... poppycock. The Calgary Flames are in the business of winning, and to win under any circumstances is the key.

The Flames of 2001-02 tried to play an aggressive fore-checking style, using team speed to force turnovers, and score on the transition.

Great idea ... for Iginla's line.

Bad idea for everyone else.

All season players like Clarke Wilm, Dave Lowry and others found themselves caught behind the offensive net, yielding odd man rushes, and as a result bending twine behind Roman Turek.

Players like Iginla and Craig Conroy should take chances in order to score because they have the skill level to cash in when the turn over occurs. Many others shouldn't.

The Flames need to have two sets of rules, clearly defined, for all the forwards and defenceman. If you are a lunch bucket player, play a lunch bucket style. In a sense the Flames would have one or two lines playing an aggressive attacking style, and two to three others playing a prevent or trapping style.

Another season with the lower half of the depth chart all well down the list in plus minus stats is sure to result in an early golf season once again.

3. Hedge Your Acquisition Bets

Last summer featured some key moves by the Flames coupled with blind hope that players that haven't scored at the NHL level would magically develop this skill over the summer. In September Flame faithful were told that a group including Ron Petrovicky, Jeff Cowan, Chris Clark and Jukka Hentunen would lead this team to the scoring levels needed. When the dust settled this group featured two traded players, and an existing total of 15 goals. Clearly they didn't get it done.

A similar parcel of goods had better not be in the works this summer, as I'm guessing even less fans will be lining up to buy in.

The Flames need to take care of their scoring needs with established players, via trade or free agent signing, and then leave additional pleasant surprises like Chuck Kobasew or Oleg Saprykin, as added flexibility.

With a 30-million dollar budget, any one game in a National Hockey League schedule costs the Calgary Flames $365,854 U.S. in player payroll. Pushing that budget up by say 5-million does little to the game by game hit, effecting the bottom line by just over $50,000.

If two or more players with higher NHL level contracts make the team ... ride it out over the first ten games, and then move depth if the youngsters or improved players start to prove they can do it over the long haul. A half a million-dollar push to the budget won't break this ownership group compared to missing the spring dance once again.

4. Budget Efficiency

Teams in the lower third of NHL budget lists can't afford to build teams like the top third.

The Detroit Red Wings have team depth. They can roll four lines, they have a back up goaltender that could start in many cities, and if things go wrong, they'll just go out and add more players.

In Calgary this isn't possible.

The Flames need to push more payroll up the roster to the key positions that make a difference in winning and losing.

Last year the squad paid over 5-million dollars to an inept back up goaltender and a sixth defenceman, however both should be rectified this fall, as both players are unrestricted free agents.

But is that deep enough?

Should Jeff Shantz be back for instance? Shantz plays the third and fourth line for the team and makes over 1-million dollars. His peers ... the Ron Petrovicky's, Chris Clarks, Steve Begin's and Blake Sloan's all make between $350K and $450K a season. Unless I'm missing something, Jeff Shantz is not two to three times the player.

Clearly Rob Niedermayer needs to be addressed in this light as well.

5. Fix the Boardroom

Competing in the NHL takes money, bottom line.

However, competing off the ice in terms of professionalism and class can come with effort, honesty, and straight forwardness, all things the Flames have lacked in the last several years.

You can't attract good people if you treat good people poorly and with the Dave Lowry and Mike Vernon fiasco's this season, the Flames are not sending a positive message.

The team needs to get their corporate and public image sorted out in order to get a very "professional" town like Calgary to buy in and support them.

Get the boardroom sorted out first and the on ice product will come.

Steps have been taken, I'll be the first to admit. Ken King seems to put a better face on the Flames publicly, and the addition of Lanny McDonald and Jim Peplinski are likely worth more than we'll ever know.

In time, the image will likely be restored, and with it, the faith of the fan base.