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Long Offseason Ahead For Flames (Part 1 of 2 Of Flames Autopsy)

Posted By Alex Hamilton On Apr 29 2009 @ 3:36 am In Calgary Flames | No Comments

There isn't much to be said one way or another about the Flames' loss last night, which eliminated them in the first round for the fourth consecutive season. As an individual game it was completely frustrating for the Flames. But the fact is that losing in the first round again this season was completely unacceptable. It was completely unacceptable before the season, it was completely unacceptable when the Flames had a 13 point lead on their division with two games in hand at the start of February, it was completely unacceptable when Darryl Sutter decided to go all in at the deadline, it was completely unacceptable when a perfect storm of an epic collapse in their pennant race and a series of crucial injuries down the stretch led to the Flames being completely written off for the first round, and it wasn't excusable when Nikolai Khabibulin finished off the Flames last night by taking over Game 6. The Flames have a long offseason ahead, with more crucial decisions and questions about the overall state of the team since before the Darryl Sutter era began in Calgary.

I'll start off with my simple autopsy of the Flames' season. The official cause of death is too many crucial injuries. Robyn Regehr's MCL, Cory Sarich's broken foot, Daymond Langkow's two broken hands, and Dion Phaneuf's fractured ribs, wonky hip and other injuries were simply too much to overcome. But the injuries, in my mind, all have an underlying cause: the collapse in which they blew a 10 point lead on the division after the trade deadline. It is true that even before the meltdown accelerated after the deadline, the Flames' entire second line was injured. But was that really the reason the Flames lost to Tampa Bay, Atlanta, and Toronto, among others, in their two week road trip to start March? Was it the reason Miikka Kiprusoff looked burned out in these games and others? Was it the reason the Flames' indescribably awful powerplay strategy finally starting costing them crucial games? And yes, was it the reason Olli Jokinen, Michael Cammalleri and Jarome Iginla disappeared when they needed them the most? These were the true reasons for the collapse. Most of these reasons have fairly simple explanations. I believe that if the Flames had not been desperately trying to gain back the division they outright gave away, the injuries that ultimately happened in the final regular season games – Robyn Regehr's MCL being the killer – would not have happened the way they did.


The second part of my autopsy – a detailed look forward at what will be a long offseason for the Flames – will come sometime later this week (I'm aiming for the next two days). But let me just say some general things the Flames have to do. The first thing they have to do is to fire Mike Keenan AND assistant Rich Preston. It may be seen as a scapegoat, but the simple fact is that Keenan has proven himself to be an outdated coach who is not right for this team. Two of his key coaching strategies – riding his top players to the point of exhaustion, and not practicing the powerplay – were detrimental to the team's success. After a year where I thought he was too harsh on Miikka Kiprusoff, he wasn't harsh enough, refusing to play Kiprusoff a human amount of games, resulting in the goalie burning out for the second straight season. In Preston's case, the man is a little-known assistant (outside of Calgary) who has done an incredible amount of damage to the Flames organization for years with his absolutely abysmal powerplay strategy. It is absolutely ridiculous that an NHL team should have its players standing in one spot for entire powerplays, and unless he changes it to something drastically more modern he is stealing money from the franchise.


The general consensus seems to be that it's high time for the Flames to finally take a good hard look, from top to bottom, at the organization's management. Nobody is safe, nor should they be. After a season where management made it clear another early exit was unacceptable, a season where they had one of the highest payrolls in the league, and a season where the general manager swung for the fences at the deadline, there has to be some accountability. In part two of this blog I will take a more detailed look at individual players, the general manager, team philosophy, and what the long offseason will hold for the Flames.


Though I'm already repressing memories of this season and series, here's some general thoughts on the season:


- The Flames' best defenseman this series was Cory Sarich. After questioning his contract for two years, I finally understand his importance to this team.


- Positives to be taken from this season are the development of Eric Nystrom, David Moss and Rene Bourque. Nystrom is developing into a great role player; he was the Flames most consistently good forward in the final two months of the season, including playoffs. Moss broke out with 20 goals, was a valuable secondary scorer and is now signed to a great 3 year contract worth a bargain price of $1.3M per. Bourque was the most pleasant surprise. He was one of the big question marks going in when it was clear he would be the second line left wing, but couldn't have delivered more with a great two way game. I only wonder if he is injury prone, because next season he may be the top line LW.


- Though the Olli Jokinen trade indisputably failed, I still think it was a risk that had to be taken because I still don't think Matthew Lombardi would have been a good enough top line center.


- I'm still waiting for the injury Jarome Iginla has been battling all year to be revealed. It's either that or he's on the decline.


- My opinion of Dion Phaneuf has improved now that it has been revealed that he has been battling a bad hip all year (requiring surgery), and has played since March with broken ribs. Oddly, he was playing his best hockey of the season in the final games and playoffs.


- You can wait for Part 2 for me to elaborate but I am on the fence about Sutter.


- The only memory from this season that I might not repress is being in attendance for the game where Iginla became the Flames' all-time points and goals leader, March 1 against Tampa Bay. Unfortunately, it was one of the Flames' ugliest defensive games of the year and, in retrospect, was the beginning of the end.


- For all the attention given to Iginla's struggles this playoffs, not enough credit was given to Chicago's shutdown duo of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. I feel the pair might be two of the most underrated defensemen in the league. And it is just ridiculous to even have Iginla and Joe Thornton in the same sentence when discussing playoffs. Iginla had one bad playoffs this year, Thornton's had several.


- I think that's about it for Part 1. If you made it through this wall of text, please leave a comment to commemorate your achievement.


–Alex Hamilton


(Round 2 Predictions:


Canucks in 6 – Luongo isn't burned out, unlike Kipper was, and so can match whatever Khabibulin's got or better it. And the Canucks can also match the Hawks' speed, unlike Calgary.


Wings in 7 – I dunno, it seems the Wings are on again, if they weren't before. Could be easily wrong.


Caps in 7 – Cannot wait for this, though I dread the Crosby vs. AO vs. Malkin debate to end all Crosby vs. AO vs. Malkin debates. The Caps are who I'm pulling for right now, they're fun to watch and I'm a huge fan of AO and Mike Green.


Bruins in 6 – I probably shouldn't pick against my Cinderella team but I'll do it anyway.)





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