Flames Go Back to the Future

During the 2004 Playoffs, Calgary’s Red Mile was crammed full of jubilant fans as the Flames defied the odds and almost completed a Cinderella story run to the Cup. Days after Free Agent Frenzy 2010, the Red Mile is anything but jubilant as much smaller crowds of Flames fans take in the summer weather on restaurant patios.

After a disappointing 2009-2010 season, the Flames and their GM Darryl Sutter have decided to hit the rewind button. In response to the first season without a Playoff appearance since that historic ’04 cup run, the 2010-2011 Flames will feature recycled Flames Alex Tanguay and Olli Jokinen.

While the public response in Calgary has been anything but positive, there is reason for cautious optimism. Everything depends on Sutter’s decisions between now and puck drop in October, but let’s take a look at the Flames moves so far.

Problem #1 in Calgary is offense. Ranking 29th in league scoring doesn’t win championships. The Sutter model of grit first, offense second hasn’t working in the post-lockout NHL. Expectations were, and continue to be, that Sutter would go after a proven scorer and a legitimate playmaker.

When first acquired from Phoenix, Olli Jokinen was labelled as Jarome Iginla’s set-up man. This idea was about as accurate as labeling Iginla as set-up man for David Moss. Jokinen isn’t a playmaker. His style is fast skating, puck-in-net focused. What has been forgotten is that it is puck-in-net from Jokinen’s stick. Jokinen’s first time in Calgary was doomed to fail because he was considered a $5.25 million playmaker. As a $3 million centre meant to supplement Iginla’s expected 30+ goals, there is hope.

Alex Tanguay is a playmaker. He can score as well as anyone, but his natural ability is seeing plays develop and distributing the puck to make them happen. He did that very well in Calgary during his first visit. In Montreal and Tampa Bay that playmaking flare seemed to be missing at times. Maybe a reunion with Iginla will be what Tanguay needs. With Jokinen, another goal scorer, playing at centre, Tanguay has the potential to excel beyond his discounted price.

There is great potential in an Iginla – Jokinen – Tanguay line. However, there is a lot of concern in terms of age and chemistry too. Ultimately, the Flames need more than one scoring line. The second line of Rene Bourque, Matt Stajan and Nic Hagman needs to produce. The third and fourth lines need to be more than just gritty support players too.

The log jam in defense has to be addressed by Sutter too. Mark Giordano is entering the last season of his contract and will demand a large pay raise if he maintains his performance of last season. Cap space needs to be made for him and playing time needs to be given to AHL prospects such as Matt Pelech and John Negrin.

There are a lot of unappealing Flames contracts, and some glaring needs to be addressed, so Sutter will have to show the business sense and foresight that once had Flames fans proudly proclaiming “In Darryl we Trust!”

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