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Puck Daddy

It’s getting to be about that time in Calgary (Trending Topics Extra)

Ryan Lambert
Puck Daddy

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On Monday night, the Flames went down pretty quietly in a home game against the Minnesota Wild that pretty much all observers agreed was in every way a dreadful, unwatchable hockey game.

That description fairly accurately covers most Flames games this season, as the team struggles to put together wins or even particularly convincing losses (shootout disappointment against Chicago a few weeks back aside). Watching them, as they skate around and outchance most of the teams they play but never actually do much to convince you that they're any particular threat to score, it goes a long way to explaining their minus-9 goal differential in 10 games, as well as their goals per game standing at a paltry 2.6.

I'm not sure what the term would be, except maybe that they just seem somewhat absent from all the proceedings. Like, mentally. And you could sit there and say that this phenomenon is just a consequence of the Flames having a thoroughly mediocre roster. Alex Tanguay and Jiri Hudler have been the team's two best forwards by a pretty wide margin, and there's a pretty credible case to be made for Lee Stempniak being No. 3.

The thing is, any reasonable person would have looked at this Flames roster at the beginning of the season and said it was a team for which goals would be hard to come by, so the fact that such a prediction turned out to be true should come as no great surprise.

However, not too many in Calgary probably had the team at three wins through their first 10 games, and without goaltending to blame for that latest 2-1 shootout loss to Minnesota, given Miikka Kiprusoff — a great early-season scapegoat with ghastly stats — was hurt and Leland Irving was, for the second game in a row, at least credible in the loss.

That was the third shootout loss suffered by the Flames in as many tries this year; they also won just 3 of 12 last season, so that's a probably an area that has to be more than a little concerning for these guys.

The facts are pretty clear at this point, not that they haven't been for a while: Either this was never a well-constructed team to begin with, or the team hasn't done enough to ensure that it's winning the skills competition that last year spelled the difference between their earning that long-sought playoff spot and, you know, not doing that.

Maybe the problem is that those two best Flames forwards mentioned above were grouped with Blair Jones of all people for the loss to Minnesota.

But that thing everyone has been saying for months, if not years at this point, is now no longer just being whispered by outsiders, and having their comments dismissed as hogwash by those within the Saddledome. Even those in the city, those who know the team best, are now openly questioning, albeit without actually doing so, what in the hell Jay Feaster was thinking not trading Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff when he had the chance.Tuesday morning, in the wake of yet another in the growing list of flat performances from Calgary's captain, Rhett Warrener, a former teammate who went to the 2004 Stanley Cup Final with Iginla as the team's unimpeachable leader and now a co-host on Calgary's Fan 960 sports talk station, had some harsh but not necessarily untrue words about Iginla's season to this point.

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"What was Jarome's greatest asset, always? I mean, his shot, but I think more importantly it was his compete level," Warrener said. "His 'refuse to lose,' his 'I will go through a wall to put the puck in the net,' prototypical power forward. Now you're watching it and it doesn't look… I don't think he's 'Dany Heatley' slow, [but] he's not there. He's not getting there. I don't know if it's [that] he's slowed down, and his compete level followed, but I don't see that compete, that fire in his eyes any more."

Whether Iginla is now trying as hard as he did when he was, say, 26 and leading a bad team through sheer force of will to a Western Conference championship is obviously somewhat impossible. He would bristle at the mere suggestion of it, and understandably so. But at some point, the facts also have to speak for themselves. He has one goal in 10 games — and part of that can obviously be attributed to his dismal shooting percentage of 2.4 — but at the same time, he's constantly being put in a position to succeed and has very little to show for it. He's among the team's most sheltered forwards, third behind only Sven Baertschi and Curtis Glencross with 52.7 percent of his starts coming in the offensive zone.

It's pretty easy to get bogged down in the narrative aspects of all this. Compete level, whether his tendency to "lead by example" is making the team follow him down a dead end -- all of that is on some level relevant, one supposes, but the question is how much more the team is willing to put up with.

In that segment, the hosts also brought up the very real possibility of Iginla finally being traded, and only two years or so late. If that's a road you want to go down, then fine, but you have to consider the return that a one-goal-in-10-games Jarome Iginla fetches as opposed to what it might have fetched at last year's deadline when he was still rather demonstrably a 30-goal scorer.

Or two years ago when he was a 40-goal guy.

Of course, all that speculation is idle and ultimately pointless, because the only way Iginla will ever get to leave the Calgary Flames organization with their O.K. is if he takes a hostage and negotiates a peaceful exit. One goal or 30 or 40, he's a cash cow. People show up to the Saddledome to see him specifically, which is something you wouldn't be able to say about any player left on the Flames if he were to go away.

But the fact is that in just a few months, that might not matter much. It's easy to guess that the Flames will be prepared to give him just about any amount of money to stick around, but that comes with the obvious caveat that they would then have to pay a guy whose production will likely have slipped into second-line territory $7 million a year, or whatever it is. And then you have to play him 20-plus minutes a night to justify the contract, and he just continues to age and see his skills deteriorate.

All decay, all avoidable by pulling the trigger on a long-overdue trade.

But again, it won't happen. This team is, as Feaster so infamously said, is Going For It, which remains an intellectually intriguing if completely foolish tack to maintain at this late stage, when you're nearly a quarter of the way through the season, already four points out of a playoff spot, and tied for last in the conference. That Kiprusoff will be out another two weeks with his injury certainly isn't helping anyone get anywhere they seem to want to be.

People are going to keep asking these questions, and it's going to be harder and harder for the Flames organization to say with a straight face that this team can be in any way competitive.

The evidence to the contrary keeps piling up, and at some point, you run out of rugs under which to brush it.

Ryan Lambert is a columnist for Puck Daddy. Follow him on Twitter or whatever.

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