The Calgary Flames' failure to make the Western Conference playoff cut may become the hockey story of the offseason. The changes that are demanded of this team by fans and media are going to be significant. Heads will roll, and they won't just be those of the grunts.
In theory, of course. The five biggest issues for the Flames, going forward.
1. Firing The Coach: It's an odd thing to say about a coach with a 137-87-20 record and two playoff appearances to his credit, but is anyone completely convinced that Brent Sutter can get NHL players to play for him and his system? With the New Jersey Devils, the franchise dogma comes from the Desk of Lou Lamoriello. That's not to say Sutter was a mere caretaker, but it's a much different task convincing a locker room to buy in vs. coaching a locker room that's bought in, if that makes sense.
2. Firing The GM: The question here with Darryl Sutter is how one loses his job if one has an 'infinite contract' with the team?
But it's his mess. He's taken a team that looked as if it could contend for a Cup with the right additions and made it a formless vessel of disappointment that was only in contention at the end because Miikka Kiprusoff(notes) was brilliant in two out of every three games.
"Olli Jokinen, Matt Lombardi, no draft picks, missing the playoffs, having Ales Kotalik(notes) for the next 2 years, who is a horrible hockey player," says Francis. "It's justifiable to question whether or not he should remain as general manager."
A post-mortem will be conducted by Flames President Ken King and we should expect to see the results of his in-depth look at the team in a few weeks.
Has he earned a pink slip? His cap management has had the fiscal responsibility of M.C. Hammer buying a third mansion. Were it our call, he'd have plenty of down time to plan the next Sutter family BBQ, because he wouldn't be managing the Flames any longer.
Yet if you're Calgary, you make a change here if you have an undeniably special candidate to fill the position: Steve Yzerman's name comes to mind immediately. If it's someone from within the organization or some retread GM, why bother? The change here needs to be sweeping, not simply someone who fits the suit.
But the two questions for every Flames fan: Will ownership and upper management actually make this change? And is there a better alternative out there?
3. Reshaping The Roster, Without Having Gone Into The Tank: There are different types of rebuilding, and the Flames are taking the more difficult path. Like the Rangers over in the East for the last decade, they don't suck enough to have earned a top draft choice around which to rebuild. They have 16 players under contract for next season, for an elephantine cap hit of $49.1 million according to NHL Numbers.
If the Flames are going to change their roster dramatically, it's going to be through trades. And if it's going to be through trades, then it's going to mean taking on other salaries in a swap for their salaries.
They're in that no-man's land of just being bad enough, like the Montreal Canadiens were last season. Can they be as aggressive as the Habs to fix the issues?
4. Trading Jarome Iginla(notes): Iggy sounded about as despondent as Iggy has ever sounded this week in discussing the Flames' failures and his inability to turn their fortunes around. He has a $7 million cap hit through 2013. He's a top 10 player who might even be top 5 if given a center worth a damn. He wants to stay and has a no-movement clause, but the potential for the Flames to receive a monster package from another team for his services may be too much for them not to gently suggest he leave.
In theory, you rebuild around a character guy like Iginla; in practice, perhaps you can only rebuild by moving him.
By far the most difficult question of the offseason, to the point where some Calgary fans will even refuse to ask it.
5. What's The Real Solution?: Scott Wazz's dissection of the Calgary Flames shows just what a muddled mess this is:
It's a tough pill to swallow for Calgary fans, mostly because of the atmosphere that comes with the Red Mile in Calgary during the playoffs. The bars are already complaining about losing money because the Flames are out, but you can only do so much with lofty expectations. This was a good team on paper, but at the same time-- the cogs may not fit into place. This is one of those times and trading away one of the main cogs mid-season could have shown that all the things aren't as they seem and everything is not as good as once thought. The future with the front office and players are going to be under the microscope more than ever in the YYC and there's going to be scrutiny at every turn. With all the trades, this has become Toronto West. The media will make that moniker truer than ever before this summer.
There are so many issues beyond personnel, it's staggering. It's about who runs the team, who coaches the team, and what hockey philosophy wins in the West. Brian Costello of The Hockey News spells out a plan to reshape the roster, but one feels these issues with the Flames go deeper than the transaction wire.
Hard to believe a ninth-place team would be at a significant crossroads for the franchise's future, but that's where the Flames seem to be. The question now is whether they blow up the roster or simply tweak it with the hopes that this year's mess is next year's model.