I’ve recently received criticism from a few Flames fans for suggesting their team commence its long-overdue rebuild by shopping captain Jarome Iginla and goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff.
Contrary to their critiques, my opinion isn’t governed by dislike of Iglina and Kiprusoff, of the Flames or the city of Calgary.
I lived in the Stampede City for four years back in the mid-’90s and have fond memories of my time there. I returned briefly in 2004 during the Flames run to the Stanley Cup Final and was impressed by the support the team received from Calgarians.
I understand how much “Iggy” and “Kipper” mean to the Flames and their fans. From a sentimental standpoint, I’d love to see them retire as Flames. From a realistic one, I believe they’re at the stage in their careers where it’s time to move them while they still have good trade value, using that return to commence a genuine roster rebuild.
It’s been nine years since the Flames miracle run to the Cup Final. Iginla and Kiprusoff are also nine years older, and age is slowly but surely taking its toll. The current Flames roster bears no comparison to those plucky overachievers of 2004, and Iginla and Kiprusoff aren’t capable of carrying them on another magical playoff run.
The suggestion has been made ownership prefers the duo retire as Flames. Such loyalty toward players from a franchise is a rarity in today’s NHL. Usually, though, it’s reserved for teams with considerable depth, ensuring the burden of carrying the team is less upon ageing (but still effective) stars and spread out among the younger talent.
The Flames, unfortunately, don’t have that luxury. An honest look at their roster reveals no superstar talent in their prime, or about to come into their own, to whom Iginla and Kiprusoff can pass the torch.
Jay Bouwmeester is a good defenseman, but never reached the expectations of being the third overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, even after he dealt to hockey-mad Calgary. Mark Giordano is a solid, under-rated defenseman. Dennis Wideman has skill, but he’s not an elite defender.
Alex Tanguay remains a reliable veteran playmaker but has limited years of production left. Curtis Glencross is an energetic heart-and-soul guy, but not a franchise player. Jiri Hudler is a career second-liner. Mike Cammalleri, once a high-scoring winger, was notable last season for being traded in the middle of a game. Matt Stajan’s claim to fame is being the last player left in the package the Flames received from Toronto for Dion Phaneuf. Sven Baertschi has promise, but has yet to establish himself in the NHL.
Does that look like a lineup capable of over-achieving and reaching the Stanley Cup Final? Only the most delusional Flames fan would believe it.
It would also be delusional to assume just making the playoffs this year is a sign of real improvement. Too many teams in the Western Conference carry more depth in talent than the Flames. Even if they somehow sneak in, the odds are against them pulling off a first round upset are long.
Of course, trading Iginla and Kiprusoff won’t happen this early in the season. As long as the Flames remain in post-season contention, both will be retained. Besides, with Kiprusoff currently day-to-day with a lower-body injury, he’s not going anywhere for the time being.
If they should make the playoffs, there’s a possibility management could re-sign the duo this summer to shorter, more affordable deals, freeing up cap space over the next two off-seasons to surround them with younger talent.
Sadly, Calgary has not proven to be a prime destination for such UFA talent in recent years. Brad Richards spurned an offer in 2011, and the Flames weren’t among the preferred destinations last summer of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
With over $48 million committed to 15 players next season and a salary cap dropping to $64.3 million, the Flames won’t have a lot of cap space to re-sign Iginla (perhaps to a more affordable $5.5 million) and still have enough space to attract talented depth.
They could try to bolster their depth via trades, but they don’t have much to offer up beyond Iginla and Kiprusoff.
Bowmeester might fetch a decent return, if a rival club is willing to swallow his $6.680 million cap hit for this season and next, and he were willing to waive his trade clause. Giordano could be shopped, but the return wouldn’t be as great. Tanguay? Doesn’t appear he’d be keen to move, and his previous experiences away from Calgary weren’t happy ones. Hudler’s a recent addition so he won’t be shopped, Cammalleri’s salary and low production hurts his trade value, and moving Glencross could do more harm than good.
It’s possible the reason Iginla and Kiprusoff haven’t been moved yet is unwillingness on their part to waive their respective movement clauses. Perhaps they want to finish their careers with the Flames, no matter what. If so, they’ll have to bear the criticism from some of their fans for not accepting a potentially team-improving trade.
Of course, that’s just conjecture on my part. I have no idea what’s going through their heads, nor does any other fan, blogger or pundit.
If, however, they are willing to accept a trade if the deal would help the Flames, and management or ownership refused to go through with it, then it’s time this club invested in a more visionary front office.
Perhaps ownership is fearful moving the duo would hurt the Flames fans support, just as trading away Al MacInnis, Joe Nieuwenyk and Theo Fleury did back in the mid-to-late 1990s. If so, those fears must be set aside.
The reason the Flames dumped those stars back in the 1990s was they couldn’t afford to re-sign them. They were considered “small-market” back then because of an under-valued Canadian dollar. Having spent nearly two decades among the league’s elite, the Flames decline came as a shock for their fans, who felt their club was doomed to second-tier status.
Those days, however, are long gone. The strong Canadian dollar means the Flames are no longer considered small market. They’ve kept pace with the rising salary cap, though it can said much of that money was poorly invested. After watching the Flames slowly but surely descend into mediocrity over the past three years, most of their fans would accept the decision to rebuild.
The argument can be made there’s no guarantee any return the Flames got back for Iginla and/or Kiprusoff would eventually become players who could turn this club around. Still, considering the few promising prospects in their system and currently in the lineup, it’s a risk worth taking.
One-time Flames GM Al Coates was willing to take such a risk in 1995, trading Nieuwenduk to Dallas for a little-used center named Cory Millen and a highly-touted prospect who would eventually become their captain and the face of the franchise.
That prospect, of course, was Iginla.
The bottom line is, the Flames currently aren’t a good team, and they’re not going to get any better without some bold rebuilding moves soon. The boldest is to move Iginla and Kiprusoff while they still have value for the best possible return.