November 18, 2010

Things Aren’t Looking so Hot in Calgary

The Calgary Flames seem to be in the headlines these days for all the wrong reasons.

Reason #1: They’re playing an inconsistent brand of hockey (which is just a polite way of saying they suck)

Reason #2: The team’s supposed superstar captain is on pace for his worst season since 1997-1998, when he was still a bright-eyed sophomore, blind to just how fast being the only great player on a team can age you horribly

Reason #3: The general manager’s son gets arrested, prompting a debate as to whether or not it would be nepotic of him to keep him on the team as opposed to sending him down to the AHL, thus prompting an even larger, more interesting debate on whether or not it was nepotic of him to even draft his son in the first place

Reason #4: Said son gets outright traded to the Carolina Hurricanes along with Ian White for Anton Babchuk and Tom Kostopoulos and then gets placed on waivers, meaning maybe he really was never actually good enough to make the Flames

Reason #5: One of the team’s top (loose term) free-agent signings loses his composure when he finds out that he isn’t the one getting traded off the inconsistent (sucky) team (apparently holding out for the chance to eventually become a Flame three times in his career). He then takes it out on Phoenix Coyote Wojtek Wolski’s face on Thursday, prompting a three-game suspension

Obviously, in regard to the last reason, Olli Jokinen was given a five-minute major on the play in question, along with a game misconduct and a look of confusion from all in attendance. That is likely due to how the cross-check to the face took place between plays, with seemingly no provocation on Wolski’s part, and because no one has ever seen the dude “play” with such emotion before. Maybe he should just imagine the puck is Wolski’s face from now on.

Probably a nod to that unnatural ability of his to keep his emotions in check (and absent from his game completely), Jokinen had never been suspended before Thursday when the NHL’s powers that be reigned down on him like only they could on a first-time offender guilty of a by-and-large mild incident... or any player guilty of so much as slashing Boston Bruin Gregory Campbell.

"Aaaahhh! I'm useless without my stick! Well, less useless!"
The three games does seem pretty steep superficially, but when one takes into account the clear pre-meditation on Jokinen’s part, a one-game ban would have been a realistic expectation leading up to the league’s decision. As such, three will hardly nail him to the cross. In any case there is a silver lining that Jokinen can take away from all this, that when he was actually a superstar in this league, he would have been forced to forfeit a whole lot more. Granted he was also making a lot more money then, but you take the good news wherever you can find it, especially with the Flames in such dire straits right now.

Them giving up White is proof of just how bad things have gotten. They had to downgrade their defense one quarter of the year into the season when the playoffs are still a possibility. Sure, Babchuk may have two more points (8 vs. 6), but it’s clear that White is the better defender, arguably with greater offensive upside. So, really, it is a pretty bad trade that reeks of desperation. And that’s not just desperation born out of the need to cut ties with Brett Sutter, but desperation born out of the team’s financial irresponsibility.

"I want to come home."
Jokinen, Matt Stajan, Jay Bouwmeester, Ales Kotalik, Cory Sarich, and even Daymond Langkow, his neck injury aside, all represent inflated contracts Sutter has signed or taken on in the recent past. And with Jarome Iginla not getting any younger, not only is the Flames’ window of success in the league growing smaller with each passing day, but so is Sutter’s grasp of what it takes to build a winner. Sutter’s success in 2003-2004 was legendary, him taking a team that had gone seven seasons without a playoff appearance straight to the Stanley Cup finals. But it is now seven years later and the team has regressed considerably.

Sutter giving his son a chance in the NHL (when he probably didn’t deserve one) was maybe his way of trying to live vicariously through him. Maybe it’s time to consider that his trading him was his way of saying that he wants out too. One can hardly blame him if that’s the case... that is if he wasn’t mostly to blame for how bad things are now. And they’re plenty bad.

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