Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Flames Don't Need to be Fixed if the Team is Not Broken

It was April 15, 2000. The Calgary Herald headline read "Tick, tick, tick...Flames' future in hands of fans." The day before, owner Harley Hotchkiss faced the media (you know, those people who report to the fans what is happening within the organization) after a full-scale housecleaning, which included the firing of Brian Sutter as head coach. The club had missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year and had only 9,000 season tickets to its name.
That humbling experience seems all but lost on the current regime. If two words could sum up what is wrong with the Calgary Flames, those words might be: arrogance, complacency.
When President Ken King and General Manager Darryl Sutter addressed the media on April 12, 2010, the message was the team was just a couple of wins from being a condender and no wholesale changes are needed, only that some players need to step up their games and that if the Flames played in the Eastern Conference, it would have made the playoffs in seventh place.
King was quoted: "We are throwing no bodies out on the tarmac here." In other words, both their jobs are safe, even though they have not received reassurance from the ones who sign their paychecks: ownership.
Because it was noted that 97 percent of the club's season ticket holders have submitted their deposits for 2010-11 and that profits were made despite missing the playoffs also suggests that the current regime takes that as approval of performance.
Nepotism runs rampant here and you have to wonder if that doesn't play a role in the overall culture of the organization. Brent Sutter was brought in as head coach after he left New Jersey with one year left on his contract and an adamant denial that he would be coaching the Flames. Ron Sutter is a scout. Duane Sutter is director of player personnel. Brett Sutter (Darryl's son) is in the system and has suited up for the Flames this season. Also note that Shaun Sutter (Brian's son) never made the NHL but was drafted by the Flames in 1998. 
Meanwhile, inside the locker room, the chemistry was shaken when the player Darryl Sutter wined and dined for years since taking the helm--Olli Jokinen--was uprooted and sent packing with Brandon Prust. Then all star defenseman Dion Phaneuf was sent to Toronto in return for nearly one third of that team's offense--a team in worse shape than the Flames. If that wasn't enough, Sutter brought in the much maligned Ales Kotalik--a deadweight player with a Paris Hilton contract. None of the players received in return have so far been able to carry Phaneuf's jock strap, let alone act as a complement to Jarome Iginla. The reasoning behind these decisions were left with what has become the usual stoic non-of-your-business explanations.
The overall season on-ice performance has been inconsistent at best. Agree with him or not, Captain Jarome Iginla steps up to receive the blame for the results. One player does not make a winning season and without consistency from the supporting cast, it's doubtful that Sidney Crosby would have fared any better on this team.
It is clear there will likely be two sets of evaluations happening within this organization in the weeks to come: one by the current braintrust and the other by the ownership. The only people who should have job security are the trainers, doctors, and equipment staff.

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