Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Belated Thoughts on the Flames and the Deadline: A Look in Retrospect

On the day after the trade deadline, Jarome Iginla scored four points and Miikka Kiprusoff made 27 saves for his second straight shutout, and the Flames vaulted into 5th place in the West. Had you told me in mid-December that this would be the result of the March 1st matchup in St. Louis, I would have told you were more full of crap than the Twitter huckster NHLSourcesSay. At that time, the pessimistic fans (although I still will defend the alternate description of “rational”) were speculating about the potential worth of Iginla, Kiprusoff, and virtually every other asset on the Flames, looking to go down the same painful rebuilding road that three out of the six Canadian teams are currently mired in. I was fully behind the idea, even though I knew that the Flames would never actually do it. (Robert Cleave pointed out early that the full-scale dynamiting of a team is never undertaken by choice, and never with a team reasonably close to the playoffs and still relatively financially healthy, as the Flames were.) The single happiest day of the season so far for me still remains December 28th, the day we were finally freed from the curmudgeonly, obsolete, condescending and evidently dour reign of Darryl Sutter. And, even with the Flames’ marvelous comeback from the dead, it still most likely will be. Although it gets harder with each win to deny the Flames’ chances of actually making the playoffs, it’s still not a radically different team from the last few first round losses. And yet I don’t have a problem with that this year. It would be easy for the most cynical (a group I place myself in still) to call this yet another mirage for the fans, and/or an unintentionally wasted opportunity for management, but after seeing the results of this year’s trade deadline, and being unable to deny myself enjoyment out of this resurgence, I can honestly say I can’t see a reason for any Flames fan to complain right now.

Three weeks ago, the primary discussion in the weekly Calgary Herald Insider chat was Curtis Glencross. Many fans, including myself, had seen the high returns on Kris Versteeg and Chris Kelly, and saw no reason the Flames couldn’t get something similar. I mostly agreed, but I did wonder how many contending teams would actually give up a 1st rounder, even if it was indisputable that Glencross was worth that in an even market. Of course, I figured the Flames would not actually trade a major roster player, because Jay Feaster, unlike his predecessor seems to speak honestly in public. After seeing the way the market unfolded the rest of the way, though, he probably made the right call in any case. The non-trade of Clarke MacArthur tells me all I need to know. Previously it had been reported by Darren Dreger that MacArthur could fetch a comparable return to Versteeg, a proposition difficult for the Leafs to turn down, even given the forward’s unexpected career season. Arguably, MacArthur was worth more than Glencross, given that he is a pending RFA as opposed to UFA, and he was putting up more points this year. The Leafs were also in a more likely selling position, despite Brian Burke’s insistence his team still has a shot at making the playoffs. And yet he stayed. It was reported by Dreger that Glencross’ contract negotiations had hit a snag – apparently he was hoping for a 4-5 year deal and thus forgot that Darryl is no longer GM. The debate over whether Glencross is actually worth committing a $3M +, multi-year cap hit can wait until the offseason, but I don’t think the Flames will regret not trading him.

Jarome Iginla was also involved in trade speculation (much of which was incorrectly reported as rumors) for much of the first half of the season. Although I have never believed the Flames would actually trade him, it’s worth revisiting here for hypothetical purposes. Again, the market seems to tell me that this deadline wouldn’t have been the time anyway. The Los Angeles Kings, who I have always felt would have been the perfect hypothetical fit, focused their attention northward instead, and settled for Dustin Penner after passing on the high price for Ales Hemsky. The Kings were not the only team interested in Hemsky, but the Oilers, a team deeper into rebuilding than even a hypothetical 2011 lottery Flames team would have been, rightfully felt under no pressure to move him, at least immediately, and thus had leverage. If the Oilers couldn’t get the right package for Hemsky, a relatively cheap player with another year left on his contract and no NTC, with several teams expressing serious interest, while rightfully demanding a high price, how could the Flames have done so for Iginla, when Iginla is $3M more expensive, has more years, and an NTC? An Iginla trade was never going to happen even if the Flames bottomed out, but it’s now interesting to note that it was probably never there to start with.

Jay Feaster stayed true to his word this deadline, trading no players off his roster and sacrificing no valuable assets. It’s refreshing to have a GM who we can seemingly trust based on his word, for better or worse, after eight years of condescension and secrecy from the so-called Jolly Rancher. And while there is still reason to not fully be on the “In Jay We Trust” bandwagon long term – even though it seems a certainty at this point he’ll get the Acting tag removed – it’s impossible to complain so far. It seems undeniable that the effect he has had on the mood in Calgary is no small part in their comeback. And he has said all the right things, gently repudiating the mistakes of the Sutter era while not disparaging his current roster. I think it is fair and not coldly sobering to suggest that the end result of this season is likely yet another 1st round loss (it will depend, as it always has, on the matchup). But unlike previous years, this knowledge should not merely result in frustration and hand wringing. The remaining demons of the Sutter era have still yet to be expelled, but at least the team is entertaining for the moment, and no layers of despair and bleakness have been added (this deadline day may have been the most boring in 10 years, but at least it didn’t result in me loudly cursing in public as it did last year when the Steve Staios trade broke). Most importantly, though, I really don’t see how Jay Feaster could have done anything differently. All he has to do is keep on doing whatever it is he has been doing, and Flames fans can sit back and enjoy the rest of the season.

Some other belated deadline thoughts. Everybody should have known that the day itself would be boring – the flurry of trades in the weeks prior showed that GMs could not care less about TSN’s ratings – but I was still surprised at just how quiet it was. Elliotte Friedman explained much of it: one of the main reasons was because GMs are apparently somewhat reluctant to add dodgy contracts past 2012, since the CBA expires then. Nothing was more emblematic of the comical overestimation of the day than the Marty Reasoner non-story. Suddenly hyped up as the final fourth-line piece to complete the Canucks a few days before the deadline, the rumors persisted up until the final hour, despite multiple reports that Dale Tallon would not trade him that far away, out of respect for Reasoner and his wife expecting a child soon. He ended up staying in Florida. It was shameful for the media to buy into that rumor continually, but not as bad as how people fell for the fake Nick Kypreos reporting Dustin Penner to Montreal. (I fell for this one too, but only because I kept forgetting to actually follow the real Kypreos. Although, I have to give some credit to the faker, because the trade he faked – Penner for Jarred Tinordi and a 1st – seems not far off from what a hypothetical Penner-to-Montreal trade would have been, given what LA gave up.) I didn’t understand the Niclas Bergfors trade for Atlanta, but it was a reminder of Dale Tallon’s proven specialty in blowing up sad franchises, even if Bergfors is a disappointment. Going back to the Flames, Jay Feaster admitted he was interested in Chris Higgins, but was reluctant because of Higgins’ injury. That’s a good non-move, even if it benefits the Canucks, and demonstrates a key difference between him and Darryl. I heard lots of praise for the Capitals, but I’m pretty sure I’ve heard them declared the winners of at least the past three deadlines, with no results so far. (I say good job by Lou on Arnott, getting back pretty much what he gave up in the first place in somewhat difficult circumstances). On Brad Richards, I understand the rationale behind not trading him, but I have a feeling it will prove to be the wrong move for Dallas. I say this for no other reason than I have not been at all impressed with Joe Nieuwendyk as a GM. If the Stars end up with a deep-pocketed owner and re-sign Richards, I’ll take it back. Finally, although Monday was a snoozefest by deadline day standards, this was the most exciting trade SEASON in many years. I would be surprised if the spirit didn’t continue in the offseason, because this year’s UFA class is very weak.


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