Admit it, Flames fans, when you saw the Oilers score off Ian White's face on Saturday night, you thought there was no way Calgary was going to win that game. But he - and his teammates - picked themselves off the ice for a gutsy, essential, early-season victory.
Despite that impressive display of desire and emotion, there is a big question to be answered: Are the Flames delaying the inevitable?
I loathe making such pronouncements after a whopping four games, but the Flames may be a special case. Fans and local media blasted them for lack of effort in a 3-0 loss to Florida last Thursday, but what if the problem wasn't really the effort? What if, like last season, the team just isn't quick enough to win in the Western Conference?
No matter the sport, general managers will tell you one of the most difficult decisions to make is choosing when your window to win has closed.
"It's something you never want to do," says a current NHL GM. "Tell your owner that your team isn't good enough anymore. Especially if he's expecting to win."
When Darryl Sutter boldly dealt Dion Phaneuf, he talked about adding offence. The Flames averaged 2.6 goals per game before the trade, and are at 2.2 since. As a team, they've been outscored by 10 (79-69) since the blockbuster.
Now, this isn't to say Phaneuf was irreplaceable. Calgary was catatonic at the time. But that move hasn't solved the scoring problems and Sutter decided against any more major renovations.
"It's really hard for someone to do that," said the GM quoted above. "Because if he decides to start over, chances are that he won't be in charge when the team is ready to win. Look at Pittsburgh. Craig Patrick made all the big draft choices, but Ray Shero was there at the end. Nothing against Ray, but it's the way this business works."
The thing is, though, someone in the organization must seriously consider the question. (And if the multiple-headed ownership group can't reach consensus that only makes it worse.) As a former GM explained to me, there is a series of questions a team must be able to answer.
"The first thing you have to ask is, 'Are we capable of competing for the Cup?' If the answer is yes, you just keep going. If the answer is no, you ask, 'Are we at least moving towards competing for the Cup?' If the answer to that is yes, you look at what you need and go about getting that. If the answer is no, then you've really got to be honest, because the next question is critical.
"You ask: 'How far are we away?' and if it's a long way, you say to yourself, 'How can we go about improving?' That's when you talk about Iginla, Kiprusoff, Regehr, Giordano."
Flames fans are well aware the last part is not so simple. Iginla, Regehr and Kiprusoff (through 2011-12) all have no-move clauses, although Regehr certainly gave the impression he considered waiving it. But the principle really makes sense.
Hopefully, someone in the Calgary organization is honestly considering these questions.
1. Several readers pointed it out: When I critiqued players/coaches last week for not holding teammates accountable for dangerous hits, I neglected to mention that Bill Guerin did criticize Matt Cooke.
2. Watching Iginla Saturday night reminded me of an old Bob Gainey story. Gainey realized it was time to leave the bench in Dallas when he realized veterans like Neal Broten weren't buying what he was selling. When that happens, he said, it's harder for a player to make a difference. Clearly, Iginla still believes he can be part of the solution.
3. Lots of confusion and complaints about the new blindside hit rule, especially after Kris Letang had his game-misconduct rescinded and Nick Foligno escaped suspension. This reminds me of the interference crackdown right after the lockout. It was a huge change and there were a ton of angry players, but when everyone adjusted, it made the game better. I have no problem with clean face-to-face hits, even if injuries result. But, concussion injuries are in double-figures already. Doesn't it make sense to stay diligent on this issue until a similar adjustment is made?
4. Don't think the issue of teams dressing fewer than 18 skaters is going to be addressed until the next CBA. There have been discussions about a Kovalchuk-type agreement to try and fix this, but neither side is certain as to what punishment should be.
5. That said, what aggravated other teams the most: They felt Brian Rolston could have gone on long-term injury well before the Devils made that move.
6. A lot of debate about Joe Thornton's three-year, $21 million US deal in San Jose. My reaction: If he's happy, he shouldn't care what anyone else thinks.
7. Senators rookie Robin Lehner made an emergency appearance Saturday night because Brian Elliott's skate broke on the way to the ice for the start of the third period. I asked him what went through his mind when the coaches started calling for him. His reply? "The first thing I thought was: (Bleep)."
8. Lehner looked good - making one particularly good save - the night after giving up seven goals against AHL Hershey. He said that it's actually easier to play in the NHL, because the players make fewer mistakes and the systems are more airtight. Said one member of the Senators organization, "He's not wrong. And he's not lacking for confidence."
9. This was the scouting report received on Cory Schneider from an AHL coach: "He is athletic and very hard to rattle. Has a very calm and confident approach to the game. Simply, he stops pucks." Really saw that Sunday night against Carolina. Boy, did he look composed.
10. Michael Russo of The Minneapolis Star-Tribune detailed a brutal practice Sunday from Wild coach Todd Richards. Richards is under a lot of pressure and I don't want to pick on him. It just reminded me of another story - this one from Harry Neale. Harry told me once he knew he was going to be fired in Detroit and didn't like a few players in the group. So he ripped into them during an intermission. The clock struck zero, the referees were pounding on the door ("Harry, what's going on?"), but he didn't care and kept going. Now, that's an exit.
11. Don't want to hear Sean Avery complaining about the league targeting him anymore. Escaping punishment for his two two-handers to Mike Komisarek exposes that argument.
12. One thing I learned last week in Hartford: a few ex-NHLers sent to the Wolf Pack (Patrick Rissmiller, Nils Ekman, Donald Brashear) didn't exactly hide their disdain for being there. Legend has it that Michal Grosek asked if he could charter a plane between cities instead of riding the bus. (Permission denied.)
13. I do believe that Wade Redden strongly considered retiring. He hated playing that much. Among those who really convinced him to continue: Daniel Alfredsson, Wade's father Gord, agent Don Meehan and another former teammate, Curtis Leschyshyn. (I got the impression Leschyshyn played a huge role.) Yes, yes, the money was a factor, too.
14. What is the endgame here? I'm not sure. For now, he'll try to rediscover his game and passion for the sport. If he wants to play, he'll probably have to spend two years there. One thing I want to clear up: Redden cannot just void his contract. You can't do that under the CBA. He could retire, but would have to apply for reinstatement. One GM said such a move would cause an uproar, because no one would believe he'd quit without some kind of payment from the Rangers. UPDATE: I double-checked this one, as I'd investigated with the league beforehand. Yes, the Rangers could terminate him if he refused to report to Hartford next season. But since the CBA forbids mutual releases and contract renegotiations, if Redden was to go elsewhere, we'd probably have a Kovalchuk-level gong show. Who knows? Maybe they'll try it anyway.
15. Redden told a beauty about Jacques Martin: back when the Senators still flew commercial, they won a game in Florida on a Thursday night. Since they couldn't leave until the next day, they went out and celebrated. Martin stood on a second-floor balcony, seething as everyone came back at a ridiculous hour. Next day, he tore into them, saying, "You better beat Montreal tomorrow." They did: 5-1. When I asked Martin about it, he just stood there with a huge smile.
16. Can't help but be impressed with Jonathan Quick. Inside and outside the organization, there was a feeling that it was only a matter of time before Jonathan Bernier took the No. 1 job. Quick took the challenge with the right attitude, showing up ready to compete. Long-term, it's likely Bernier takes the job, but it will be a fight.
17. On the other side, there's Marc-Andre Fleury. Watching him, in tears, after the Game 7 loss to Montreal, there was concern about a long-term carryover. Dan Bylsma's clearly lost confidence in him - for now.
18. Craig Simpson noticed this about Scott Gomez: he's not going to the net with the puck. He crosses the blue-line and curls.
19. Tomas Plekanec said his main goal for this season was to become a 50 per cent face-off guy. (He finished at 49 last year.) Saturday night, he scored a 70, including 57 in the defensive zone and 82 in front of the Ottawa net.
20. Plekanec added he never seriously thought he'd leave Montreal.
21. By trading his less-mature younger brother, the Canadiens gave Andrei Kostitsyn the best chance to reach his potential.
22. Milan Michalek said brother Zbynek really wanted to join him in Ottawa, but the Senators targeted Sergei Gonchar instead. GM Bryan Murray said his four main interests were Gonchar, Michalek, Anton Volchenkov and Paul Martin. He called Gonchar first and was asked to make an immediate choice.
23. Gonchar clearly is having a big adjustment with playing the left side on the Ottawa power play. (He played the right side in Pittsburgh.) But Cory Clouston says that's where he'll stay. Clouston also believes the other Senators are deferring too much to Gonchar with the man advantage. They are looking for him instead of making other plays.
24. Is it just me, or is Alexander Oveckhin concentrating on shooting low?
25. I admit it: I thought Brian Burke's idea of "top six, bottom six" on his forward lines was a bit hokey. But, it's a major reason there's been the necessary change in attitude among his players. No one is complaining they're being misused.
26. There was a feeling last year that when James Neal was suspended for hitting Derek Dorsett, a shaken Neal lost his aggressiveness. He had 11 goals in 18 games before the suspension and just 16 in 59 afterward. Whatever the case, he appears to be back to normal.
27. After Tampa won in Montreal last week, a few members of the French media said they told Guy Boucher the Lightning should win their next one, Saturday in Florida. Boucher replied, "Apparently, we never win there." 6-0 Panthers. That was Florida's first game after a west coast swing, and eastern teams tend to be awful in those situations.
28. Will say this about the Panthers' players: they believe Dale Tallon will make a big difference - if there's no interference from ownership. Apparently, that's been an issue.
29. If Lindy Ruff does not reach maximum life expectancy, it will be because Tim Connolly was not removed from the Sabres roster this summer.
30. If you injected Colin Campbell with truth serum and asked him which player annoys him the most, I'd say there's a good chance he answers Patrick Kaleta. The New York Post's Larry Brooks reported Kaleta became the first NHL player to be fined twice for actions in the same game (that was last week against New Jersey).
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