CHICAGO -- It’s not so much that the Calgary Flames look like a team that has quit. More that they look like a team that’s paralyzed by the prospect of stuff that might happen. Or might not happen.
But definitely paralyzed.
With speculation rampant regarding the Flames’ efforts to trade captain Jarome Iginla before the April 3 trade deadline and amid varying reports about netminder Miikka Kiprusoff’s willingness to accept a trade, the Flames stretched their road winless streak to 10 games (0-9-1) with a demoralizing 2-0 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night.
"No excuses. I wasn’t good enough tonight. Didn’t create enough for the group. My job is to be ready for the games," Iginla said as the Flames prepared to jet home, where they will face the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday.
Early in the day, Iginla refused to talk to reporters. The excuse given by the team’s PR staff was that the popular captain wanted to focus on the game. Of course, that makes you wonder whether Iginla’s teammates needed less focus as they dutifully answered questions about the trade rumors and speculation that have engulfed the moribund team like a plague of locusts.
Iginla did speak after the game and insisted that neither he nor anyone else in the Flames’ locker room can use the trade talk as an excuse.
"It’s part of hockey. I haven’t been in this much speculation since I started playing, but guys go through it all the time, every year at the deadline, and it’s my turn,” Iginla said.
“Honestly, when you get in the game and you want to play, you’re not thinking of those things and you shouldn’t be.
"As far as the rumors and stuff, it will work itself out in five or six days or whatever it is and we’ve been dealing with it now for a few weeks. Like I say, five or six days will go fast. Whatever transpires with this team between now and the deadline, it can’t come fast enough."
Iginla had a couple of strong shifts sprinkled throughout the night Tuesday. He played 16 minutes, 15 minutes, took two shots on goal, took a minor penalty for high sticking in the first period and inadvertently deflected home the Blackhawks’ second goal, prompting a torrent of jokes about perhaps having scored his final goal as a Flame or his first goal as a Blackhawk. Other teams that are interested include Boston, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.
The best player on the ice for the Flames on this night, as has been the case so often during his tenure with the Flames, was Kiprusoff.
He stopped 33 of 35 shots he faced and was forced to deal with a bevy of quality chances authored by the league-leading Blackhawks as the Flames made it 14 straight games registering fewer than 30 shots on goal. In the second period alone the Flames were outshot 16-3, finishing with just 16 shots in total against a team that lost the night before, 5-4 to Los Angeles.
The Flames, clearly an organization in full retreat, refused to make Kiprusoff available to reporters after the game, a decision that will only further cloud the issue about what exactly Kiprusoff’s intentions are if there is a potential trade in the offing. When Kiprusoff finally emerged from the dressing room, he said he had to catch the team bus and didn’t have time to talk.
Kiprusoff has one season remaining on a six-year, $35 million deal. His wife recently gave birth to the couple’s second son, an event that is believed at the heart of the uncertainty over whether he would accept a trade. The situation has the potential to put the team in a difficult spot (something of a theme for the Flames over most of the past decade) because Kiprusoff does not have any contractual say in whether he is traded. His no-move clause expired last summer.
GM Jay Feaster politely declined to address the issue.
When Kiprusoff returned to action last week after taking time off to be with his wife, he told local reporters when the team was in Nashville that he tried not to concern himself with trade rumors. He gave no indication at the time that he would try to block a move.
Although one can sympathize with Kiprusoff’s situation with a newborn at home, the uncertainty will do little to help his trade value, value that was suspect to begin with, given some injury issues and uneven play through the early part of the season. But he has put in two sterling performances in a row and would no doubt be coveted by a number of teams looking to add a solid veteran who quite clearly still has game left.
Of course, no team will come within a country mile of Kiprusoff if they think he might balk at accepting a trade.
If given to cynicism, one might wonder at the timing given that the Flames have paid Kiprusoff $33.5 million of the contract with just $1.5 million remaining next season -- and there has been some speculation the 36-year-old might simply retire rather than play out the final season of one of the initial so-called cheat contracts that were outlawed in the newly completed collective bargaining agreement.
Had the Flames taken advantage of the expiration of the no-move clause last summer and dealt Kiprusoff then, this might be a moot point but is yet another example of the uphill battle facing Feaster as he tries to take advantage of the looming trade deadline to reverse the team’s fortunes. Or misfortunes, as the case might be.