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Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun debate whether it's time to blow up the current plan in Calgary and move into "rebuild" mode (give us your take here):
Burnside: Well, my friend, it looks like Santa is destined to deliver an entire load of coal to the Calgary Flames given their play throughout this season. With a 3-1 loss against Columbus on Tuesday night, Calgary has dropped three in a row, lost more games than any team in the Western Conference and sits just two points out of the conference basement (and has played three more games than last-place Edmonton).
When do the roosters come home to roost? This is a poorly constructed team with little in the way of young talent in the pipeline, but it does have assets that would generate significant interest from other teams, most notably Jarome Iginla, even though he has two more years at $7 million a pop. Is it time to start thinking big picture and asking players like Iginla if they'd like a ticket off the sinking ship?
LeBrun: If I were the Flames, I would blow this thing up, putting both Iginla and goalie Miikka Kiprusoff on the market. Those are the two fan favorites, I know, but you need to restock your system with assets and that's the way to start it. The Los Angeles Kings would be interested in Iginla and they wouldn't be alone. He'd look great in Montreal, as well.
The question is whether Iggy, who has a no-movement clause, would want to leave. His play really picked up earlier this season when Flames management told him he wasn't going to be moved. Does that suggest he wants to stay put? Perhaps he believes he will outlast the Sutter brothers? The other thing to remember with Iginla is, he has those two years left at $7 million per. That's a big consideration if you're another NHL team looking at him.
Burnside: Agreed, but Iginla would rival Brad Richards as the most sought-after rental player, and that's assuming Richards will be on the market (the Dallas Stars were in first place in the West as of Wednesday morning). Would a team part with a first-round pick, a top prospect or tidy little package for a veteran winner like Iginla? I'm betting the Kings would.
There are other players, too. Olli Jokinen, one of the game's great underachievers, has actually started to come around and has one more year at $3 million. Alex Tanguay is an unrestricted free agent this summer and has been reborn in Calgary this season. Both Jokinen and Tanguay have no-move clauses (how does that happen, by the way?), but surely they'd be looking to enjoy some playoff play.
Which brings us to the bigger question: What do you do at the top? Does Darryl Sutter fire his brother and go behind the bench to try to salvage the team he has mismanaged into the ground? Remember the Flames were at their best (at least recently) when D. Sutter was running the bench.
LeBrun: I reached out to Flames beat writer Randy Sportak of The Calgary Sun. He's seen the team every day for a long time.
"Where to start?'' his e-mail read this morning.
Sportak begins with the Flames' drafting.
"Since Darryl Sutter became GM in the spring of 2003, the Flames have drafted only four players who have played more than 60 NHL games right now," Sportak wrote. "They are Dion Phaneuf, now with Toronto; Brandon Prust, now with the Rangers; Dustin Boyd, in Montreal's system; and Adam Pardy, the lone one still with the team. None since the 2005 draft. The only one to play more than 50 games is Mikael Backlund, a rookie this season, and next on the list is Brett Sutter.
"Compounding the problem has been trading away second-rounders like candy. Under Sutter's watch, the Flames have drafted twice in the second round, even through there have been eight drafts. One was a major miss -- Tim Ramholt at 39 instead of Shea Weber."
To make matters worse, the Flames didn't have a first- or second-round pick this past June and don't have a second-rounder in 2011.
Then there's asset management.
"Let's see, you deal away Dion Phaneuf and give away the only pick or prospect in the deal in Keith Aulie, who is now making his way in the NHL? Does that make sense?" said Sportak. "GM Darryl Sutter made the situation worse by dealing Ian White to Carolina and getting two players who are older than him and no picks or prospects. Giving away a third-rounder for Steve Staios is another awful move. In the last year, only one trade has brought them a draft pick, Dustin Boyd for a fourth-rounder. Another bone to pick was letting Mike Cammalleri walk via free agency when he was the only player to give them a legit punch alongside Iginla."
"Cory Sarich at $3.6 million, Niklas Hagman at $3M, Matt Stajan has two goals and is in year one of a four-year, $14M deal," said Sportak. "Right now, the Flames have a fourth line -- David Moss, Tim Jackman and Tom Kostopoulos. Moss turns 29 next week and is the youngest of the three. They are all signed for next season for a total cap hit of nearly $2.8 million. How do you integrate new players with that staring at them?
"The Stanley Cup window has slammed shut and this team needs to make sweeping changes, starting in the GM office.'"
Well, we know how Mr. Sportak feels!
Burnside: It's unusual to see a GM canned in the middle of a season, but Randy's analysis supports the widespread belief that this team has been managed into the ground and needs a new hand on the tiller. Assistant GM Jay Feaster has the credentials to step in and help rebuild this team if that's what ownership wants. He helped transform Tampa Bay from a laughingstock into a Cup champion. Could he do the same in Calgary? Well, it would be a monumental task given the mess there, but why not?
Bottom line is, it couldn't be worse. If you decide that Darryl Sutter has to go, either now or at the end of the season (for me the question is, why wait?), what do you do with the other Sutter? Brent fled his responsibilities in New Jersey ostensibly to be with his family, but immediately assumed the Flames' coaching job and has failed to get this team to respond. Bob Hartley had his greatest successes in the Western Conference, where he won a Cup with Colorado, and has a long relationship with Feaster.
LeBrun: I wonder if Flames ownership doesn't want the embarrassment of firing a GM and/or the coach before they host the Heritage Classic outdoor game in February. You never know.
As for Brent Sutter, I think he's a great coach. He's working with a marginal roster; it's hard to blame the coach for that in my mind. But he may be caught in the sweeping changes if and when Flames ownership finally acts. Until tomorrow, my friend.