It’s crazy to think about the fact that as bad as the Flames have been in the last three-plus seasons, they’ve never been as bad as they are right now. They’re dead last in the Western Conference with just 22 points from 24 games, and only two points up on 30th in the league, though with two games in hand on Florida.
A big part of the reason for this is that their goaltending is just about the worst in the NHL. You might say to that, well, Miikka Kiprusoff missed a month, and when your most notable backup is Joey MacDonald you’re just asking for trouble, but Kiprusoff has arguably been the worst starting goaltender in the league. His even-strength save percentage is .884. That’s bad, and only Brian Elliott and Scot Clemmensen have been worse among goaltenders with 10 or more appearances.
Where before the Flames had always had reasonably okay goaltending that kept them somewhat competitive in the West (though obviously short of a playoff spot) and struggled in other areas just enough to make all their “Going For It” a funny joke, they are now abjectly miserable, and that’s despite the fact that they spent way too much money this summer on Dennis Wideman, Jiri Hudler, and Roman Cervenka not too long after re-acquiring Mike Cammalleri from the Canadiens. Wideman and Hudler have been perfectly fine this season, Cervenka and Cammalleri not so much, but it all boils down to a big smoking mess.
The Flames have said time and again — and this was reiterated in 30 Thoughts this week by hapless GM Jay Feaster — that the team would not under any circumstances go into a full rebuild. That does not, however, preclude a transaction that should have happened two years ago: Finally trading Jarome Iginla while he has anything resembling value remaining on the bone.
The reason Calgary has never traded Jarome Iginla has very little to do with his on-ice value, which has been slowly declining as he progressed deeper into his 30s, but rather the fact that he is and perhaps always will be the face of the franchise, and a guy who makes the Flames one hell of a lot of money. Trading him would essentially be surrendering all that cash, no matter how good the return he might have fetched one or two years ago would have been.
But now the trade rumors finally seem to be picking up, and with some amount of credibility. Eric Francis got actual real-life quotes from Iginla’s agent over the weekend stating that he had not even begun to talk with the club about a new contract with the club when the captain’s deal expires this summer. More and more people are talking about the possibility of trading him before the deadline, and then hoping he comes back in July, not unlike Keith Tkachuk did that time he was traded to the Thrashers for that team’s lone doomed playoff run.
So why now? For one thing, Iginla isn’t getting any younger; he’ll be 36 on July 1. This might be the last time he has any trade value worth speaking of, and given that he only has seven goals this season, you wonder even how far that will go. For another, Calgary’s so far out of logically being able to compete for a playoff spot that even pretending that “Going For It” is an option would make them come off as being actually insane, rather than sadly deluded, which is all they’ve ever seemed before. Plus, again, his contract is expiring and there’s a nonzero risk the face of the franchise walks without a shred of compensation coming back the other way.
As bad as Feaster is at his job, I think he must understand there is a qualitative difference between not-imploding the team’s long-overvalued core (of which just two players still remain) and doing the actual work of properly shepherding it into a more productive rebuild than the nonexistent one through which we’ve been told it’s going despite all evidence standing to the contrary, while also freeing Iginla to chase his coveted Stanley Cup like anyone with a shred of humanity would have years ago.
The last straw in all this was probably the failed offer sheet for Ryan O’Reilly, which they were obviously fortunate to have not-blow-up in their faces. That seemed to me like the last desperate grab at relevance without actually having to do anything as drastic-seeming as offloading Iginla to an actual contender, and when it failed I think so too did the visions of somehow magically becoming the team Feaster seemed to think it was instead of the disaster reality dictated it had been for years.
Again, it’s important to note that Feaster and other management types are on record as saying this team won’t be stripped for parts, and at least part of that is dictated by the fact that 11 — ELEVEN!!! — players on the current roster have at least partial no-trade or no-movement clauses, including all but three players making more than $2 million against the cap (Lee Stempniak, Cervenka and Hudler are the exceptions). That doesn’t mean you can’t wonder about which the Flames would move, and for what price.
Iginla is obviously a desirable choice for teams looking for help on the wing, and there are several in the East in particular. Jay Bouwmeester and Mark Giordano seem to be two other likely candidates to be moved and they too would probably be attractive to some teams. Cammalleri? Alex Tanguay? They might have some value but not enough to justify unloading them. Few is going to want to touch Kiprusoff, even with his salary dropping to $1.5 million next year, or at least wouldn’t want to do so with a return Feaster and Co. would find satisfactory.
It all revolves around Iginla. The Flames can’t very well hang a For Sale sign next to the little C on his jersey, but if he starts being shopped, even quietly, there’s likely to be a feeding frenzy, and that’ll give Feaster the juice to make it known a few other guys are up for grabs if you want ‘em.
As things so often do in Calgary, it all revolves around Iginla. As he goes, so go the Flames. Fans at the SaddleDome better hope, for the franchise’s sake, he goes soon.