February 12, 2013 7:45 PM | By Jeff Hale, MSN Sports

The time for rebuilding may have passed by the Flames

Calgary hasn’t been interested in the idea and an about-face now only weakens the return

Vancouver Canucks center Henrik Sedin celebrates teammate Jordan Schroeder's goal past Calgary Flames goalie Leland Irving during second period of NHL hockey action at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, B.C. Feb. 9, 2013. (© CANADIAN PRESS-Jonathan Hayward)

Vancouver Canucks center Henrik Sedin celebrates teammate Jordan Schroeder's goal past Calgary Flames goalie Leland Irving during second period of NHL hockey action at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, B.C. Feb. 9, 2013.

Jeff Hale, MSN Sports

Jeff Hale, MSN Sports

The Calgary Flames will eventually undertake a rebuilding project.

It just may not involve the NHL team’s roster.

The Globe and Mail recently reported the Flames have been conducting a sotto voce campaign for a new arena to replace the Saddledome, which opened in 1983. No doubt Flames ownership watched the saga of the Edmonton Oilers’ new arena with keen interest. At some point they will go public with their plans for a new arena. Expect a triangular debate, touching on funding, location and design, as in whether to retain the sloped, saddle look of the present building, a form that prevents some music concerts from booking dates in Calgary.

Until then, the talk in Calgary is whether the Flames should tear apart their roster and rebuild it.

Certainly, the elements are there for a rebuilding project. Jarome Iginla, the captain of the Flames, is in the final year of his contract. The Flames’ other keystone, goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season. The Flames have not made the NHL playoffs in three seasons and in their four postseason appearances before that they exited after the first round.

The playoff absence has accelerated the call for rebuilding. Those in favour cast envious glances at the young talent assembled by the Oilers. Those against point out Edmonton’s talent has as many playoff appearances as the Flames have had in the past three seasons.

Yet, it seems a matter of time before Edmonton breaks through. In Calgary, there has been no teardown and only slight modifications. Some players, such as Olli Jokinen and Michael Cammalleri, have left the Flames in recent years, only to be reacquired. The three recent first-round draft picks to crack the lineup with any regularity have had a checkered start this season. Forwards Mikael Backlund and Sven Baertschi are both injured and goalie Leland Irving, thrown into starting duty after an injury to Kiprusoff, has been good but not great. 

When it comes to coaches, the Flames dispense with tinkering. Bob Hartley is the Flames’s fifth head coach since the 2004-2005 lockout. Hartley, who won a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 2001, is trying to implement an up-tempo, attacking style, but it has been a bumpy introduction. Calgary, blessed with an excellent schedule to open the season, has garnered only four points in six home games.

That revved up the rebuilding talk. Such a project, if it ever comes, would start by trading Iginla, 35, and Kiprusoff, 36, both Calgary icons. There is no sense anyone in the Flames’ organization has dawdled even slightly over this notion. Iginla, the very essence of a company man, has stayed with Calgary during previous free-agent openings, leaving money on the table by choosing the Flames. That may strike some as blind loyalty but many in Calgary admire and revere Iginla and even though he has one goal in 10 games, Flames’ ownership surely knows that dealing him will require a public soothing like no other.

Kiprusoff has assumed a goaltending load that would buckle a workhorse. The shortened season ensured Kiprusoff would not play more than 70 games a season for the first time in seven years. He made doubly certain of that when he sprained his medial collateral liagment last week, shelving him until late February.

That injury conjured a doomsday scenario among Flames’ fans, handwringing that has not been misplaced. The Flames’ scramble for a goalie — they signed Danny Taylor after Kiprusoff’s injury and added Joey MacDonald off waivers Monday -- makes them look foolish for not properly evaluating the post-Kiprusoff world. If this injury proves a harbinger of additional Kiprusoff ailments, the Flames will have moved too late and with far too little.

That could be the fate of any rebuilding, too. The Flames could still deal Iginla and Kiprusoff but they may have waited past the best-buy date for either player, not getting the premium return that was once available. Stand pat, though, and you risk watching the team’s fortunes decay around two proud players. Neither is palatable, but either seems possible right now.

Maybe the plans for a new arena will have a better fate.


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