by PuckStopsHere on 02/02/10 at 12:19 PM ET
The Calgary Flames seemed poised for a good season this year. They barely missed out on the Northwest Division championship last year, largely due to not dressing a full roster in the stretch drive due to salary cap problems. This year looked like they could do even better. Miikka Kiprusoff looked ready to improve his numbers and get closer to the Vezina Trophy level he had played at in the past. Jay Bouwmeester was added to an already talented defence including Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr, to give Calgary a defence that could be the league’s best. Jarome Iginla gave the team a strong scoring threat and players like Olli Jokinen and Daymond Langkow offered some depth. This was a team that appeared to be in contention.
For the first couple months of the season, that prediction appeared to be roughly on the mark and then a very rough stretch hit in January. Calgary has lost ten of their last eleven games. Their only win came against bottom feeding Edmonton, who had not won at all in 2010 so far until last night. If the season ended right now, Calgary would be dropped out of the playoffs as they sit in ninth in the West Conference.
When the going got tough, Calgary re-assessed their situation. There are several ways they could have done this. They could have decided that they were going through a particularly bad stretch, but they had the talent to do well if they rode it out. Calgary would thus keep their core together to make the best playoff run that they could. They could have decided that this team was not good enough to win and retooled by sending declining veterans away in exchange for prospects. They did neither. They decided to make trades, but ill-advised ones. They decided to trade once highly valued players who were going through rough stretches away while their market value was at an all-time low. They were willing to take on the spare parts that teams were offering in return for some of their better players.
Their first trade was to move Dion Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjostrom and Keith Aulie to Toronto for Ian White, Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman and Jamal Mayers. Calgary had given up a 24 year old former Norris Trophy finalist for several spare parts from a Leafs team in the race for last place. They certainly did not get back any players who have anywhere near the potential that Phaneuf has.
Their second trade (which was bizarrely not completed until over a day after it was first announced) was to send Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust to the New York Rangers for Ales Kotalik and Christopher Higgins. Once again they give up the biggest talent in the deal in Jokinen (while his value is lowest - in part because he is a pending UFA) in order to pick up two pieces that the New York Rangers did not want. Prust and Kotalik are the two players involved where the teams will keep their rights into next year. Kotalik is signed for two more years for $3 million per season, which makes him significantly overpaid for his production. Prust is a restricted free agent who will likely have a much more manageable contract.
Calgary made two trades where they gave up the most talent and got back spare pieces. The parts coming back to Calgary are not young players with significant upside. They are the same pieces that Toronto and New York wanted to deal and had likely offered throughout the league. Neither team that dealt with the Flames believe they gave up players that they really wish they could have kept.
Calgary appears to have given up in their hopes of contending this year and they have not helped themselves to be in a better position in the future in the way that they did it. It seems that GM Darryl Sutter decided that his moves to try to contend this year were mistakes and he threw them out before fully playing his hand. Though he probably was not going to win the Stanley Cup with the team, there was a reasonable chance of Calgary having a solid playoff run. These trades call Sutter’s competence into doubt. You do not improve your team by selling players when their value is at an all time low. The successful move is to buy low and sell high. Calgary has done the opposite.
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