Relief, release, liberation, call it what you will: the Calgary Flames' 09-10 season is finally over. A regulation loss to the Sharks last night sealed their fate and put fans out of their misery once and for all. Calgary will be a place devoid of playoff hockey this spring for the first time in six seasons, but at what cost? It became evident that this Flames team was likely not playoff bound a while ago, but anyone who claims to have foreseen this in September, any anticipated lack of offensive firepower nonwithstanding when looking at the team on paper, is lying. It's been an up and down season, with more places to lay blame than you can shake a stick at, but this was largely an average team that overachieved at times, underachieved at others, and arguably encountered their share of luck, good and bad, and at the end of the day, just weren't good enough on too many occasions.
Darryl Sutter's mid-season acquisitions didn't help matters for the most part, and the disappointments now and going forward--be they questionable management and coaching decisions, cumbersome contracts, underperforming players who didn't pull their weight, or what have you--seem to far outweigh the few bright spots--the resurgence of Miikka Kiprusoff, the play of Rene Bourque and Mark Giordano, and the development of Mikael Backlund. You could probably add the play of Nigel Dawes and Eric Nystrom to that list as well, but in keeping with the sombre mood of this post, that shall remain only duly noted. We've all been anticipating this day, waiting with baited breath. We've been agonizing over what went wrong and when, and debating what the off-season course of action should be for quite some time, so much so that it's hard to get riled up about all this now, but now that missing the post-season is finally an undeniable reality, it's crunch time.
In the immediate future, the Flames have no picks in the first two rounds of the draft, no prospects that appear ready to make the jump to the NHL next season other than Backlund, limited dollars to work with under the cap, and some important decisions to make. Who gets the axe? Retool or rebuild? What to do with Steve Staios, Cory Sarich, Ales Kotalik? Chris Higgins and Eric Nystrom, amongst others, are UFAs, and Ian White is restricted--Who gets a new contract and who walks? And finally, what to do about Jarome, if anything at all?
This season will not be missed. In fact, I'm struggling to summon very many good memories resulting from it that aren't overpowered by mind-numbing frustration and that horrible feeling of being so close, yet so far. Will this season be remembered as a pivotal turning point in the history of this franchise? Maybe, but that is largely dependent on the events of this summer and the next few seasons. There is no way of predicting whether or not missing the playoffs this season will translate into years of this team being a bottom feeder in the Western Conference; there is still the possibility of a retooling and a bounce back into a playoff position next season. It's easier said than done and a lofty goal given the cap situation, the makeup of this squad entering the off season, and the management team in question, but it's certainly not impossible.
So I suppose this is my eulogy to the 09-10 Flames. Their passing is sad, maybe they could have accomplished more, but it's past due, and likely for the best. So long, and rest in peace, I guess.
See you in October. Just do me a favour and ditch that Darryl guy before then, OK? We both know he's no good for you. You're not fooling anyone.