It's never quite clear when an NHL executive is speaking whether he's just giving us a "Dion Phaneuf will not be traded" type message, or if he actually means what he's saying. There are some things however, that should always be taken at face value: "We want to make the playoffs", "We are very happy with the first overall selection of X", and "We have a direction for this team to go which we believe in",
Now a team might lie or mislead about that direction- see Dale Tallon crying "rebuild" while signing Ed Jovanovski and Tomas Fleischmann, but every team is going to have a solid direction decided upon by the GM, Coach, President, and possibly others in management. Or so you'd hope.
At the draft- I believed the Flames had a direction. I didn't view it as solid as or great as they were trying to sell, but it seemed like something was in place. They were playing smart and drafting players based on actual talent, rather than size production in low tier leagues. They had hired Chris Snow to be the Director of Statistical and Video Analysis. They had employed a brand new stats program for the draft even to help evaluate which players were being overlooked and were steals at their draft positions.
Not only did I believe there was a sort-of direction, I was mildly excited to watch it play out over the years. This was like the moneyball of hockey! That excitement is what made reality all the worse.
In a way, it started even before the draft- the clear indicators that the Flames really didn't understand where they're going. It started with Jay Feaster speaking on not giving out movement and trade clauses like candy anymore, then watching his boss sign Curtis Glencross to a new contract with a NTC. But it was Glencross- a fan favorite. Besides, only one NTC isn't going to hurt, right?
Then the Regehr trade. It was unpleasant, to be sure, but a combination of Flames fans overrating Regehr and not quite realizing how much asking someone else to take on Kotalik's contract would cost it made the reaction far far worse than it should have been. It was a trade that was unpleasant, but necessary. The early reports on Paul Byron's skill level certainly helped alleviate some of the misgivings I had.
Still, those were early warnings. Early warnings that we should have heeded.
It was clear that Chris Butler's role on the team would not be to replace Robyn Regehr; instead he looked to be 3/4 defenseman at best, if not a bottom pairing defenseman. With Tanguay's talks having reportedly broken down and plenty of cap space newly available, a serviceable replacement for Reggie would surely be acquired on July 1.
Twenty-four hours later, Alex Tanguay is re-signed for just over three million and given, surprise surprise, a modified no trade clause. The fact that the signings of Tanguay and Glencross seem to contradict Feaster's statements on NTC and NMC isn't in and of itself a cause for concern: Flames fans are used to be lied to directly. With Sutter it got to the point that when he said something, you were almost certain that he meant the exact opposite.
Then free agency happened and no defensive signings materialized. Regehr was never replaced. We watched the Flames place the largest bid of any team on Brad Richards in a move that even now I'm not entirely sure how I feel about, only to be spurned for the Rangers a second time since the end of the season (the Erixon fiasco being the first).
Eventually the Flames began actually signing free agents: Clay Wilson, a bottom pairing defenseman/top pairing AHL defenseman with offensive upside, was signed; Anton Babchuk, a bottom pairing defenseman with offensive upside was re-signed; Derek Smith, a bottom pairing defenseman/top pairing AHL defenseman with offensive upside, was signed; and Jordan Henry was acquired from the Florida Panthers for Keith Seabrook. Jordan Henry's capabilities? Bottom pairing call-up or AHL defenseman. With TJ Brodie and Chris Breen in the fold as well, that leaves the Calgary Flames with 7 defensemen who could likely fill the bottom pairing or 7th defenseman spot. And that's not counting Joe Piskula, John Negrin, and the aforementioned Chris Butler who will likely be in a second pairing role.
That's when I realized the Calgary Flames have no idea what they're doing. Not necessarily in a "We don't understand hockey" way, or even a "I think their idea of how to run a hockey team is dumb" way. I mean, there is no plan right now.
It is clear that the Calgary Flames don't have a direction- they're off the map and hoping to find a well of water at some point, and this is no way to run a hockey team. If a team can't decide how to properly fill the 5/6/7 defensive spots, how can they decide if they need to sell parts (which in part they've already done) or if they need to acquire veterans for a "Cup run" (which they've also already done)?