Jay Feaster has set up an expectation of change this off-season. How dramatic of a change that will be is a matter of pretty wide speculation at the moment.
Is it posturing, more hollow PR or is there a real plan of substantial change in the works? No one knows. Feaster has already fired an early shot across the bow with the signing of Roman Cervenka, a move that is universal in endorsement and at least breaks the mold of the Flames being a mainly made in Canada player roster.
Cervenka is a low risk move, a gesture of change but one player is certainly not enough. The Flames are at a crossroads, one where they will seriously adjust their team next year or they will adjust naturally and in a timid manner.
The choice will be made this off-season and in the decision to move Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff or not.
The Flames roster has 6 players going UFA: Olli Jokinen, Lee Stempniak, David Moss, Tom Kostopoulos, Cory Sarich and Scott Hannan. 3 going RFA: Blake Comeau, Mikael Backlund and Blair Jones. Even if a stay the course mentality was in place, one would expect at least a degree of natural change here.
A few re-signings perhaps and then more or less the same old roster and the same old non-playoff result. The Flames may pick up a player or two but the team is not a player or two away from contending for the Cup. This is the worst case scenario for the team.
A couple low level trades here and there, a free agent signed (overpaid naturally) and a bunch of heavy speeches on how management believes this team is ready for the playoffs. Maybe even picking up yet another old decent Vet on good value. Resign Jokienen or Sarich on value and it is all deju vu from the previous season. It is superficial change at best.
It is the Joan Rivers facelift plan. Still the same person but now more dramatic plastic surgery, the wrinkles are stretched out again to give the appearance of a potential playoff team. It is fooling next to no one now. The tired old trick of getting a new coach, couple good value Vet players and all the optimism that comes with that has to wearing thin for even the most naive fan at this point.
It may be enough to once again beat the tired drum of "we are going for the playoffs" but really that song and dance is fooling no one. It will just mean another wasted season and more dramatic decline in the future.
Unlike plastic surgery, this level of change targets the remaining core.
It will target at least one of Iginla or Kipper, going into the off-season and hopefully both. It is the level of dramatic change that will signal the end of an era. It would be historic change, many Flames fans do not even know the Flames without Kipper or Iginla.
Is Jay Feaster and Co up to the task? Will ownership clear such a move? Will Jarome waive his NMC? Will Jarome narrow the potential target teams to limit the return in a trade? How will the larger fan base react?
There is a ton of unknowns here. Yet the issues from an objective hockey perspective require this kind of change. To borrow, what has become a Feasterism, if one is to be intellectually honest about the state of the team, moving Kipper and Iginla this off-season is a natural move, one required to regenerate the team long-term.
The off-season is definitely the best time to move them, from both a PR perspective and for the widest potential market. If it doesn't happen, the entire season will have constant rumors of trades regarding the two of them, it will be a constant distraction.
Jarome and Kipper will feel like dead men walking which would really be a awful way for them to end their tenure in Calgary.
Trade talk has always surrounded Jarome, every season it is always there but get ready for all that talk to get put on nitro if he is not traded. Unless Feaster comes out and says directly, as he did last year, that Jarome is absolutely not being traded, the wild fire of speculation will spread all season long, in a way that will dwarf all previous speculation.
It is impossible to anticipate what will or will not happen for the Flames at this point.
For at least 3 years hockey writers and analysts have been talking about the Flames needing to rebuild, the need to trade Iginla, the need to stop getting older. The management group never listened and constantly plugged forward with the playoffs or bust mentality, well the bust part is here now.
The Flames are starving for talent in the key 23-27 age group, as discussed by Kent Wilson of Flames Nation here.
They have failed to address this area for years and no matter how high you are on Mikael Backlund, you can not claim he is enough. As predicted many years ago, the Flames are headed straight off a cliff in the near future, if they do not acquire some reasonable talent in this age group.
One more muddled-middling season, while Jarome and Kipper get another year older and depreciate further and Flames fans will have to really tighten the seat belts because only the strong will survive. Down to the gutter to live with the bottom five, with only the hope of high round draft picks to live for. That is tough for fans and although Calgary has grown a lot since the 1990s, I still consider the Flames fan base soft.
For me the choice, isn't really a choice at all.
The edge of the cliff is clearly in sight. Taking the risk of big trades now could change the direction of the team enough to halt plummeting over the edge. The trades may backfire and the Flames may still head off the cliff to the basement but at least they tried to do something.
The only wrong move this off season is timid, superficial changes, that will practically gaurantee a slow painful death of the team over several years as they descend to a longer path back to contention.
Make the big moves, do it like an amputation and quick and clean with a big axe. Not slowly and more painfully over time with a butter knife. Give the fans time to mourn the movement of Kipper and Iginla and get on with a new era in Flames history. One can only hope it happens.
It is the big crossroads...