Columns, Sports

There has never been a worse time to be a Calgary Flames fan

Many shouts out to Teemu Marjamaki (@TMrjmki), a Flames fan from Finland, and one of my favourites, as his MSPaint masterpieces are just, wow, mysteriously beautiful (pictured above).

Let me get this out of the way immediately.  I love the Calgary Flames.  I write about them because I love them, and because there is literally nothing I know more about than the Flaming C.  I’ve been alive for the better part of their tenure in Calgary, and from a young age have avidly followed them from the apex of their highest highs, all the way down to the putrid depths of their lowest lows.

I’ve seen it all.  Lanny doing what the entire world wanted to see him do in FINALLY lifting a Stanley Cup over his mustachioed red head before retiring, a local and national legend born precisely in that very moment; The Doug Gilmour fiasco that ruined a city and sent the team into a hockey recession for the better part of a decade (You will never be forgiven for that, Doug Risebrough); The Young Guns era, an iteration of the Calgary Flames so hopeless, yet so unmistakeably lovable, the ultimate underdogs who would never rise to power due to poor drafting, financial hell, and terrible player management; the rebirth of a franchise, Jarome Iginla’s Calgary Flames, a team that would collect the heart of every last citizen in Calgary and roughly half of all those abroad, as the plucky misfits fell ONE GOAL short of a Stanley Cup victory in 2004; an unexpected march to near glory that captivated us all and still continues to unite us; and, of course, that inevitable fall from grace, the post lockout decline in which we try to keep our tenuous grasp on what that team was,, relentlessly fleeting, as it slowly ages and withers away.

Indeed, the past few years for Flames fans have been dark, trying times.  I’ve been, I’m confident in saying, far more optimistic and positive about the team, their chances, and the quality of their players than a majority of it’s fanbase, and even I am having a hard time finding some shred of solace in just whatever it is we continue to support, both financially and emotionally, here.

The Ryan O’Reilly incident, which anyone who even knows what a hockey puck is has become acutely aware of, was perhaps the saltiest grain of salt in the sweet spot of that open, festering wound.

Here we have an answer to a lot of questions surrounding the Flames.  Ryan O’Reilly is many things: young, talented, polished, a center, A TOP LINE CENTER, responsible, defensively sound, offensively capable, AVAILABLE, well liked, and fan friendly.  He had the potential to be everything that you need in a cornerstone piece for a franchise.  Whether you were on the Rebuild And Start Fresh Express, or you were out reppin’ Team Going For It!, O’Reilly was a key cog for either faction.  He really could do it all.

From a hockey perspective, it was the right move.  Sure, it would have cost you a first and third round pick, but to the eyes of many, a 21 year old O’Reilly is already what you’d hope for in a first round pick – except he also has three years of NHL experience under his belt.

The one thing he wasn’t, unfortunately, was a Calgary Flame.


The one thing we all learned from O’Reillygate as Flames fans was, um, yeah, this is why we can’t have nice things.

It’s one of the most embarrassing torment in a long line of embarrassing torment fans in this city have had to endure.  You have to remember the Flames acquired enforcer/caveman on skate Brian McGrattan in a trade, and that had us all feeling pretty low.  The bewilderment of demotions to Roman Horak and Blair Jones and the subsequent recall of fellow pugilist/nothing else Akim Aliu was still fresh, and we were left to wonder why the team would expose themselves so openly to having less than zero centermen on the team.  We were all baffled.

And then the news came in about the O’Reilly offer sheet, and all was forgiven.  It was an unending high, the Flames FINALLY addressing some very pressing needs, but also as fans, the team was responding to something many of us had been pining for for weeks!  The campaign across social media and Flames blogs was to get the team to offer sheet Ryan O’Reilly.  The hashtag #offersheetoreilly was smattered across twitter.  Then it actually happened?!?! (Coincidentally, of course.  I am not about to sit here and suggest that the team went after Ryan because we told them to)

It was a roller coaster of emotion on it’s way up.  But oh my, was the next descent upon us.

Having gone up by 3 goals early on against FORMER RYAN O’REILLY employers in the Colorado Avalanche, having the team from Denver so early on match the offer, erasing any drama that might come in the following 7 days they had to respond, all of a sudden left us with a feeling of numbness; of unease.  And then, as the Avalanche matched EVERYTHING that night, including the score, before ultimately stabbing us all in the heart and winning the game, that signalled it: Rock bottom.  We had finally found it.

Or so we thought.

The next day, of course, the Flames gaffes surrounding the mishandling of the O’Reilly Factor paved the way for us to dig down past that futile base.

We had lost everything.  It has become clear that our management team is not only comically unaware of how the business of hockey operates, it is arrogantly defending it to us as if it’s something to be proud of.  The team, in a statement (WHO RELEASES A STATEMENT ON THEIR WEBSITE ABOUT NOT READING SOMETHING PROPERLY???) defended their actions, saying they had their own interpretations of the rule, and would be willing to fight to have it applied as so.  Losing a marquee player, a first round pick, a third round pick, and any remaining face you may have is a pretty big gamble to go forth with when you don’t really know how to play the game.

Things have not gone swimmingly ever since.  Our one time franchise, world beater goalie seems to have forgotten his trade.  Miikka Kiprusoff has not started off the season inspiring confidence, and upon being injured for a matter of weeks, the revolving door of Plan B goaltenders did not fare admirably in replacement.  Kipper has teased us with some newfound greatness upon his return, but two less than examplary efforts in California this past week have us questioning his continued tenure with this team more than we ever had.

His heir apparent, Karri Ramo, is an ocean away in Russia, and we can only dream of what wonderful things he could be capable of until the end of April, when his contract expires.  Bringing him into the fold before that would be, oh, illegal, but Flames management might have you believe that that’s open to interpretation as well, so let’s not get too excited about that one.

And of course, there’s Jarome Iginla.  Jarome Iginla is, perhaps unsurprisingly, my all time favourite hockey player, and there’s a very good chance he always will be.  He’s been the essence of this franchise since when people were still browsing the internet on Netscape and 56k modems, and, as he is every year, in the thick of trade rumours.

As Flames fans, we’ve gotten so used to the reports coming out of this town here with a shady anonymous source, and that city there with a less than credible Twitter account, all proclaiming with 100% certainty that THIS IS THE YEAR, the time is night for Jarome Iginla’s career in Cowtown to come to an end.

We’ve always laughed and laughed and laughed, because we knew, even while they proclaimed he had lost his touch, was getting too old for the game, that our man Jarome would still net somewhere around 30 or 40 goals, because Jarome is the greatest.  Whether you felt like he should be traded (and there always is a large consortium that believes he should), or that he shouldn’t (IGINLA FOREVER!), you always just sort of intrinsically knew that he wasn’t going anywhere.

This year, however, feels different.

Nobody but Jarome Iginla has any idea what’s going on inside his head but Jarome Iginla.  I certainly have no answers as to what is going through his head.  But you wouldn’t blame the guy if he was considering a change of venue to play out what is quickly becoming a very frustrating season for him.  That Sidney Crosby is an awfully good hockey player, and I would like a Stanley Cup on my resume before I retire…

Make no mistake, Calgary belongs to Jarome Iginla.  Naheed Nenshi might hold the office of mayor, but Jarome pulls the strings.  He loves it here, and if perhaps if Marty Gelinas’ shot in overtime went two inches further (#itwasin), Iggy would have his name on the Cup, and we would never EVER be having this discussion.

But here we are.  It does truly feel like the Iginla era is wrapping up, and with the news that the Flames and Iginla are not talking about a contract extension, the unimaginable might come to fruition.

It’s a frightening thought, losing your face.

Especially when you don’t have anything to replace it with.

If Iginla were to leave town, it would unquestionably be a new era in Flames history, and one without a clear front runner to be the new marshal.

Sure, there’s Sven Baertschi, but he’s been demoted and feeling pretty crappy about it.  GOOD NEWS THERE!

There are a glut of prospects that Flames fans can get excited about (I think that sentence is worth a shot in the Pierre Mcguire Drinking Game.  El Kabong!), but prospects are just that – prospects- and none of them, not even Mighty Mouse Johnny Gaudreau is anywhere close to stepping in and contributing in a real way for this team.  So as far as the face of the franchise goes, well, that might end up falling into the lap of Jay Feaster, and that is really depressing.

Some argue the sting of the defeat in Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals is the ultimate low for Flames fans.  Others argue the entire Young Guns era is the stinkiest.  But I disagree.  Game 7 was a freefall into sadness, but the drop began up on top of what was a pretty exhilirating summer when the Flames were absolutely amazing and all anyone cared about.  The Young Guns were all baby faced rooks, hilariously bad, but you expected them to be bad, bouyed by grim financial optics.  When you went to watch the Young Guns, you knew what you were getting.

No, this, this is it.  The lowest it gets.  The Flames are on equal ground financially, and typically spend more than the majority of teams in the league, but produce far less positive results, and it doesn’t look like anyone in the front office knows how to fix it, yet somehow, their jobs are safe.

That leaves the suffering to us, the fans.  We’ve hit bottom, but it seems like we’re finding ways to be buried 7 or 8 feet under as the days go by.  Between O’Reilly, Kiprusoff, Iginla, Baertschi, an uncertain future, an even less uncertain present, and a management team reminiscent of Colonel Klink in Hogan’s Heroes, it’s become increasingly clear that this is the worst time in Calgary Flames history.

The only thing we have to hang our hats on is that, against all odds, the Oilers are still worse.


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