If you could pinpoint one major problem with the Calgary Flames this season, it would be their offense. Ranked just 22nd in the NHL in goals per game, the Flames aren't a team that was built around offense. With goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff and what was thought to be a world-class defense in front of him, general manager Darryl Sutter didn't believe a potent offense was particularly necessary with his team.
But with Jay Bouwmeester not performing up to par and Dion Phaneuf putting together an atrocious season of his own, it was clear that the defense-first mentality wasn't working out. The Flames began a free fall in the thick Western Conference playoff race, and after putting a 1-6-3 mark together in their last ten games, they're lucky they still sit in the eighth and final playoff spot out West.
Sutter knew he had to make some kind of move, evident yesterday in his trade of Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjostrom and AHLer Keith Aulie to the Toronto Maple Leafs for three forwards -- Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman and Jamal Mayers -- and young defenseman Ian White, who despite less than half the pay check has been just as good as Phaneuf this season.
But apparently that wasn't enough for Sutter. Last night, he dropped another bomb on his team, trading Olli Jokinen and tough guy Brandon Prust to the Rangers for struggling forwards Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins.
Well, at least that was the initial report. The trade is on hold right now, but it's clear something is going down, as Kotalik was sent by the Rangers back to New York to await confirmation on a deal. If you crunch the numbers a little bit though, you quickly find a possible reason for the snafu.
From SBNation.com (and full disclosure, I wrote the article)...
So on the whole this Sunday the Flames made a net gain of two NHL players, bumping them to 25 total contracts, over the limit of 23. Simply put, Sutter and the Flames must make some other transaction just to get under the roster limit. They only have one player currently on the NHL roster with a two-way contract, Mikael Backlund, meaning they'd have to put at least one NHL player on waivers to get under the limit. The more likely scenario: they just make another trade. Ah, the intrigue.
Flames fans like to think they're going to swap the underachieving Kotalik -- who thanks to Glen Sather's brilliance has a no-trade clause (another potential reason for the hold-up) -- to another team, perhaps in a package to Atlanta for Ilya Kovalchuk. Not sure how much of that is just wishful thinking on their part and how much of that is actually possible, but nevertheless, something has to drop.
And regardless of what happens, even if the deal is ultimately called off, the fact is that the Flames tried to trade away Jokinen, which makes it ridiculously awkward that he's expected to be in the lineup tonight against the Flyers.
Sources tell TSN that while the Rangers thought they had the deal basically agreed to on Sunday night, the Flames weren’t ready to pull the trigger, in part, because they felt they needed Jokinen in the lineup tonight against Philadelphia in Calgary. There are reports that Kotalik isn’t prepared to waive his no-trade clause to go to Calgary but the indication is the Rangers were fully able and prepared to do this deal, but Calgary backed away at the last moment.
If that report is to be believed, this deal could be stopped because the Flames feel that they need Jokinen to beat the Flyers. If you're aware of that and you're Jokinen, how well do you play on Monday night against Philly?
If tonight really is Jokinen's last game with the Flames, it'll be against the same Flyers team that his first game as a Flame came against. In that matchup at the Wachovia Center just after the trade deadline last March, Jokinen scored two goals in the first period. Let's hope he doesn't try to change Sutter's mind about this deal with a similar performance tonight.
There's no guarantee who will be in the Flames lineup this evening, and with as much turnover as there is in Calgary today, it's going to be rough sailing for that team. The Flyers absoultely have to take advantage of this already struggling group. After all, if you played for Calgary, how would you perform amidst that kind of uncertainty?