In 2004, the Calgary Flames took the hockey world by storm. Making their first playoff appearance in nearly a decade, Calgary caught fire (jokes) in the playoffs and ignited (ha!) weeks of raucous celebrations along the famed "Red Mile" before ultimately falling to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of a thrilling Stanley Cup Final.
Since then, Calgary has become a shining example of mediocrity, with season of failure interspersed with uninspired "one and done" playoff appearances.
I guess one can say that in recent years, Calgary has *puts on sunglasses* ...flamed out.
OK, enough jokes that are as bad as the Flames. Truthfully, Calgary's faithful hockey fans have been done in by a long tradition of mismanagement, weird trades, weirder draft picks, and a strange aversion to use the word "rebuild."
How bad are things for the Flames? Their preseason topics of discussion include "which teams will be worse than Calgary?" Ouch.
Recent Calgary achievements include waiting about a year too long to trade Jarome Iginla and subsequently getting a pretty horrible return for him (though some of the blame can be placed on Iginla's shoulders for forcing the Flames to accept the Penguins' deal over the Bruins' better offer), trading Jay Bouwmeester for "fringe" prospects, trading Dion Phaneuf for a pretty awful haul, signing aging veterans despite overwhelming evidence that screams "REBUILD!", and numerous questionable draft decisions.
This is a team that has seen the writing on the wall for a few years now, and has elected to follow GM Jay Feaster's lead and whistle past the graveyard.
"Rebuild?! Of course we're not rebuilding! We're supposed to make the playoffs next year." -Feaster, despite his team finishing 13 points out of a playoff spot and making no major improvements.
"OK, fine. Maybe we are rebuilding. But not like those punks down in Edmonton!" -Feaster, slightly reconsidering his position.
While Feaster didn't exactly inherit a glittering franchise, the moves he's made have caused his name to be constantly bandied about in "worst GM in the league" discussions, though Scott Howson, while employed, did everything he could to hold onto that title.
Feaster's most questionable move? Signing Ryan O'Reilly to an offer sheet, when he would've had to put O'Reilly on waivers had Colorado refused to match it. This means that any team would've had a shot at claiming O'Reilly without giving up a thing, and Calgary still would've lost their offer sheet-related draft picks.
Again: Feaster nearly lost two first round draft picks on a player he probably would've lost on the waiver wire. Inept doesn't even begin to describe the level of boneheaded-ness (not a word, I know) exhibited there.
For a more in-depth look at the Flames' failures, visit SBNation sibling site Matchsticks and Gasoline, which is pretty much a perfect description of what the Flames should do to their roster.
The Flames do have some things going for them, however. Their jerseys are awesome, though they should bring back the fire-sneezing horse from a few years ago. Sven Baertschi is looking like a future star. Bringing Brian Burke into the fold was a good move, as maybe he can give Feaster the smack upside the head he occasionally needs.
Another big plus for the Flames? They've got the greatest defenseman of all-time, Big Money Wides, on their roster. If one guy can lead the Flames to the Promised Land, it's him.
Of course, he also carries a $5.25 million cap hit and has a full NMC...not even his staunchest supporter (me) thinks that's a good idea.
The Flames have suffered for years now due to management's refusal to see the writing on the wall: the team has needed to start over, and maybe they're finally ready to do it.
Then again, this rebuilding team did acquire David Jones, Shane O'Brien, T.J. Galiardi, and Brian McGrattan this offseason, while passing on the sixth-ranked North American (Hunter Shinkaruk) skater to instead use the 22nd overall pick on the 39th-ranked North American skater (Emile Poirier).
Jay Feaster's Flames have turned "going off the board!" at the draft into an art form, and not necessarily in a good way.
As this FlamesNation piece says, when fans use "it could've been worse!" to describe a team's draft, that's a pretty bad sign.
Never change, Feaster. Never change.