Flames still searching for answers

Another ho-hum October has come and gone, and the Calgary Flames will gladly turn the calendar.

Another ho-hum October has come and gone, and the Calgary Flames will gladly turn the calendar.

A sub-par record, shoddy late-game performances and constant lineup juggling have all provided plenty of cannon fodder for the pundits in town. At the centre of all the negativity is none other than Captain Calgary himself.

Sure, Jarome Iginla’s numbers are nothing remarkable.

Two goals to go with six assists and a rating of -3 heading into action Nov. 9 hardly signify a captain leading by example; however, the disservice being done to the 33-year-old’s reputation during Calgary’s recent slump is hardly fair.

Yes, as captain Iginla must shoulder some of the burden when the team is struggling, but here is a man who has poured his heart and soul into the Flames organization for nearly 15 years.

All he receives in return is chatter of a possible trade.

If Iginla was smart, he would buy in to the rumours and pray for a deal that sends him to squad with real upside.

It doesn’t take a genius to see Calgary’s problems extend well beyond their ever-smiling poster boy — the debate over the No. 1 centre position comes to mind.

So, who’s up for the challenge?

Olli Jokinen?

Yeah right, the apparent Finnish phenom is inconsistent at best.

Jokinen has proved his willingness to shoot the puck this season, it’s finding the back of the net that has been the real struggle.

Matt Stajan? It didn’t work in Toronto and it won’t in Calgary either. Stajan is a third-liner at best on any true contender; however, he may earn the top spot by default.

Mikael Backlund is inexperienced and practically invisible some nights, while veteran good-guy Craig Conroy has lost a step — or 10 — and Stefan Meyer is lucky to even be playing professional hockey.

All of these potential candidates must give Iginla little hope for the future.

Maybe it’s time to train René Bourque or Brendan Morrison to win faceoffs. At least they seem committed to the cause.

Here’s a better idea, make a trade with the value you have.

Swapping Iginla for a young prospect or two will do nothing to solve the Flames’ top-line troubles. Instead, ship one of those proven defenceman for a tried and true centreman.

It’s nice to have Robyn Regehr, Jay Bouwmeester, Ian White and Mark Giordano on the blueline, but is it worth sacrificing all production up front?

If Calgary could just find the right player to line up on his left, it would be wise not to count Iginla out just yet.

Last year, after a bit of slow start in October, the Flames captain was voted the NHL’s top player in November as he amassed 13 goals and 20 points in 14 games.

Throw a scoring surge from fellow top-line winger Alex Tanguay and the Flames might well find themselves with an actual trio capable of leading the charge. Imagine that.

Let’s face it, Calgary’s fate this season hinges a great deal on whether Iginla can get in a groove. Losing faith in the battle-hardened captain at this point would prove a costly mistake.

Jeremy Nolais is a Calgary based sports writer whose column appears ever second Wednesday in The Advocate.

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