It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
While the two franchises that I'm talking about are owned by one business, which is the Calgary Flames, their philosophies and keys to success have become two very different things. Nowhere was this more apparent than the results of these two teams where the Stampeder's roared to the Grey Cup finals while the Flames are looking for a fourth year out of the playoffs. From an outsiders view the Flames are being talked about as a near disaster of a franchise where it counts which is on the ice, a team that recently traded its face of the franchise Jarome Iginla for an underwhelming pick and two cans of generic chunky soup. The Stampeders on the other hand were able to re-tool instead of rebuild and rode the second youngest core in the CFL to a finals berth.
So what's the difference? The difference is easily in management. Now, it's difficult to compare two teams from two different leagues due to major differences in the Collective Bargaining Agreements, guaranteed versus non-guaranteed contracts, the lack of No Movements and No Trade clauses and more. However what separates the Flames from the Stampeders?
This write can sum it up in one word, and it's not competence or intelligence, it's a fear of change. For the Flames they waited for too long to change their core, and by the time that they came to the realization that its time had passed, it was far too late. Let's be honest, the Flames faithful have been spoiled, they had a team that spent to the cap, there were at least two sure fire Hall of Famer's in this lineup since 2004, plus a lot of very good impact players. This team didn't have to take that good hard look at itself and re-build, they deluded themselves to thinking that the reason that this team wasn't haven't success was simple enough to fix, and they would make moves to address these weaknesses without coming to the realization that this core was rapidly moving past their best before label. This also lead to poor scouting, they relied on their veteran core and didn't worry about what was coming after it and this lead to bust after bust after bust. Now the Flames under first Darryl Sutter and now Jay Feaster are looking at a team with very little in the way of home grown assets, and a core who's players are no longer valuable enough to get what they need to rebuild.
The Stamps on the other hand have shown that they don't have the fear of change. They made moves that would have terrified Flames management, they looked at aging veteran's like Henry Burris and Joffrey Reynolds and Ken Yon Rambo to name a few and moved them or released them without fear. Fear of a fan backlash, or fear of not having suitable replacements. The other biggest difference is that the Stamps under John Hufnagel have become one of the best scouting organizations in the CFL bringing. The CFL lives and dies by its Canadian content, the Stamps have done an exceptional job of finding good Canadians that you don't have to hide in your lineup. They've also done a superb job of finding surprise American players who come out of nowhere to push veterans out of their job. Give Hufnagel credit, he makes his moves based on the Wally school of thought, you might love your players, you have to be supportive and loyal to your players, but not at the cost of the on field success of the team. The Flames became too attached to the Kippers and Iggys of the world and stubbornly held onto them to the determent of the team. The Stampeders are a model of how to run a sports franchise. Scout heavily, bring in youth to push veterans and most importantly don't become loyal to a point of blindness. Because of this, the Stampeders should be highly competitive and a top level team for a long time.
The Flames are the anti-success model. While they've recently begun to draft better, their neglect of scouting, combined with a inability to bring in young players to push veterans, and over loyalty to their players has doomed them to what is going to be a lengthy and painful period of terrible hockey and poor results.
There's a reason why I have the date of the Stampeder's training camps circle on my calendar, while I groan whenever I walk by those Flames tickets sitting on the fridge.
But Captain you can argue with me as a final thought. You just can't release players in the NHL. I would argue that you're right, however who thinks that we could have gotten more than two disposed of goalie nets and a meh draft pick for Iginla two years ago. Who believes that we would have gotten a whole lot more for Kipper two years ago? There are always ways around things in the NHL, GM's make over a million dollars a year to make tough decisions, and to find ways to keep their franchise competitive. Now this isn't a total blast on Feaster, but he is as responsible as the rest. Meanwhile the best GM in my mind in the CFL who probably doesn't make a 3rd of what a NHL GM makes has shown no fear in making changes while setting a solid direction for years to come. I know this is all over the map, forgive me, I'm loyal to my words. But I thought that since I started this with Dickens and a Tale of Two Cities, I'd well, end it with Dicken's and the end line from a Tale of Two Cities. I think it sums up the transition between watching the Flames and watching the Stamps very well.
"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."