The reshaping of the Calgary Flames continued Monday night, as general manager Darryl Sutter completed a deal that had been talked about for the better part of 24 hours.
Moments after the Flames were booed off the ice following a 3-0 loss to the visiting Philadelphia Flyers, Sutter traded centre Olli Jokinen and winger Brandon Prust to the New York Rangers for Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins. The deal wasn't made official until early Tuesday morning, or after the trade call, post-game, was completed.
The Rangers-Flames deal was curious on some levels, beginning with the fact that New York is essentially the Eastern Conference equivalent to Calgary, a team that is on the fringe of playoff contention only because of a superior goaltender (Henrik Lundqvist instead of Miikka Kiprusoff) and one front-line NHL scorer (Marian Gaborik instead of Jarome Iginla). Kotalik was signed by the Rangers as an unrestricted free agent last summer; after an okay beginning, his production has fallen off the face of the earth and he has been scratched in eight of the team's previous nine games. The Rangers wrap up a three-game road swing in Los Angeles Tuesday; Kotalik was not on the road with the team, while awaiting a trade. Higgins, a former Montreal Canadiens player, has just 14 points thus far this season. Just how those two will solve Calgary's ongoing scoring woes is a matter of some conjecture. Both are expected in the lineup for Calgary's next game, Wednesday against the visiting Carolina Hurricanes.
In all, the Flames will have turned over a third of their roster in the past 48 hours, a move that smacks of panic.
Jokinen and Prust both played in the loss to the Flyers, an odd gamble considering that if either had been injured, it would have likely scuttled the transaction.
"You've got to play hard every time you go on the ice, no matter what distractions you have," Jokinen said. "You play for that sweater, that logo in front of you, until they tell you you're no longer part of the team.
"I just got the news, I'm not part of the team any more, so I've got to turn the page and move on. Obviously, 11 months ago when I got traded over here, I was very excited. I was hoping I could stay here for the rest of my career. But it's a cruel business and that's the way it goes. It comes with the salary. If you make $5-million, 11 goals is not going to cut it, so ….
"It's definitely a slap in the face to get traded."
Jokinen said he was excited to join the Rangers, an Original Six team, and was looking forward to playing with Gaborik and for coach John Tortorella, whom he knows from Southeast Division battles between their former teams, Tampa Bay and Florida.
"I know the coach very well," Jokinen said of the former Lightning bench boss. "He coached against me lots. They probably know what they're getting."
The Flames played against the Flyers with four new faces in the lineup, all acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday - forwards Niklas Hagman, Matt Stajan, Jamal Mayers and defenceman Ian White.
The theory behind the deals was to improve Calgary's secondary scoring. One game does not provide a definitive answer about the changes, but the Flames helped Flyers goaltender Ray Emery record one of the easiest shutouts of his career.
Of the four Calgary newcomers, Hagman showed the most energy and eventually ended up on the top line with Stajan and Iginla.
Jokinen began his Calgary career 10 months ago by scoring two goals in his debut versus the Flyers, in an easy 5-1 win. In his final game, he played a little over 20 minutes and didn't register a shot.
Coach Brent Sutter suggested that it would be unfair to evaluate the play of the newcomers because they were thrust into the lineup with little practice time, but …
"The reality is, we can't have players, new and old, taking too long to get used to each other," said Sutter. "We don't have time for that. We need to win hockey games."
If there is a mitigating circumstance for Calgary, it is that the Flyers were in an equally deep hole just around Christmas, struggling to find their identity following the coaching change from John Stevens to Peter Laviolette. In last night's game, they took away the middle from Calgary all night, keeping the Flames on the periphery and limiting the quality chances against Emery to a miniscule few. By contrast, Kiprusoff needed to be good just to keep Calgary in it.
So, essentially Philadelphia is a team that reversed course in the middle of a season, although there wasn't much in Calgary's game Monday night that suggested it is close to a similar turnaround.
The defining moment may have come in the third period, when Stajan drove to the net, but Emery knocked him flat to the ice with a forearm shiver. On Mike Richards's first of two goals, which came on a weird ricochet off Jay Bouwmeester's stick, Stajan was late on the back check, permitting Richards a point-blank chance from the slot.
The defeat ended Calgary's modest win streak at one game. They are 1-7-2 in the last 10.
Newcomer White played defence in Dion Phaneuf's old spot alongside Robyn Regehr.
"It was a real tough game for us," White said. "We couldn't get anything going. We looked a bit out of sync out there."
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