Everybody has an explanation for the dismal start of the Calgary Flames. Some figure the crackdown on obstruction has the typically gritty Flames playing too tentatively. Some say the team has yet to figure out the subtle differences larger offensive and defensive zones make.
Simpletons suggest Sports Illustrated is to blame, extremists point a finger at Darryl Sutter and true cynics suggest the players started to believe their pre-season press clippings, changing their attitudes from scrappy underdogs to high-falutin' favourites.
They're blaming Sutter's systems, Miikka Kiprusoff's positioning, Robyn Regehr's absence and Jarome Iginla's typically slow start for a record that, if truth be told, boils down to a special teams problem.
Nonetheless, the one theory circulating more than Keith Tkachuk at a buffet is the team simply made too many changes.
Ten new faces have been injected into the lineup since the team lost Game 7 in Tampa, which some now suggest was far too great an overhaul for a team that fell two goals short of the Cup. Oddly enough, these are largely the same people who lauded Sutter's off-season activities as progressive moves to add depth. Yet, six games into the season, the Sea of Red is seeing red, wondering how it could all go so terribly wrong.
While cooler heads urge everyone to give it time, the reality is Calgary was badly outclassed in four of the first five games leading to last night's Oilers tilt. Sutter has explained all his moves as necessary steps to keep pace in a division that has five of the league's top coaches, a good portion of the league's fastest skaters and by far the most talent. Lest we forget Calgary only squeaked into the playoffs last time out.
The number of newbies in town is comparable to most NHL teams following the long layoff. So, in the interest of quelling this theory, a quick exam of every player's departure and his ultimate replacement can demonstrate the necessity of changes Sutter made:
CRAIG CONROY OUT, DAYMOND LANGKOW IN: While the Flames would love to have Conroy's talent, leadership and character, he simply priced himself out of the Flames budget with or without a salary cap. Langkow is younger, cheaper and brings more offensive upside.
DENIS GAUTHIER OUT, DION PHANEUF IN: Both are a physical presence but room was needed for the rookie who has been Calgary's best player.
TONI LYDMAN OUT, ROMAN HAMRLIK IN: The Flames waited for the pricey Lydman to blossom and replaced him with a proven commodity who has been questionable in his own end.
MARTIN GELINAS OUT, TONY AMONTE IN: Amonte will easily replace Gelinas' speed and scoring, although the popular Gelinas is a winner with heart and intangibles the Flames will miss.
OLEG SAPRYKIN OUT, ERIC NYSTROM IN: Both bring energy to the rink every night. Nystrom needed a place to play, making the frustrating Saprykin expendable.
VILLE NIEMINEN OUT, JASON WIEMER IN: Nieminen's only asset -- intensity -- made him a marked man with refs.
ROMAN TUREK OUT, PHILLIPE SAUVE IN: Turek would have been a great backup but, although the jury is still out on Sauve, the issue is irrelevant.
KRZYSZTOF OLIWA OUT, DARREN MCCARTY IN: One is a winner with character, toughness, heart and some skill. The other just fought, albeit well.
CHRIS CLARK OUT, BYRON RITCHIE IN: Both work hard in limited roles.
MIKE COMMODORE AND DAVE LOWRY OUT, BRYAN MARCHMENT IN: Marchment is a depth defenceman like Commodore and a veteran presence in the room like Lowry.
Dean McAmmond was a scoring threat but his back problems made him too risky to sign. Although taking their time to gel, the Flames have more winners, talent and depth in a lineup Sutter had to shoehorn into a $39 million US budget. What's missing is heart, intensity, special teams competence and defensive discipline the assembled players are capable of.