SUN Hockey Pool

All Flames to blame

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

Expectations are the guillotine is poised to fall on the bench boss.

So goes the resounding theories out there.

While seemingly everybody is waiting for the Calgary Flames to sever their ties to head coach Mike Keenan, lost in the whirlwind is the fact much, much responsibility for the team's one-and-done playoff performance is deserved elsewhere.

The players. Especially those counted on to lead them beyond first-round playoff fodder.

Don't for a second think this is to say Keenan is infallible in the club's first-round exit from the playoffs. The part he played in the team's struggles down the stretch, namely the joke of a powerplay, the inability to win the chess match against Chicago's Joel Quenneville in the playoffs and the lack of accountability among the players, can't be overlooked.

For that, he must answer the powers that be -- GM Darryl Sutter, the owners, etc. -- and, at worst, lose his job.

At best, Keenan must be on a very short leash next season, and if this team struggles out of the gates or goes through another debacle like that 6-1 November loss to the San Jose Sharks, the decision must be made then.

However, the blame game shouldn't end there.

It should be pointed with a cannon into the dressing room that's home to the players who have now scattered for the summer.

For some reason, that's been lost in the shuffle.

It's great that captain Jarome Iginla owned up on exit day and admitted he wasn't good enough from start to finish this season. It's refreshing to hear he plans to watch the playoffs and receive a reminder what it takes to win games.

Let's see it in action.

Iginla was not the top-notch player expected to be this season, and we're not talking about the goals (39) and points (89) he accumulated. Those totals are almost secondary when you consider what's around him now. With a more balanced attack, it's a sign he doesn't need to be a 50-goal, 100-point player for the Flames to win their division.

The damning figure is the minus-2. That's indicative of what was lacking in his game -- defence.

Defence, coaches will insist, is nothing more than hard work. Frankly, Iginla wasn't working hard enough in that area all season.

Think about it. How often did you see him outside the blueline before the puck?

How often was he in position to pick up a trailer, but didn't?

How often was his defensive play not up to standard?

Too often.

Unfortunately, that seeps through the team.

You don't think other players notice the leader -- the main piston in the engine -- doesn't close that gap between himself and the defender?

They do, and even though it's not a conscious decision, others begin to cheat, too.

Let's face it, Todd Bertuzzi and Michael Cammalleri were just as guilty of not being strong defensively. Bertuzzi finished minus-13.

Too often, too many players were caught taking the easy way out. It led to too many five-on-five goals allowed and way too many shorthanded tallies surrendered.

Sure, the injuries that decimated the Flames down the stretch were an issue, but the problems surrounding the team were starting to come into focus before the rash became out of control.

Think of that terrible home game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the losses in Atlanta and Toronto. Win one of those games -- just one of three against teams long dusted from playoff contention by then -- and the Flames finish atop the division.

By then, the commitment to defence that was such an integral part of the turnaround from mid-November onward was pretty much gone.

That's when your best player -- your leader -- has to start the charge with his actions.

Let's face it, there are issues that affected the Flames. To borrow Keenan's overused word, reasons.

Injuries were indeed a problem when it came down to crunch time. Likewise, the holes in gameplan -- and this is Keenan's department -- were starting to show.

Let's not forget the way Sutter's salary-cap experiment blew up in his face.

Still, the players don't deserve to be off the hook.

When fall arrives and preparations begin for next season, many parties wearing the Flaming C need to rebound.

Goalie Miikka Kiprusoff has to play less and be more effective down the stretch and in the playoffs. Defenceman Dion Phaneuf needs to step forward after a season of disappointment. Olli Jokinen can't fade when times are tough. And the supporting cast must pick up more slack.

But the buck has to stop with the leader. This team needs Jarome Iginla showing the way.

At both ends of the rink.

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca


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