Of all the categories Miikka Kiprusoff has managed to lead the NHL in over the years, the most impressive is his ability to quite literally mask his emotions.
Unfazed by the most heartbreaking of goals, the Flames netminder has always responded with a trademark flip of the mask, casual swig of water and blank stare as if trying to recall the missing item on a grocery list.
On the heels of a 6-0 loss to Minnesota, punctuated by the ol’ Bronx cheer for a late save made by the struggling netminder, Kiprusoff appeared somewhat overwhelmed by an altogether unfamiliar line of questioning after practice.
Eyes darting downward, unable to connect with his inquisitors for more than a flash, he looked genuinely hurt, confused, frustrated, uncomfortable and shocked at the recent string of games that finds him unable to regain old form.
Turns out things can get to him. He’s human after all.
The proud Finn knows he has to be better, he’s just clearly at a loss for explaining how.
His teammates pointed to his record as perhaps the NHL’s most consistent goalie the last seven years and insist his recent funk will pass quicker than Adam Oates.
Brent Sutter took a different approach to protecting his guy by blasting the fans for having a short memory and disrespecting their franchise goalie with late-evening jeers.
After all, Kiprusoff is arguably the single most important player this club has ever had. Certainly it’s best goalie.
While Darryl Sutter was given credit for saving the franchise, none of it would have been possible without the acquisition of Kiprusoff whose all-world play in 2004 gave the team a berth in the Stanley Cup final it had no business being in.
So where does it all go from here?
Despite debates over the role backup Henrik Karlsson should play in all this, the important question is not whether Kiprusoff should get the start tonight or tomorrow.
It’s what to do with him long term that matters most.
The obvious answer is trade him, and eventually they should.
Not because he’s struggling — that’s purely an emotional, nonsensical response from frustrated fans.
You trade him because the franchise is at a crossroads and must use what few assets it has to start the rebuild.
He’s as big an asset as this franchise has ever had and Jay Feaster and Sutter must now do whatever they can to ensure he returns to past form. Call it asset management.
Given how silly playoff talk is for the Flames at this point, raising Kiprusoff’s stock should be a primary focus on the tail end of this lost season.
Whether that means playing him more, less, against weaker opponents or largely at home, Kiprusoff must be given the best possible chance to shine again.
While acting GM Jay Feaster won’t have enough dance partners — or the stomach — to orchestrate a trade for No. 34 this year, he most certainly should be in play next year if the price is right.
Feaster reiterated yesterday he has no desire to trade away a world class goaltender as it’s unquestionably the most important building block to success. That said, success is a long way off in Calgary.
Kiprusoff still has three more years left on a contract that comes with a cap hit of $5.8 million, although the final year would cost his employer $1.5 million in real dollars.
Asked quietly yesterday if he’d waive his no-trade clause, Kiprusoff was caught off guard.
“I’ve never thought about it because no one has ever asked,” he said before being asked if he liked the city.
“I love it here. Great city.”
Hey, everything is negotiable.
Not only would trading Kiprusoff net the club some young assets and/or cap room with which to start the rebuild, his absence would ensure the Flames land lottery picks the next couple of years as NHL bottom feeders.
Any way you look at it, the Flames face a future almost as painful as the look on Kiprusoff’s face yesterday.
Eric Francis appears regularly as a panelist on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada