Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Leadership starts behind the bench

This is going to be a quick one ... as speedy as the playoffs went for the Calgary Flames.

Done in six games. They lose two, they put out two gritty performances and tie the series ... then there was the Saturday debacle.

The Flames respond to cheap stickwork with cheap stickwork. They respond to sucker-punches with sucker-punches. Trips, dives, smacks, whacks ...

This was not hockey. Not the way us old-fashioned Canadians like to watch it.

Worse yet, this was not the same type of hockey the Flames played in their magnificent Stanley Cup run of 2004 ... won in the sixth game by the Flames but faulty reviews let the Tampa Bay Lightning win the game, tie the series and force a seventh game on home ice.

No, it wasn't the same type ... some character types were missing.

Worse yet ... some types had lost their character.

I won't dispute for a second they were beaten by a better team, the Detroit Red Wings, whose roster sports the amazingly talented Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.

But the Flames still have decent talent ... one of the best power forwards in today's game, Jarome Iginla; one of the best leaders in the game, Craig Conroy; one of the best young defencemen in the game, Brad Stuart; and one of the best goalies in the game, Miikka Kiprusoff.

But the road record during the regular season was appalling, especially for a team with the decent talent the Flames had. And the road effort was no better in the playoffs. Four consecutive losses outside of the Saddledome.

And the debacle of Game 3 in Detroit has convinced me I will not watch another Flames game provided Jim Playfair is behind the bench.

Playfair ... Darryl Sutter's understudy in that magnificent playoff run of 2004.

Handpicked by Sutter to take over the coveted job of leading a talented team which was expected to be a contender at the beginning of the season.

But one that barely held onto its playoff spot.

What was truly appalling was Playfair's inability to corral the team on Saturday and harness their emotions and turn them into hard-nosed hockey -- the kind of hockey where guts and hearts beat skill and talent.

With the right leader behind the bench, Jarome Iginla picks the biggest, toughest guy on the team and either kicks his ass or takes his licks -- just like he did in '04 with Derian Hatcher.

With the right leader, Jarome Iginla isn't responding to chippy stickwork with his own, especially that butt-end in the last 45 seconds.

With the right leader, Jamie McLennan is never put in the position in which he found himself ... finishing his career with a two-hand chop to someone's stomach. And no, I don't give a crap whether Franzen overacted. McLennan still delivered a two-hand chop to his stomach.

With the right leader, the players -- from captain to fourth-line checker -- are prepared to play against any adversity ... just as they did in 2004.

Now I'm not saying Darryl Sutter is the right person. But I will say I don't believe Jim Playfair is.

And there won't be a single Flames game viewed by these eyes as long as Sutter thinks Playfair is.