With Toronto and Calgary clashing at the Saddledome on Thursday night in a battle of hard-luck hockey clubs, we figured it was the perfect time to ask: considering their current situations, which team would you rather be right now, the Leafs or the Flames?
Day and Age
The Flames and Oilers are both in the basement of the Western Conference, but Edmonton is widely considered on its way "up" with an exciting, talented team and one of the youngest rosters in the National Hockey League.
The Flames don't have a bunch of rookies to use as an excuse for their spot in the basement; in fact, they're the second-oldest team in the league with an average age of 29.7 years (only the Wings have more rings around the trunk), and captain Jarome Iginla is 33-years-old - hardly geriatric, but it's fair to say he's closer to the end of his career than the beginning.
Toronto, meanwhile, is even greener than the Oilers, boasting the second-youngest team in the NHL with an average age of 25.9 years (only Colorado is more fresh-faced). The man who wears the "C" for the Leafs, former Flame Dion Phaneuf, is just 25.
Feeling A Draft
Toronto does not have a first-round draft pick at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft; rather, that player will belong to the Boston Bruins, who acquired the pick (along with two more this past year) when they traded Phil Kessel to Toronto back in September of 2009. The Leafs will still have selections in the second and third rounds. Last year, the boys in blue and white ended up handing the Bruins the second overall pick when they finished 29th in the league. No doubt Leafs GM Brian Burke hadn't intended on his team finishing so low, and Boston picked highly-touted prospect Tyler Seguin. Kessel, meanwhile, has a respectable 12 goals and seven assists in 30 games, but fans in Toronto and elsewhere are watching his progress like hawks and waiting to see if another poor placement in the standings will hand Boston yet another high pick in 2011.
Calgary, on the other hand, does have its own first-round pick in 2011 but will not be making selections in the second or third rounds. Their second-rounder is now the property of the Chicago Blackhawks, while their third-rounder will go to none other than their Alberta arch-rivals, the Oilers (part of of the Steve Staios-Aaron Johnson trade back in March).
With the first-round pick intact for Calgary, though, and with the team appearing as though it could be headed for a pretty high selection, there is the potential for an impressive young player to start helping the franchise to turn things around. That's something the Leafs do not have to look forward to six months from now; they're essentially just trying to give Boston as low a pick as possible.
Follow The Leader
The Leafs were often criticized in the 2000s for being unable to build a quality team around captain Mats Sundin. The same has even been argued in regards to Kessel in his short time there, with some pundits saying his production would be much better if he had higher-calibre players complementing him. The Flames have arguably faced even more flack for their inability to create a winner around team leader Jarome Iginla, who has been in Cowtown for his entire 15-year NHL career and has certainly been one of the elite players in the NHL.
Calgary's last true brush with greatness came in 2004, when the team appeared in the Stanley Cup final, losing in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Flames' last Cup win was in 1989, and it was simply a different era in Calgary back then. That stacked roster included the likes of Joe Nieuwendyk, Doug Gilmour, Mike Vernon, Theo Fleury, Al MacInnis, Gary Roberts and a red-mustachioed Lanny McDonald, among many others.
More recently, the Flames did not qualify for the playoffs last season after making it in the previous five campaigns. When they do make the playoffs, though, their search for the ultimate prize has not been fruitful...in fact, that's an understatement. Aside from the Cup run in '04, the Flames incredibly have not made it past the first round of the playoffs since winning the Stanley Cup in '89.
Toronto, meanwhile, infamously has not appeared in a Cup final since 1967, when they claimed Lord Stanley's chalice after a 4-2 series win over the Montreal Canadiens. There's no doubt the team has a proud history and a dedicated fanbase, but it has become a question of "What have you done for me lately?" A lot of current Leafs fans' dads weren't even alive last time the Stanley Cup was paraded down Yonge Street.
Cup drought aside, what's equally aggravating to hockey fans in Hogtown is that the Leafs haven't even advanced to the post-season since 2004. If that sounds mediocre, it's because it is; the Leafs are one of only two squads in the 30-team NHL which have not made the playoffs in the post-lockout era since 2005-06 (the other team is the Florida Panthers). The Leafs had a few good years in the early 1990s, the late 1990s and the early 2000s, but aside from those, there have been few bright spots as of late in the Big Smoke. It's cruel and unusual punishment for a city that is so crazy about its team, which is the most valuable franchise in the NHL.
Return On Investments
Last January, the Leafs and Flames completed a big trade that saw Phaneuf, forward Fredrik Sjostrom and prospect defenceman Keith Aulie arrive in Toronto, with forwards Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers and defenceman Ian White heading to Calgary.
In March, Stajan signed a big four-year contract extension with Calgary ($3.5 million per year against the salary cap). He has one goal and 15 assists in 25 games this season and is a plus-5.
The Leafs inked blueliner and former Hab Mike Komisarek to a five-year, $22.5 million deal in 2009. He has one goal and six assists in 27 games this season and is a minus-3.
Back in March of 2009, Olli Jokinen was traded to the Flames. Less than a year later, he was sent to the Rangers. Then, exactly five months later and now an unrestricted free agent, Jokinen re-signed with the Flames on a two-year, $6 million contract, leaving many Flames fans scratching their heads. The 32-year-old has four goals and eight assists in 28 games so far this season.
Both teams have invested a significant amount of money in their blue lines but are generally thought to be quite thin on offensive talent.
Let's Hear It
So you've seen the facts and weighed the evidence. Considering their current situations, which team would you rather be right now, the Leafs or the Flames? (Note to readers who are not fans of either team: you can't say neither!) Now it's Your Call.