Former captain McDonald: Flames need change

As the Calgary Flames enter an off-season of uncertainty, many are questioning whether the team should move forward with its current crop of players or go in a completely new direction with a rebuild.

For former Flames captain Lanny McDonald, the choice is a simple one.

In an interview with Sportsnet 960 The Fan in Calgary on Friday, McDonald said the Flames have been in denial with their playoff aspirations and should have traded their veteran players.

“I don’t think you have any choice but to explore them all,” McDonald said of the team possibly dealing Miikka Kiprusoff and Jarome Iginla this summer. “I thought they should have made those moves either last year at the trade deadline or even this year at the trade deadline.

“If you go back to the trade deadline, and yes it’s a lot easier to just say it than it is to do it, but you have to make a commitment: ‘OK, we need to change this, this is not working, this is not good enough.’”

Calgary finished ninth in the Western Conference this season with 90 points, five points back of the final playoff spot. It was the third straight year the Flames missed the post-season and, on Thursday, the team parted ways with head coach Brent Sutter.

“I think they were unfortunately kidding themselves when they thought, ‘Oh my God, we’re close. We’ve got to stick with this group all over again.’ You could predict that it was going to be, ‘Oh my God, we just barely missed. We’re in ninth place.’ But are you really close? No, especially when you see that level of play that is happening in the playoffs right now.”

Despite the Flames making a late-season push for a playoff spot, McDonald said a lot of the team’s problems were covered up by strong goaltending.

“Miikka Kiprusoff masks everything that is wrong with the Flames right now,” McDonald told Sportsnet 960 The Fan. “If you put Kipper on any other team, whether it was even Edmonton, they may have finished ahead of the Flames.”

McDonald went on to say that Calgary should have given Iginla the option of joining a contender for the remainder of his contract. The Flames captain has one more year left on his current deal and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent following the 2012-13 season.

“Here’s the deal: We can’t win. We’re going to give you a chance to win wherever you want to go — Detroit, St. Louis, New York. You obviously need to fit his salary for the next year and a half into their budget, but at the trade deadline, you only probably have about $1 million, $1.1 million to be able to make that trade happen with somebody else.

“At the end of those two years, you say: ‘Jarome, you’ve scored 500 goals, done everything possible for this city, we want to finish your career here and we’ll do whatever we can to bring you back.’”

McDonald played 1,111 career games in the NHL, scoring 500 goals with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Colorado Rockies and Calgary Flames. He won the Stanley Cup with the Flames in his final season in the league, in 1988-89.