Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
Tuesday, May 29th, 2012
With his five year contract now complete, defenseman Cory Sarich enters unrestricted free agency for the second time in his career. The first time lead him to Calgary. Where will the second time see him end up?
Sarich is probably the most feared physical player on the Flames roster and we’ve seen that ability turn into some highlight moments. His hit on Matt Cooke in the season opener back in October is a recent example while his crushing check to San Jose’s Patrick Marleau a few years ago is the most resounding. The fact is, Sarich can hit and uses his strong frame to get forwards to shy away from his corner.
Much like Scott Hannan, Sarich is also very responsible defensively when he’s out there against the proper opposition. He’s no longer going to be used in a shutdown role against the best players on the other side, even though that was a role he was very good at earlier in his career. But, when he’s out there against opposing players further down the depth chart, he can still be a steady and punishing force.
Sarich does bring a ton of experience to the position, which you can see on the ice. But I also wonder how much it translates to the locker room. He’s won a Stanley Cup, he’s been deep in the playoffs, and he has almost 900 NHL games under his belt. In theory, Sarich would be a good voice to have on a team to help teach younger blueliners the finer points of the position.
Finally, he won’t be expensive. I think Sarich realizes at this point that he’s limited at the position and therefore shouldn’t be expecting a new contract paying him close to the $3.6 million he’s made the past five years.
The cons for Sarich are almost identical to those of Scott Hannan, whom we profiled last week. His hard style has taken a toll on his body which has affected his foot speed in a noticeable way. He’s never been the fastest skater, but now struggles to keep up with the speedier forwards on the other side. The speed of the higher end forwards can also force him into making mental mistakes, as sometimes the bosy can’t do what the brain wants it to.
Sarich’s age also plays against him. He’ll turn 34 in August, and while he’s still a capable NHL defender in the right role, there’s a question as to where he fits with the Flames. Is Sarich the right fit on the third pairing going forward? Or are the Flames better served in giving those minutes to a guy like T.J. Brodie or Derek Smith? Or maybe someone who played in Abbotsford last year? I’d lean towards the latter two options myself.
Much like Hannan, I wouldn’t sign Sarich unless other options are exhausted. Those options include finding a tough minutes, top four defenseman on the free agent market this summer or deciding to go with someone younger in the third pairing. If those options aren’t realistic, then the conversation can be had to keep one of either Sarich or Hannan, but not both, if they’re still unsigned. In that case, I’d lean towards Sarich, because I think he brings a little more to a third pairing role than Hannan does.
Friday, May 25th, 2012
We’ll start our look at pending Flames unrestricted free agents by profiling a defenseman who just finished his first season with Calgary. Scott Hannan signed with the Flames late in the summer of 2011 and his situation is much the same as it was one year ago. He’s a free agent facing an uncertain future, just a year older.
Scott Hannan, 33, 6’1, 225 pounds, signed 1 year contract with Calgary August 8th, 2011
2011/2012 totals: 78 GP, 2 G, 10 A, 12 P, 38 PIM, -10
2011/2012 cap hit: $1 million
Even at 33, Hannan can still log shutdown minutes if they’re properly tailored. He’s not going to be playing on your top pairing against the best players 0n the other side, but in a third pairing role, a coach can still deploy Hannan in tough defensive situations defensively. You know what you’re going to get from the guy. He’s responsible defensively and has good instincts inside his own blueline while still averaging over 20 minutes a game this past season. His hard nosed, phsyical approach to the game helped set the tone positively a number of times for the Flames as well.
A veteran of over 900 NHL games, Hannan has been through the wars and that shows through on the ice. While he’s not going to win a quickness competition, he plays his angles well and employs off-puck interference very well. Hannan is very aware of the line between an obstruction penalty and legal contact, and he toed it very carefully this year, racking up only 38 penalty minutes while playing 78 games.
His veteran savvy also seemed to show through in his locker room demeanor. Hannan is not the wordiest gentleman, but he clearly hates to lose and has a ton of competitive fire. The way he plays is very similar to the way he goes about his business off it, at least from what I’ve been able to see. He’s gritty and intense.
33 isn’t old by any stretch, but the way Hannan has played his entire 903 NHL games makes him day-to-day for the rest of his career. I don’t worry about him in terms of injuries, but the large physical toll his style of play has taken on his body has had an affect on his effectiveness. His foot speed leaves something to be desired, and while his angles are played well, he can still get beat to the outside. On top of that, you have to be wary of who he’s out there against, because high speed opposition can cause problems. He can’t play against the heavy hitters on the other side effectively anymore as we saw him prone to mental errors against better matchups this season.
His age also plays against him on the Flames. Calgary had younger players like Derek Smith and T.J. Brodie emerge at the position this season, and with Mark Giordano, Chris Butler, Jay Bouwmeester, and Anton Babchuk under contract for next season as well, there may not be a place for him. On top of that, if Clay Wilson or Brian Connelly are going to fight for jobs next season, there may not be a natural fit for Hannan on the Flames roster.
Finally, the fact is, players like Hannan aren’t the most difficult to find. We’re talking about a number four defenseman at best at this point in his career who can play defensive minutes that are best suited to a third pairing. There are players like that on the free agent market who are younger and just as affordable as Hannan last year, which plays against him, and not just on the Calgary roster.
I think you have to let him walk. I’d rather not see Babchuk as part of the regular top six next year, so let’s pencil in Smith, Brodie, Giordano, Butler, and Bouwmeester for next year. Personally, I believe the Flames would be well served to go find a tough minute defenseman who can give you top two pairing minutes this summer. There are guys out there who can do the job more effectively than Hannan can at the same age or younger, and they won’t be a whole lot more expensive. Failing that, I’d rather see Calgary give guys in the organization a shot before signing Hannan to another contract.
Friday, May 18th, 2012
Being a former first round draft pick, the expectations on Mikael Backlund are higher than they might be on other pending restricted free agents. Even though the 2011/2012 season had it’s difficult moments for Backlund, I think there are a lot of postives to look forward to in the coming years.
Mikael Backlund, 23 , 6’0, 190 pounds, drafted round 1 (24th overall) 2007 NHL Entry Draft
2011/2012 totals: 41 GP, 4 G, 7 A, 11 P, 16 PIM, -13
2011/2012 cap hit: $1.271 million
In my eyes, Backlund was one of Calgary’s most effective centers last year. I know some will disagree with that, but among Flames pivots, he spent more time in the offensive zone than most Flames forwards despite being deployed more often defensively. Backlund started shifts in the offensive zone just 44.6% of the time which was the second lowest total among regular Flames forwards. Despite that, he was one of just three forwards on the team to finish with a positive shot rate. When tracking all shots put towards the net for and against, Backlund finished with a 1.91 rating which tells you one thing: even though he started more shifts inside his own blueline, he spent more time at the right end of the ice. I saw Backlund do a good job with his positioning to affect the play out of his own zone and I saw him work a strong cycle once the puck was in the offensive zone. Being a positive possession player at center and at 23 years of age is impressive, and I thought there were some nice steps taken last year.
Backlund also ran into some bad luck last year, and I’ll explain why that falls into the “pro” category. Realistically, a player who spends some of the most time in the offensive zone on the team should have put up higher point totals than 11 points in 41 games. However, Backlund was perhaps the unluckiest Flames forward this year, because he was in on a lot of scoring chances and in fact had one of the higher positive chance ratios on the team. The unlucky factor comes when looking at Backlund’s shooting percentage, which finished at 4.7%, more than two percentage points lower than the year before. Considering the league average hovers just under 9%, it’s fair to say there was some bad luck that played into his low totals, not just him being a “bad shooter”.
On top of that, Backlund’s on-ice shooting percentage finished at 5.28%, another well-below-average total that is a little more telling. The on-ice number totals the percentage of all shots taken by Flames players on the ice, meaning the percentages worked against him in a big way; nobody seemed to score when he was on the ice, which truly is bad luck. You almost always see those numbers improve to the league norm, and his percentages will almost certainly come up next season, which means so will his point totals if he keeps up the trend of being a positive possession player.
Another positive is Backlund’s age. He’s 23 years old and will be for the majority of the 2012/2013 season, so there’s still plenty of growth room there. A forward typically enters his prime starting at 26 or 27, so knowing he’s got three or four years before that happens, there’s some good potential down the road. Re-signing him will also be affordable, as Backlund’s low counting numbers won’t put him in line for a huge raise. Just like Blair Jones, he’s an NHL center who can help you right now but also won’t affect your cap in a prohibitive way.
To be honest, I don’t see a lot of cons with him as I’m a huge, huge fan. I don’t know if you can put “unrealistic expectations” into this category, but it’s certainly something that has played against him at times. Because he was a first round pick, some have certain marks that he should be hitting in terms of goals and points. But to me, Backlund is, and always will be, defined by more than his points. He’s a center that can play tough minutes at both ends of the ice, but I don’t think we’re talking about the team’s top end point scoring pivot for years to come. And that’s okay. David Legwand was a #2 overall pick in 1998 and has never put up the point totals of other top two picks, but he’s been absolutely vital to the success of the Nashville Predators, much the same way I see Backlund being to the Flames. So, I guess the drawback would be Backlund’s upside in terms of actual points. 50-60 points I think is attainable, but 80-90 is probably not realistic.
There’s also a slight worry about Backlund being injury prone, which I can somewhat understand. He suffered a finger injury in training camp that kept him out a big chunk at the start of the regular season. Then, in February, he suffered a shoulder injury against the Vancouver Canucks that knocked him out for the final 26 games of the regular season. It’s important to point out, however, that this was the first injury riddled season he’s had; Backlund played 74 games during the 2010/2011 season, and 77 the year before.
I don’t think there’s any question. The Flames need to re-sign Backlund for myriad reasons. First, they don’t have the luxury of not bringing back 23 year old forwards who have proven they can play in the NHL on a regular basis. He’s improved in his two full seasons with Calgary and I only see that improvement continuing with him still being at a very young age. His bad luck last season points to two postive things: first, an affordable contract and, second, much higher totals next year. Finally, he is a restricted free agent, so he’s also a controllable asset; you don’t let players walk in this situation. Backlund was one of Calgary’s most effective centers last year so I don’t see any reason why the Flames wouldn’t bring him back.
Wednesday, May 16th, 2012
Who should be the next Head Coach of the Calgary Flames? I want to use this blog to get your ideas on who you think would be a good choice for the job, using comments to have a discussion.
Our Program Director Kelly Kirch, Boomer, and I have come up with a composite list of coaches that we think could be possible candidates for the job. They are listed below and I’d love to get you thoughts on them or if you have any other candidates, please add them to the discussion.
A former assistant with Chicago, Haviland spent the last four seasons in the Blackhawks organization. He has four years of AHL experience as a head coach and three in the ECHL before that; in 2006/2007 he won the AHL’s Coach of the Year award leading Norfolk to 50 wins.
His NHL resume kind of speaks for itself, especially his work with Colorado starting in the late 90′s. After winning the Calder Cup with the Hershey Bears in 1997, he took over behind the Avalanche bench to start the 1998/1999 season. Hartley lead the Avs to a 52 win season during the 2000/2001 season culminating with a Stanley Cup win in seven games over New Jersey. Hartley coached the Atlanta Thrashers from 2002 through 2008, taking them to the playoffs during the 2006/2007 season. His most recent work has been with ZSC Lions in the Swiss League; he lead them to the league title this past season.
Ward’s stock has risen a ton since taking over behind the Abbotsford Heat bench this season, taking over for Jim Playfair. He lead the Heat to a 42-26-3 record, a first round playoff sweep over Milwaukee, and a five game playoff series against eventual winner Toronto. Ward has been an NHL assistant before, behind the Penguins bench from 1997 through 2000.
Currently in the Eastern Conference Final with the New York Rangers, Sullivan has been a part of John Tortorella’s staff the last three seasons. Prior to that, he spent two years as Head Coach of the Bruins. His coaching career followed an 11 year NHL career, with four of those seasons spent with the Flames.
Two consecutive trips to the WHL final will boost your profile, and Johnston’s time with the Portland Winterhawks has done just that. A former NHL assistant with both Vancouver and LA, Johnston has done wonders with the Winterhawks, developing future NHL talent like Ryan Johansen, Nino Niedereitter, and of course Calgary’s Sven Baetschi.
A 12 year NHL playing career saw him play his final game in the show with the Calgary Flames, and after a journeyman career playing it has been the complete opposite behind the bench. Eakins has spent his entire coaching career with the Maple Leafs organization, spending a year as an assistant with the Marlies before a two year stint as an assistant with the big club. The past three years, he’s been the Head Coach of the AHL’s Marlies and has them in the Western Conference Final right now.
The current Head Coach of the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals, Cooper is about to start the Eastern Conference Final after leading his team to a banner 55 win season. Cooper has been a fast riser through the ranks, spending a year as bench boss in the NAHL before two as Head Coach of the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL; he’s been leading the Admirals the past two campaigns.
Eager for another shot behind an NHL bench, is there a chance Playfair could be Head Coach of the Flames a second time? His one year in that position saw the Flames go 43-29-13, finishing with a first round exit at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings. He’s been an AHL Head Coach with the Abbotsford Heat (two seasons) and the Saint John Flames (three seasons), and is currently an associate on Dave Tippet’s staff in Phoenix.
After finishing his first year as Associate Coach with the Flames, Hartsburg finds himself in an odd spot. The team is going to retain him if a new head coach wants him, but he’s also a potential candidate for the job. He’s had three prior stops as an NHL bench boss, leading the Blackhawks from 1995 through 1998, the Ducks from 1998 through 2001 and a short stint with the Senators during the 2008/2009 season.
I know many will cringe at the last name, but Duane has a decent coaching background to go along with his long playing career. Sutter was Head Coach of the Indianapolis Ice of the defunct IHL from 1992 through 1995 and Head Coach of the Florida Panthers from 2000 through 2002. He’s been in player personnel positions the last number of years.
Follow on Twitter @Fan960Steinberg
Monday, May 14th, 2012
As we continue our profiles of pending restricted and unrestricted free agents for the Calgary Flames, our focus turns to Blair Jones. Spending just under half the season with Calgary, Jones certainly showed the Flames some compelling traits. Will they be compelling enough for a longer term stay with the team, though?
Blair Jones, 25, 6’2, 216 pounds, acquired via trade from Tampa Bay Lightning on January 6th in exchange for Brendan Mikkelson
2011/2012 totals: 43 GP, 3 G, 5 A, 8 P, 18 PIM, -1
2011/2012 cap hit: $525,000
Jones can fill a very specific role on a team, and did so at times during his limited time with the Flames. That role, simply put, is to be a checking center deployed much more often defensively. Brent Sutter used Jones in this role almost exclusively leading up to his Feburary 9th ankle injury that knocked him out for more than a month, and the job was being done fairly effectively. Jones isn’t going to get the better of his opponents offensively very often, but he can do a decent job limiting damage when put out for defensive zone faceoffs. Among centers last year, Jones had the lowest offensive zone start on the team at 44.1%, meaning he was deployed fairly often in his own end. He doesn’t get crushed by the opposition, which means that a coach can continue using him in this role, which opens things up in a very important way.
Using Jones in this manner allows a coach to give his best players much more time in the offensize zone. From January 7th (Jones’s first game) to the night of his injury on Febuary 9th, the Flames had a true checking center for the first time since Daymond Langkow was a healthy member of the team. It positively affected the duo of Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay specifically, as Sutter was visibly able to give them much more time inside the offensive blueline. During that 12 game span, Iginla had 12 points and Tanguay (only playing in six of those games thanks to an injury of his own) had six points. It really wasn’t a coincidence.
There may not be a stat for it, but Jones brings an element to the game that hasn’t been the most plentiful for the Flames in recent years. He gets under opposing players skin thanks to the brand of hockey he plays and his seemingly permanent smile. We all remember Jones giving Joe Thornton an earful in an early February Calgary win in San Jose. It was an image that underlined this strength for him, and it’s something every team can use.
Finally, Jones isn’t going to be due a significant raise. He’s never played more than 26 games in an NHL season and he’s yet to hit double digits in points. While there might be some room to improve, it’s not like he has a lot of bargaining power in trying to negotiate a significant bump in pay. You can probably get Jones for around $750,000 per season which is a very helpful number for a guy who I believe can be a full time NHL pivot.
There’s just not much there offensively for Jones. While he had one banner WHL season when playing with Moose Jaw in 2005/2006 (85 points in 72 games) and has put up decent totals in prior AHL campaigns, Jones hasn’t shown a whole lot of ability at the highest level. That’s okay, because he’s not a guy that’s going to be counted on for that, but it’s not like there should be an expectation of huge improvement in that regard.
On top of that, his ceiling isn’t the highest. Jones turns 26 in September and has yet to play a full NHL season since turning pro in 2006. While there is still room for slight development at that age, after six full professional years, Jones is starting to enter “is what he is” territory at the NHL level. That’s okay, because what he is can still fill a role, but I don’t think you’re going to see a ton of elevation from him over the next couple seasons.
I’d sign him. Let’s think realistically here. Newly signed Roman Cervenka joins Matt Stajan as the only two natural NHL centers under contract for next season. Assuming Olli Jokinen is gone and Mikael Backlund is back, that leaves a spot for Jones to come back on an affordable one or two year contract. The Flames need guys who can play and keep them somewhat competitive for a couple years, and we know Jones can play defensive minutes in a depth role, so why not? The team can qualify him at $525,000 or sign him to a two year, $1.3 million deal easily. No contract Jones signs will be cap prohibitive going forward, we know he can do a decent job, so there’s really no reason to not bring a controllable RFA asset back for next season.
Friday, May 4th, 2012
Over the next little while, we’re going to preview all of Calgary’s pending unrestricted and restricted free agent players. We’ll start with the restricted players who remain Flames property even if they don’t sign by July 1st. Blake Comeau just finished his first season with Calgary and poses one of the more interesting off season questions for the team.
As this is the first of the profiles we’ll be doing, each will follow a set template where we go through the pros and cons of each player in recent times with the Flames. We’ll finish with my “verdict” or opinion on whether Calgary should think about bringing the player back, or if they’d be best served moving on. I’d love your comments if you agree or disagree.
Blake Comeau, 26, 6’1. 205 pounds, claimed off waivers November 25th, 2011 from New York Islanders
2011/2012 totals: 74 GP, 5 G, 10 A, 15 PTS, 24 PIM, -11
2011/2012 cap hit: $2.5 million
I do believe Comeau is a good possession player and can fill a role as a depth forward on any NHL team, and his underlying possession numbers speak to that. The Flames were what we call a negative possession team last season, in that they spent far more time in their own zone than they did in the offensive zone over an 82 game schedule. By taking a plus/minus value of all the shots directed at the net (shots on goal, blocked shots, missed shots) for and against, it gives us a good sketch of how much time a player spends inside the opposing blueline.
In Comeau’s case, his -0.55 possession number (or Corsi number, named for Jim Corsi, the Sabres coach who created the value) was one of the better ones on the team. In fact, only four regular players on the Flames last season finished with a number in the plus with Comeau falling on the minus side only slightly. Taking into account how little Calgary had the puck last season, Comeau was actually a fairly effective player on the cycle and helped keep the play in the offensive end. He was also good at moving the puck north (driving possession), as he started just as many shifts defensively as he did offensively. Starting 49.1% of the time in the offensive zone, this means Comeau did a decent job of getting the puck to the right end of the ice even when deployed defensively if his shot rate is basically even. Let’s keep in mind he did this against similar third and fourth line opposition.
Comeau brings a good deal of speed to his game which made him an effective penalty killer, as all of the work outlined above took into account even strength play only. Blake is one of Calgary’s most physical forwards and used that hard nosed ability to affect a strong forecheck. Comeau did a nice job of starting cycles by creating a loose puck off a solid bodycheck on the boards, and was able to continue the cycle nicely once he helped his linemates gain possession offensively.
First and foremost, his contract. As a restricted free agent, Comeau would be due a $2.5 million qualifying offer for his rights to be retained. Now, Calgary could easily sign him to a contract in the next while and make the QO irrelevant, but there’s no telling what his agent might push for in this scenario. If a qualifying offer was hoped for by the player, the Flames would not be in a position to guarantee that cap hit to a player who scored just five times last season. If Comeau were to stay in Calgary, he would have to take a fairly significant annual pay cut.
While Comeau scored 24 times with the Islanders during the 2010/2011 season, I wasn’t huge on his offensive instincts during his 58 games with the Flames. As outlined earlier, he did a good job of getting the puck to the offensive zone and keeping it there, but once at the right end of the ice, he seemed to struggle in translating that time to quality opportunities. Much of that could very well have been a confidence thing, as this past season was a trying one for the Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan product. But far too often I saw Comeau drive the puck wide on the rush instead of trying to take it to the tough areas of the ice between the circles, sort of like what we saw for a number of seasons with Matthew Lombardi. He has decent size, so he should be doing this more often. Again, confidence could have played a large role in this and his first training camp with the Flames might go a long way in boosting that confidence for the coming season.
Comeau isn’t a player you can utilize against true top six forwards on the other side, as he’d be outmatched far more often than not. He’s got decent speed and can work a cycle, but against more skilled players he just wouldn’t be able to be as effective in his role. Comeau has value in a certain role, and the Flames could use an effective player in that role at an affordable price.
Affordable is the key word. If you can bring Comeau back on a relatively short term contract (two years) with an affordable cap hit (no more than $1.5 million), than I’d be in favor of the Flames retaining his services. Anything more than that and I feel the team should be looking at other options to fill his role. There’s no way the team can qualify him, and they have the luxury of letting him walk if his demands are too high. Players like Comeau have value, but they can also be found via free agency or even waivers as Calgary found when they acquired him.
Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012
The Calgary Flames signed KHL center Roman Cervenko to a one year contract on Wednesday afternoon. Signing the Czech product signifies a fairly large shift in philosophy for the Flames and has very little downside, with some great potential upside.
“We are an organization that needs to bring in that skill, and we need to bring in skill that’s at a little bit younger age,” General Manager Jay Feaster told me Wednesday afternoon when talking about the 26 year old pivot.
He’s right. This team has a number of different needs, but skill down the middle is the largest of all, and has been for a long time. Whether Olli Jokinen is coming back or not, the Flames don’t have very many centers they can project to be big parts of the future in a scoring or skill role. If Jokinen comes back, he’s still closer to 35 than 30, so he doesn’t truly fit the long term fit, whereas a 26 year old Cervenka might. Key word might.
“He’s a highly skilled player, he has really good hands, very good vision, he’s demonstrated that he can score at a tough level of competition,” Feaster said.
There’s no guarantee that aforementioned skill will translate to the NHL, but it’s worth the risk. The Flames aren’t in a position where they can’t try unconventional methods to try and improve their team and address their needs, and that’s what I believe this is. But here’s a player that scored 54 goals in his last two KHL seasons, and it’s a one year contract, so it’s not like there’s much, if any, downside. It’s also not the case Calgary was the only team interested in Cervenka’s services, according to Feaster.
“He had his pick as far as where he was going to go and who he was going to sign with. For us to be able to bring him into the fold and slot into our top six forwards, and we think play as a top two line center iceman, and not have to give up anything other than the signing bonus to sign him, that’s a huge transaction for us.”
The fact Cervenka was courted by numerous other suitors is probably a large reason why his Average Annual Value (AAV) ends up being $3.775 million. For a guy who’s never played an NHL game, that number might scare you, but I don’t think it should, for a few different reasons. First, as mentioned, it’s a one year deal and the Flames have the cap space, so it’s almost a moot point for me.
But second, and more importantly, the dollar figure will likely never get there, and the cap hit may end up lower as well (depending on the new CBA and whether there’s a bonus cusion or not). Cervenka’s deal is an entry level one at its base, but with max A and B bonuses tacked on, it gets raised to that more eye catching number. He’ll have to reach every single incentive to actually get paid thad, and the best news is how this impacts a contract extension. If he were to sign after this one year deal, the bonus structure changes, and his cap hit will likely be lower while his actual salary would be higher. Confusing I know.
The most significant thing is how large a shift this is for the team. Under Darryl Sutter, Calgary looked at the KHL option a grand total of zero times. It just wasn’t something they did, for better or worse. But this team has missed the playoffs for three straight years and aren’t poised to be making any jumps in the near future. Along with exploring undrafted college free agents, the Flames have expanded where they look for players, which is what any forward thinking team should do.
“Our European guys identified him very early on, that this is a guy that could really come over and play and help our hockey team,” Feaster told me. “We had (assistant GM) John Weisbrod travel (to see him) during the opening round of the KHL playoffs and saw Roman play and he said ‘everything our European guys have told us is true,’ and so we’re just fortunate he decided to choose us.”
This may not work out. Cervenka may not be a good NHLer. But so what? If he’s not a good NHLer, he moves on and the Flames give up nothing in trying this experiment. There is next to no downside here, and what happens if he scores 25 next season? What if it ends up being a good signing? There’s the potential that could happen, so why not sign on the dotted line when the risk is minimal?
- Feaster told us that Cervenka’s teammate in Omsk, Karri Ramo, will likely finish out his contract in the KHL next season. The goaltender was acquired by the Flames in January’s trade with Montreal that also saw Calgary bring in Mike Cammalleri.
- Feaster, Weisbrod, Craig Conroy, and the rest of the Flames brass have put together a “master list” of potential Head Coach candidates that will be slimmed down over the next number of weeks. Feaster equated their search for a new bench boss as the team being in “the first inning of a nine inning game”.
Follow me on Twitter @Fan960Steinberg
Monday, April 30th, 2012
Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith has translated his brilliant regular season into something even more impressive in the 2012 NHL postseason. He’s one of the breakout stars of this playoff campaign, and he bears striking similarities to a goaltender we know very well in this city.
Just over eight years ago, Miikka Kiprusoff burst onto the scene with the Calgary Flames and carried them to the postseason and then to game seven of the Stanley Cup Final. The then 27 year old Kiprusoff was a relative unknown at the time, pried from San Jose by Darryl Sutter in the hopes of finding a true number one goaltender. Fast forward to now, where a 30 year old Smith is tearing things up and has his upstart team within striking distance of the NHL’s final four.
The similarities between the two goaltenders are striking, starting with how both came out of nowhere to backstop underdog teams to playoff berths. Smith played the entire 2011-2012 season with Phoenix, entering the season as the number one goaltender and never relinquishing that title. People laughed at the Coyotes for handing the reigns to a guy who couldn’t hold a number one job in prior stops in Dallas and Tampa Bay. Kiprusoff, on the other hand, came in mid-season and played in 38 games for a team that looked poised to miss the playoffs for an eighth straight year. No one knew at the time the unassuming Finn would turn the Flames into a Stanley Cup contender. The similarities don’t end there, however.
The regular season statistical comparison starts to show some fairly like traits, as well. The winning percentages of Smith and Kiprusoff are tough to compare as one played the entire season and the other played around half of one, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to extrapolate their save percentages. In his 38 games during the 2003-2004 season, Kiprusoff posted a .933 save percentage and a stupidly high .941 mark at even strength. This past regular season, Smith’s numbers were slightly lower with twice the workload. The Kingston, Ontario native finished with a .930 overall mark and a strong .936 number at even strength. Knowing the team in front of him, Kiprusoff’s totals from his first year in Calgary likely would have dropped over a full season, putting him right in line with Smith’s first season in Phoenix.
It’s when you get to the postseason that things get really scary. At the time of this writing, Smith has played eight playoff games, losing only two of them. Kiprusoff played a full compliment of games in Calgary’s Cup run, appearing in 26 games and winning 15 of them. Over that two month run, Kiprusoff put together a stunning resume that included a .943 even strength save percentage, helping boost his overall number to .928. Smith’s overall number is rather high right now, sitting at .943. but that likely will come down over the course of a gruelling postseason. But it’s that .947 even strength number that really sticks out at you, as it’s just four points higher than Kiprusoff’s mark from eight years ago. Taking games played into account, that’s a pretty eery comparable.
To summarize, the most important thing to watch statistically is that save percentage at even strength. That is the most important and most accurate barometer of a goaltender, and the numbers are very similar. Knowing how this particular stat evolves over a longer period of time, there’s a very good chance the regular season number for Kiprusoff would have fallen a few points to be even closer to Smith’s and vice versa with Smith’s mark in the postseason.
To me, the way both goalies burst onto the scene and captured attention was the first reason I decided to write this post. The statistical similarities only came about afterwards and are not a stretch at all; they are very, very similar. But it’s a little too early to compare Smith to Kiprusoff overall. The Flames goaltender has put together seven seasons since as a number one goalie while Smith has yet to follow that path. We’ve seen plenty of goaltenders go the “flash in the pan” postseason route, from extreme examples (Brian Boucher or Ray Emery) to less extreme examples (Jaroslav Halak). For Smith to be considered in the same class as Kiprusoff, he’ll have to put a few strong seasons together in a row. The season after Calgary’s 2004 run, Kiprusoff won the Vezina Trophy, but only after the NHL lost a season thanks to a lockout. Let’s hope that one similarity doesn’t carry over to next year.
Friday, April 27th, 2012
After going a dismal 3-5 in the first round of the playoffs, I shall now embarass myself again by publishing my picks for the second round of the NHL postseason. I believe St. Louis is the class of the remaining teams, but they have a very difficult matchup upcoming.
St. Louis Blues (2) vs. Los Angeles Kings (8)
The problem for the Kings in my eyes is they run into a juggernaut in the Blues. To me, St. Louis is the frontrunner for the Cup and it’s because of their depth, talent, and committment. They’re deeper than the Kings when you look down the lineup, as I’ll take the Blues bottom six over LA’s in a long series.
Talent wise I think these teams are pretty even, even though names like Backes and Pietrangelo aren’t considered upper echelon at this point, they should be. It’s the committment that does it for me for St. Louis, though, as they have players who could boost their stats but don’t because they are dedicated to playing the way Ken Hitchcock wants. Blues in 6.
Phoenix Coyotes (3) vs. Nashville Predators (4)
I just don’t buy Phoenix longterm. Their rope-a-dope way of winning games could very well propel them to a second round win, but in the end, their lack of talent will oust them from the postseason. Regardless, they’re a great story and the likes of Dave Tippet, Mike Smith, and Shane Doan deserve full credit.
Goaltending is on par with Smith and Pekka Rinne duelling, an even matchup that we didn’t see in Phoenix’s win over Chicago. Nashville has the firepower and talent edge and will not be let down by their goalie, and I think they’ll win this series. But Phoenix plays it too tight to the vest to be swept. Predators in 6.
New York Rangers (1) vs. Washington Capitals (7)
The Rangers had a tough time with the Ottawa Senators in round one, and I feel like the Capitals are markedly better than their capitol brethren. Washington showed me a lot in their seven game series win over Boston, as they proved to be resilient and stingy defensively. I think they’ll be able to slow the Rangers attack and score enough of their own to win this series.
Obviously, Henrik Lundqvist is the better goalie, but I don’t feel like we’re talking about a massive chasm between he and Washington’s Braden Holtby. I don’t see the Caps losing a ton of games because of goaltending, and I haven’t been a big believer in the Rangers all year. I think Washington exploits their defensive weaknesses. Capitals in 6.
Philadelphia Flyers (5) vs. New Jersey Devils (6)
Philly can score, we know that. But can they get NHL level goaltending? They didn’t in their first round win over Pittsburgh, but thankfully, Ilya Bryzgalov was better than a horrid Marc-Andre Fleury. I don’t see this being a goalies duel period, however, as Martin Brodeur is prone to more bad games than we’ve ever seen.
Basically, I just like New Jersey. I think they’ve got some extremely high end players up front and some very effective players who have been here before, ala Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora. Not to say the Flyers aren’t good, because they are, but for I like this matchup for New Jersey and the Zajac line against the Giroux line should be one of the best matchups in ages. Devils in 6.
Thursday, April 19th, 2012
The captain of the Calgary Flames can still score as his 32 goals this past season will speak to. With 11 consecutive 30 goal seasons, Iginla is still very dangerous from the offensive blueline in. But with his 35th birthday around the corner, there are things that can be done to make him even more of a threat going forward.
So many in this city adore the captain, and this post is not to suggest the Flames should trade him or not. It’s a post written on the assumption Iginla will be a big part of the team next year, and a post written about how he can be used most effectively.
Iginla turns 35 on Canada Day which puts him a ways away from being in the prime of his career. He’s no longer a player that can go head-to-head with the best players on the other side on a nightly basis and be successful on a regular basis. He’s also not a player that is going to help the team all that much defensively and should be protected in terms of where he plays the majority of his minutes.
The Flames will have a new Head Coach for the 2012/2013 season, and I think that new bench boss will have the most success with Iginla if he plays to his strengths. Here are my ideas as to how you can do that effectively.
Give Him the High Ground
Tracking where Jarome started his shifts during this past season, Iginla was actually deployed more defensively than he was offensively when it was all said and done. Iginla started in the defensive zone 50.3% of the time last season, which doesn’t play into where he can help you most.
At this point in his career, Jarome isn’t a player you can expect to throw out there defensively and expect him to effect the play up ice regularly. Iginla has never been the most adept defensive player, which was fine because he was such a factor with the puck, he’d just will it up the ice. Now, opposition players have a less difficult time taking the puck from him, which makes starting him defensively a less attractive thing to do.
When I use the term “give him the high ground” I take examples from what other teams do with their top offensive players. Knowing Iginla still has an elite level shot and high end finishing ability, a coach can use other players in defensive situations to keep Iginla fresh for offensive starts. Vancouver is the most extreme example of this, as Alain Vigneault started his usual top offensive players in Daniel and Henrik Sedin more than 78% of the time. Vigneault was able to do that by burying players like Manny Malhotra, Ryan Kesler, and Sami Pahlsson with defensive zone faceoffs; it’s a big reason why you saw the Sedin’s transform from 70-80 point players into 90-100 point players.
Doing this with Iginla gives the captain a great chance to extend his 30 goal streak to 12 straight seasons, and gives him the best opportunity to help your team. Jarome best helps you when he’s scoring and he’s most engaged during that time as well, so put him in the best even strength spots to do so.
He didn’t play the toughest minutes on the team last year, but Iginla still saw the top players on the other side on a regular basis. Curtis Glencross and Olli Jokinen saw the toughest minutes overall on the Flames last season, and it helped in keeping Iginla away from some pretty good players on the other side.
There’s no question that when you’re playing against players like Kesler, Backes, Datsyuk, and more on a regular basis, you’re not going to be as successful offensively. These are some of the best even strength players in the league and they spend far more time in the offensive zone than not, regardless of where they start. So where you can, give Iginla cushier minutes.
It’s very dependent on who else you have on your team, but there may be an opportunity to use certain players in tough matchup situations. Blair Jones was utilized in a strict checking role for a good portion of his time with the Flames, which opened other lines up for easier minutes. During that time, you saw guys like Iginla and Tanguay have a lot of success, as Jones was taking some of the tough matchups and the Jokinen-Glencross duo was handling the others. Having a sniper like Jarome out against another team’s third line can’t always happen, but when you can do it, it’s an option you have to explore.
These things may or may not be possible for the coming year, as the roster may not allow it. But Jarome Iginla can still score at a high level, and if he’s the captain of the Calgary Flames next season, I think it’s key you put him in that position to succeed. An NHL coach can do that in a variety of ways, as my above examples are just things that are kicking around my head.
Follow along on Twitter @Fan960Steinberg