Hitting the rewind button

Jean Lefebvre
April 24 2009 09:02PM

Two things come to mind when contemplating the post-season performance of David Moss and Eric Nystrom, who have combined for five goals, seven points and 15 hits four games into the Flames’ Western Conference quarter-final series with the Chicago Blackhawks.

One, Red Berenson has himself quite a hockey factory over there in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Two, the Craig Button must not have been all bad even if many Flames fans view the era before the arrival of Viking’s Jolly Rancher as the Dark Ages.

Nystrom and Moss are two of four bona fide NHLers produced by the two drafts Button was officially responsible for as general manager of the Flames, the others being Chuck Kobasew and Matthew Lombardi. Three others -- Curtis McElhinney, David Vander Gulik and Tomi Maki -- have had at least a cup of coffee in the big time and Andrei Taratukhin looked like he was on his way to joining the list until he decided to march back to Russia after a one-year minor-league apprenticeship in North America.

Here’s a rundown of some of the other significant wheelings and dealings of the Button Era:

The Move: Andrei Nazarov and a second round pick to Anaheim for Jordan Leopold.
The Verdict: Advantage Calgary.

The Move: Cory Stillman to St. Louis for Craig Conroy and a seventh round pick (Moss).
The Verdict: Advantage Calgary.

The Move: Fred Brathwaite, Sergei Varlamov, Daniel Tkaczuk and a ninth round pick for Roman Turek and a fourth round pick.
The Verdict: Advantage Calgary, although the subsequent decision to give Turek a big long-term contract negates most or all of the benefit.

The Move: Jason Wiemer and Valeri Bure to Florida for Rob Niedermayer and a 2nd round pick (Andrei Medvedev).
The Verdict: Advantage Florida.

The Move: A fourth round pick to Philadelphia for Dean McAmmond.
The Verdict: Advantage Calgary.

The Move: Jeff Cowan and Kurtis Foster to Atlanta for Petr Buzek.
The Verdict: Advantage Atlanta.

The Move: A ninth round pick to Minnesota for Jamie McLennan.
The Verdict: Advantage Calgary.

The Move: Derek Morris, Dean McAmmond and Jeff Shantz to Colorado for Stephane Yelle and Chris Drury.
The Verdict: Advantage Calgary.

The Move: Marc Savard to Atlanta for Ruslan Zainullin.
The Verdict: Advantage Atlanta (duh, more on this one later).

The Move: A thirrd round pick to Pittsburgh for Andrew Ference.
The Verdict: Advantage Calgary.

The Move: Rob Niedermayer to Anaheim for Mike Commodore and J-F Damphousse.
The Verdict: Advantage Anaheim.

The Move: Mathias Johansson and Micki DuPont to Piitsburgh for Shean Donovan.
The Verdict: Advantage Calgary.

So by the roughest of assessments, Button won about two-thirds of the deals he made while in the Calgary GM chair. How many current GMs can say that? We’re looking at you, Glen Sather.

The point here isn’t to claim that Button was a crackerjack GM. In fact, if you talk to enough hockey insiders, the consensus is that Button was very good on the scouting side of things -- his bailiwick in Dallas before getting hired by the Flames -- but simply wasn’t cut out to be a general manager. Certainly Flames fans will never forgive him for the Savard/Greg Gilbert situation even though there was plenty of blame to go around on that one and the Savard we see now in Beantown wasn’t the Savard who pouted his way out of Cowtown. And even though the signing was widely hailed at the time, the Turek contract extension after the lanky goalie’s sizzling start in 2001/02 didn’t work out so good.

That said, the message is simply that whatever blame Button deserves for his role in extending the playoff-free period of Flames franchise history, he doesn’t get nearly enough credit for the way things subsequently turned around.

Which brings us back to Moss and Nystrom. The Button Boys, Craig and Tod, and the scouts get whatever credit is due for one of those pleasant and unexpected late-round success stories like Moss. Nystrom, meanwhile, was correctly identified as a sure-fire future NHLer with a relatively low ceiling. Really, he’s a type of talent that you’d rather pick up in the second round instead of 10th overall, but 2002 was just one of those drafts (ask the Edmonton Oilers, who five picks after Nystrom went off the board took the immortal Jesse Niinimaki, or the Panthers, who chose Petr Taticek with the pick before Nystrom).

Nystrom was slow to arrive, partly because he went the distance at the University of Michigan, partly because his development was delayed by a serious shoulder injury and partly because his entry-level contract worked against him earning a job as a role player on the big club. But he sure looks like a keeper now and he’s been more than up to the task in the past few weeks when injuries have called for him to shoulder more responsibility. While the sample size is pretty small, he seems to have some of his old man’s big-game knack, too. Good thing for the younger Nystrom that the rest of his game is coming around because no matter how plucky and willing he is, the kid wouldn’t have lasted very long at this level as a fighter.

Finally, an open question about the Calgary-Chicago tussle. Has whatever advantage the Blackhawks held coming into the series on the basis of Nikolai Khabibulin’s past mastery of the Flames disappeared after the Bulin Wall coughed up a few cheesy goals in Games 3 and 4 and is now sporting an .883 save percentage in the series?

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Lefebvre is in that awkward stage of hockey following -- old enough to fondly remember the Cleveland Barons and too set in his ways to accept charity points and games where there's a winner but apparently no loser. As a long-time ink-stained wretch, he's also a firm believer in the old Bobby Knight quote about journalists: "All of us learn to write in second grade, but most of us go on to better things."
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#1 walkinvisible
April 25 2009, 02:48PM
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i would agree with you on every trade except perhaps the rob niedermayer for commodore/damphousse deal, which i would call a draw. i would argue that commodore became a vital cog in the 04 run with the injuries to the calgary blueline...

the only other thing i'd challenge, here, is the turek comment ("the subsequent decision to give Turek a big long-term contract negates most or all of the benefit"), due to turek's willingness to "restructure" his deal in the subsequent years... i could be misinformed but i believe taking a paycut on a signed contract in the NHL is unique to our former #1 netminder.... that buys him a whole heckuva lot of worth, in my opinion...

too bad sutter's first selection in 2004 (ahead of mike green, robbie schremp and WELL ahead of guys like enver lisin, brandon dubinsky, and dustin boyd) looks to be a first round dud.

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#2 Lefebvre
April 25 2009, 03:30PM
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@walkinvisible

With all due respect to Mike Commodore and his cult-hero status in the 2004 playoffs, there's no way the Ducks consider that deal a draw. They found the right role for Niedermayer and he was an important player in two runs to the Cup final, including the championship in '07. That's not mentioning the role Rob's presence may have played in convincing Scott to sign with with Anaheim.

Meanwhile, Commodore played just 18 regular-season games in Calgary, although as you mentioned he sure did come in handy during the '04 playoffs. The other mitigating factor I would mention from Calgary's standpoint is that Niedermayer wasn't very good at all with the Flames and there's a chance he never would have gotten any better had he stayed here.

Nice point on the Turek angle, although the restructuring was a little like mopping the deck on the Titanic as the ship was going under. But given how little the players going the other way did in St. Louis, the deal is still a Flames victory, if a somewhat Pyrrhic one.

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#3 maimster
April 25 2009, 06:29PM
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I was a Flames fan who'd left Calgary by the time the Button era started, and from a distance, I thought he was doing a good job and got a raw deal overall. I agree that his weakness was probably the management side of GM (versus the scouting side) but I think that develops over time, and after a couple of years of still missing the playoffs he didn't have the chance to develop the total GM package. I think he'd do much better if he had a second chance.

Savard was an immature jerk in Calgary, and I don't think he'd ever have been the player he's become elsewhere if he stayed in Calgary. It's hard to separate Button completely from the mess that Flames appeared to be (from afar - no idea how they looked day to day!), but I don't see him as the problem for the 97-03 years.

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#4 blade
April 26 2009, 11:12AM
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@@@@Has whatever advantage the Blackhawks held coming into the series on the basis of Nikolai Khabibulin’s past mastery of the Flames disappeared after the Bulin Wall coughed up a few cheesy goals in Games 3 and 4 and is now sporting an .883 save percentage in the series?@@@@

Apparently not.... in a one game sample our king of the pipe(s) .777

FWIW.... before the game I was hesitant but leaning towards a yes in hopes they would come out banging and shooting the puck. They did get a shot somewhere immediately before or maybe following the third hawk goal. A simply mind boggling performance of ineptitude that effort was. I take heart in the obvious..... they can't be that bad/dumb twice in a row.

can they?

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