The Stuff That's Gone Right

Kent Wilson
November 30 2010 08:05PM

CALGARY, AB - April 17: Mark Giordano #5, and Alex Tanguay #40 of the Calgary Flames skate towards their bench after a goal by teammate Matthew Lombardi #18 against the Detroit Red Wings during the second period of game three in the Western Conference Quarterfinals at the Saddledome on April 17, 2007, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The Flames defeated the Red Wings by a score of 3-2. (Photo by Tim Smith/Getty Images)

 

It's been a rough 20-odd games for Flames fans. Aspirations of the club striking last year from our collective memories with a definitely strong opening to the season were dashed almost immediately when the Edmonton Oilers (the worst team in the league) objectively outplayed Calgary in the opening game. Fast forward six weeks and the Flames are looking up at the rest of the conference, with the spectre of a near .600 win % required to simply slip into the post-season as an 8th seed haunting the club's every game.

So there's been lots of complaining and gnashing of teeth. That's my default position, frankly, but even the optimistic have been mostly disheartened through the early going here. 

Granting that stuff, the fact is - it's not all bad. There are some positives to take from the Flames first 24 games, even if the overall picture is a gray one.

1). Alex Tanguay

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 21: Alex Tanguay  of the Calgary Flames skates against the Detroit Red Wings during their NHL game at Joe Louis Arena on November 21, 2010 in Detroit, Michigan.(Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
 

Unlike most of Sutter's moves the last couple of years, I was solidly behind the Tanguay signing. A heavy hitter for years, Alex's injuries and struggles after he left the first time depressed his stock to a non-trivial degree. That enabled Sutter to snag him at the bargain basement price of $1.7M and thus far the dude has delivered. He currently leads the team with 21 points. That despite the fact he's been paired with Jarome Iginla for a majority of the season and the latter looked like he was playing with shoes and a canoe paddle for the first 4 weeks of the year.

Tanguay's underlying numbers are solidly mediocre. His production has been somewhat bolstered by good percentages (PDO of 102, second highest on the team). His pricetage makes these issues less pressing. In addition, he's improved a lot by my eye, mostly in lock-step with the captain, over the last month or so. If he can continue on the path he's on currently, Tanguay will easily be the best bargain on the team by the end of the year. And will likely warrant another contract as a result.

2.) Jay Bouwmeester/Robyn Regehr

CALGARY, CANADA - OCTOBER 28:  Paul Stastny #26 of the Colorado Avalanche skates against Robyn Regehr #28 and Jay Bouwmeester #4 of the Calgary Flames during their game on October 28, 2009 at the Pengrowth Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  The Avalanche defeated the Flames 3-2. (Photo by Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)
 

One wonders why this pairing wasn't hit upon earlier. Robyn Regehr has spent a lot of years looking for an adequate partner since Jordan Leopold was dealt to Colorado (for the aforementioned Tanguay). Lots of different guys have been tried with various levels of success: Cory Sarich, Dion Phaneuf and even Rhett warrener before his body broke down completely. None of them were ever wholly adequate, and fraknly Regehr himself has spent significant stretches looking shaky over the last few seasons.

As did Jay Bouwmeester in his inaugural season as a Calgary Flame. Like Regehr, Bouwmeester auditioned a number of less than ideal partners last year: Adam Pardy, Steve Staios, Cory Sarich. The best of the bunch was Mark Giordano and they were separated far too often.

With Phauef gone and Sarich on the outs with the coaching staff, it looks like Brent Sutter has settled on pairing the Flames two best defensive rearguards together.

Finallly.

The union has been a fruitful one. Since joining Regehr, Bouwmeester has mostly looked like the big minute, shut-down quality defensemen that was advertised when he was signed by the org. Regehr seems to be back to form as well. The duo is too new to get a read on them stats-wise, but I think we can safely say the early returns are very promising.

3.) Mikael Backlund

DENVER - NOVEMBER 09: Mikael Backlund  of the Calgary Flames celebrates his third period goal against goalie Peter Budaj  of the Colorado Avalanche to tie the score 2-2 at the Pepsi Center on November 9, 2010 in Denver, Colorado. The Flames defeated the Avalanche 4-2. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
 

Before the start of the year, I was fairly adamant that Backlund could use another season in the AHL. The kid was jus okay during his audition last season by my eye and he didn't exactly knock things out of the park in Abbotsford either. It didn't seem to make sense to have him start out on the parent club. And then injuries hit and his inclusion on the active roster went from debatable to certain.

Backlund started the season mostly where he left off last year: treating the puck with suspicion, defaulting to the dubious strategy of shooting it in the general direction of the net whenever he crossed the blueline. He was killing offensive zone insertions quite often because he'd throw the puck away at the slightest pretext. Both then and earlier in his career there was evidence of raw skills (skating, puck handling, vision), but they were undermined by typical rookie stuff.

The kid looks to be coming around though, which is incredibly good news for a franchise that hasn't internally developed a forward worth a damn since...well, David Moss or Matthew Lombardi I guess. Backlund certainly isn't blowing the doors off in terms of production and Brent Sutter still mostly treats him with kid gloves, but there's evidence of growth. At 21, he's not a liability against lesser lights (as evidenced by his good underlying stats) which is the first step most prospects never really take. He's no longer treating the puck like a hot potatoe, instead pressing the attack by using his speed and stick-handling to drive wide and take the puck to the net. He's been a capable PKer and I think his numbers would improve with some PP time, which may or may not start accruing to him in the near future.

If Backlund can continue to improve in this manner going forward, the Flames have a player on their hands.

4.) Mark Giordano

DETROIT - NOVEMBER 21: Mark Giordano  of the Calgary Flames checks Todd Bertuzzi  of the Detroit Red Wings during their NHL game at Joe Louis Arena on November 21, 2010 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo By Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
 

The interesting thing about Gio is that he keeps adding to his list of abilities the longer he stays in the league. When he originally broke through, I tabbed Gio as a limited 3rd pairing, second PP guy who could be signed for cheap and provide good value from the bottom-end. That's mostly how he's been deployed during his tenure here (he's crushed things in that role, of course), so it remains an open question whether he'll be able to step into a legit top-4 role once his pay check quadruples.

That said, on top of his offensive skills, his mobility, excellent passing and tenacity, Giordano has become one of the NHL's premier shot blockers this season. Only the Rangers Girardi has gotten in front of more pucks than Gio's 66, and he's played two more games. What's more, we know Giordano's BlkS total isn't merely an artifact of poor possession, since he spends a lot of time at the other end of the ice (corsi +13.52/60...Girardi is -13/60 BTW). We also know that shot blocking is a legitimate skill.

When Robyn Regehr was hurt earlier this month, Giordano wore a letter in his absence. I can imagine that will be permanatly added to his resume at some point as well.

This isn't an exhaustive list, naturally. For instane, iginla's recent awakening portends good things for the club if he can extend for awhile. Nik Hagman has been decent from start to finish and Jokinen's move to the right side to the third is a hopeful sign the org has figured things out as far as he's concerned. But these are the most unabiguous bright spots in my eyes through the early going so far. 

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Former Nations Overlord. Current Fn contributor and curmudgeon For questions, complaints, criticisms, etc contact Kent @ kent.wilson@gmail. Follow him on Twitter here.
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#1 everton fc
December 01 2010, 10:59AM
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Kent was the ONLY person here that said positive things about Jackman (I'd add myself to the short list, but I am trying to practice more humility for Advent!) In fact, the Thing 2 tag (or was he Thing 1? Doesn't matter) always made me wonder just how much people follow the league. Jackman's better on our fourth line than Nystrom in my opinion, who incidentally was invisible Monday night at the Dome in his new colours. Indeed, Jackman served well on the third line, when tasked with those responsibilities. Quite a reliable, durable utility man, who takes no crap out there. Good call, Kent.

Jackman has not only been a excellent in his role, he has eliminated the need to carry a goon on the bench, or even in the press box, as I believe Ivanans may never see the ice again, in a Flames jersey. An experiment Kent also called out - wanting to see us actually have a fourth line, void of a goon. Jack

I'd say that was sage prognosticating. Kent did his research on Jackman. I liked Jackman as an Islander, so I was glad we got him. The fact that he was the only Islander driving a pickup, and how proud he was of this, sealed the deal for me!

I am glad you gave Kudos to Regehr, Kent. He has been the old Regehr, in my opinion. Those who wanted to trade him simply don't get his value. His price tag and his age, not to mention the fact he brings it to the rink every evening, make him one of my favorite Flames.

Tanguay should be re-signed soon. Sooner, the better.

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#2 dickshilling
November 30 2010, 08:14PM
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I would argue for Kipper to be included in this list but that's probably because I have his jersey and am generally a total fanboy.

But seriously, although he has allowed a questionable goal or two, particularly as of late, I think he's looked spectacular.

...or maybe I've been listening to Loubardias too much lately.

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#4 Rain Dogs
November 30 2010, 08:50PM
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I agree DickShilling, but Kent doesn't include Kipper because he knows I will talk about him.

A .921evsv% and 3 shutouts isn't exactly blowing the doors off, but considering how complete shite the team has been most games, it's pretty darn good.

In fact, Kipper was playing nearly as well in October as he has in November going 5-3-0, 2.38GAA, .916sv%(raw) and 2 shutouts. That was, until the Washington game with 3PPGA, a Sarich own goal and a terrible team effort. But people forget about how one game like that can cause amnesia.

Honestly, there hasn't been a player on the team who hasn't had some stretch of mediocrity thus far, with maybe Jackman being the exception (surprised he's not on the list quite frankly).

Considering Kent was adamantly and incorrectly, believing Kiprusoff had become 'Raycroft' a few years back, I'm really surprised he's not on all of Kent's lists of "things going right"

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#5 BCFLAME
November 30 2010, 09:05PM
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Spot-on evaluations of all the aforementioned players, Kent.

However, I think you should have also admitted to being wrong in regards to your pre-season perception of Jackman. He most definitely is not a skilled top 6 or even 9 forward, but he is the epitome of a fourth line energy forward. He has been physical, willing to drop the gloves, created some good chances for his teammates, has skated surprisingly well, and most importantly, has not been a glaring liability in his own end. I've been pleasantly surprised in this regard.

Also, I think that in a few years Backlund has the ability to become one of the premier set-up guys in the league (if we actually have someone that can score consistently at that time; Ryan Howse anyone?). His strengths are his two-way play, and his play-making acumen.

He is by far the best young forward we have in our system. I live in Surrey B.C. and have been able to catch a few Heat games in nearby Abby. Nemiesz at times shows flashes of a skilled power forward, but is still not consistently physical or agile enough to play that role in a professional league. He most definitely has the physical tools, and I have been told that his skating has improved, but the mental preparedness and toughness required at the elite level are currently lacking. I have my fingers crossed.

Wahl, and even Brodie, so far have not impressed anyone here in Abby. Nonetheless, while Brodie may not have put up an impressive point total, in my experience and in discussions with friends in Abby, the Heat generally generate more chances for than against when he is on the ice. I truly believe he will round into a steller offensive-minded defenseman capable of excelling at the NHL level, but he is a few years away. If the rebuild begins next year, though, no harm in bringing him to the big club in 2011.

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#6 Casey
November 30 2010, 09:10PM
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You could arguably add Jackman to the list? He has been a pretty good surprise back there on the 3rd and 4th lines.

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#8 dave
November 30 2010, 09:36PM
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I agree with you Kent. As a matter of fact, when Bouwmeester was first brought to Calgary, I thought it was to play alongside Regehr. Obviously, that did'nt happen, as the team said that they wanted Regehr to play with Mr.Overated(Dion Phaneuf). The pairing of Regehr and Bouwmeester has looked real good, and Bouwmeester especially has impressed me with his positioning and his ability to jump up in the rush. So far this year, I'd argue that the play from Reggie and Bouw has been the Flames biggest bright spot.

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#9 SmellOfVictory
November 30 2010, 09:37PM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

Add Jackman if you wish. Like I said, the list is not exhaustive.

As for being wrong about him, I was the first one to say he might actually be worth a damn.

That was what made it all the stranger to me when you decided to hate him for the first few games.

Regarding Giordano, though: does he actually look better to you this year than last? I keep thinking he's playing better, and while it wouldn't be completely shocking, he is at the age where it's not exactly expected of a player.

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#10 dave
November 30 2010, 09:40PM
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I'll be honest, the fact that backlund's numbers have dropped do scare me a little, but there's no denying he's playing much better than he was last year in his breif time with the Flames.

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#11 hal a pena
November 30 2010, 09:43PM
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jackman has been a pleasant surprise, his level to compete has to be respected. what he lacks in pure hockey skills he makes up for with pure honest effort. it would be refreshing to see many of the so called skill guys bust a nut like jackman. amazing how a guy laying for a job may very well be a true leader.i believe alot of the fans can relate to jackman, no star presence. lunch pail guy.

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#12 hal a pena
November 30 2010, 09:44PM
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jackman has been a pleasant surprise, his level to compete has to be respected. what he lacks in pure hockey skills he makes up for with pure honest effort. it would be refreshing to see many of the so called skill guys bust a nut like jackman. amazing how a guy laying for a job may very well be a true leader.i believe alot of the fans can relate to jackman, no star presence. lunch pail guy.

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#13 Greg
November 30 2010, 11:32PM
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I'm surprised there's no love for Morrison, even in the comments. Dollar for dollar, he's kept up with tanguay.

Connies 1000th game was pretty cool too. Like I said when they signed him, it might be (and has been) the only thing we get to celebrate all year!

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#14 icedawg_42
December 01 2010, 07:20AM
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dave wrote:

I agree with you Kent. As a matter of fact, when Bouwmeester was first brought to Calgary, I thought it was to play alongside Regehr. Obviously, that did'nt happen, as the team said that they wanted Regehr to play with Mr.Overated(Dion Phaneuf). The pairing of Regehr and Bouwmeester has looked real good, and Bouwmeester especially has impressed me with his positioning and his ability to jump up in the rush. So far this year, I'd argue that the play from Reggie and Bouw has been the Flames biggest bright spot.

Agreed - im not sure why Brent Sutter insists on flogging dead horses - Aka Reggie/Phaneuf, Iggy/Jokinen. Sometimes what works will continue to work, and vice versa.

Kent I think you've hit pretty much all the big ones here, when Jackman and Ivanans (who?) were signed, I was grumbling, but I too am pleasantly surprised by Jackman. .600 is a steep hill to climb but as of late there has been 'more' consistency within a game, and that bodes well. I think the team is starting to figure out some humility and realize they are not the Blackhawks or Canucks (barf) and they must play accordingly.

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#15 Backburner
December 01 2010, 07:23AM
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I'm glad Daz still had enough common sense to lock up Gio for the next few years. Nice to see J Bo playing to his potential... let's hope he continues to improve! Also, have to agree with Backlund; I think we might see him play on the top line sometime this year... but either way.. I think he's definetly proved to be able to play with the big boys. Smart player too.

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#16 Domebeers.com
December 01 2010, 09:55AM
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Dave Lowry coaching the PP to 24th in the league didn't get a mention? I mean, last year we were 26th, that's an improvement of a whole two spots!

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#17 PrairieStew
December 01 2010, 01:44PM
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@everton fc

Tanguay should be re-signed soon. Sooner, the better.

Hmm - he is providing excellent value, but there are reasons not to sign him now :

1. He could slow down 2. He could get injured 3. You have 10 forwards ( including Langkow ) signed already for next year for a total of $32 M. 4. You could miss the playoffs with him and this forward group, who are above average in age will be one step slower next year. Though resigning him may make sense on an individulal level; with all the older high salaried players with NTC's the roster flexibility is limited. Giving Tanguay say $3m would put the team at this years cap limit with 3 defense and a backup goalie yet to put on the roster. ( and no Glencross) 5. Continued good play could garner some trade interest as a pending FA ( along with Glencross), which, if out of the playoff race, would be the strategy to restock the kitchen for the veteran purge of 12-13, when there are only 3 current forwards under contract ( Stajan, Bourque and Iginla). Signing him in to next year limits the market for trade and therefore the value.

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#18 everton fc
December 01 2010, 02:03PM
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@PrairieStew:

I respect your thoughts above... and I don't think you sign him for $3mill. He'll come at a discount, methinks... because he not only wants to be here, but may realize after the fiasco in Tampa that the grass (meaning cash) is not always greener on the other side, regardless of which side of the border he lands.

Other forwards could be moved.

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#19 hal a pena
December 01 2010, 07:26PM
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signing tanguay would be too premature. there is a ton of hockey left to play. if the flames tank he may have market value. if tanguay tanks he is just another old forward in a collection of old forwards. the flames have numerous decisions to make in regards to next season. langkow i believe his done, and this injury is now a life issue.there could be some neccessary buyouts in the off season.

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