December 15 2010 02:37PM
The Flames are enjoying a last peaceful day before the onslaught of the blue-clad loons tomorrow evening, so it's as good a time as any for a look at a few items of interest. In this installment of the roundup, the Dion returns, one of the NHL's featured teams is in a ditch, and the City of Glendale decides financing a hockey team's purchase is a civic priority.
The win over Columbus was one carrying a few tinges of good fortune about it, as Calgary snoozed through the second and third periods before the captain got it going in OT, but the heat is apparently still on the coach, if media reports can be believed. Reports this afternoon also suggest that Matt Stajan will be released from purgatory for tomorrow's match, so now the guessing game as to who gets the short straw will resume in earnest. It should be Kostopoulos, for the reasons Kent mentioned yesterday, but I'm not handicapping this move.
As far as activity on the ice itself goes, one of the continuing areas of concern really has to be the special teams. I've talked plenty in this space about the lack of shot generation when the Flames are a man to the good, and that hasn't changed even as a few pucks went in the net over the last week or so. Calgary is currently 23rd in shots/60 when up a man at 47.0 shots/60, and I think most of us have noted that the team struggles at entering the zone and winning puck battles when they do manage to establish themselves.
For a team that was never going to set the world on fire offensively even under ideal conditions, maybe that's no surprise. What should concern people is the inability of the team's PK to limit shots. The Flames are 20th in the league by that measure, allowing 52.7 shots/60. Just by eye, the club doesn't win many races to loose pucks. The team only has two plus-skaters on the backend (JB and Gio), and of the rest, only Regher seems able to outmuscle enough people to overcome his foot speed deficiencies. That's led to other teams getting more shots just through puck retrieval, and shots against on the PK generally go in at a 25-30% higher rate than 5v5, so whatever decent work the club does at evens gets wiped out far too often. If you look at those two shot rates, the Flames are headed for a season where they give up about 50 more shots than they take when the game is played with one team down a man. That will cost them 6 or 7 goals net before percentages even enter the picture, which is worth about one win. The Flames don't strike me as a team with a win to throw away.
Tomorrow, the club welcomes back our man Dion to the premises, and I'm certain those in the pews will give him a friendly greeting as a beloved former Flame ;-) In all seriousness, I do hope that people understand that Dion was a talented but flawed player that, through no particular fault of his own, was cast as some sort of savior early on in his time with Calgary. He might well have been an unloved figure in the room, but as a practical matter the terrible contract Darryl Sutter handed him was at the root of his departure last winter, and even had he been a bit more of a Boy Scout type he was always at risk to be moved. At any rate, I don't hate him in the slightest, even if I wanted his ticket to be paid by another club, and I don't wish him any more ill than any other Leaf. YMMV, of course.
The Heat are out East this week, and last night snuck a 1-0 win over Rochester, with no mention if Marcus Vinnerborg and Jacob Markstrom exchanged pleasantries afterwards. Leland Irving recorded his 3rd shutout and 15th win, and his SV% is above .915 overall, which is acceptable. As I mentioned in a previous installment, the Heat are killing penalties at a 79.1% rate, which really is a lousy performance in any decent league. Although we don't have ready access to the AHL SV% breakdowns, I'd guess Irving is still doing well at EV, and with EVSV% normally being the most sensible way to assess goalie performance, it's likely a good sign for him and the organization. As far as skaters go, Matt Pelech and Cam Cunning returned to the Heat roster in the last week, adding a couple of veterans to a lineup that has often had 8-10 regulars on the shelf since early November.
Up the road:
The Oilers were throttled by the Leafs last evening, wasting a very nice outing from Taylor Hall. One thing that a few of the more perspicacious types following the neighbors have routinely noted is that Edmonton's special teams are atrocious. I've just spent two paragraphs grousing about Calgary's crapulence in that scenario, but the Oiler PP is poor and their PK is particularly atrocious. They give up the most shots/60 in the league 4v5, and I noticed that the spread in PK percentage between Edmonton and the 29th best team on the PK (TOR) is 6.1%. That's exactly the same spread as between Toronto and Washington, who are the 10th best PK team by percentage. There are shooting percentage issues at work to be sure, but the Oiler PK looks like a elementary school recess most nights.
One of the league's showcase events in the Winter Classic, and the HBO 24/7 special covering Washington and Pittsburgh gets it's first airing tonight at 10MT. The Penguins were rolling until losing in Philly last night, a game where the only thing keeping the game close was a good Pens' PP. The Penguins are playing pretty well in general, though. Their New Year's guests, on the other hand, have a few issues at the moment, as the Capitals have lost 6 in a row. They still generate shots at EV, but it's the goaltending that's come under scrutiny again this week, especially after losing 7-0 to the Rangers with only 20 shots against in the team's last outing. The news that Evgeni Nabokov might be on the market has caused a few folks to speculate that he might be a possible fit in DC, but he was a mediocre goalie in San Jose, and the Caps likely can do better with a bit of patience. There's almost no chance of them missing the playoffs, so biding their time until the deadline makes more sense, at least to me.
That hasn't stopped people from looking at other solutions that might end the winless skein, and Bruce Boudreau could be the scape goat when it all goes down. Brooks Laich offered a defence of his boss and the goalies to Pierre Lebrun, but the expectations around the Caps are pretty high, and they've made one significant trade already, so Boudreau might get walk if Ted Leonsis gets impatient. I'd still try for a goalie at some point if I were running things, and if Tomas Vokoun ever hits the market, they likely have the space and resources to get him.
The Canadian World Junior team took shape this morning. The Flames' best junior prospect was on the outside looking in, and he was joined this morning by the rest of the cuts, including likely top three pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Tyler Seguin didn't make last year's team, though, and the WJC is a 19 year old tournament at it's core, at least for Canada, so I'm not sure that Nugent-Hopkins will be downgraded on this occurrence alone.
Interesting news over the weekend about goings on with the potential sale of the Dallas Stars, isn't? Tom Gaglardi has allegedly dropped out of the bidding for the club after the league insisted on a higher price than he and the banks thought was fair. I really wonder about the league's franchise values in some of their distressed markets. Dallas should bounce back at some point, and that area didn't have the boom-bust housing issues that Phoenix or the state of Florida encountered, but really, what's a franchise is worth in a place like Atlanta or Miami?
I've noticed with some amusement that the league routinely craps all over Forbes' numbers as part of its PR spin, but the fact remains that Carolina and Dallas are still on the market, and St. Louis, despite being in a good hockey market with a nice young team, hasn't drawn any serious interest in the last year. If these teams are really worth owning, wouldn't there be a lineup to acquire them? The truth of all this is that as a year to year investment on operating income alone, the overwhelming majority of NHL teams are nothing special. What encouraged new owners was the ever-growing valuations of the teams in general, so possessing a club for a few years, eating a loss every now and then while scrounging about for civic concessions to limit ownership exposure, and then dumping the team was potentially a profitable exercise. Craig Leopold's ownership of the Predators would be exhibit A in that regard. The recession in the U.S. has killed of a lot of speculative investment, and owning NHL teams in several markets is nothing if not speculative in nature.
The current poster child franchise for all of this sort of stuff would be the Coyotes, obviously, and the good burghers of Glendale decided last night that the old cliche of not throwing good money after bad wasn't going to influence them. It's pretty clear that Matthew Hulsizer doesn't have the money to complete this sale on his own, and no one with the ability to do so would buy the team just to keep it in Glendale, so here we are, with a 250,000 person city adding roughly 200 million to its various stadia and sports debts. The COG still has to issue bonds for the 100M they'll front Hulsizer in return for parking rights, and the 97M over 5 and a half years of operating money will, as best anyone can tell, come straight from the taxpayer all the while dreaming of future revenue generation from the Westgate shopping and commercial area as an offset.
No matter how this is presented it's as direct a subsidy as anyone could imagine for a sports franchise, and Glendale has certainly gone all in to keep the Coyotes and MLB spring training in town. Whether there's any chance of this working out for them is another matter, but in the case of the Coyotes, as I've mentioned before, the NHL needed a sucker and Glendale's mayor and council fit the bill, IMO.
That's all for this week. Add 'em if you got 'em in comments.