Five things: Cross one off the list

Ryan Lambert
May 16 2012 09:12AM

1. Well there goes that

The search for a guy who will be in charge of coaching this team rolls on and, even without anyone making hires yet in the offseason, the field is thinning.

The latest casualty, Elliotte Friedman reports, is the guy many tabbed as the most likely candidate: San Jose coach Todd McLellan, who's staying put but likely getting a slew of new assistant coaches. That's too bad. McLellan has, in the past, done a pretty good job of managing a roster that was often made up of a healthy mix of both young and veteran players (for every Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle and Patrick Marleau, it seems, there's a Logan Couture, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Joe Pavelski). This makeup is, obviously, not unlike the Flames'.

The problem with the NHL coaching fraternity, if you want to call it that, is that your options for replacing someone you fire — who leaves of their own accord? Dale Hunter and nobody, that's who — are often old retreads or NHL assistants who have quietly been making names for themselves for years. Not to say either is a bad choice, necessarily, but at some point you know what you're getting with whoever you hire, before you hire them, and so the rumors about guys that might or might not come to the city are easy to suss out as being either good or bad for the team as it's currently constituted.

Which is what makes the hire of Troy Ward to run the hockey club both intriguing and, apparently, more likely by the day. Puck Daddy had a big story earlier this week about Ward and the job he might do — very good? — with the team given its newfound and wise move toward a youth movement, relying heavily upon the guys Ward wrangled as an assistant last season and a head coach this year.

And I guess the more I think about it, the less jazzed I am to see the team bring aboard a guy like a Bob Hartley or Marc Crawford or whoever else's name has been trotted out in the time since Brent Sutter's ship was scuttled. I think I like Troy Ward for this job. Glowing testimonials aside, no one is going to have a better idea of how to handle the roster, and obviously the young guys, whose development is more important at this point than actually going somewhere in the standings, in particular. He'll know who's ready for such-and-such a role and when, and will be in a position to help them succeed.

People might say he's not ready — and perhaps my support for his hiring is predicated upon 1) my desire to "blow it up," and 2) my associated belief that the team can therefore lose all it wants and still be a-okay in my eyes — but the concern I have is that, like a Kirk Muller or Guy Boucher before him, some team will come in and snatch Ward up while Larry Robinson or whoever is on the second of a three-year contract and performing dismally.

As the PD story noted, it's not like players like Ward because he's easy on them. He isn't. He gets them to buy in with what is apparently disconcerting ease, and then gets them to play physically dominating and exciting hockey. Isn't that, like, what everyone said the Flames' problem was?

Look, I get that longtime NHL players like the Flames have on the roster aren't the Abbotsford Heat's mix of so-so rookies and AHL vets, but this is, at this point, their concerns shouldn't be the team's concerns. Don't like how Ward (or anyone really) is coaching? There's the door.

That went on far longer than I expected it to. I guess what I'm saying is Hire Troy Ward.

2. Sven Baertschi's future

We can all pretty much agree he's an NHL player at this point and will be with the big club to stay come October, right?

I was able to catch only the highlights of some of his games in the WHL Finals and he made the Oil Kings defenders look silly. FInishing these playoffs with 14-20-34 in 22 games doesn't seem particularly fair, but he's done playing against this soft competition. This time next year, he'll have a full season of playing against men under his belt.

Or at least, he should.

3. Karri Ramo and the goaltending situation

Two weeks ago in this space I wondered about the future prospects for Leland Irving, who, mere hours after I posted the item, spectacularly flamed out (no pun intended) in his attempt to regain the Heat's starting goaltender position in the playoffs. I found that curious but wasn't necessarily discouraged — it didn't, for certain, preclude him from being the backup with the big club after toiling in the minors for parts of two seasons.

But then there was word from the World Championships, carried over to this side of the globe by the Canadian Press and later, the Calgary Herald, that Karri Ramo would entertain thoughts of leaving the KHL to return to the NHL in a backup role. And now things are interesting.

On the one hand, Ramo was a bust of the highest order in his first try at North American hockey and has been hiding in the KHL, which is simultaneously the second-best pro league in the world and also a massive step down from the NHL. On the other hand, he has been a wall over in Russia.

In two seasons, he has a .925 save percentage and 1.96 GAA and that, I don't need to tell you, is unbelievable, even in a relatively low-scoring league. Does that translate here? Who knows? But it has to be seen as bad news for poor Leland Irving, who might be stuck riding the bus for another season or perhaps more if Ramo comes over and acquits himself well.

4. The last thing I'm going to say about shot-blocking

I know it's a new big thing to act like shot-blocking is ruining the NHL, but it is, of course, not doing that. In fact, I saw where the Hockey News said there were actually more shot blocks per game in last year's playoffs, widely considered to be exciting and cool and great because guys also punched each other with regularity.

All you need to know about what the "THIS IS AN OUTRAGE" crowd wants out of the league was tweeted a couple weeks ago by Kevin Paul Dupont, the Boston Globe columnist and Hockey Hall of Famer whose work got me into hockey writing in the first place when I was a way little tyke.

Tweet 1: Not unreasonable. 

That is, I think, something everyone can get behind.

Tweet 2: A head-scratcher.

This, at least, addresses the actual problem seen in the postseason: Goaltending is realllllllllly good. Everyone is good at it. If you want more offense, you have to restrict goaltenders' ability to make saves, probably by shrinking their equipment. But dreams of an .800 league-average save percentage? Based on the number of shots being taken in the league these days, doesn't that put us on pace for games to end 7-6 every night? Isn't that obscene and bad? Seems like it to me.

Tweet 3: Outrageous. 

This is perhaps even more unlikely than the save percentage demand, because in the modern era, the only teams that ever finished with 30-something save percentages were the 1970s Habs. Y'know, the best hockey teams ever assembled. And this is something he wants for the league average? Keep dreaming.

Tweet 4: Laughable.

So in the end, what they want is physically impossible. Just so we're all clear and on the same page here.

5. One last quick question...

Is anyone else surprised that the Flames haven't come to terms with Mikael Backlund on a new deal yet? Just wondering.

Yer ol' buddy Lambert is handsome and great and everyone loves him. Also you can visit his regular blog at The Two-Line Pass or follow him on Twitter. Lucky you!
#51 deantheraven
May 18 2012, 01:54PM
Trash it!

Xan't disagree with the trade Iggy comments, but I only hope nobody in the League outside of Cowtown reads these posts or we'll be lucky to get a bag 'o pucks for him!

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