Random Thoughts - Flames Through the Early Going

Kent Wilson
October 08 2013 08:14AM

 

 

The new season is freshly born, and with it new sights and wonders. The Flames have burst out of the gate with a 1-0-2 start, which would be wholly disappointing if Calgary had not been roundly pick by pundits to finish last in the league with a bullet. Each game was a one goal affair and the Flames have led for long stretches of all of them. With a bit more luck, a few less errors or a bit more NHL-level goaltending, the club could easily be 3-0-0.

Here's some thoughts and observations after the first week...

- What a difference a shift in perception makes. Had the Flames brass instead decided to stay the course again this year, a 1-0-2 start featuring not one but two blown leads in the third period, there would be an angry mob already forming at the steps of the Saddledome. Instead, the faithful is relatively pleased with the club's efforts.

Given that reaction, it's kind of amazing the decision makers waited this long to shift gears. If you can't build a winner, it's a marketing coup to build a club that can meet or exceed very low expectations instead.

- It also helps that all of the games have been wildly entertaining so far, a marked improvement from seemingly endless years of slow, plodding, "off-the-glass" style hockey. The Flames are a Chinese Oilers fire drill in their own zone, their special teams need quite a bit of work and no one knows if they will even have average goaltending this year, but at least they're flying around with some gumption.

- That's the list of things the Flames have struggled with so far. On the good side of the ledger is a faster transition game out of their own end and through the neutral zone. One problem that plagued Calgary's top-six in particular the last few years was a slow, turn-over prone transition through the center ice, which frequently resulted in the puck going the wrong way and the team spending and starting way too many shifts in their own zone.

One of the changes that seems to be promoting the quicker counter punch is the mobility and puck handling of the blueline. A top pairing of Giordano and Brodie means the clubs gets the puck out of their end in a hurry. Wideman and Russell are pretty good at this too. More ice time for players like Backlund and Stempniak has also meant a more complete 200' foot game, at least when it comes to puck pursuit and backchecking. 

- Speaking of Giordano and Brodie, they have been outstanding at even strength so far. They are mostly skating against other team's top lines and have the best possession rates on the team. Giordano co-leads the team in scoring, Brodie is averaging over 24 minutes in ice time. They aren't merely suviving the tough sledding, they're excelling. If some people are wondering why the Flames don't seem quite as terrible as expected, look no further than the top of the Flames blueline rotation as at least some of the explanation.

- Wideman has also been pretty decent, although Hartley has him starting almost exclusively in the offensive zone at ES and he plays a ton on the PP, which helps. His frequent partner Russell is generally decent, but a true step back of the club's clear top-3 options. The former Blue Jacket is quick and good with the puck, but is prone to egregious errors from time-to-time and doesn't seem to be boast good decision making when things go awry. Already three times this season the opposition has scored goals while Russell has slid out of frame on his belly. Ideally he's probably a guy who should be a #5 or 6 in the rotation.

- Sean Monahan has had a pretty strong start to the season given his counting stats (2 goals, 1 assist) and hasn't looked out of place the last two games. That siad, he's also operating with an ES on-ice SH% of 13.3, which is bound to come crashing back down to earth at some point. Hartley has also made sure to gift the kid a 60% zone start, which is about as easy as it's going to get and his underlying numbers aren't all that exemplary.

In other words, things only get tougher for Monahan from here on in. I don't think he'll be able to keep seeing that favorable ratio of face-offs and the puck isn't going to go in at nearly the same rate all year. Keep that in mind as the team wrestles with the decision of keeping him up beyond game nine.

- Curtis Glencross has fine stats across the board, but he has looked awful by eye. Lackluster decision making and uninspired compete level all over the ice. I'm stunned most of his results are adequate. On the plus side, he's capable of being a lot better and will likely improve as the season progresses.

- Speaking of the kids, another thing that's probably floating their boat is Lee Stempniak, who for my money might be the best all around forward on the club right now. He currently leads the team with 16 shots on net in three games, despite mostly playing with a pair of rookies (talented rookies, but rookie notheless). At some point Hartley will move him up with either Glencross or Backlund and he'll help raise the performance of one of those lines as well.

If other clubs are smart, they'll start calling the Flames about Stemps as a deadline rental as soon as Christmas is over. Of course, one wonders if he keeps this up if Calgary will try to retain him as a veteran to stabilize things during the on-going rebuild instead. Naturally, that would depend on Stempniak wanting to stick around in that kind of role...

- It's somewhat gratifying to see read a lot of positive reviews on Backs from all corners of Flames fandom so far this year. He looked tentative in the offensive zone (like rookie Backlund) initially, but has grown more assertive over the first three games. Hudler's been picking corners which has helped his output, but it will be interesting to see how the line does once Cammalleri replaces Galiardi.

- On the other hand, new guy Joe Colborne has been pretty underwhelming. Hartley hasn't given him too much room to strut his stuff, but then Colborne hasn't done anything that would convince the coach to move him up the depth chart. In contrast, journeyman Ben Street seems to have become a new favorite of the bench boss. I always liked Street when I saw him on the Heat and he always struck me as player who would have high utlity in a bottom-6 role in the NHL. He probably shouldn't be playing against the Sedins in an ideal world, but as a third or fourth liner, he's much more useful than the Mike Brown's of the league.

- Some interesting numbers so far: The Flames are averaging 35 shots on net per game (!), but also giving up 33 (frown). Still, that's a positive shot differential. Huzzah! Their ES shooting percentage is over 11%, so expect that to regress at some point. Their goaltending is actually better at 5on5 this year than it was last year, but is still bad (.904). That said, it's actually PK SV% that has really sunk the club (57.1!!!). At the very least, the puck stopping short-handed should get much better at some point because nobody is that bad.

- Of course, let's keep in mind we're just three games in so making any sort of projections or analysis is fraught with caveats. The first 10 games of the season tend to be kind of screwy. People treat them as predictive of the rest of the season because it's the first bit of information about the new team, but it just isn't so. You usually have to wait 20-30 games to get any kind of real read on an NHL team, and even that is the bare minimum to say anything meaningful.

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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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#51 RexLibris
October 08 2013, 03:57PM
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@McRib

There is a little more to the Oilers/Devils game than a bunch of highlight goals, though.

Nugent-Hopkins was -2 but also played over 28 minutes in his first game back, had 6 shots on net and was 50% in the faceoff dot. Perron, meanwhile, had a goal and an assist, played over 25 minutes, scored the tying goal and won the game in the shootout.

By the third period their defensive game was nearly airtight, the final Devils goal coming from a deflection off Ference's skate.

The first 40 minutes sunk the team, but the lesson was learned and the players adjusted to the coaching scheme during the 2nd intermission. The Corsi events for the evening reflect this more effectively.

Your position is correct, in that young players, especially those that are offensively gifted, need to learn to play with some defensive awareness in so far as that attention to the defensive game can result in puck possession which then becomes offensive play.

Don't pillory the Oilers' young players for learning this lesson now, though. While I agree that previous coaching regimes were ill-suited in some of their strategies, this was more an extension of mismanagement than coaching. And it took the arrival of Scotty Bowman to turn Steve Yzerman into the player that most people associate him with today. Prior to that he was a perennial top-scorer on a poor team.

These things take time and that is all the more reason for Baertschi to start learning these lessons now. Burke spoke his mind and needs to back off now and give the player a chance to respond.

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#52 SmellOfVictory
October 08 2013, 04:21PM
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wot96 wrote:

That's pretty familyist dude. Watch it.

More seriously, not sure you can ascribe his performance last year to this "issue". It might have been in his head but isn't it more likely he just had an off year?

It's purely anecdotal, but at first glance there does seem to be a correlation between childbirth and drop-off in the play of NHLers from what I can recall. Doesn't mean it's causal, and doesn't mean it happens consistently, but I think it's an area worth exploring for someone with more inclination than I have.

From a logical standpoint, it makes sense. A child is a big deal; (almost) any parent will tell you that their priorities completely change when that first child is born. Whether that's enough to have an actual effect on male professional athletes overall, who knows, but I don't think it's outside of the realm of possibility.

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#53 Rockmorton65
October 08 2013, 05:30PM
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@Jeff Lebowski

A "Chinese fire drill" was something teenagers did in the 50's for fun. When there were more than three in a car. When they stopped at a red light, everyone would see if they could get out of the car, run around it once and get in a different door before the light turned green. It gave the impression of chaos, but usually served as entertainment for the other drivers.

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#54 BJ
October 08 2013, 05:40PM
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@McRib

Totes agree about Baertsh... I think the Flames are being careful to avoid to a culture of entitlement . (Look what has happened in the past and in other franchises like Edm.)

I really like the emphasis on hard work so far.

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#55 44stampede
October 08 2013, 09:59PM
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I totally agree with the sentiments on Stemp. He is someone that is a major unsung hero. Funny enough, he reminds me a lot of the guy he was traded for. I score that one a big win for Feaster.

I am in the camp that guys like him are absolutely necessary for this team. Without guys like him, the young ones will have a real tough time developing IMO. He takes on the best and still does okay which leaves the higher zone starts for the young ones.

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#56 DT
October 09 2013, 09:25AM
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As an Oiler fan, I like reading Flamesnation. It always makes me feel better to witness delusion first hand, such as Kent's shots at the Oilers, and the similar comments. The hockey team you support has missed the playoffs for four straight years, finished below the Oilers last year, and you guys still take shots? It's the same delusion that convinced you that you were one or two tweaks from being a contender, even after missing the playoffs for a year or two. It's a city wide phenomenon, pervasive among management, media, and fans. I guess if you support a team that has only been past the first round once since 1989, you would have to work hard to find reasons to support that team.

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#57 the forgotten man
October 09 2013, 11:00AM
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piscera.infada wrote:

I don't think there's anything wrong with being cognisant to what might be offensive to a group. For you to deem those people who bring it up "delicate sensitives" shows just how ignorant you are. And please, spare me the "we're talking about sports here" argument. There is no sacred ground where ignorance is defensible, let alone acceptable. [Kent, I don't mean you were being ignorant. Terms like that are pervasive in society, it's easy to drop them without a moment's notice. I'm just not sure how people can be so dead-set against pointing it out.]

In regards to Ramo, I don't like the decision either - I want to see Karri play. I imagine the coaching staff simply wants to give him some time getting used to the speed and style of play of regular season NHL hockey - I'm not sure the bench and practice are the best places to do that, but I'm also not an NHL coach.

Sorry buddy, but using your line of argument, it is all or nothing..."by the book" the word C@#$ck is derogatory to English and French Canadians - by your lofty standards, Vancouver should not use that name and it should be changed - I hope you don't use it in reference to their hockey team or you are just being a hypocrite, plain and simple.

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#58 HongKongHockeyFan
October 08 2013, 09:28AM
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Lucky Number 6! I haven't been able to see all of top 2013 draft picks this year but it appears that the Flames could not have gone wrong in this year's draft.

I have seen McKinnon, Jones and Lindholm play so far (and have not seen Barkov and Drouin). Lindholm looks fantastic. He has speed, skills and smarts! From what I read previously, the Flames would have took him over Monahan if he was still available.

However, what I'm wondering what the Flames would have done if they had ended up with the 7th pick, which the Oilers got, instead of the 6th pick (and the Oilers took Monahan)?

Nonetheless, I will be closely watching the development of this year's first round draft picks to see who ultimately ended up with the best selections. Again it will be interesting to see who ends up being the best centre in this year's draft. Monahan might give McKinnon, Barkov and Lindholm a run for their money. Most of scouts have previously stated that those three definitely have the most potential to be elite first line centres, while the consensus seems to think that Monahan will only be good second line centre.

Any other thoughts?

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#59 SmellOfVictory
October 08 2013, 09:39AM
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Clay wrote:

Paddle schmaddle. He wouldn't have to make that save if he didn't have a 5 hole you could drive a bus through.

Oh I'm not saying he should stick around, I'm just saying he will.

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#60 T&A4Flames
October 08 2013, 10:29AM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

Guys, guys...MacDonald is just doing his part for the Sham for Sam this year. Give him a break.

Very nice . I prefer we will be bad for Aaron Ekblad!

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#61 Clay
October 08 2013, 10:44AM
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jeremywilhelm wrote:

The shot on net stat is what makes me very happy and positive about the results so far. The fact that they can generate that many shots in a game, even in such a short sample size is very positive and will probably lead them to be picking out of the top ten this season with average goaltending.

This draft is a little underwhelming anyways outside of the top 3-5. I don't care if we don't get a lottery pick in the next few years, as long as we show steady progress towards something better.

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#62 Baalzamon
October 08 2013, 11:01AM
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@Baalzamon

"Aside from the last sentence, this paragraph could have been written about David Jones."

That is, aside from the last sentence and the part about "uninspired compete level all over the ice." I may not like Jones, but the guy works. I will not deny that.

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#63 thymebalm
October 08 2013, 11:10AM
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Can we not expect to see another option in net if this keeps up? I mean, Byrz, Berra, Orts, Brust, somebody!?

Although I thought Ramo played great in his start and didn't give them anything easy.

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#64 Robear
October 08 2013, 11:44AM
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@Christian Roatis

Good results so far. I expect that this year everyone will be sunshine and rainbows and flying unicorns, as long as it looks like the team is trying. But thats only because its the new shiny bauble and expectations have been altered. The real test will be in years 2 and 3 of the re-build as the shine wears off the bauble, people start to expect more and the team is still struggling. Thats when people will start getting snippy and wanting more out of the team, when the expectations should still be low.

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#65 SmellOfVictory
October 08 2013, 12:06PM
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palooza wrote:

Good lord, sounds like MacDonald is starting again tomorrow via Steinberg.

Haha told you guys!

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#66 palooza
October 08 2013, 12:28PM
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Maybe we'll look back and MacDonald starting these games will be Hartley's early season mulligan much like Brodie being a healthy scratch to start last year.

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#67 Jeff Lebowski
October 08 2013, 01:41PM
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Rockmorton65 wrote:

Are you aware what a Chinese fire drill actually is?

Do you?

"The term has been used by Westerners for more than a century, and is today considered by some to be mildly offensive.[9][10][11]"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_fire_drill

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#68 ianberg1
October 09 2013, 06:34AM
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Maybe the coaches are just saving Ramo the #1 goaltender for games against divisional rivals?

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#69 Baalzamon
October 09 2013, 08:18AM
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ianberg1 wrote:

Maybe the coaches are just saving Ramo the #1 goaltender for games against divisional rivals?

Then why did he start against Washington and not Vancouver?

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#70 Captain Ron
October 09 2013, 11:11AM
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Rockmorton65 wrote:

A "Chinese fire drill" was something teenagers did in the 50's for fun. When there were more than three in a car. When they stopped at a red light, everyone would see if they could get out of the car, run around it once and get in a different door before the light turned green. It gave the impression of chaos, but usually served as entertainment for the other drivers.

Growing up in WPG we used to do this all the time when we were in our early teens. It was harmless silly fun.

Please to all those concerned stop with this overly sensitive nonsense about this being in any way racist.

It is not racist period

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#71 jai kiran
October 08 2013, 10:32AM
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I know Colborne had a lousy first game, but I sure hope Hartley isn't going to turn him into the new Blair Jones.

I hope it's just the transition period, like Hartley says. Because Ben Street sucked in the faceoff circle the other night too, didn't put a point on the board with the "first line" and it would have been good to put Colborne in his place for a couple shifts...just to show the home crowd what he could do.

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#73 Parallex
October 08 2013, 11:41AM
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"Actually, the consensus is generally that Monahan will be a first line center--if only an average one (ie. not a "franchise" player)."

Sounds about right. The book on him was that he would be a Bergeron/Toews type center. A guy that won't bedazzle you on the ice or win any Art Ross trophies but who'll be almost just as valuable as those who do with other aspects of his play.

The kind of guy who you'll be happy to have as your #1 center but who you'd be overjoyed to have as a 2nd line center.

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#74 Robear
October 08 2013, 11:41AM
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@Christian Roatis

Agreed. Remember what Phaneuf looked like as a rookie. He was awesome! but I think he topped out early by being more physcially mature than the rest of his draft class.

I wont be surprised to see the same from Monahan. The only knock on Monahan was that his projected ceiling wasn't as high as the rest of the top 6. he's a big strong mature kid. As such I see him reaching his ceiling (lower or not) sooner.

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#75 Robear
October 08 2013, 11:44AM
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@Christian Roatis

Good results so far. I expect that this year everyone will be sunshine and rainbows and flying unicorns, as long as it looks like the team is trying.

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#76 Parallex
October 08 2013, 11:44AM
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thymebalm wrote:

Can we not expect to see another option in net if this keeps up? I mean, Byrz, Berra, Orts, Brust, somebody!?

Although I thought Ramo played great in his start and didn't give them anything easy.

End of the year. In my ideal world MacBackup is here so that Berra and Ortio won't be. By that I mean they'll actually get to play instead of having to frequent door opening duties.

I really hope that Ramo is back in net next game. For real no justification for keeping him out if the credo is "win and your in" like someone said.

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#77 Kevin R
October 08 2013, 01:29PM
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danglesnipecelly wrote:

Also ridiculous are the Bodog odds that Hartley is the next NHL coach fired and the rumours out of Philly that the Flames are desperate to find a d-man to play with Gio? Suggesting one of their high priced d-men could be coming here in exchange for Glencross. Huh what?

Agree, Hartley aint going nowhere. The Philly trade rumours are intriguing as they are 1 team on the verge of making bold moves & I would love to see Flames be right in the thick of things. Philly cant score anymore with any consistency. Could Cammi be the target? Cap space would have to come back, like Hartnell? Some other pieces involved, don't see Coutts tearing things up, maybe he can be had? Maybe Philly would covet a Brossoit while they see what they have in Mason & Emery & we can add a Reinhart or Horak with a good D prospect(Cundari or Russell)to sweeten that deal. I think they would be a very interesting trade partner for the Flames. Cant see Glencross going anywhere or waiving his NT for that matter.

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#78 Greg
October 08 2013, 01:34PM
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T&A4Flames wrote:

Very nice . I prefer we will be bad for Aaron Ekblad!

I'm looking forward to when we have "no honor for Connor"

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#79 everton fc
October 08 2013, 04:26PM
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Kevin R wrote:

Agree, Hartley aint going nowhere. The Philly trade rumours are intriguing as they are 1 team on the verge of making bold moves & I would love to see Flames be right in the thick of things. Philly cant score anymore with any consistency. Could Cammi be the target? Cap space would have to come back, like Hartnell? Some other pieces involved, don't see Coutts tearing things up, maybe he can be had? Maybe Philly would covet a Brossoit while they see what they have in Mason & Emery & we can add a Reinhart or Horak with a good D prospect(Cundari or Russell)to sweeten that deal. I think they would be a very interesting trade partner for the Flames. Cant see Glencross going anywhere or waiving his NT for that matter.

Interesting. Would anyone take Hartnell for Cammy, with some additional baggage and salary thrown in?

I would.

So Hartnell/Meszaros for Cammy, Russell/Cundari (Butler?) and Reinhart/Horak? (I'd move Reinhard over Horak. But that's "me") Would anyone do this deal?? The Flyers are aging, on paper. An influx-injection of youth might be what they are looking for, but what's in it for the Flames? Take a look at the Flyers. I don't see a lot of depth in Adirondack, either. What prospects do they have they'd be willing to move? You'd have a better chance at Gardiner, with the Leafs.

If we made a move like the one I've proposed, we'd certainly be in a better position to make the playoffs. Sounds nuts, I know. You'd have Hartnell/Glencross/Baertschi on the left side, along with Bouma. Perhaps Baertschi heads to Abby? (I hope not, but Galiardi could take his place on the left side) Or you have the Hartnell/Glencross/Baertschi(Galiardi)/Bouma on the left side, Stajan/Backlund/Monahan(Galiardi)/Street down the middle (I think Monahan's here for the season, though) Hudler/Stempniak/Jones/McGrattan or Jackman on the right-side. Am I missing anything? Unless Colborne can learn to play RW on the 4th line. Or you simply see if he clears waivers. Which I doubt they'll risk.

Could these lines, none of which are world-class, actually get this beaten-down franchise into the playoffs?

Glencross/Stajan/Stempniak

Hartnell/Backlund/Hudler

Baertschi or Galiardi/Monahan or Galiardi/Jones

Bouma/Street/McGrattan or Jackman or someone else

(Or Bouma/Horak/Street, with McGrattan on the bench and Jackman moved. You might get production off this 4th line)

Of course... You could pass on Hartnell, add Meszaros, and have Galiardi on the left-side of Line 2, with Baertschi remaining on the left side of Line 3. Which makes more sense, I guess. The easier solution is to send Monahan back to junior, and slot Galiardi inside Baertschi and Jones. If you add Hartnell, that is.

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#80 BJ
October 08 2013, 05:59PM
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Nighteyes wrote:

Hey everyone I'm new here, nice to meet you all. If this might seem unrelated to Kent's post, let me know. I'm rather dismayed that Hartley just announced Mcbackup is starting against the Habs tomorrow. I really do not understand this logic; he has not been horrible but from what I saw of Ramo in Washington he seemed to have better fundamental goaltending sense and technique. Also, we already know what we can get from Macdonald but Ramo is still a mystery and this season very much intended to solve them.

Furthermore, McGrattan is yet again in the line up for tomorrow. This decision by Hartley again puzzles me. Jackman seems to be a better choice for that role--his mobility, hands and decision-making is vastly better for a fourth liner than McGrattan in my opinion. Thoughts?

I agree with your post.

Although I think they are rewarding Mcgrit for his good play thus far. He has drawn some penalties and hasnt done anything that stupid.

I am getting the feeling that Jackman may be banged up or something as he would have been my obvious choice to start the season

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#81 thymebalm
October 08 2013, 08:43PM
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@The Last Big Bear

If you can only play him 4 minutes a game, and never against the opponents top 6, is he really worth the risk?

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#82 clyde
October 08 2013, 08:50PM
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Rockmorton65 wrote:

A "Chinese fire drill" was something teenagers did in the 50's for fun. When there were more than three in a car. When they stopped at a red light, everyone would see if they could get out of the car, run around it once and get in a different door before the light turned green. It gave the impression of chaos, but usually served as entertainment for the other drivers.

Yes, that activity got it's name from earlier events in history and is offensive to the Chinese community. I have a Chinese sister in law who says it is the same as sayings we no longer use pertaining to Jewish people and Blacks.

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#83 Jeff In Lethbridge
October 08 2013, 08:50PM
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@The Last Big Bear

and with Habs bei g French, we are likely to see a French fire drill

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#84 DT
October 09 2013, 11:05AM
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@piscera.infada

Right now the Oilers are skilled at beating themselves. They give the puck up way too much, make risky plays in the neutral zone, and easily get rattled by a bad goal. Those are easy fixes compared to compensating for a lack of talent. The Oilers have done the difficult task of assembling elite talent. They can easily add role players and teach team defence. I must be suffering from the same malady that the NHL players are suffering from. I'm referring to the majority of players who chose Edmonton as the next dominant team in a recent USA Today poll. They are young, they make mistakes, but they clearly have potential. Are you saying that a third year guys like Hall and Eberle can be written off already? A second year guy like Yakupov is a bust? Or is RNH a third line player, after two years? What will you be saying about Flames players in three years? "They're still young, give them time..." What about the current Flames roster makes you think that the Oilers and Flames are on equal footing? Enlighten me.

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