February 22 2013 12:10PM
The Flames opened the season with a rough first 10-games record-wise but I was encouraged by some of their performances, their underlying numbers and many of the decisions Bob Hartley was making. It seemed that if the club could weather the poor goaltending storm and continue to outshoot and outplay the bad guys, then they could emerge on the other side as playoff contenders.
Those sordid hopes have been utterly dashed since then. With the Kiprusoff and Backlund injuries, the potential for an immediate turn-around in net and continued high-level possession were both destroyed. I still suspect the team is still suffering from worse than average luck currently resulting in their awful record, but the processes and decisions that seemed so positive in the ealry going are starting to crumble.
- Blair Jones waived and then demoted despite the total lack of natural centers in the line-up. Jone's results were fine considering his role on the team, so we can only assume it's something off-ice that caused the coach to take such a sudden dislike to the grinder.
- Akim Aliu recalled. There's lots of noise about the Flames being soft recently and I agree they aren't the meanest roster in the league. Let's establish something right now, though: a few more post-whistle face washes or fights after someone hits Calgary's goalie might feel cathartic at the time, but they aren't going to meaningfully improve Calgary's goals for or against rates. If hockey was that simple, Ben Eager, Darcy Hordichuk and Steve MacIntyre could have ensured the Edmonton Oilers wouldn't still be terrible.
Akim Aliu is a nice story, but he's not an NHL level hockey player. He's barely an AHL player truth be told (a frequent healthy scratch for Abbotsford this year who was acquired for nothing from his previous team). So while he makes the Flames marginally bigger and tougher, he doesn't actually make them any better. When the decision makers stop trying to dress the best roster they can, you know it's panic time in the upper offices.
- Roman Cervenka a probable scratch. Word today is Calgary's aged rookie has joined Jones in the Hartley's bad books and was the odd-man out during rushes at practice this morning.
Cervenka has been okay in his NHL debut, ranging from dangerous and creative in spots, to somewhat invisible (especially recently). He has some more acclimating to do to North American ice and his underlying numbers are mediocre; but then the coach has saddled him with the 4th most difficult zone start ratio on the team amongst forwards so far (45.4%). Originally Hatley was giving the high ground to Hudler/Cervenka and Tanguay/Iginla as much as possible but without a third line/Mikael Backlund, the offensive zone draws have mostly fallen to the captain again.
Suffice to say, scratching Cervenka, demoting Horak/Jones and then dressing Aliu tomorrow night would make the Calgary roster significantly, uh, below par.
Of course, coaches and GM's engage in these little roster games every so often for what I assume are motivational and disciplinary purposes. Still, in a shortened 48-game season and with the team already significantly behind the 8-ball in the Western Conference, I'd say the smart bet is to dress the best collection of players you can every single night. When you stop doing that - and start hoping to stumble on secret formuals of toughness/chemistry/compete level, then it suggests you're more or less lost in the dark.
Things are getting ugly in Calgary fast. The team has one real center on the roster (and it's Matt Stajan), almost every high-priced player in the top-6 is now underwater in terms of possession, Backlund's gone for weeks, the goaltending is replacement level and the coaching staff is starting to make nearly indefensible personnel decisions.
Feels very much like furiously re-arranging deck furniture on a certain large, sinking vessel...