Five things: What's up?

Ryan Lambert
August 22 2013 08:42AM

1. An interesting question from an unlikely source

One wouldn't normally turn to the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey blog for anything particularly enlightening about the Calgary Flames. David Staples is an unapologetic homer and thus everything he deigns to write about the Oilers' southern neighbors is very heavily tinged with trollisms, as you'd expect. Which is fine, because you wouldn't normally come to Flames Nation or any other Calgary-based site for the kind of unbiased coverage of the Edmonton Oilers.

Now that the tables have turned, and it is the Flames who bleed goals, the site seems to be reveling even more in every Calgarian failure. But in doing so this weekend, I noticed that they asked a pretty decent question: Where, exactly, does Calgary finish this season? The informal poll on the site, which got a little more than 1,100 votes from people you'd mostly assume to be Edmontonians, seemed largely skewed toward "very bad indeed."

More than 81 percent of respondents said they thought Calgary would finish somewhere between 26th and 30th, and they're probably right. The 81 people who voted "In the playoffs" are clearly joking or mentally unstable, and either way need some serious institutional help. But it got me thinking: I've joked a lot about how Calgary is going to be the worst team in the league this season, but are they really going to be THAT bad?

You have to be unremittingly awful more or less from front to back these days to finish dead last, and there is more than one team that fits that bill this year. After thinking about it, though, I'd say, yeah I do think Calgary is in the running for 30th in a pretty clear three-horse race with Florida or Buffalo. And I think both of those teams have pretty creditable reasons why they won't finish last. I'm not sure the Flames do. Here are a few reasons why.

2. This might be the worst forward group in the league

When you're going through a rebuild obviously you are going to shed your better, older players to stockpile picks and prospects. I sincerely doubt the Flames are expecting anything much in the way of offensive production from the guys they got from Iginla and Tanguay and to a lesser extent Comeau and Bouwmeester, and they'd be right not to.

The problem with this is that the Flames finished with 128 goals last season, already below league average and right at the league mean. They lost something like close to 40 from the team last year, and I don't know where they get anywhere near that many back. Even if you're insanely optimistic about Sven Baertschi's ability to score — and I've seen people predicting him for 50 points this season, which is crazy — the team's only replacements for the lost goals were David Jones and TJ Galiardi, who combined for 23 points last season.

Matt Stajan has caught a lot of undue flak both around here and league-wide in the past two years, when he's been perfectly fine (but overpaid and overprotected) for the role he's been given. Now, though, he's looking like the No. 1 center. You can't be overly excited for that if you're hoping the Flames score more than 2.4 goals per game or so.

This is a team built with "checking" forwards who are "tough to play against" but not tough to keep the puck against and probably not tough to score against. This is going to be a major point of concern. Maybe the team's biggest.

3. A very, painfully average defense

It must be said that any blue line headlined by Dennis Wideman and Mark Giordano isn't exactly going to inspire confidence, but beyond that, there's TJ Brodie and his great experimental contract and…

Ahem.

This defense is patchwork or worse once you get outside the top-3, and the top-3 is already neck-and-neck with Edmonton for the worst in the division. You're going to have to get used to the idea of seeing one of Chris Butler, Derek Smith, Shane O'Brien or Kris Russell getting close to or slightly above 20 minutes a night. Every night. All season. Does that make anyone else dizzy just thinking about it?

Giordano and Wideman topped 23 and 25 minutes a night last year, and someone has to replace the 25-plus Bouwmeester also received. That is almost certainly going to be done by committee.

This isn't an outright bad defense, I don't think, but it's also shallow as hell, and if anything happens to anyone in the top-3 (say, underperformance or an injury) then this is going to be a catastrophe. Especially because…

4. The goaltending is anyone's guess

Obviously this is the big question mark, isn't it? What does Karri Ramo do in his first year back in the NHL? Boom, bust or right in the middle, no one knows for sure. Even if he's average, though, you'd expect him to be in line for picking up a lot of losses. Not that he's not used to it.

And if things go sideways for Ramo, which they very well could, the other options are career backup Joey MacDonald and the third- or-fourth best goalie in the Swiss league last season. Again, I think this is something that's done very much by committee unless Ramo really knocks everyone in the league on their asses with a big season. That, like Baertschi's first 50-point season, seems a bit of a pipe dream. If Ramo is anything better than average that'd be great for him.

Of course, this all ignores that the Flames' goaltending gave up 32 more goals than the average offense scored last season, and its goalies were statistically the worst since the 2005 lockout, meaning that even if Ramo really tanks it he and his buddies might not be as bad as Kiprusoff and Co. was last year.

In the end, though, I think even a substantial improvement in goaltending wouldn't get around to making up for the fact that no one on the team can hold the puck well enough to save this team from itself. Are they a 30th-place team? If, like, two things go wrong, I think that's a very reasonable expectation.

5. You know what that means…

I really gotta update that.

686dfac3780611cb7acad6ce5166c6c1
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!
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#1 clyde
August 22 2013, 10:10AM
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Is it really so crazy to expect Sven to score in that 45-55 point range? In the last 2 full seasons, guys like Blake Comeau, Drew Stafford, Ryan Smyth, Nick Foligno, RJ Umberger and Marcus Johannsen have done it.

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#2 Calgary Candle
August 22 2013, 09:21AM
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It still seems totally premature to be counting the Flames in the bottom three. Feaster has cap room to change the team up before the season begins and add one or two impact players. Jones could return to form from two years ago. Galliardi was getting top line minutes in S.J. Ramo could be at least average. Knight could make an impact on faceoffs, powerplay possession. Brodie could continue his development arc. The defence will be more physical than last year. Cundare could help the pp. The whole cloud around the Flames seems overdone to me. If anyone dares to say they could make the playoffs they're labelled a moron. It's a major case of hostile groupthink with a yearning for the #1 -#3 draft choices. Maybe after 10 regular season games I'll give up on the season, but let's see how they gell. There are a lot of new "pieces" in the mix.

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#3 calgary candle
August 22 2013, 05:56PM
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@Ryan Lambert

It would be cool if there could be disagreement on this website without name calling. I think that makes for more honest debate without an element of bullying or intimidation.

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#4 Kent Wilson
August 22 2013, 08:48AM
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I really gotta update that.

Disagree.

Also, re: Flames forward group...I still maintain the Predators forwards are worse.

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#6 Veggie Dog
August 22 2013, 11:17AM
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Ryan Lambert wrote:

Tanguay scored 11 goals for Calgary last season. Iginla nine. Cervenka nine. Bouwmeester six. Comeau four.

11 + 9 = 20. 20 + 9 = 29. 29 + 6 = 35. 35 + 4 = 39.

I'd say that in my book, 39 is "something like close to 40."

Meh, I can count too. Galliardi 5, Jones 3, plus increases from everyone who is bumped up the rotation because old dudes aren't treading water anymore, and I bet those 40 are completely replaced.

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#7 chillout
August 22 2013, 06:30PM
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@Ryan Lambert

See the neat thing about sports is anything can happen. Maybe just maybe Jones recovers from a bad year and scores 20 goals and maybe some other players pitch in too. That would sure be neat if other players could score and not the ones just traded away.

Your uninformed opinions are usually laughable, you sound like someone who hasn't actually watched the flames or anyone who will play or has played for the team, you just hear what other people are saying and then make it more negative and slap it on a page. The only reason I read your articles is to see what kind of garbage you decided to dig up.

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#8 Veggie Dog
August 22 2013, 10:47AM
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It is a bit misleading to point out that the Flames scored 128 goals (in a short season) and that they lost 40 goals in trades (presumably from a season of 82 games? And in years in which Iggy put up goals at the pace of his prime, and Tanguay had not become whiny) and then say that Jones and Galliardi only put up 23 points (in a short season again)There have been losses certainly, but everyone's ice-time will improve.

Also, we were dreadful last year, and still managed to not end up lower than 25. It is hard to predict, but the some of the teams below us are talented, but so dysfunctional that they may be worse again. For as much front end talent as they have, the Oil finished with three goals less. Colorado, also with great forwards, had 12 less. As much as we all hope for great drafts for a couple of years, without league worst goaltending again, I don't see last place happening. There are plenty of teams that are better at crapping the bed than we are.

Kind of funny how when we are good we aren't good enough, and when we are bad, we aren't bad enough.

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#9 Jeff Lebowski
August 22 2013, 09:53AM
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Where the Flames finish is not even remotely 'an interesting question' at this point. Played out already in various other articles, polls, radio shows, etc.

Outcomes are largely boring for Calgary, their interesting aspects are in process, growth and investment. For me anyways.

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#10 bookofloob
August 22 2013, 08:49AM
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gulp

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#11 beloch
August 22 2013, 04:11PM
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Everybody points to the Flames lack of an elite top line of forwards as evidence that they're going to get spanked this season. Well, Edmonton has that elite line and still got spanked last season, even with excellent goal-tending. Also, anyone who thinks Calgary's blue line is as weak as Edmonton's is smokin' something.

One thing the Flames do have plenty of is mediocrity. If you took both teams top lines out, what's left of the Flames would absolutely murder what's left of the Oilers. This is consequential because a top line, no matter how great they are, is only on the ice for about one third of the game.

You can't predict a team's performance based only on its elite players. The Flames are unlikely to make the playoffs next season, but a lot of stars are going to have to cross for a bottom five finish unless Feaster moves some more veterans out before they have a chance to make a significant impact.

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#12 Kent Wilson
August 22 2013, 09:56AM
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@Calgary Candle

Fair enough, but not expecting much of the Flames this year strikes me as a fairly rational assessment. The club hasn't made the post-season since 2010, they haven't won a playoff series in nearly a decade and they now have zero elite talent. Not to mention, the re-alignment plunked them into one of the toughest divisions in the league.

Let's put it another way...if you had to bet money, would you bet it on the Flames making the playoffs?

It's certainly okay as a fans to always hope for the best - sometimes crazy things happen. But there's also nothing wrong with understanding that the club faces long odds.

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#14 Parallex
August 22 2013, 12:33PM
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@Veggie Dog

Yeah, this is what I'm thinking too... yes the Flames "lost" 40 goals that they had last year but the bulk of those will be made up for by what we are bringing in + elevations from folk due to the absences (eg. Iginla & Tanguay's PP minutes will now be allocated to others who can expect to score more via being granted additional icetime with the man advantage). Iginla was on pace for a 23G (82 games) season while with the Flames last year. Captain/Face-of-the-franchise/all-time leader/blah blah blah... 23G isn't that hard to make up.

I don't think they'll be completely replaced but I would wager the difference ends up fairly marginal.

The big loss is Bouwmeester's defensive work... that just can't be replaced by committee with any degree of equivalency. Opposingly as a result of how awful Kipper and Co. were last year the team is almost certainly going to have an improvement in goaltender performance.

The Flames aren't as bad as some want to make them out to be... they'll be bad but not that bad. I think the Flames end up fifth-sixth again... If the Flames are going to bottom out I'd rather they bottom out in 2014-2015 anyways.

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#15 T&A4Flames
August 22 2013, 11:29AM
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"Kind of funny how when we are good we aren't good enough, and when we are bad, we aren't bad enough."

I think that is where we are constantly referred to as 'mediocre. "

I don't think we will look like a last place team for the 1st half of the season but after the deadline, we will be in basement battle. Although I've said before, there is much parity in the league. We saw TBL and COL have miracle seasons in the last few years, its not completely unfathomable that we see one in CGY but I'm not counting on it. It would be the worst thing that could happen at this point in terms of a rebuild.

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#16 Christian Roatis
August 22 2013, 12:21PM
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I agree on all fronts. Being bad in 2014 and 2015 could mean Ekblad and McDavid which would obviously be massive to getting back into the playoffs and contending but enduring 164 games of crap over the next 2 years, is gonna suck.

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#17 Prairie Chicken by-the-Sea
August 22 2013, 02:26PM
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Let's keep things in perspective here. We know this is year 1 of the rebuild. We know we are going to suck. Badly. We also know that we are in a division chock full of stingy defenses and good goaltending (LA, Vcr, Phx, SJ), and we couldn't score much last year. So, take a deep breath, enjoy the development of all those prospects, have fun speculating on our top three pick in the 2014 draft, and pray that management is competent enough to properly guide this rebuild (i.e., not like the Oilers). And we'll get plenty of close up views of some undoubtedly classic Tortorella spazz-outs.

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#18 Kent Wilson
August 22 2013, 09:50AM
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@Arik

I expect Backlund to pass Legwand at some point...maybe even this season.

Calgary may be worse if/when they sell off guys like Cammalleri and Stempniak at the deadline, but to start the year...

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#19 Arik
August 22 2013, 09:06AM
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@Kent Wilson

I think the top line in Nashville is better, but not by much, and either way the depth falls off really fast.

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#20 Baalzamon
August 22 2013, 09:18AM
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disagree with #3. That defense is DEFINITELY below-average. Maybe not by a lot, but I don't think it touches average.

My bet would be Kris Russell (or maybe Cundari I guess) gets the #4 spot. If Butler does... sigh.

Of course, Butler can't possibly be worse than he was last season. Can he?

Anyone?

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#21 Rockmorton65
August 22 2013, 10:44AM
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@Calgary Candle

I agree. I don't think this is the team we start the season with. I can see a move or two as we get closer to training camp. There are a few teams currently over the cap, and a handful that are near it, with key FA's to sign. Moves will need to be made. If Feaster can make a smart deal or two, there could be some decent acquisitions.

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#22 schevvy
August 22 2013, 09:08AM
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@Kent Wilson

I agree with Kent. On both.

But it's going to be rough. We'll see a few games that will be great and show the potential of this rebuild but overall it's a young team and they'll be inconsistent. And they're just not that good yet.

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#23 Avalain
August 22 2013, 09:58AM
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"I really gotta update that."

The question is are you going to replace Iggy's face or his jersey?

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#24 SeanCharles
August 22 2013, 04:00PM
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I'm not gonna decide yet where they will finish cause it doesnt matter. This is a transition year and whatever happens happens.

I'm still excited about this year because for once we dont really know what to expect. We have so many question marks it is impossible to determine our fate yet.

Another exciting part is all the new, young faces the team has aquired or already had but is now ready to make a push.

All these news faces are coming into a situation where they will be given every opportunity to prove they belong.

This will make for an interesting year even if we dont win many games.

Competition will be fierce between the incumbants and I think we finally have enough prospect depth to have some plesant surprises ahead of us...

My guesses are Granlund, Berra and Ortio.

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#25 FireOnIce
August 22 2013, 11:22AM
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If Hartley runs someone like SOB or Russell for 20 mins a game, Flames are definitely picking top 5.

My guess would be that the D-corps playing time is going to be spread out among the players.

Gio, Wideman, Brodie all play top 3 minutes, while the bottom 3 minutes get spread evenly out among the other 4 guys. Whoever is playing hot gets put on top 4 duty.

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#26 RickT
August 22 2013, 11:27AM
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Avalain wrote:

"I really gotta update that."

The question is are you going to replace Iggy's face or his jersey?

Switch Iggy's face for Mickis'.

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#27 BJ
August 22 2013, 12:04PM
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Wingers are fine. Problem for the forwards is at center (orgwise are shallow on the right side but in the meantime Cammy stemp and jones are a good enough stop gap.)

That is not going to change until /unless Knight and Monahan establish themselves in the top 9.

Perhaps Kent is right and Grabovski or Mueller make sense for a number of reasons. Currently we do not have better options.

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#28 SVENSANITY
August 23 2013, 01:19PM
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A better question would be: How many goals against will Calgary give up this year (over/under)?

What's the O/U on how many goals Calgary will score for?

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#29 Baalzamon
August 23 2013, 01:25PM
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SVENSANITY wrote:

A better question would be: How many goals against will Calgary give up this year (over/under)?

What's the O/U on how many goals Calgary will score for?

They'll definitely score over seven goals next season.

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#30 BurningSensation
August 24 2013, 10:57AM
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chillout wrote:

See the neat thing about sports is anything can happen. Maybe just maybe Jones recovers from a bad year and scores 20 goals and maybe some other players pitch in too. That would sure be neat if other players could score and not the ones just traded away.

Your uninformed opinions are usually laughable, you sound like someone who hasn't actually watched the flames or anyone who will play or has played for the team, you just hear what other people are saying and then make it more negative and slap it on a page. The only reason I read your articles is to see what kind of garbage you decided to dig up.

Normally I'd be all over giving Lambert the business for being a nattering nabob of negativity, but in this case I don't think he is way off base.

An honest look at Calgary's team shows no genuine first line talent, no top pairing quality defensemen, and no legit starting goaltender.

That's a lot of holes that need to be filled over the next few years. That said, we do have a very nice set of wingers for lines 2 thru 4, and several quality defenders who can fill the 2nd and 3rd pairings. So the depth is Ok, it's everywhere else that needs help.

Compare this to Nashville who have a superstar netminder, and multiple quality defensemen to mask the problems of a much less than average set of forwards.

Or to Edmonton, who have legitimate, even elite 1st line talent (Hall is now among the elite), but lack depth everywhere else on the roster (especially on D and in net).

Which isn't to say there isn't hope. TJ Brodie might evolve into a top pairing defender. Sean Monahan might be our long lost #1 center. Sven may turn out to be the replacement for Iggy's offense on the wing. Backlund might be a guy who can capably handle heavy opposition and push the water back, and Ramo might be a league average netiminder.

Lambert gets my goat when he starts with the premise that whatever Feaster does is the wrong thing. But he is right when he points out that the Flames have a long, long road ahead of them before we can return to being anything like 'good'.

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