March 13 2014 09:01AM
1. Something I've been thinking about
I don't know why this occurred to me the other day, but it did and I thought it was interesting vis a vis Brian Burke and his role with the team.
(I apologize, by the way, for bringing up something along these lines again, but there's very little else to talk about with regard to this team of late. Anyway, this is also pretty front-of-mind for me right now for another reason I'll get to in a minute.)
When Burke was first brought aboard and Jay Feaster was inexplicably still in his role, we were told that the general manager/president of hockey operations dynamic they wanted to lean on — i.e. that the GM had autonomy but the president of hockey ops had final say and would certainly lean in there with his opinions whenever he felt like it — was relatively new to hockey and one that would give the Flames something of a rare opportunity to approach the player and team evaluation process with the new partnership.
I wonder, I guess, about its efficacy, because we saw Feaster get canned, predictable though it may have been, pretty early on this season, and Brian Burke take over from him as the de facto GM until such time as a new one can be hired, which is to say after the season, which is to say that he'd keep the job in which he stated repeatedly that he had no interest for at least a few months. Then there's the fact that another of these partnerships existed in Buffalo, and there the new GM seems to have effectively run his direct superior out of town in some way; I don't know if we've ever gotten the real explanation behind Pat LaFontaine's decision to step down as the Sabres president of hockey ops but those reports about him not wanting to trade Ryan Miller ring true enough for me that I buy them no matter how much it's refuted in public.
So it's interesting to me that two of the bigger dumpster fires in the league adopted this new and revolutionary dynamic this year (if I'm not mistaken, the Oilers have had a similar one as well with Kevin Lowe technically overseeing Craig MacTavish, so that's another for the pile), and both had them blow up more or less immediately on the launchpad. Maybe, probably, it was unavoidable in both cases, given the states of the teams.
2. So what does that mean?
Is it a coincidence, then, that three of the worst teams in the league have perhaps the most conspicuous of these dynamics (as a counterpoint the Boston Bruins also kind of have one, with Cam Neely technically, I think, being Peter Chiarelli's boss, but he's just “President,” not “President of Hockey Operations: the Bruins site says he “oversees all of the club's hockey and business operations”) and that most agree they haven't worked especially well.
I also wonder whether this has had any kind of impact on the ways in which the GM hiring process went or is going. After all, we heard in the immediate wake of Feaster's firing that Calgary had a few candidates in mind and wanted to hire soon. Then it was changed to, “They're waiting until the end of the season.” That was curious. Maybe the initial reports were wrong, and maybe a few candidates said “Thanks but no thanks.” One of those candidates was apparently Joe Nieuwendyk, who said he would pass on the chance to run the team because he wanted to focus on his family.
Maybe, at the end of the day, you have to be concerned about how well this kind of thing can work, and maybe the fact that it's not prevalent in hockey (yet, maybe?) is for a reason. Maybe it can't work, or maybe you need the right people involved at all levels. After all, it seems to me that Jeremy Jacobs has little to nothing to do with the hockey decisions being made by the Bruins, as long as the money is coming in, while owners in Calgary, Buffalo, and Edmonton seem to be, shall we say, far more conspicuous.
We have no evidence yet that this can work in Calgary, at any rate, and as such it's important to consider that kind of thing when thinking about who's going to be the next GM. We've heard it said he's going to have to subscribe to the kind of hockey that Burke espouses (fight-y, losing hockey, apparently), but there's a legitimate question at this point whether the autonomy he's supposed to have will actually exist.
3. The Nieuwendyk ceremony
Maybe I was prompted to think about all the above by the Nieuwendyk non-retirement ceremony, at which they really should have just retired his stupid number anyway. I've never really been clear on the difference between retiring them, as the Flames have with Lanny McDonald and Mike Vernon, and simply “honoring” them, as they have with Al MacInnis and now Nieuwendyk. I understand what it means, but I don't understand why you make the distinction; is someone really any more worthy of wearing No. 2 than they are of wearing No. 30?
Anyway, that ceremony was nice. Very enjoyable. Occasionally moving. It's weird how sports can do that to you.
4. On Granlund
Now that we've gotten a decently long look at the contributions Markus Granlund and Joni Ortio have made (seven and five games, respectively, as of this writing), I think it's fair to begin to look at how they've done in their admittedly limited roles.
Granlund has, understandably, gotten a little bit sheltered early on, but it should be noted his zone starts have actually been a little bit tougher than Sean Monahan's: 54.2 for the new kid, 59 for the less-new kid. And while he's not driving play in any appreciable way at 45.2 percent corsi, that's to be expected because only four guys on the whole team drive possession north of 50 to begin with (Mark Giordano, TJ Galiardi, TJ Brodie, Mikael Backlund). Maybe, though, you'd like to see more than eight SOG total in seven games, even given the limited minutes.
From a “watch the games!!!” perspective, though, I think he's actually looked less out of place than Monahan did at the beginning of the season, even if the numbers obviously don't bear that out.
5. Then there's Ortio
Tough to judge any goaltender on five starts, sure, but in that time one has to think we've seen some building blocks that weren't there with the other potential saviors in net. Having a .907 save percentage is still, obviously, not good enough for anyone, but those games haven't exactly been against the easiest competition, and that's obviously going to be exacerbated by the fact that the Flames are awful.
Unlike your Reto Berras or Karri Ramos, both hailed at different points as being guys who can play this position at the NHL level, Ortio has dominated an actual good lower league where success there translates to the NHL. Even if they don't make him the starter next year (they shouldn't), you can tell he's going to have a better shot to be be strong against North American competition because he has done it in the AHL. The Swiss A-League and the KHL remain mysteries in many ways, because success there, for whatever reason, doesn't seem to translate as well to the NHL game.
There's also the fact that Ortio is 22, rather than the 27 of Berra and Ramo. Lots more to build on there, and reason to hope that .907 isn't the ceiling, but the floor. Tough to be sure either of the older fellas aren't already exactly what they're going to be.