Series preview of sorts

Mikka Kiprusoff

For the Calgary Flames, there’s never been an entry to the playoffs quite like this one. Thanks to a combination of injuries and salary-cap gridlock – or call it unforgivable fiscal mismanagement, if that floats your boat – there was a decidedly surreal atmosphere in the regular season’s final couple of weeks.

“Hey, teenaged defenceman fresh out of junior stepping into the lineup! Look, a perfectly useful NHL forward playing on the farm because we don’t want him cashing cheques in Calgary! And what about that phantom fourth line? You remember all those times last season when you smart-alec fans watched Mark Smith, Eric Godard and Marcus Nilson churning around out there and you wondered if the Flames would be better off with no fourth line at all? Well I guess we found out, didn’t we?”

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Of course, most of that doesn’t matter now. Well, the part about gimpy-kneed Robyn Regehr not being able to play matters, as does the fact that some Flames fans are actually happy to see Anders Eriksson back in town. But at least the CBA Three-card Monte involving John Negrin, Dustin Boyd and Matt Pelech is taking a powder for the rest of the season. However long that is.

For better or worse, here the Flames are and the more grounded members of the Calgary fanbase are desperately trying to figure out if there’s any basis for believing a fourth straight first-round sayonara isn’t at hand.

The fun part of this time of the season (and by fun, we mean so incredibly frustrating that we’re tempted to reach for the closest sharp object and puncture our own eardrums) is that half-baked opinions are put forth by everyone from panel “experts” to bandwagon fan as gospel truth.

One beauty that has been spouted by at least two national broadcasters in the last little while is that springtime is the time Darryl Sutter will regret the fact he didn’t land a veteran backup for Miikka Kiprusoff at the trade deadline. That one is so dumb, it’s hardly worth addressing. Honestly, the Flames are in tough against the Blackhawks with Kiprusoff between the pipes, so what difference could it possibly make if the guy working the door on the bench is Curtis McElhinney, Leland Irving, Martin Gerber, Marc Denis, Manny Legace or, for that matter, Rick Tabaracci?

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As inconsistent as Kiprusoff has been this season, he’s the only realistic option for the Flames and Plan B in the crease ranks about 417th on the list of critical factors for Calgary’s chances at post-season success.

Assuming Regehr has to be written off for the entire series, No. 1 and 1A on said list could very well be the availability and viability of Rene Bourque and Curtis Glencross. Kent of Five Hole Fanatics (and this site) could tell the advanced metrics story far better, but the bottom line is Bourque and Glencross were excellent even-strength players for the Flames this season. Heck, at one point, Bourque was one of the top 10 even-strength players in the whole wide NHL. And, without resorting to those hackneyed terms like grit and sandpaper, No. 17 and No. 20 strike you as players who would hold up well to the playoff rigours.

A few other notes and musings about the series:

  • Even though there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary, there’ll be lots of talk about the importance of momentum going into the playoffs (ie the ‘Hawks finished 6-0-1 while the Flames wobbled home 4-6 and haven’t beaten a playoff team since March 23). It should almost go without saying, but far more important than any slump or hot streak are the underlying reasons for the run, good or bad. For the Flames, there are certain bugaboos that will just work themselves out (the undermanned roster, a ridiculous power-play dry spell that simply won’t continue, some of their injury issues) and there are others that will be an issue whether it’s September, January or April (some of the big-name forwards’ iffy five-on-five play, Dion Phaneuf’s major defensive issues, the all-too-evident mortality and not infrequent mediocrity of Kiprusoff).
  • Will the Brian Campbell the Flames see this year be any better than the Brian Campbell who gave Calgary a fighting chance in their series against San Jose 12 months ago?
  • Double bad news for the Flames – Chicago forward Patrick Sharp is probable for Game 1; erratic Chicago defenceman Brent Sopel is out.
  • Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Martin Havlat, Nikolai Khabibulin, Duncan Keith et al will get most of the pub, but Sami Pahlsson is quietly one of the keys to Chicago’s post-season hopes.
  • Potential secret weapon for the Flames? How about Eric Nystrom, who responded pretty well to the additional ice time in the late-season going.
  • All that said, the prediction here is Chicago in five.
  • And one final question, after all the years that certain elements of the media screamed about the Flames’ need for a True No. 1 Centreman™ (and ignoring all the panel guesspert gossip about dressing-room cancers) who is the better hockey player: Daymond Langkow or Olli Jokinen? Please discuss.

  • RCN

    I would have to disagree on some issues.
    On the issue of the true number one center, I would have to say neither. Langkow if I had to pick one but he works so much better on the second line. And I would take Lombo over Olli, like jeez. We could have gotten someone so much better than Olli in trading Lombo away. Olli just doesnt fit with the Flames.
    I am so frustrated with this organization right now. They just cant seem to put together a team to take us over the top. We are a good team but could be elite with some better drafting and realizing what it takes to win.

    Call me a diehard Flames fan but im gonna say Flames in 7. If the Flames get bounced in the first round AGAIN Its time for changes…

  • RCN

    Great stuff Jean. Glad to have you back writing about the Flames.

    As for the Langkow/Jokinen issue – I dont think it's even close. I'll leave it to you and those who know me to figure out who I prefer.

  • RCN

    I'm not going to read Kent's mind 😉 but I don't have a scintilla of doubt saying that Langkow is a better player than Jokinen.

    Although maybe after the nextfirst 10 or 50 times I hear Langkow's results excused away for one or another reason, I'll change my mind.

  • RCN

    This is great stuff. I'll second Kent's comment – I'm not even a Flames fan and I've always liked your work.

    That said as an Edmonton fan, this question:

    And one final question, after all the years that certain elements of the media screamed about the Flames’ need for a True No. 1 Centreman™ (and ignoring all the panel guesspert gossip about dressing-room cancers) who is the better hockey player: Daymond Langkow or Olli Jokinen? Please discuss.

    seems terribly, terribly familiar somehow. I see that the True No. 1 Centreman™ cult exists outside of Edmonton too.

    And, as with the others, I'll say Langkow.

  • RCN

    I love the trademark bit. Of course it's still too early to make a final call on Olli, but who could ever seriously knock Langkow? He's smart, gritty, productive, and a great two-way guy.

    The backup talk is stupid, granted, but then again… there was Cujo last year so you can forgive a little punditry recycling (same as the #1 centre saw). At least Keenan will be less likely to pull the same shenanigans this time.

    Boy do I remember the good old Tabaracci days, when there were 3 goalies and I owned an Alexander Godynyuk hockey card that described him as a "just an awesome stud"!

    Go young guns!

  • RCN

    Thanks for the feedback and the welcomes everyone.

    Believe it or not, the Langkow-Jokinen question was not entirely rhetorical. The whole No. 1 centre debate is fascinating to me and will definitely be revisited.

  • RCN

    I've got to lean towards Langkow, for now. But not too strongly. I realize that Jokinen has been weak since coming home from the road trip, but the team as a whole hasn't been that hot. He's got the playoffs to prove himself worthwhile or a bust.

    So without a decision on Jokinen, I'm going with Langkow. If he were a better faceoff man, there would be no question. As it is, he's my pick for his work in front of the net, making life a bit easier for the shooters on the team. And he's a clean player. (Phaneuf accumulated as many penalty minutes in one game this year as Langkow did the entire year.)

  • RCN

    @ Lefebvre:

    I guess it'll depend on how some folks define "#1 center". I consider things like "big body presence" and career goal totals to be totally secondary to things like underlying numbers, outscoring, two-way ability and, therefore, overall effectiveness.

    Langkow wins hands down in almost every category. He is, and has been for years, the superior option at ES.

  • RCN

    It seems like the consensus here is that Langkow is a better #1 centre than Jokinen. So then why is Jokinen our "top line centre"? He obviously hasn't been clicking with Iggy lately so what does Keenan do? He shuffles up the left wing. Wouldn't it make sense to put Langkow centering Iggy especially since its proven that they have chemistry together?

  • RCN

    Far be it from me to slight the NATIONAL MEDIA ©™® but it's pretty clear that their biggest problem is an almost complete infamiliarity with the West. As an ex-pat living in Toronto if I had a dime for everytime I hear about Kippers "excellence" this season, (or for that matter, didn't hear that the Flames top four defencemen were at one point on the shelf) I'd have enough money to get tickets to the ACC. They're not stupid, they just have no clue whatsoever. Not the same thing.

    Great article though.

  • RCN

    Jean, you must still know lots of people in the MSM, right? Do you think you could do us a favour and try to get some of them to pander less and worry about the facts more? Oh, that would be so nice… 🙂

    Anyway, great to see you here, I enjoy your writing.