Under pressure


The Flames have made a lot of big moves this season, throwing around a decent amount of money, wheeling and dealing for all kinds of players to fill secondary and tertiary roles, and pissing off a New Jersey-based franchise in the process, but the biggest amount of pressure isn’t on Darryl Sutter, who will rule the Flames like a king until such time as he, and only he, sees fit to shuffle along.

If you wanna know the truth, it’s all on Kipper.

Over the last four seasons, Miikka Kiprusoff has been pretty lucky. He won the Vezina for his sterling work in the 2005-06 season, when Calgary led the league in team defense by a good shout (offense not so much) and Kipper benefited to the tune of an absurd 2.07 goals-against average, 10 shutouts and, despite Calgary’s hilarious paucity of offense, 11 overtime wins that no doubt went a long way to the Flames securing the division (all league-bests), 42 wins (second-best) a .923 save percentage (third-best). And because that came on the back of his wonderful-if-limited 2003-04 run in which he set the league record for GAA and led the Flames to Game 7 of a Stanley Cup final, people were talking about him being best goalie in the league, and with good reason.

But since then, it’s been a long, slow, puzzling tumble from “best in the league” to “what’s wrong with Kipper?” That 2.07/.923 season gave way the following year to a 2.46/.917 in 2006-07, and in the two seasons after that, he’s posted increasingly horrific stat lines that

But Flames fans were always quick to make excuses for the ever-worsening stats. The offensive output improved by close to 25 percent under Jim Playfair, so a decline of a little over 10 percent in the goals allowed department didn’t seem so bad. And besides, one off season isn’t the end of the world.

Then came the Keenan Years, that time of great fear and terrible special teams play, and Kiprusoff suffered perhaps the worst of anyone. But Keenan, we as Flames fans are quick to point out, abhorred system play, much less a cogent defensive strategy, used players that were utterly injured far too much and really didn’t seem to give too much of a rat’s ass about Miikka and Miikka’s problems and so while the declining stats were not desirable, they were at least  understandable.

But now there can’t be any excuses, can there? Darryl Sutter goes out and gets the player he calls the best defenseman in the NHL to shore up a defense with arguably the best Top-4 in the NHL, and that is now thankfully rid of Jim Vandermeer and Adrian Aucoin, both of whom, while well-intentioned I’m sure, seemed intent on making it difficult to remember that part of their job title contained the word “defense” and was not “takingridiculouspenaltiesatinopportunetimesman.”  And Sutter also went out of his way to sign up his brother Brent, a defensive mastermind who, it should be pointed out, led New Jersey to a 32-16-1 record with Scott freaking Clemmensen while Martin Brodeur was out of commission for the better part of four months and won the division it shares with the Stanley Cup champions by seven points, to coach.

While it’s unreasonable to hope that the Flames suddenly go from a league-wide tie for eighth-worst in team defense (with EDMONTON!) to being the league leaders as they were in 2005-06, it is reasonable is to believe that Kipper’s numbers have to get better. If they do, it looks like we can just blame his last three years, which range from mediocre to horrific, on coaching after all. If they don’t, though, he might be one hell of a buyout candidate come this time next year.

  • RCN

    Too true. But, in a different way, there's very little pressure on Kipper:

    He's signed his final NHL contract with the Flames. It extends till 2014 and pays him retirement type money. He also has a NTC. It would cost Calgary a huge chunk of change to buy him out and his buy-out cap hit would extend to 2018!

    In short, even if Miikka stinks, he has the organization by the short and curlies.

  • RCN

    @ Kent:
    All they would have to do is put him in the minors… I doubt Miikka wants to ride the bus to Providence or Worchester.

    I imagine he'd head home and smoke menthols on a fishing boat.

    problem solved.

  • RCN

    Uh…I know the Flames have some well-heeled owners, but I can't seeing them paying Kipper 5.883M (7M in real cash) a season to play in Abbotsford. Nor would Kipper leave that kind of money on the table by refusing to report or retiring. In fact, has any NHL team stashed a contract of that size in the minors since the new CBA came into effect? I don't think so.

  • RCN

    I always seem to approach each NHL season as a flames fan with blind enthusiasm.. but i must say i am quite confident that Kipper will drastically improve his stats. I mean given the circumstances, i would like to think that almost any goalie would play at an average level at the least with this crop of d-men in front of him. Factor in defensive minded Brent as the coach.. I like to think my blind faith isn't too unjust.

    On a side note, i was beginning to worry about Dion's abilities last year; but I am praying desperately to the hockey gods that brent can shape him back into the player he used to be.