So I go to Las Vegas for a few days, and we find out that nothing is going to change near the top when it comes to the Calgary Flames. So, now that we have some sort of idea as to who’s going to be driving the bus for the upcoming season, it’s a good time to roll out the final of the Darryl Sutter: Good, Bad and Ugly pieces.
We’ve gone through the good moves, and it seemed as if most comments agreed with those choices. The bad moves were reserved for moves that looked okay at the time, but ended up being poor calls from the GM. In the ugly category, things are pretty self explanatory…moves that were awful at the time, and still don’t look any better now. I’ve come up with three. There may be more, who knows. So here we are, the ugliest of them all.
Don’t Call me Alice
Some may say this is far too premature to put in this category, as Ales Kotalik’s time with the Calgary Flames has yet to eclipse 30 games. So, I’ll put this out there knowing that there’s a possibility it could come back to burn me. Who knows, maybe we do see some sort of miraculous turn of events that sees him become an important player on the Flames next season.
But as it looks right now, this one still seems like total nonsense. The player and the fit aside, I don’t know how fans can wrap their head around this one from a Darryl Sutter history standpoint. An underachieving Eastern European forward with work ethic and committment issues? The only one I can think of that seems similar is Kristian Huselius, and to be honest, there were some differences there. Huselius was 27 years old coming off a strong season playing in Finland during the NHL lockout. Kotalik is 31 years old and is now five seasons removed from his career-best numbers.
Then, in his time with the New York Rangers, he was a healthy scratch numerous times before the stretch, and had 14 points in 45 games. The results weren’t much better in 26 games with the Flames, he had just five points. And let’s not forget the fact that it took 24 hours for him to agree to come west. The frustrating thing is, Kotalik has the tools…he has hands, he has size, and he has a shot. But the book on Kotalik is that he’s a fragile player who does not play well at all when there is no confidence.
I just don’t see a fit. At all. So maybe I am going too far by putting this one as "ugly", but I really think it’s going to end up that way.
No Backup Plan
This one annoys me more everytime I think about it. Post lockout, the Calgary Flames have not had a reliable goaltender behind Miikka Kiprusoff. To me, that’s fact. Sure, it could be loosely debated,. but combining Phillipe Sauve, Brian Boucher, Jamie McLennan, Curtis McElhinney, Curtis Joseph and most recently Vesa Toskala, the numbers have been…well, ugly. The combined records of those goalies? 16-22-2. Only two of them have put together records above .500: Vesa Toskala (2-0) and Curtis Joseph (3-2). And to me, those were the only two goalies that you MIGHT be confident in seeing as a fan when you know #34 needs a rest.
However, those two guys played less than a full season combined with the Flames, both coming over mid-season. Joseph was signed after not playing NHL prior to inking a contract in Calgary; Toskala came over from Anaheim at this season’s trade deadline. Take those two away, and you’re looking at a record of 11-20-2.
I understand signing a goalie to a big contract is going to limit what you can do behind the number one guy…and with Miikka Kiprsuoff counting almost $6 mil against the cap per season, it’s going to change what you do. But it’s not as if other teams don’t do the same thing. Vancouver? Well, Luongo makes his money, but Andrew Raycroft showed this season he can handle a backup load, going 9-5-1 and having some Canuck fans wondering if he should be starting some big games down the stretch. Raycrof counted $500 thousand against the cap. The season before, three Canucks backup goalies went 12-14-3 when Luongo was injured.
The year before that, Scott Clemmensen and Kevin Weekes went a combined 32-18-4 in relief of Martin Brodeur in New Jersey. Now, I understand different factors…team, opportunity, etc. Was Curtis McElhinney given the best chance to succeed in Calgary? No probably not. But what you need from your backup goalie is the ability to play regardless of the opportunity they’re given. And Calgary hasn’t started a regular season with that player since the lockout.
I know there are some who have disagreed with this in the past, and will do so here. But I really do believe the worst move Darryl Sutter has made as General Manager of this team was the hiring of Mike Keenan as Head Coach. The reasoning behind it was sound enough, I guess…a track record of taking good, veteran teams and turning them into Stanley Cup contenders come March and beyond. But the thing with track records is, that track record has to have some recent evidence along with it.
That’s why I didn’t like the move at the time…Keenan was hired in the summer of 2007. When was the last time a team under him made the posteason? 1996. Two dismal seasons in Vancouver; a forgettable year in Boston followed by parts of three seasons with the Panthers. But with a good team assembled, I think we all were willing to see it play out.
And hey, the results in terms of numbers weren’t bad…42 and 46 win seasons. But I really felt there were times in those two seasons where Calgary was not as good as they could have been. I always got the feeling he wasn’t really in control of the team the way a Head Coach should be. Practices were static and sometimes disorganized, and from afar, it seemed few adjustments were made as a season went along. This was especially evident in year two, but was there in the first year as well.
We can talk all we want about "structure" and "system", but I don’t even know if they need to be thrown in here. The one thing I felt was lacking from Keenan’s tenure was accountability, good and bad. His stubborn nature of favoring veteran players over all else sometimes hindered the team. Todd Bertuzzi was not always deserving of top six minutes, yet consistently that was what he saw. His management of Miikka Kiprusoff in net left a lot to be desired in my eyes, even with the previous Ugly Example had something to do with it.
Notice I have not once compared Brent Sutter with Mike Keenan, because I don’t think we have any evidence that says "clearly Sutter is better for this team than Keenan." Many believe that, but Sutter had less results in his first season than Keenan did. But Mike letting players like Bertuzzi, Iginla, Huselius, Cammalleri, Phaneuf or whoever it was roam free came back to bite the Flames down the stretch and in the postseason. And what was Keenan brought in to do? Get this team to an elite playoff level. That never happened, and I felt Calgary wasted two years with their key players in thier primes.