Welcome to the start of the 2010-2011 season! Today, Flamesnation presents a roundtable discussion featuring our own Robert Cleave and Puck Daddy’s Ryan Lambert. I asked the questions and the boys answered them. Feel free to append your own thoughts in the comments…
1.) Considering the Flames summer as a whole, from the draft to free agency to the re-working of the scouting department, how would you rate Darryl Sutter’s off-season? What was his best move in your eyes? His worst?
Robert: Not particularly inspired. The draft is always a crapshoot, and with the picks he’d left himself, there was never going to be any excitement that didn’t involve a trade. I think he whiffed on not taking a shot at Kabanov with a pick that historically yields NHL players much less than half the time, but he wasn’t the only GM that shied away from the Russian.
In free agency, it’s fairly clear that adding Tanguay will likely end up as his best acquisition, and not burning proper money on Eric Nystrom was probably his second best move. Olli Jokinen or Morrison could work out, maybe, if the Flames are very lucky, but in Jokinen’s case I wouldn’t have offered a second year or a movement clause to a guy with zero leverage in the marketplace even if I thought he was useful. Those players are the most notable, but my biggest beef with Sutter this summer is that he didn’t seem to understand the marketplace for depth players in the slightest. Why on earth would a team sign Jackman and Ivanans to two year deals when it was obvious from June onward that useful NHLers were being squeezed? If there’s a planet where Raitis Ivanans is a better hockey player than Owen Nolan or Fernando Pisani or Mike Comrie or Nigel Dawes, we aren’t living on it.
Ryan: I would have thought — and what do I know, I guess? — that after a hideous season like the one Flames fans had just suffered through, that perhaps management would be a bit more attuned to say, the things that would enrage the fanbase to levels not seen in a long time, or perhaps ever.
2.) The Flames salary cap situation was a mess at the onset of the summer. Several months later and it’s still a mess. The injuries will help defer a few decisions a little further into the future, but Sutter can only avoid this issue for so long. How do you see the Flames resolving this mess?
Robert: Staios and Kotalik are still the most obvious players to move. With the recent news regarding Daymond Langkow not exactly indicating he’s headed into the lineup in the near future, the best case scenario might be having number 22 return around the deadline, then dealing Staios to get under the number. Steady Steve looks like a candidate because he only has this season left on his contract, and by the deadline, it won’t require serious money for a team hoping to add a depth defender. If Langkow doesn’t come back, the cap issue is less pressing, obviously, at the likely expense of actual results.
Ryan: Unless Sutter goes bargain hunting and finds some absolute gems for rock bottom prices, this is the roster we’re stuck with for awhile.
3.) What strategy do you see Brent Sutter pursuing in light of the loss of Stajan, Langkow and Moss to start the season? Keep in mind we saw Iginla and Jokinen fail utterly in a power vs. power role last year.
Robert: Hope like hell that Alex Tanguay can carry the Big Two? I don’t see any other options that the team will seriously countenance, other than maybe sliding Conroy alongside Iggy as a stop-gap, but you don’t need to be a Mensa member to recognize that the Flames are going to ride Tanguay-Joker-Iggy and hope that "chemistry" magically forms. If Stajan returns in a timely manner, he, Hagman and Bourque will probably get time against top competition on occasion.
Ryan: What can he do besides the obvious and terrible solution of putting Backlund with Iginla? Conroy has no business getting top-line minutes, and the same is true of Morrison. As you say, Iginla is a round-hole problem for which Jokinen is a square-peg solution. It can’t not be Backlund, unfortunate though that may be
4.) TJ Brodie making the team out of camp…yay or nay?
Robert: If he can be productive in a sheltered role for 12-15 minutes a night, I guess I can live with it. If he ends up as the 7th D, he needs to go straight back down to Abby. The comments from Brent Sutter on Monday suggest that the team is a lot more ambivalent about his camp than one might have gleaned from the earlier reports. The Flames are deep enough in useful D that they might be able to break him in with minimal fuss, but he’s pretty small, and the Flames haven’t exactly faced the best teams in the pre-season. He might be in for a bit of a shock when the real bullets start flying.
Ryan: Yeah, what the hell? He earned it, right? We can worry about how this will affect his development, but one has to wonder how much of a ceiling he has anyway. I’m not particularly in favor of it, but given the other candidates, he’ll do just fine. And even if he doesn’t, there are others that can be called up to replace him. The team has bigger problems anyway.
5.) The Flames have a lot of bounce back candidates this year. Who do you see regaining his form?
Robert: Niklas Hagman is candidate A, in my opinion. He was largely the victim of a poor shooting percentage after the trade. When a guy shoots 13% or thereabouts four years running, managing half that level seems like a stretch of poor form more than any serious deficiency. He’s a pretty decent player, and the Flames need him to be good. I suspect he’ll have a nice year.
I suppose that the other potential candidate to return to some sort of better form would be Jay Bouwmeester. I don’t expect him to reach 15 goals again, largely because White and Giordano will rate enough PP time to eat into Bouwmeester’s opportunities, but I suspect he’ll shoot better than 2.4%.
Ryan: Well it’d have to be Bouwmeester, wouldn’t it? After all the crap he caught from all sides late in the season and over the summer, he should have extra motivation, at least in the form of bulletin board material. Or maybe I’m just saying that because he’s the person who Calgary most desperately needs to return to form, for both on-ice and financial reasons.
6.) Kiprusoff was excellent last year after four straight seasons of failing results, including two thoroughly average years under Mike Keenan. Is he a lock to replicate his efforts from 2010-11?
Robert: A lock? No, but I can’t completely discount the argument that his time under Keenan wasn’t a fair reflection of his ability. There was some thought that he began slipping in 06/07, but if you believe that EVSV% is the most rational way to assess a goalie’s talent, that season doesn’t offer much evidence of that. His EVSV% that year was .932, second among goalies that played in at least 41 games. Since the lock-out, Kiprusoff has finished 1st, 2nd, 17th, 28th and 6th among regular goalies in EVSV%. The two poor years were under the Iron One, and if he’s good again this year, the preponderance of evidence begins to shift, from "Kipper’s sliding" to "Kipper’s fine if Keenan isn’t around".
Ryan: You can probably never say anyone’s a lock. But his performances in the preseason have been strong enough, and the defense in front of him perhaps strong enough, to convince me that he can maintain the level at which he performed last year.
7.) If you had to guess, who will be the club’s scapegoat this coming season?
Robert: Uh, Joker? Of course, if you expand that contest to executives, Darryl Sutter might be in with a good chance.
Ryan: Well I’m not sure I want to go around casting aspersions but let’s just say his name rhymes with Beve Baios.
8.) Now predict the MVP
Robert: Kiprusoff, since I suspect that a good offensive season for the club will be gained via balanced scoring. No one will really stand out up front unless Jarome has a flashback to 07/08.
Ryan: Gotta think Jarome has this one sewn up for the 27th straight season, no?
9.) The Offense was obviously a problem last year. Will the Flames be any more potent this time around?
Robert: If they’d started the season with a healthy squad, including Langkow as a tough minutes guy, I would have be absolutely certain of that fact, since it would have freed up Iginla, Stajan, Tanguay and Jokinen to play softer opposition. Now? Yeah, they’ll still likely score more just based on getting a few bounces, but the club might struggle in the early going.
Ryan: Only because it would almost be impossible for them not to be.
10.) Finally, where do you see the club finishing in the division and conference?
Robert: I think they might sneak into the playoffs in the 8th spot, and finish second in the division behind the Canucks, mostly due to the fact that the division is incredibly lousy. Again, if they were healthy from the get-go, I might have guessed a conference finish in the 5th-6th range, and if Kipper was lights out, an outside chance at the division. As it is, I’d need to hear some good news from the infirmary before getting too enthused.
Ryan: Well the division blows once again this year, so second there. And I’ll get bold and say as high as sixth in the conference.