(I don’t use the term "great" very often. But this is the greatest photo in Calgary Flames history)
With the first 11 games under our collective belts, I felt it was time to review the Flames opening month with Robert Cleave and Pat Steinberg. Here are their replies to some questions I had about the club thus far.
1.) October’s done and the Flames have a perfectly middling 6-5-0 record. General impressions of the club?
Robert: The Flames are about who we thought they were. They’re not the worst team in the game, Saturday night’s evidence notwithstanding, but they don’t really have the top-end player or players to make the leap into the elite teams. They appear to be a squadron of second and third liners, including their captain, unfortunately, and their top-end defenders haven’t really been world-beaters either. I’m not hating them as much as some people seem to be at the moment, but the flaws look about the same as one might have suspected breaking camp. I hoped they get out of October at around .500, and they did.
Pat: Some things change, but in this case, far too much has stayed the same. I know it’s only 11 games and there is plenty of hockey left, but Calgary is showing much of the same irritating qualities they did one season ago. I’m not saying it’s too late for Calgary’s maddening inconsistency to be worked out, but at this point, it’s fair for anyone who is frustrated to be at that point. What I think we do know is that this inconsistency is a symptom of a root problem…whether that problem is solved is a whole other question.
2.) The Flames Oct sched. was fairly soft, featuring three games against the Oilers, a lot of home matches and a couple of clubs on the second night of a back-to-back. Looking ahead, November looks like it’ll be a lot tougher. Predictions?
Robert: I’d guess that they’ll scuffle along around .500 again, maybe 7 and 6 or 6 and 7, unless Iggy decides to have one of those 30% shooting months again. As scratchy as he’s looked in terms of his actual play, he’s likely due for a streak. That won’t fix the systemic issues the franchise faces, but it might calm the waters a bit around the team, because the atmosphere around the club and amongst the fan base is a bit angst-ridden at the moment.
Pat: They’ve got nine road games and four home games this coming month, and it’s going to be very difficult. We all remember last year and the 10-2-2 month of November Calgary had, but I’m very skeptical that could happen again. To be honest, I see this team going around 7-6 or 8-5 this month, very much in the same trend we saw in October.
3.) How would you grade Brent Sutter’s use of the forwards so far?
Robert: He gets an incomplete. There are times when I’m not enamored with Sutter’s choices regarding whom is playing against whom, but it isn’t like he’s got Datsyuk and Zetterberg to fire over the boards when things get a bit hairy. Really, the club is operating, as I said before last season even started, on a failed premise.
When you expect that Jarome Iginla can still leap tall buildings in a single bound and it turns out he can’t, your team will be in a pickle, and that’s roughly where we’ve been since 2008. The circumstances might force Sutter to embrace his inner Kitty Carlyle or Barry Trotz at some point, meaning he may have to sacrifice guys like Moss, Glencross and maybe Bourque against the heavies so that Iggy and Olli can get all the soft matchups.
It might not be Brent Sutter’s preferred means of doing business, but you go to war with the army you have, not the one you wish you had, and Sutter might have to change his methods to get the best from the current roster.
Pat: On the one hand, I think he’s done a good job utilizing Glencross-Backlund-Morrison against similar depth on opposing teams, and for the most part they’ve had success in that role. On the other, the constant trend of having a Jokinen-centred line out against top flight opposition is frightening. That being said, Sutter is in a tough spot…part of the reason Tanguay-Stajan-Iginla are NOT underwater to this point is because they’re not constantly up against that same opposition. I don’t know if either line is cut out for that role, which is an issue.
4.) How would you grade his use of the defenders?
Robert: I’m not a fan of rotating Staios into the lineup, because he’s about done, but one issue that not many people are talking about is the fact that the club hasn’t gotten quite what they would have expected from Ian White or Jay Bouwmeester thus far. Those two guys aren’t the worst defensemen in the league or anything, but neither of them look as comfortable on the puck as players of their skill level should.
They aren’t getting any help from a bunch of forwards that spend about every other game cheating on the breakout, though. One other point that has to be made is that Brent Sutter always seems to be a bit of a tinkerer with his combinations, both with the forward lines and with the pairings, so I’d guess we’ll see him switch players around for the duration.
I’m not sure that I like that approach, because it suggests that you could have a solution that will work, if only you keep making slight tweaks, and it seems a bit fussy or micro-managey. Of course, as a coach, that’s one of the few tools he has, since changing the roster composition is in someone else’s hands.
Pat: The juggle up of pairings has been intriguing. While I like Regehr-Bouwmeester together, I don’t like Giordano-White together at all, I don’t see a ton of chemistry there. Regehr has been a beast at times this season, and has exerted his physicality very nicely overall.
5.) How would you grade some of the off-season acquisitions so far: Tanguay, Jokinen, Morrison and Jackman.
Robert: I’m pretty meh on Joker, although the current move to put him on the ice against first-liners miscasts him. Olli’s never really managed in that role on any team, and I can’t see him doing the job at a high level for any extended period. He really should be used as a second or third line forward with PP time and an easier regime of Zone Starts while letting someone else worry about the Ovechkins of the world, and spending a bunch of time crapping on him for struggling in a PvP role points the finger in the wrong direction, IMO.
Tanguay has been OK. He’s better than he was in Tampa, and for the dollars I can’t complain. He’s not as good as he was the first go-round, but he’s still a capable player in a top-six role, and that’s all we could have expected of him. Morrison has been riding a bit of luck and he benefits from working with Glencross, but for the pittance he’s being paid, he’s been fine as a guy that can fill multiple roles. Jackman has been a nice enough addition as well. He competes pretty hard, and he’s not a drag on the fourth line at all. He’s a functional NHLer, which is everything you can ask of a player in his position.
Pat: What, no Ivanans? (We all know he’s the run away favorite so far – ed.) Tanguay has been as expected…strong offensively for the majority of the time, but prone to games where he isn’t effective, and at times loose in his other responsibilities. For the most part, though, I’ll take that, because his ability to set things up is very, very strong.
Jokinen has been frustrating…he’s a guy who needs to be protected at this point, and it’s just so tough to do that with wanting to protect Iginla’s line at the same time. Morrison has been a pleasant surprise, and one of Calgary’s better forwards. He brings very good vision to the ice, and the addition of him on the point of one of the PP units has paid off.
Jackman has been great in my eyes, for what he is. On that third line, I thought he did a decent job of helping Glencross out and did a decent job of pushing things along. On the fourth line, he brings exactly what you want…physical, hard nosed hockey without being a risk all the time to be scored on. And he fights.