Flames October Review Roundtable

Calgary Flames Olli Jokinen (L) takes a swing at Edmonton Oilers Sam Gagner during the first period of their NHL hockey game in Calgary, Alberta, October 26, 2010. REUTERS/Todd Korol (CANADA - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY IMAGES OF THE DAY)

(I don’t use the term "great" very often. But this is the greatest photo in Calgary Flames history)

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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.

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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.

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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.

Calgary Flames' Brendan Morrison (R) celebrates his second goal of the night with teammate Curtis Glencross during the second period of their NHL hockey game against the Edmonton Oilers in Calgary, Alberta, October 26, 2010. REUTERS/Todd Korol (CANADA - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)

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.

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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.

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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.

  • T&A4Flames

    Funniest link ever- I could watch that for hours. Good article as always; I really do enjoy reading all the blogs on this website. My only comment is about D. Sutter & Ken King’s “commitment to being competitive/ make the playoffs each year.” All the comments in this blog paint the Flames as average. If the future isn’t addressed soon, that commitment will fail. At what point should it be addressed in your opinions?

    • For me “competitive” and “average” are one and the same in a league with this much parity. Calgary has enough money spent and enough legit NHLers to consistently push for a playoff spot for now.

      I don’t know what the future holds for this club, however. There roster becomes more rigidly locked in by the day (most cap space committed next year of any team in the league/most NTC’s in the league), which is bad news if anyone is hoping for a real step forward.

  • Kent, this may be a threadjack and if it is I apologize, but while you are asking the guys about Brent Sutter, I got a question about his usage of the players as well.

    What do you all, the fandom, think about his use of the players re:ice time?

    I saw last game, and the few before that, the ice time looks funny to me. Im speaking specifically about Jarome.

    Washington: 12:54 EV 4:53 PP
    Colorado: 15:36 EV 2:18 PP
    Edmonton: 20:11 EV 2:52 PP

    Personally I would like to see him used more, notwithstanding Kents score.ca article (which I thought was very good, but I still like 12 so not the funnest read). More as in closer to 20 minutes EV, and then 3-5 PP minutes if you can manage it. You can say he is old and whatever, but I see him run hills, Im pretty sure he can play the minutes.

    Now whether he can play those extra minutes mor effectively than someone else…

    • I’d do the opposite and use Jarome less. As it is right now, Jarome averages more ES ice time than any other Flames forward (15:05). The only guy close is (ugh) Jokinen at 13:51.

      Last year, Jarome played the most at ES of any forward in the entire league. The team missed the playoffs and Iginla had one his worst seasons in recent memory. Volume of minutes might superficially pump Jarome’s tires in terms of getting him some points on the board, but it won’t help the team win more games.

      He’s fit and probably capable of playing a lot physically…the problem is, he’s no longer one of the best players on the ice. When you give a guy like that a ton of ice time he ends up playing a lot a lot against other really good players and the puck heads in the wrong direction.

    • thymebalm

      I’d like to see Iggy get more EV ice time, but I think it is predicated on how much PP time he is getting throughout the game on a game by game basis. Iggy is a notoriously slow starter so I still expect him to pick it up. I know he is slumping but I think he should get more not less ice time. Show the guy some confidence and let him play his way out of the slump. A player with his track record deserves that respect. That said, I don’t think he should get a free ride if he is not playing the way he needs to play.

      About Brent Sutter and his system. He is all about this “system”. As Kent pointed out, the Flames have the most cap locked up next year and the most NTC’s in the league. So maybe Sutter needs to get with the program, realize he isn’t coaching 17 year-olds and start working on altering the system that will complement the pieces he has because those pieces aren’t going anywhere. I still don’t know if Jerome sitting at the opposing blue line is strategy or just the player? But Jerome needs speed through the neutral zone entering the zone. They all do. Too often a player gets the puck standing still, or worst a player will be streaking towards the opposition zone only to have to stop at the blue line because the puck carrier didn’t pass it or elected to weave their way to opposition zone and then all forwards are sitting still waiting to enter the zone. Then they have no speed to retrieve a dump-in or offer no passing alternative because each team is bunched up at the blue line.

      Calgary’s real strength on offense is a good down-low cycle. They need to use their speed to enter the opposition zone, get the puck down low and then use their big bodies to start cycling it around.

      I’ve strayed off topic of my initial response but it just kind of fed into something else.

  • Graham

    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.

    Robert’s comments couldn’t be more accurate. If this was a team having to live at the salary floor, you could understand a collection of 2nd and 3rd line forwards /mid range d men.

    However, this is a team operting at the salary cap. We have exactly one impact player, Kipper, no top end impact forwards, no top end impact offensive or defensive d men…

    Clearly this is a team with middle of the pack talent, which is honestly reflected in their record. In order to excel (ie: reach into the top 1/3rd or so of the league) they need a solid compete level, which unfortunately they don’t seem to have.

  • thymebalm

    All the Flames truly need is the rediscovery or reinvention of Jarome Iginla.

    Forget the trade route, with its diminishing returns on the hero of an entire franchise. Here, in Calgary, Jarome needs to stage a comeback. I’m not trying to paint him as a Rocky Balboa, but that’s what needs to happen.

    Jarome Iginla still has all the skills, and is in peak condition. He’s got the speed, the shot, and the ability to be aggressive.

    Right now, it’s his decision making that is the problem. He’s making bad plays, specifically between the opposition blueline and the top of the circle in the offensive end. That’s where plays go to die on Jarome’s stick. How hard can it be to fix that problem on one of the last decade’s greatest?

    I think everything else is basically in check. Defensive depth is solid, Even though Bouw isn’t the product we were sold on from his days in Florida. Regehr, Gio, Sarich, and White round out a very solid group with the choice of younger Mikkelson, or steely vet Staios to finish out the pairings. Most teams in the league don’t have this.

    Checking line : Conroy – Jackman – Meyer (Soon to be Moss?) has been a treat to watch even with a combined -3 over 11 games. They draw penalties, finish checks, and keep the puck deep in the offensive zone.

    The Third line: Glencross, Backlund and Morrison have been a handful for oppositions who don’t have our kind of depth up front. (8 goals, 19 pts in Oct).

    The Second line: Hagman – Jokinen – Bourque probably suffer from having to pick up a little too much slack from the scoring on the top line, but play well. Jokinen has been a very solid competitor, and the goals are starting to come. (12 goals, 21 pts in Oct)

    The First line: Tanguay – Stajan – Iginla have 7 goals and 22 pts through October. Stajan is a very swift passer, and Tanguay seems to have picked up where he left off. Jarome however, is keeping this unit grounded. He starts getting pucks in deep and on net, and he’ll see he’s been given two perfect setup men. When pass first Tangs is leading the goal scoring on the top line, you know your sniper is slacking.

    Between the pipes we’ve seen that Kipper (with 2 shutouts in October) is still a top goalie in the league. Karlsson has given us a bit more of a roller coaster ride. He was great in the preseason and everyone thought he was the next kipper, he’s been good and bad in regulation games so far. He’s young, he’s coming from a different ice surface, and a higher level of competition. We’ll see how quickly the coach loses faith in him compared to the other back ups we’ve had behind Kiprusoff. Hopefully he’s better than his play to date.

    Kipper looks ready to win 40+ again, if the rest of the team is with him.

    So when will Jarome wake up from his slumber and be a dominate presence on the Flames top unit? This Wednesday against the Wings please?

    • thymebalm

      I couldn’t diasagree with this opinion any more.

      Jarome has checked out mentally. He’s too nice of a guy to ever ask for a trade for fear it may leak, but I think secretly he would love for that phone to ring with Darryl asking him to waive his NTC.

      I’ve contended this for a long time now: Ever since Iginla “transformed” himself from a power forward into a finesse winger his game has suffered. He’s simply not a finesse guy. Watch him try to stickhandle 1 on 1 past a guy on the rush – it’s embarassing to watch.

      What he really is (or was) is a bull. That’s how he has to play. Since he came out that summer and dropped all that weight to supposedly get faster (even though his speed was never a question)his game has gone from dominating the wall and the corners, driving to the net with the puck, actually going in front of the net and bulling through guys to a complete perimeter game. He now looks like a soft European. Face it, all he does now is bang his stick on the ice and look for one-timers and cherry-pick at the blueline. When he does come back, it’s all for show. He never actually “does” anything defensively, he’s just present. “Look I came back, I’m playing the system.” But you never see him pick pockets or block shots or run guys through the boards or intercept passes. It’s all just waiting for the play to go the other way.

      Basically, Iginla has gone full-circle. While he’s never lacked hockey sense he’s not exactly gifted with it either. He’s also prone to being lazy. When he came into junior he was nothing but raw skill and athleticism. Natural in size, strength, speed and shot. But he was a crap player. A guy I know who once played in the minors and coached at the Midget AAA level told me back in 2003 (Iginla’s heydays) that he was a hard guy to play with. he told me to watch how often he played the left side of the ice as a right winger. So I paid close attention, not belieivng him. Lo and behold it was true. Flow of the game and offensive creativity aside, Iggy spends half the game on the wrong side of the ice. It was Don hay who taught him the defensive side of the game and turned him into a powerf forward.

      Now, Iginla has regressed back into what he was when he first hit junior: a one-dimensional offensive guy with all the tools, but who doesn’t want to do anything other than score goals off of the one-timer. And it’s true, that’s all he wants to do now. Wait at the top of the circle, stick cocked, banging it home.

      To be effective he has to go back to that power game, to playing like a bull, using his superior strength to own the boards and corners, driving off and out of them towards the net. But he just doesn’t seem to care. Brent called him out twice in three games – to no effect at all. You look at the intensity Ovechkin displayed in that last game and then you look at iggy – no comparison. He doesn’t want to be here and for the team to move forward it’s now imperative that he goes. He’s a drag on the team.

      As Iggy goes, so goes the team. And Iggy rarely chooses to go. So what else can you do? Hoping in vain for a Rocky-style comeback is just fanciful wishing. Back when he was the only player of note on the team (and 11 other forwards who were all checkers)Darryl just let him go. And who could blame him. If Iggy didn’t score the team was likely to lose a lot of pressure. Pressure which I think finally cracked him. Two years of Keenan letting the whole team do whatever they want. At least defense was stressed overall under Darryl, even if Iggy had free reign. It’s not too hard to see how and why Iginla regressed – he simply hasn’t been held accountable for ages. And now he refuses to buy into Brent after two training camps and a season plus.

      Besides, he’s always been overated as a leader anyways. That 2004 team was led by guys like Wilm, Clarke, Donovan, Gelinas, etc. Darryl got rid of all those guys and they’ve gone from the most consistent team of SOB’s to play against to the most inconsistent team in the league. So where’s the leadership? Iggy’s always let off the hook (until recently) because the media fawned over him.

      His character is to be questioned. Last year: plays like crap, Yzerman comes out and say no guaranteed spots on Team Canada, Iggy lights November on fire, Yzerman announces roster basically decided, never hear from Iggy again. At the Olympics? Wow, sure glad he racked up all those goals against Norway and Germany. His gold assist? Please, if he wasn’t there Crosby would’ve just banked it off the boards to himself. Talk about the most overated pass ever. 4 feet! Way to go Jarome!

      But, you see, he’s become a master at padding his stats. i’d love to see how many 5 on 5 goals Iggy gets when it matters. No pp, no goals counted when the game is out of reach (either for or against, but goals at even strength that actually matter.

      From Nilsson to Nieuwendyk to Iginla to……

      It’s time!

  • thymebalm

    I agree with Thymebalm in the sense of spirit.

    I’m not convinced yet that this team is who we thought they were just because this team is capable of being world beaters and capable of being Edmonton Oilers at the same time.

    Its the game between the ears that they are lacking, and frankly it does ride or die with Iggy. How many stellar periods have we seen from this team this year that involved a garbage performance from Iggy? Bottom line, this team plays only as good as #12 on any given night.

    With that said, they have to find a way to take those strong strong starts that we have seen and get that finish. That’s something to me that I did not see from this team last year or before that. Usually we were a team who got behind early, tried to get back into it, only to lose by one goal.

    I can’t write the year off as mediocre at best simply because I do believe that Iginla will bounce back. He goes into scoring slumps and then on scoring highs, and I think this situation may very well be the same in that respect. If his game has been sub-par for so long its time that it bounces back into the form we know it as and then we will see what that brings for the season.

  • I hate to say it but i have to agree with the-wolf. It just doesn’t seem like he wants to be here anymore. I really do like him and think he’s got great skills as a hockey player but he’s become stagnant. In all honesty I feel like the team in general has become stagnant. Even though it is only November I feel like there is no forward movement. At this point there isn’t really backward movment either. We are exactly the same as we have been for the last couple years. The problem is that other teams (Chicago, San Jose, Vancouver, Washington, etc.) are moving forward. They are becoming creative in there systems and there is a sense that they could hopefully win the cup which gives the players ditermination and confidence.

    Hockey is a team sport. It always has been and it always will. For so long calgary has been all about one player – Iggy. For a while he was able to stand up to the pressure and get this team to the playoffs but to no avail. I think he’s just burnt out emotionally and I can’t blame him. I’m just afraid that If things stay the way they are for too long the next player we will depend on to take us to the playoffs (and we already are to some degree) is Kipper. Sure he could do it for a little while but he’ll burn out too and we won’t have anything to show for it. We need to build a TEAM that has an attitude of hope and confidence.

    • Dude we beat San Jose 4-0.

      They have 3 guys with Iginla’s skill on their top line. I’ve watched a fair share of SJ games this year and aside from their top line, they suck.
      Their goaltending is brutal, aside from Boyle, Vlasic & Murray their defense isn’t great either.

      Everyone gets so hyped up on other teams & what they’re doing & complaining about our team.

      Where’s the positivity & excitement in that? We need to take a page out of Leaf’s fans book & start backing our team even if they suck balls (which I don’t think the Flames do) but they are loyal. Everyone’s so quick to throw our franchise players under the bus because of a slow start. Like 11 games……really?

      Flames are going to do it, the guys with the motivation outnumber the guys who are demoralized, we’ve had some bad bounces, but overall things are still good. Stop whining.

    • PrairieStew

      I am going to chime in again in defense of Iggy. He is the best player ever to play for the Flames. He came in to the league at a time when the offensive game was in major decline – yet he still is on pace to be a 500 goal, 1000 point guy. He has never played (and probably never will) with anyone who will make the Hall of Fame – compare that to Glenn Anderson and his stats !

      Comparing him to Lanny – at 32 Lanny scored 28 of the teams 354 goals – 8%. Last year Iggy scored 32 of the team’s 201 – 16 % !!
      At 33 Lanny fell to 14 goals and was the 3rd line winger behind Mullen and Loob; and here we are expecting Iggy to still be a top player. Sure there are some freaks of nature who continued to produce at close to career averages at 33 – like Messier, Gordie Howe, Brendan Shanhan; but even Gretzky only produced at about half his career average past his 33rd birthday.
      I want more than anything to see him succeed, but his current contract state makes him just about untradeable – the value in his contract was in the front end of the deal – he’s not a $7m player anymore. He is staying, end of story.

  • I think we should bench Iginla for 3 or 4 games, heathly scratch him, or make him sit at the end of the bench and open and close the door for the other players. Do that until he’s visibly pissed and then put him back in the lineup.
    It would be interesting to see how we fare without him for a few games.