(As usual, Robert Cleave and Pat Steinberg were good enough to provide some interesting answers to my rather un-interesting questions. It was tough to veer away from inquiries like "how many effigies have burned of Sutter so far?", but we managed – KW)
1.) The Flames are 14th in the WC through the first 21 games. Is there any positives team-wise so far?
Robert: Sure. It isn’t like they’re 0-21. They’re outshooting their opposition 5v5, and I suspect that they’re still out-chancing for the year as well. They aren’t last in scoring, either, and if the club’s PP was operating at a average level, the Flames would likely be in the upper half of the league in terms of offense.
Pat: You can squint and find some individual positives…Curtis Glencross, minus a few brain farts, has been one of Calgary’s most consistent forwards while Jay Bouwmeester has really shown an ability over the last two weeks to elevate his game. But overall, it’s tough to fall back on individual positives likes those when the team is not doing the job needed to win hockey games.
2.) Who was the Flames best player through the first quarter?
Robert: This might seem a bit odd, but if you consider the kind of competition and ZS numbers he’s had to confront, the fact that Niklas Hagman is in the Corsi black might suggest he’s been pretty good this year. He, David Moss and Alex Tanguay are the three players that have likely been the least troubling in terms of overall play.
Pat: I’ll go with the aforementioned Glencross…I like the job he’s done playing on either the second or third line, depending on how you look at it. We all know he’s a valuable player, but I think this is the most consistent we’ve seen him in his time as a Flame. He generates scoring chances, uses his speed to enter the zone, and has dominated depth opposition…sure, penalties like the one at MSG are infuriating, but I’ve been a big GlenX fan thus far.
(I’ll chime in here with nominations for Robyn Regehr, Mark Giordano and, based on recent play, Jay Bouwmeester. David Moss might get a mention if he had played the whole time as well – ed.)
3.) Jarome Iginla has been scoring a lot recently. Does it persist or is this another November like last season?
Robert: No, but he was due a correction just to get his SH% back within hailing distance of normal, and he’s had that correction. As long as he isn’t placed with Jokinen and the club doesn’t go PvP with him, he’ll likely end up with his normal 35-ish goals. He and Tanguay should really be playing against mid-level comp at this point, and if Stajan isn’t unserviceable for too long, I suspect Iggy will be OK.
Pat: I don’t know how confident you can be it’s going to continue. He’s been playing much better as of late, mostly because he’s been doing the things crucial to his success…but eventually doing those things will lead to a three or four game goal-less drought. How he reacts when that happens will be the true indicator.
4.) If you could make one significant on-ice change, what would it be?
Robert: Move Joker down to a semi-permanent third line wing spot alongside Backlund and maybe Hagman or Glencross. I don’t have the visceral dislike for Olli that many do, but it’s long past time for the club to admit the obvious. He’s not a top-six center, and he needs a bit easier circumstances tossed his way. He’s not a 4% shooter, either, but he’s not creating that much, and through no fault of his own he’s been miscast as a PvP or shutdown player. If the Flames went with Glencross-Moss-Bourque, Tanguay-Stajan-Iginla, Hagman-Backlund-Jokinen for their three main lines in the short term, that might be something that get the team a decent matchup every now and then.
Pat: I don’t know how significant it would really be, but I think it’s time to bury a contract. I think Steve Staios would be the number one guy I’d want to see, but there are other candidates. There are enough bodies on the big team as it is, and if the team is going to remain in a "win now" state of mind, having a little more breathing room under the cap can’t be hurtful.
5.) What do you make of the Ian White trade?
Robert: They wanted to move an expensive contract for a player they had no intention of resigning. The return had to be a defenseman with Pardy still on IR, and I suspect that they thought that Babchuk’s shot could help the PP. Babchuk’s looked about as mediocre as one might have expected given his past performance, though. His career numbers indicate that he was a very average third paring defender with inflated offensive numbers gained through toiling in an inferior conference, so if the Flames are disappointed in his play, as we heard from Roger Millions the other day on Twitter, that’s a self-inflicted wound due to faulty player assessment.
Whether Ian White was worth significantly more than an iffy defenseman or not is another story, because as I noted in the round-up last week, players of his caliber that were pending UFAs last winter were mostly traded for second round draft picks, and anyone who expected a high level prospect or first round pick as a return was living in cloud-cuckoo land.
Pat: Dislike it. Not because I was a huge Ian White fan, that has nothing to do with it. White was a guy who was inflated by high offensive zone start numbers in Toronto, and was put in roles that weren’t conducive to his success in Calgary. But, he was counting just under $3 million on the cap, and that money could have dropped off the cap come July 1. Instead, Calgary brought in another blueliner who hasn’t looked great to say the least, and a 31 year old forward with a contract carrying over to next season.
6.) What would you like to see the organization do if they aren’t in a position to realistically battle for a playoff spot come January?
Robert: Start with an assessment of who they’d actually like to keep for next season, and that includes the GM and coaching staff. I would hope that whoever would be tasked with that assignment might manage to review matters with alacrity, or at a minimum slightly more alacrity than Steve Tambellini. Once the ownership decides who is going to pilot the ship, see they can unload some of the deadwood, and I do hope that people understand that they won’t get rid of all of it via trade. As long as Daz is in charge, I don’t expect that much change, but one can hope.
The Flames aren’t quite in the situation that a lot of teams are in terms of unloading salary just to make ends meet, since they’re a big money organization that’s collected virtually all of the likely regular season revenue at this juncture, so falling crowds and major revenue fall-offs with a bad team aren’t this year’s issue. That suggests to me that they might be able to wait until teams are willing to to take on a few expensive players for short-term reasons, and that’s traditionally been at the deadline.
I suppose that the main issue that they’ll have to confront is that every single player that the club could easily unload this winter is the sort of player a sensible organization would hang on to. Almost any club would take Bourque, Moss, Glencross or Tanguay. Plenty would take Regher, Iginla, Giordano and even Bouwmeester at his price. Those are exactly the players that shouldn’t be going anywhere unless Jarome or Reggie ask the club to cut them loose. The other players that everyone would dump are precisely the sort that very few teams would want to pay over the next year or two. If I were to guess, the Flames will finally go for a major re-tooling after the next CBA kicks in.
Pat: Make significant change. If that’s the case, why bother waiting to make changes until the off season? I know there are plenty of contracts carrying over to next season, and it’s the following off season when a lot of big money drops off the cap…the summer of 2012 could concievably be an important one for the team as such. But it doesn’t mean you have to wait to make changes.
7.) Pick your first quarter scapegoat.
Robert: There is no one guy. The GM has done a pretty scratchy job of squad construction, the coach has made several questionable choices in terms of player deployment, and several players are operating at a sub-par level, including, but not limited to, Kipper, Jokinen, Sarich and Iginla to a degree. I don’t blame any one of them more than anyone else, because it takes a lot of crap work from a lot of people to put a team in the spot Calgary currently finds itself in.
Pat: I’ll say Olli Jokinen, because that’s the only one that won’t rock the boat…but honestly, it’s almost impossible to choose one goat on this team. Every player has had dismal showings, and every player has impressed…and no one player is significanlty more responsible for this slow start than any other. It’s kind of a systemic thing right now.