With the Flames languishing in the conference basement, here’s a collection of thoughts bouncing around my head in no particular order.
– Mikael Backlund is an NHLer, but he should be sent down to the farm.
The kid has been good enough in the third-line type role he’s been assigned this year that he hasn’t been a detriment on most nights. That’s a win for most 21 year olds in this league. There’s also evidence of growth relative to last year considering his increasing willingness to drive the puck to the net with authority. His possession numbers are excellent, albeit in a sheltered role this year. His results aren’t quite as impressive (just five points in 26 games), but a 4.4 SH% and zero power-play time will do that. The arrows are pointing in the right direction I think.
Unfortunately for Backlund, the Flames are full to bursting with guys in and around his current talent level: Olli Jokinen, Curtis Glencross, David Moss, Ales Kotalik, Tom Kostopolous, Tim Jackman, Craig Conroy, Brendan Morrison – these are all bottom of the rotation guys in an ideal world. Keeping Backlund around to float in-and-out of the line-up in order to battle for 10 minutes a night doesn’t strike me as a prudent development avenue. Especially since he can still be sent back down to Abbotsford without incident.
Demote Backlund, un-clutter the bottom six picture somewhat, free up a bit of cap space and let him play 20+ minutes a night for the Heat.
– The Flames immediate future is utterly grim. They are 5 points out of a playoff spot, but nearly everyone above them has several games in hand, including the San Jose Sharks (2), Nashville Predators (2) and Columbus Blue Jackets (2). Only the Ducks and Blackhawks have played more games than the Flames in the West so far. Point of interest – Detroit, who is leading the parade with 37 points (14 more than Calgary) has three games in hand.
For the record, I don’t think the Flames are last in the west bad. They’d have a lot of one-goal games go the wrong with in the early going and their goal differential is a modestly poor -8. That said, I also don’t think the Flames are good enough to go .650 the rest of the way to squeeze into the final playoff spot. Outside of a few post-season home games for the owners, I don’t really see the long-term utlity of gunning for the 8th anyways.
– The Ian White trade is a baffling one. I noted this at The Score earlier, but observations of the players in question has lent some clarity to the analysis now. Given Anton Babchuk’s obvious flaws and the fact that Kostopolous looks to be marginally above a replacement level NHLer, I continue to wonder just what the impetus for making that deal was. White was having issues, but is quite obviously a superior player to Babchuk in every way that is important. His value would have went up around the deadline, perhaps enough that Sutter could have asked for a top-60 draft pick in return (hell, Stave Staios fetched the Oilers a player and a third rounder last March).
As it is, the Flames ended up with a guy that is detrimental even on the third pairing at ES and a forward so redundant on this roster that even he must wonder what the hell he’s doing here. Kostopolous makes $1.1M in real dollars next year, by the way.
– At some point, the team is going to have to decide which players go in the "keep ’em" pile and which go in the "trade ’em" pile. Of course, those decisions will be up to the GM…so the real question is: is Darryl Sutter the guy to be making those distinctions? The season is too early to be going into sell off mode yet, but that day draws closer with each subsequent loss. I hope the owners are assessing their other options now; having either them or Sutter pull some knee-jerk move in January is the worst possible outcome for this org.
– Craig Conroy has the second best possession numbers on the team (+12.9 corsi/60), with the fourth most difficult zone start (51.9%). I know the bottom end is crowded, but he should be playing (assuming we’re still trying to win games here). The old man isn’t going to give you much in the way of points these days, but he can still do everything else right. For example, he has the best face-off win rate of any regular center on the club (54.4%). What makes that more impressive is the fact he takes a lot of own-zone and PK draws whenever he’s in the line-up and teams tend to lose more draws in those situations.
Scratch Kostopolous, move the 48% Brendan Morrison to wing and put Craig back at center.
– If Bourque doesn’t start turning things around, I’m going to seriously wonder how much of his previous success was built off of playing with Daymond Langkow.
It strikes me as a ridiculous assertion even after watching him struggle the opening two months here, but outside of a hidden injury, I can’t otherwise account for the degree to which Bourque’s play has dropped off this season. He has also struggled at the end of the year last season in Langkow’s absence, for those who don’t recall.
A return to form by Bourque wouldn’t turn this team into a contender. The real reason this is an issue is that Bourque is signed till 2016 at $3.33 million per year. Which means If he needs Langkow in the line-up to be a value contract, the Flames need to consider putting Bourque in the "trade ’em" pile sooner rather than later.