The Flames have reached the mid-point of their year, and as painful an exercise as it’s likely to be, the time has come for a few words on the club’s season to date and what the future may hold. Unsurprisingly, this edition of the roundtable will largely focus on what my esteemed colleagues have in mind to get the rebuild started.
For this iteration, I’ll pose the questions, with responses from Kent Wilson, Pat Steinberg and Ryan Lambert. The first three questions concentrate on what we’ve seen to date, while the remaining inquiries deal with the future moves the club should undertake to rectify its current state
Up to now:
1. The focus for most fans during the Flames’ season has been on the upheaval in the management suite, but there’s still been actual hockey played. Name a player that has outperformed your expectations, and one (of what would likely be many) that has disappointed in their play?
Kent Wilson: I’m guessing this will be a unanimous choice, but Tim Jackman has been a pleasant surprise thus far. Even though I wrote an article back in the summer saying his past results suggested Jackman might be more than just a goon, I didn’t really expect him to knock it out of the park to the degree that he has. No doubt a small measure of his success is due to the recent inclusion of David Moss on his line as well as the absence of Raitis Ivanans.
The most disappointing this season has been Rene Bourque. He’s a dude who emerged as one of the Flames most consistent heavy hitters over the last two seasons and for whatever reason he’s stepped into an elevator shaft so far this year. He’s got the worst corsi rating amongst regular forwards on the club and his scoring has followed his possession down the rabbit hole. Those are both stark reversals for a player who was probably the Flames best top-six forward for a good portion of 2009-10.
Whether it’s some chronic injury, some feud with the coach or the lack of mr. Instant Chemistry Daymond Langkow, Bourque has fought it more than ever before since joining the club. His recent long-term contract has gone from looking like a decent enough bet (at least in the short term) to a boat anchor in the space of three months. If he can’t reel things in in the second half, the Flames may have to consider testing the trade market for him.
Pat Steinberg: I’ve really been impressed with Mikael Backlund. I’ve been very critical of the decision to sit him for six games and THEN re-assign him, so I’m glad that he’s playing now. The thing with Backlund is…he’s not a top six forward, and he’s still developing, but he’s developing at the NHL level, which a lot of rookies can’t say they do. From where he was to start the season to where he is now is night and day. He’s no longer a passenger on his line, he’s now helping to drive his mates north, and that’s a very important shift.
Ryan Lambert: This might sound crazy but I think Jay Bouwmeester’s been pretty damn good this season, and pretty much earning his silly contract. He looks far more comfortable than in his inaugural campaign with the Flames and while the offensive numbers still aren’t there (you can say that for more or less anyone though, eh?), he devours minutes and makes flashy plays at times. You just wish there was better stuff around him. As for disappointments, it’s pretty easy to pick on the former Maple Leafs, so I’m going to do it: Stajan and Hagman have been comprehensively bad this year, in my estimation, and really shouldn’t be.
2. The Flames special teams are, to be kind, struggling. Are the failings solely related to player personnel or is there something deeper affecting the squad’s PP and PK?
KW: Predicting special teams is an arcane art in the NHL. I’m not sure anyone really knows what moderates their success (aside from that magician Jacques Lemaire, who spent years in MIN cobbling together league-best specials teams from a lackluster rosters). Personally, I’m tempted to say a bulk of the Flames issues is the personnel: Iginla has been a just okay PP producer for several years now and he’s probably the best the team has up front. Tanguay was ostensibly brought in to up the hockey IQ and puck movement with the man advantage, but the truth is he’s never produced at a high rate on the PP for whatever reason. Even Olli Jokinen, who operated as a PP specialist in a former life, only ever peaked in the "very good" range of things and, as well all know, he’s been declining for awhile.
As such, the Flames have precisely zero established, elite talents to patrol the PP. Of course, I’m not sure coaching has helped much either. It took this staff more than a season to put Olli Jokinen in a position to succeed with the extra man: as a shooter on the blueline/at the top of the circles. That’s an area Kotalik excelled in as a Sabre as well, but he doesn’t get any PP time at all – which is odd, because one of the only reasons to have a guy like Kotalik on your roster at any price is because he’s put up points on the PP in the past. He’s a proven nobody at ES. Mikael Backlund has some obvious puck skills and vision, but he gets next to no PP time as well.
As for the PK…I’m mostly going to chalk that up Kipper and his 57th ranked PK SV% of .845.
PS: There are a couple things at work. First, the personnel isn’t great, but that’s only part of the problem. I see them practice their powerplay break out and powerplay entry daily at practice, yet it doesn’t ever translate into game action, and I don’t know why. It seems to be the same way other teams want to set things up on the powerplay, but the team certainly lacks focus sometimes when it comes to that. It can be effective when it’s working, and Anton Babchuk is starting to become a real factor.
As for the PK, it comes down to focus and execution again, and that to me is frustrating because the team has shown they can lock it down when there is a lot of committment shown. They’ve had some really nice stretches, then you’ll see a game where two or three powerplay goals go in…this thing has been under 80% for 35 games now.
RL: If you have a team that can’t score, that’s one thing, and it’s going to make the power play look dire. But the PK? That’s on the coaches. This is a group of pretty good, tough guy-style veterans if nothing else. They know how to play positional hockey, and they (should) know how to get sticks and bodies into the passing and shooting lanes. And yet they don’t. I feel like that’s got to be a systems problem.
3. How would you rate the performance of Brent Sutter and the other coaches this season?
KW: If I were to pick a letter? C. Average. The shots against have come down and the team has been outshooting a lot recently. However, there’s also been the odd baffling decision mixed in with the good stuff – sitting Backlund for extended period of time for one. The decision to play Kipper on the second night of a back-to-back against the worst team in the league comes to mind as well. Then there’s the rotten special teams.
4. When Kent convened the last edition of the roundtable, he asked what the club’s approach should be if they were still struggling by January. We’ve made it to January, and the club is 14th in the West. You’re the boss. Does the rebuild, in what ever form it takes, start now, at the deadline or in the summer?
KW: The team should already be making it known around the league that some spare parts are on the market. I’m thinking anyone who isn’t nailed down by a NTC and who is ultimately replaceable going forward: Niklas Hagman, Curtis Glencross, David Moss, Anton Babchuk, Brendan Morrison, Tom Kostopolous, Adam Pardy. Guys who are pending UFA’s and unlikely to re-sign here obviously take precedent. The point wouldn’t be to give them all away en masse for whatever is offered, but to test the waters and make deals if the offer is a good one.
In addition, if the Flames can somehow find a way to deal Matt Stajan, Cory Sarich, Ales Kotalik, Olli Jokinen despite their various NTC’s, then they should. For whatever they can get in return. Their deals are all fairly bad bets to be value contracts going forward and the money could be theoretically better spent.
PS: My take was that it should have started at the end of December, and I’d been saying that throughout that entire month. I also believe the removal of Darryl Sutter was the start of this "rebuild", which may not even be the right word.
I believe the Flames need to identify where they’re going and what the timeframe is they want, and then start making moves to get you there. That doesn’t mean you have to make every single trade now, in fact, you may make very little in an immediate fashion. But it’s the simple change in thinking that I want to see, and the fact that looking long term is taken into account when decisions are made…decision to and for moving players.
RL: Sell everyone. See if you can flip the peanut vendors for a 7th-round pick. It doesn’t matter. This team is old to the point of absurdity, and ssssssllllooooooowwwwwww. It’s more or less the antithesis of what works in the NHL these days. Tank hard this season by selling everyone who’ll waive their no trade/movement clauses. If there are guys that don’t have them, they should’ve been traded yesterday. There are very, very few guys I’d want still with this team next season, because the rebuild should’ve started this past summer.
5. Seven Flames have contracts that extend beyond 11/12. Kiprusoff, Iginla, Regher, Bouwmeester and Giordano have been named, directly or otherwise, as the core. Rene Bourque and Matt Stajan haven’t been mentioned, and they have 5.5 and 3.5 years left on their contracts with modified NTCs in place. Are they part of your core? If not, what’s a reasonable expectation of the potential return for either of them?
KW: As mentioned above, Matt Stajan isn’t and should be moved if possible. He’s not a terrible hockey player but he isn’t all that good either. If the Flames are stuck with him in perpetuity it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but I’d move him if at all possible. As for Bourque, I’d give him the rest of the season to turn things around. He has a history of being a quality player and his recent struggles are uncharacteristic. I’m not sure I like the length of his deal or his NTC either, but if he can reel things in, he’s a player that can anchor the rebuild to a non-trivial degree. However, if he continues to drag ass for the rest of the season, I’d definitely entertain offers for him in the summer.
As for returns, I’d take a bag of pucks for Stajan. His market value right now is probably less than nothing given his contract and production. Just getting him off the books and recouping the 3M+ in cap space going forward would be return enough.
As for Bourque, I’d want a draft pick in the second round range at the least and probably some sort of other asset as well…let’s say a mid-level prospect.
PS: Both guys are part of my core becuase of their contracts. If you’re going to make some changes and look further down the road, you have to have supplemental guys, and Stajan especially fits that with his age. The contract is already signed and he at the very least has the potential to be a somewhat useful player.
As for Bourque, he’s in my core because of contract and the fact that he has high ability and the opportunity to take over a hockey game on any given shift. But his consistency issues are just so frustrating. As for Regehr, Iginla and Kiprusoff, I don’t think they should be guaranteed members of this "core" going forward. If you can get assets for them (which you could for Iginla and Regehr no problem), then I’d have no problem with moves being made.
RL: Bourque should be part of the core, Stajan should not be. You wouldn’t get too much for him because of his lack of usefulness and term/money on his remaining deal (a high-ish pick or decent prospect, most likely), but yeah, he should be one of the first ones gone while he has even a modicum of value.
6. If the Flames move an older core player (Iginla, Kiprusoff, Regher), when should that move occur and again, given the market, what should be considered a fair and reasonable return?
KW: Calgary’s core are diminishing assets given their ages, but they remain marquee names and relatively effective players in this league. I would look to hit homeruns with each of them: for Jarome, a younger roster player, a first round pick and perhaps another asset would be my asking price. He’s not an elite player anymore, but he’s pretty damn good still and GM’s have been known to pay more for guys with impressive resumes anyhow.
The goalie market is a soft one in the NHL, but Kipper’s name carries weight and if the club decides to move him at a critical point in the season (say the trade deadline) to a contender who is desperate to add an established puck stopper, it may be possible to pry a draft pick in the first couple of rounds and a high-level prospect out of someone like the Philadelphia Flyers. The Islanders recently got a pretty good kid in Ty Wishart out of Tbay for 41-year old Dwayne Roloson. He was the same guy who garnered a first round pick for MIN back in 2005-06.
PS: It’s different for each player. Kiprusoff isn’t going to get you a ton unless a team is absolutely desperate. Regehr and Iginla are the interesting ones. If you could get a younger defenceman with a reasonable cap hit and a second round pick for Regehr, I think you’re happy with that. A very desperate team could yield a first rounder if the situation was right. Iginla could get you a lot, but you have to be VERY careful that you believe the trade is the right trade, for the franchise period.
RL: Right now. I’d expect either of Iginla or Kiprusoff to return a handful of high picks (first-rounder, for sure) and prospects (not that they’d pull A-plus kids, but solid A-to-A-minus), especially if they’re sent to a team that’s actually competing for a playoff spot. Regehr would likely get slightly less than that.
7. Jay Feaster is the GM for the rest of the season. Will he still have that job in September of 2011?
KW: I still believe the Flames owners have their eyes on a few other candidates and Feaster is just minding the shop until they can start interviewing. I think he’ll remain if they strike out in attracting someone better to the position. So, in short, no.
PS: I believe yes. It’s pertinent for the Flames to flesh out other options, but my guess is that he’ll be the guy. I know some smart colleagues who contribute to this site believe otherwise though.
RL: I’m afraid so, yes
8. Ken King is the president of the Calgary Flames. Will he still be the president of the club in September of 2011?
KW: No. I’m certain Ken King hitched his wagon to Darryl Sutter. I’m guessing he’ll be part of a big internal shake-up in the off-season.
PS: Yeah. Nothing leads me to believe otherwise. But it’s just a guess.
RL: By taking some initiative and asking Darryl to step down, he probably bought himself a little more time, yeah.
Oh, and one last one…
9. Darryl Sutter has apparently been incommunicado since his dismissal. If you could send a hockey related text message to Daz, what would it be?
KW: Probably a thank you for the early years and then a few lines from Oedipus Rex:
PS: Darryl. Dude. Are you all right?
RL: Seriously though, Darryl, what was the story with that Kotalik trade?
Thanks again to Kent, Pat and Ryan for their thoughts. How do you see things?