Flames Roundtable: Midseason Musings

 

 

 

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. 

I’d also like to see Brent get more interested in heavy bench management given the fact the team isn’t bursting with elite talent. He still seems more interested in sheltering the bottom lines than putting the scorers in a position to succeed, which is kinda silly given the fact that the Flames bottom-end isn’t all that bad. At this point, though, those sorts of issues may be moot since aspirations of the playoffs and further success are little beyond our grasp. 
 
 
PS:  I know a lot of people want to say "Brent deserves no responsibility" but that’s not smart thinking.  Do I think firing Brent Sutter and his coaching staff would fix problems immediately? Not by a long shot.  And I also believe you have to give the staff a little time to work with a team that is built a little better to really see what they’re capable of.
 
But we’ve seen Sutter out-coached on a few occasions this season, including at home, by names like Todd Richards and Joe Sacco.  I still wonder about his matchups and the dispatching of certain players at certain times. So does he deserve criticism? I believe yes. Is he the integral problem? No.
 
 
RL:  It’s tough to work with what they’ve got, I’m sure. Veterans aren’t likely to be open to accepting changes and they weren’t exactly handed the ’72 Bruins. That said, the team often seems rudderless, the healthy scratches are usually confounding, and the line juggling seems to be done for its own sake. It’s really quite frustrating. You feel like almost anyone could do a better job at this, even if Brent and his assistants have proven themselves largely useful in other roles.
 
 
               
 

Quo Vadis?

 

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:

"Pride breeds the tyrant violent pride, gorging, crammed to bursting with all that is overripe and rich with ruin…. Can such a man, so desperate, still boast he can save his life from the flashing bolts of god?" 

  

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?

 

  • everton fc

    Great topic!

    Not sure it will be as tough to deal Kipper like everyone’s mentioned, he is a top 5 goalie and a proven playoff performer, the way players keep in shape these days I’m not sure age is a deal breaker anymore; the return would have to be massive though 1st rounder for sure x 2 years if you could or 1st and 2nd. I suggest that if the flames do trade Kipper then you have committed to a complete rebuild, what you get back or what’s out there is just not going to be the same quality to keep this team in contention for a playoff spot for the foreseeable future, keeping the rest of the “core” assets becomes pointless.IMO

  • the-wolf

    I understand the Kipper arguments about how moving him might be hard, but based on history, even with the cap, you put his name out there and I guareantee GMs will be calling. He’s got a couple of good years in him still. Late 1st or early 2nd round pick would be appropriate.

    We get our goalie of the future back in Bernier from LA. More on that in a bit.

    LA has to realize that the window to win it all is small. Look at Chicago, look at how close Ottawa was a few years ago and where they are now, Pittsburgh, etc.

    I’m pretty positive they can fit Iggy into their salary structure next season, not sure about the season after, but I’d guess yes with the way the cap keeps going up.

    You bring in Iggy and that’s 3 legit runs at the Cup. And Iggy doesn’t have to lead, LA has that, he just has to play a power game and be another weapon. Especially on a team like LA, I don’t think it’s a stretch to think Iggy can score 35-40 for another two seasons.

    But you also have to give them something for the future to soften the blow. Which is why I’d give them our 1st round pick as well. LA gets a superstar player and probably a top 5 lotto pick.

    In return we get a young, highly skilled, big, great charcter centreman to build around, another top 6 forward, a potential #1 goalie of the future and LA’s 1st round pick so that we still have a pick in the 1st round of the draft.

    LA has another highly rated young goalie in the AHL (name escapes me) plus Quick, so losing Bernier is doable.

    Add these assets to Backlund plus what you can get for Regehr, Kipper, Bourque, Glencross, etc. and you’ve really got the building blocks for a great team.

    The trade then:

    Iginla and our 1st round pick to LA for Schenn, Bernier, Loktionov and LA’s 1st round pick.

    Both teams win and our rebuild is accelerated.

  • PrairieStew

    1. Tanguay has performed far better than I expected. His trendline was pointing pretty steeply down, and not being a robust guy and now over 30, I thought he was done. Morrison has also been good value. The underperformers are too many to list.

    2 Special teams were Ok in the first quarter, but brutal in the second. There has to be some underlying reason Kipper can’t be in the top 40 in PK sv% ever. Does he overplay the shooter ?

    3. Coaching is a D – yes, they are outshooting the opposition but it is low percentage plays. I understand they don’t have the horses but still, how is it that so many guys (Stajan,Kotalik, Hagman, Jokinen, Higgins when he was here,) are scoring well below their career averages ? Coaching has to be at least 50% responsible for the 27th net special teams play.

    4.The rebuild should have started last summer, but that’s water under the bridge. I would move tradeable assets beginning right after the All Star game. Obviously pending FA’s first – Glencross, Morisson, Tanguay ( if he waives his NTC), Staios if anyone will take him. The keys in these deals is to take no one over 27 years of age unless they have expiring contracts and you need to take them for salary purposed this year. Mid level prospects are preferable to picks, but one has to consider the number of contracts as well. Perhaps the fire sale mentality will give others motivation to consider waiving their NTC’s. $19 million committed to 4 defensemen next year is too much – one of either Sarich or Regehr should be traded. Obviously I’d expect much more from a Regehr deal, a top prospect plus a first round pick; Sarich maybe only a second rounder.

    5.I don’t see a trade of Stajan as a solution. He’s the youngest guy in that group making the least money as of next year. He really would garner little in return and the 3.5 million saved would be used for what exactly ? Keeping Kotalik another year ? The team is shallow at forward with no prospects ready, Is Greg Nemisz ready to even be up to that level – I doubt it. I am hopeful that Stajan will find some traction. Bourque for 6 years is looking more and more like it was a mistake , he’s already 29- and has played most of this year without any discernible physical edge. Is he old already?. I really can’t see anyone taking a chance on him going forward.

    6. With respect to the older 3, I mentioned Regehr above, I would move him if he agreed to go. I’d like to hear what teams would offer for Kiprusoff, someone might just be desperate enough. I am reticent to let Iggy go, I sure would like to see the 1000 points and 500 goals here. If we are in this position 2 years from now and he can be moved for a cup run . In any case I would prefer prospects to picks. Guys who were picked in the 2007-2009 draft years that have shown consistent progress since being drafted and appear ready to contribute soon at the NHL level. I’d far rather have a guy taken 40th overall in 2007 or 2008 that is NHL ready than a 2011 first round pick at 20th.

    7 If Feaster is allowed to make a bunch of moves at the deadline then he will be the guy.

    8. Wonder if Ken can help Darryl out on the ranch ?

    9 How does one top Kent’s Oedipus Rex quote? How about Claude Rains from Casablanca : “Major Strasser has been shot! Round up the usual suspects !”

    • Where have you found stats which support “cannot be in the top 40 in pksv% ever.”??

      Last year he was, two years ago he was 7th amongst goalies in pksv% who saw over 200pksa.

      And can I say this again. It is dubious to be measuring a goalies performance on pksv%. Kent should know better, it only reeks of bias.

      That weak logic just leads to follow-up statements which aren’t true at all such as:

      “There has to be some underlying reason Kipper can’t be in the top 40 in PK sv% ever. Does he overplay the shooter?”

      Pksv% is as random a stat as you can get for a goalie, and it’s primarily an effect of the team. It’s a small sample stat, in hugely varied and unfavorable conditions. 5on3 pass across… “oh he should have saved that, what a terrible goalie.”

      Guarnteed, if Kipper had a 89th evsv% and the BEST pksv% in the league and I said… OH look, LOOK at Kipper’s pksv%, look how good he is, (if I was SEARCHING to confirm my bias)… Kent and everyone else would lash into me or anyone else who used that logic.

      But you know…. when the coin is flipped… any confirmation bias is legit.

      Maybe we should just play Karlsson the rest of the way… his .921pksv% is waaaaaay better. It was .971 before last game, surely we’d be better off with Karlsson. Ignore his .890 evsv%. Oh, right… sorry. That’s a small sample, it’s meaningless.

      • I would like to get a first round pick for Kipper, but I’m just not sure we could. I don’t know, it’s one of those things I waffle on a lot. He’s only worth what someone is willing to give you and it’s a real hard guess.

        So, maybe you’re right, in which case you don’t move him then. Keep him. But to what end? Especially if he’s unhappy because he sees the rebuild going on?

        Also, in the cap world of today money is like a player. Some GMs have said that 3M is equal to a decent player. So an early second rounder in a deep draft and enough money for a top 6 player saved (taken on by another team), is it really that bad?

      • PrairieStew

        Sorry Lawrence I didn’t look it up. My bad.

        You have often referenced his EvSV % as one of the best in the league over the past 6 years – usually top 5. Further, it has been emphasized by some ( can’t recall if it was you) that EV SV % is probably the best measure of a goalie.

        Since he hasn’t always been top 5 in overall SV % I made the cognitive leap that his PK SV% must have been poor, and I recalled from looking earlier ( when we had a goaltending discussion a month or so ago) that he had one year for sure that was way down the charts.

        So: 2006-7 Ev- .932 ranked 2nd PK .865 rank 28

        2007-8 Ev .919 ranked 31 PK .857 rank 41

        2008-9 Ev .907 rank 53 Pk .898 rank 8

        2009-10 Ev .928 rank 2 PK .879 rank 29th

        2010-11 Ev .919 rank 32 Pk .845 rank 46th. (ranks based on anywhere between 8-11 goalies playing 10 or fewer games)

        I was a bit hasty to make that comment about top 40, however it remains that in 4 of the last 5 years there has been a significant gap in Kiprusoff’s ranking of Ev Sv % and his Pk sv %, and only once was he in the top 10 on Pk Sv %. So my question remains, considering the fact that this data covers 3 different coaching regimes so you can’t neccesarily blame the system, why is it that Kiprusoff is a poorer Pk goalie than an Ev goalie relative to his peers ?

        I was in no way saying that Karlsson should play ahead of him. I was just noticing a trend that seems to be pretty consistent. It’s a long enough time period and there are enough shots for it to be statistically significant.

  • Yeah Kipper is still one of the most dominant goalies in the league. Teams with a shot at the cup who are weak in net would have to think pretty hard on going after him or not. He has a large cap hit, but I think Kipper to Washington would make them a huge contender. Send one of Varly/Neuvirth back along with a 2nd round pick & something that makes the cap hit managable and call it a day.