Random Thoughts, March 28th




Whatever can be said about this Flames season, it’s certainly never boring. Here are some thoughts on their on-going playoff chances, Feaster, Kipper and more:

Flames, Feaster – Rock, Hard Place

– The win over the Oilers kept the Flames dim playoff hopes theoretically alive, but their performance didn’t fill me with much hope. Calgary has been playing just okay hockey for several weeks now and their mediocrity has obviously been compounded by a few injuries recently. They haven’t beaten anyone of consequence in the western conference for over a month and are starting to stumble even against the featherweights of the league. I mean, without some favorable reffing Saturday night and Jim Vandermeer playing like a double agent, the Flames lose to a pale facisimile of the very worst team in the entire league. Lose legitimately that is, because they were outclassed for 45-50 minutes of that hockey game by just about all measures.

– Calgary’s crash back down to earth displays in vivid detail the dilemma Jay Feaster faced at the trade deadline. There was a sense at the time whether selling a few UFA’s would be the better long-term strategy and in light of the most recent 10-game downturn there’s little question that it probably was. That said, if Feaster (acting in his capacity as the "interim" GM) had sold the likes of Glencross, Babchuk etc. only to see the club go into it’s current tailspin, there’s no question folks would be readying their torches and pitchforks. In many ways, it was a lose-lose situation for the guy and I have some sympathy for him. That said, I’d like to note that I warned against being seduced by the Flames hot streak at the time.

– Don’t take the previous as either an indictment nor endorsement of Feaster’s work in Calgary thus far. The only grade I could assign the guy is "incomplete". His actions in the big chair bear the semblance of a man who is either unwilling or unable to rock the boat. This could be due to the unenviable position he was left in by both his predecessor, the implicit sword of Damocles hanging over his head due to that "acting" GM tag or perhaps because he was restricted from acting in the fill capacity of an NHL GM.  

I was about 50/50 on the possibility that the Flames owners were going to go shopping for someone else this off-season with Feaster just minding the store in the mean time and I’ve seen nothing so far that makes me shift from that position. The Calgary organization has been very measured and non-committal in it’s operations since Darryl was given the boot, which suggests to me the money-men are riding out the 2010-11 season before making any real decisions. 

Warrener Worthwhile

– I’m normally not a big booster of former players getting into the media after their retirement, mainly because the position can be a perfunctory one bestowed due to their celebrity rather their abilities. That said, I am enjoying Rhett Warrener on the FAN960 these days*. I was tough on Rhett during his last few years as a Flame – his cap hit was high but his utility in the post-lock-out NHL was marginal, particularly due to all the chronic injuries he was perpetually playing through.

Beyond his "insider" type stories**, which range from interesting to hilarious, Warrener is refreshing in that he is fairly honest about his assessments of past teams, players and even the current iteration of the Flames. One of the issues with former players – especially recently retired guys – is that they’re loathe to offer frank assessments on the air, but that doesn’t seem to be much of an issue for Warrener so far. He’s also not afraid to challenge conventional wisdom and/or emergent narratives when they are proffered by the media as easy explanations for things.

The FAN has some big shoes to fill now that they’re without the antics of Mike Richards, but Warrener is a step int he right direction. Thumbs up.

* Full disclosure – Flamesnation obviously has a relationship with the FAN, but this in no way informed my opinion of Warrener or the morning show

**For example – this morning, Warrener’s anecdote was about the 2005-06 Flames. He said the club was laid into by Darryl Sutter…shortly after they won the first game of the playoffs in double-OT over the Ducks. Apparently Sutter was livid that it took the Flames till overtime to win the game. Really.

Kipper and a Crumbling Regime

– Miikka Kiprusoff’s SV% fell to .904 on the season after the game in Edmonton. Despite a nice run mid-season, Kipper has fallen off the horse a bit again recently and is likely to finish with a sub-.910 SV% for the third time in the last four years. His ES SV% of .914 isn’t anything to write home about, so it’s not like he’s merely suffering from an outrageously low SV% on the PK (which can be largely luck driven).

After his revival last year, I had hoped that Kipper’s mediocrity under Mike Keenan had been mostly coach driven, but his performance this season puts a big hole in that theory. I think Kipper is still a capable starter in this league and his durability certainly has some value to be sure, but the notion that he’s an elite goaltender should be put to bed. Elite goalies don’t have great seasons once every four years – no matter what kind of club is playing in front of them. Matt Fenwick and myself both appeared on Nations Radio this weekend and we agreed that if the Flames decide to deal a "cornerstone" player in the near future, they should start by exploring the market for Kiprusoff. Paying $5.8M in cap space for a just-okay 35-year old goalie is extremely inefficient given how cheaply puck-stoppers can be had in the current environment. Of course, the challenge in dealing him is that other GM’s probably realize this too – although managers can be somewhat irrational when it comes to paying goaltenders, so…

– On the topic of dealing major pieces like Miikka Kiprusoff or Jarome Iginla: the primary battle, particularly for fans, is to differentate between what a player is and what he was. For example: Kipper was a vezina winner and one of the best goalies ever to play on this team. That’s true and what’s more, it will always be true. But reputation does not reflect the current reality as evidenced by the above.

The Flames organization is very rapidly approaching a crossroads, one in which difficult decisions will have to be made about the core and direction of the club. The players around whom the previous regime built around are on the down-slopes of their careers. The club has precious little cap space and the prospect pool is shallow. As the money players continue to near obsolesce, Flames ownership, management and fans will have to cleave sentimentality from their decision-making and be ruthless in their assessments of the true current value and worth of their on-ice assets. At some point, tinkering around the edges won’t be a worthwhile strategy. Heck, we might be there already. 

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    I don’t think I want Feaster as the GM after seasons end. AGM is probably a good spot for him.

    The few times I’ve had the chance to listen to the Fan in the morning recently, I’ve enjoyed listening to Warrener for the reasons you mentioned. It’s refreshing to hear something of substance from a former player rather than standard cliches and bland stories.

    I’d like for Kipper to be playing behind a team that is good enough to allow him to play fewer than 87 regular season games per year, and to have a back up who is good enough to play more than just on back-to-back nights. Perhaps then he’ll have areturn to form. I’d also like for that team to be the Flames, but I’m not sure that is possible in the next few years.

    I’d like for the Flames to trade Iggy while his stock may still be high. GMs might not yet have noticed that he can only score on the powerplay or against teams like the Oilers.

    I expect next season to look a lot like this season. After that I think some sort of rebuild is required. Perhaps not the decade long type of rebuild that the Oilers are doing, but some kind.

    • Fair points for sure Beeker. I too think the Flames will probably look something like this next season too.

      On Kipper – Paying a goalie a big lump of dough is a catch-22 in the NHL. It makes signing a capable back-up difficult for both fiscal and practical reasons. It doesn’t make sense to invest too much more in the position cap-wise AND capable back-ups aren’t too excited about signing with the club since there’s little chance they’ll win the starters position.

    • CitizenFlame

      Chicago took something like 14 years to rebuild and to win a cup.

      They went to route required to win a cup – tank several seasons in a row and get 3 or 4 top 3 picks.

      The Pens almost went out of business and were “somehow” awarded Crosby in the lottery (in which every team apparently had a chance) and that saved that franchise. The pens didn’t necessarily go the regular rebuild because Crosby was awarded to them.

      The Lightning have fallen big time since ’04 (finishing bottom 3 several times) and now have a contending team with Stamkos and Hedman.

      The Islanders have several young propects but are spending 40M on their team so they don’t count as they aren’t even playing NHL players.

      If the Flames want a quick rebuild it won’t happen. You can’t rebuild and turn your team around that fast. The past stanley cup winners (with the exception of detroit) have ALL had at least 2 top 3 picks in their roster. The Flames have two pick in the top 5 on their team (Bowmeester and Jokinen)but i bet NO ONE in the world would have guess that.

      Anyway, better settle in and expect another 1997-2003 if we want a cup. Otherwise… here we come 8/9th ever year

  • Cool Beans

    I don’t see the Flames doing much. They will ride this roster out for at least another season. Outside of Regehr and Iginla there are not a lot of contracts you will get value for. They will try and tweak this roster to get into the playoffs until some more contracts they are stuck with come off the books. I just don’t see a tear down and rebuild. It takes too long and even then its not a guarantee.

  • I think Kipper’s marketablity will depend on who wins the Cup this year. If it is a team with a high profile #1 goalie (like Van or Bos) then you’d see teams like Wash or Phi try to get him. Kipper is ours forever if another team with a timely performance from an “average” goalie wins. Year after year, NHL teams model themselves after the previous Cup winner.

    How is Irving progressing? Would it be crazy to see an Irving/Karlsson tandem next year if Kipper leaves?

    • T&A4Flames

      I completely agree. I’ve believed this for a while now. If Was. or (especially) Phi lose and it is deemed largely due to goaltending, I could see a strong pitch made for Kipper. I may include TBay and Det in that mix. Phi wants to win NOW! If they lose out again, Holmgren has shown he will be aggressive in pursuit of players he believes can help win (1st and 3rd for Versteeg-seriously!).

  • How is Irving progressing? Would it be crazy to see an Irving/Karlsson tandem next year if Kipper leaves?

    Irving has played a bunch this year, but his SV% doesn’t blow me out of the water (.909). I think it would be fair to say that Irving has taken a step forward from his season last year but isn’t really in the discussion as a viable NHL goalie yet.

    Flames won’t need to bet on two rookies if they decide to move Kipper. There are goalies everywhere.

  • Graham

    As an organization, the Flames don’t come across as being very decisive. They seem to have two main principals; lets wait and see, and dither.

    I expect we will have to wait until the cup is presented, go through another one of Ken Kings
    ‘top down reviews’ before anything of note begins to happen. Problem is, most of the summer will have passed…(again) and nothing will happen.

  • Graham

    …regardless of how the season ends up, playoffs or not, the GM has to listen to offers on Iggy. I think Kipper’s contract is too long to unload at this point.

    …it was a good run, but with the Flames missing the playoffs twice is a row for all intents and purposes, not just theoretically, but a simple results analysis says it is time to move on and unload the core players that aren’t getting the job done.

  • Graham

    Re: Warrener – agreed. I also liked his bit this morning where he noted that even if Calgary had beat Anaheim in 2005-2006 it was unlikely they would have beat Edmonton because the Oilers were playing so well and the Flames were playing “average”. Good stuff.

  • Graham

    Chicago has two tough road games back to back tonight and tomorrow against Detroit and Vancouver. That will tell us a lot about the Flames playoff chances. While we do not have a good chance of making it, a win against Anaheim would be a huge step in the right direction. I believe that if we beat Anaheim in REGULATION, we will win the 3 games against St. Louis, Colorado and Edmonton, and have a showdown with Vancouver. Whether that Vancouver game matters or not I don’t know, but all Calgary can do is take care of their own buisness

  • T&A4Flames

    Wow did any of you hear about the way Fleury was treated on Twitter by Canuck fans after he predicted they’d lose in the first round. Insane. That is exactly why I have no respect for Canuck fans.

  • One problem that I can see with offloading Kipper is that impending UFA status of Tomas Vokoun. They are both the same age and have similar stats the past few years. The difference is that Vokoun is likely to be paid a much lower amount than Kipper is currently making. Teams can also sign Vokoun to a much shorter term contract and will face less risk should he falter.

    As Kent always says, the goalie market is somewhat saturated and teams would have to be real desperate to want to trade anything of real value for Kipper.

    I do admit that if there was a less porous defense in front of Mikka and an offense that could score consistently the entire season, his numbers might improve somewhat.

  • CitizenFlame

    Man… Ducks, Hawks, Preds, Yotes have been playing lights out. If stats don’t lied, then a reversion to the mean should be coming soon for a couple of those teams. You can’t 80% of your games consistently. Even winning 65% of 20 games means you win 13 games… so if those teams who have gone 8 or 9 wins with 1 to 2 losses have to lose some games some times. At least, that’s the only hope I have to cling onto.

  • the-wolf

    Good discussion above, commendations to all. I think the following:
    1 – No matter who’s in charge, I doubt Flames will not risk trading Kipper, Iggy, or even Regehr for fear the player would become a superstar elsewhere and we lose that production here. Likely Mr. Feaster will be in charge and will have trouble trading guys. unless Dallas wants a few really good players for Richards (But we would have to give up a lot)
    2 – I HOPE the Flames would trade “character veterans” who may have value in the right place like Sarich (cap hit 3.6M) as he has some value, too costly, and Flames have other D options, and also trade Kostopolous (0.917M cap hit but that’s for 4th liner who is only decent). The only realistic return expected for those guys (mainly done to clear salary room) would be 3rd and 6th round choices respectively due to their salaries
    3 – REALLY HOPE Flames buyout Kotalik, Hagman, and even Ivanans because nobody will trade for those three guys who underproduce (or get hurt in their first fight). According to capgeek.com the total cost to buyout those three would be 2.2M/year for 2 years versus pay 6.6M (this saving of 4.4M). Ownership can/will afford it to re-build plus salary cap goes up by about 2M to 61.4M I would guess/expect for 2011-12.
    4 – SO, add up two above ideas (#s 2 and 3) to save total of $8.917M and THEN use that money and other cap room (with increased cap) to:
    a. Re-sign Tanguay for bout 3.2M as he deserves it and would get more elsewhere but will stay to paly with Iggy
    b. Re-sign Glencross for 2.7M (similar to Tangusy situation)
    c. Re-sign Babchuk who is now worth keeping due to defensive play, blocked shots, huge size, and huge shot at 2.1M
    d. We need leadership and calm and versatility of Morrison at centre so hope we re-sign him for about 950K
    e. To fill out defense, re-sign get Pardy for 850K and Mikkelson for 700K PLUS Brodie (signed) and Seabrook (signed) would come up stay with big club (and Staios not re-signed to make room for them)
    f. All other Flames forward stay on, with Langkow expected back at 4.5M cap and this also assumes we must keep Stajan (give him another year to prove self as still young and has a lengthy hard-to-trade contract)
    f. Bring along Bouma to big club (signed) and perhaps Nemisz (signed) and others when injuries happen to continue rebuild.
    g. And yes, Warrener is good on the radio for reasons stated above and I miss Richard BIG TIME!

    • CitizenFlame

      I don’t know how to tell you this… but there’s no fear of Iggy, Kipper and Reggie “becoming” superstars after Calgary has traded them. They have all been recognized as that for quite some time. In fact they are now recognized as fading stars.

      Basically what you are proposing is to become a more expensive version of this years Flames?

  • the-wolf

    Very interesting article Kent. My opinions on what the Flames should do are well-documented here and elsewhere; neither players nor teams should be judged on hot streaks.

    One thing which always puzzles me in the ‘to blow-it-up or not’ debate is how people like to mention that there’s “no guarantee” or “it takes too long” and other similar comments. Pure hypocrisy. Outside of a once-a-generational run to the Cup in 2004, Calgary has hasn’t been past the first round. That’s once past the first in 21 years with the primary club philosophy, spread out over 4 GMs and 1 Acting GM, being to stay competitive every season.

    This made sense in the first few years after the Cup victory in ’89, but made no sense whatsoever during the ‘Young Guns’ era (which could have been so different had the club committed to a complete rebuild with a total focus on drafting and development instead of the “something for now, something for the future” mentality) or beyond.

    I can easily point to a slew of clubs who have tried the same ‘win right now, always’ approach in trying to claw into the playoffs ever year and ‘hope’ for a run of some kind. So sure, not every rebuilt-from-scratch effort works, but remember, building and developing through the draft is how Calgary won in ’89 and say what you want, but Pittsburgh did it twice and won the Cup 3 times. It also worked for Chicago who did it the wrong way the first time and the right way the second time. Other clubs who have done it are at least legit contenders.

    After all, what does ‘competitive’ even mean? Competing to finish in 7th or 8th every year is not competitive at all to me.

    It’s like the people on here who criticize the Oilers. Here’s a team that in 2 seasons will be loaded 9 forwards deep in top-6 talent and have 3 high-quality d-men (assuming they draft Larsson). Compare that to a team with one star player who’s 34 next year, has cap issues and no impact prospects. Just to stay at the level we’re at means mortgaging more of the future.

    Sorry, but it’s untenable and there’s just as much if not more risk in the current strategy than in a full rebuild. At least in a full rebuild you have a chance at winning the Cup.

    I think on the Herald live on-line chat I mentioned that upon reviewing Feaster’s trade record 2 things stuck out to me: 1) he made a lot more moves than I would have thought; 2) none of them were of any signifigance. This, after all, is the guy who still pats himself on the back for being the guy who didn’t trade Lecavalier. Why would he do any different with Iginla? I just don’t think he has the stones to make any major moves.

    Also, what are we to think of the recent Johnson and Francis columns implying that Feaster’s hands are tied, that Murray Edwards is sticking his nose into things on a daily basis and that King wants more control of hockey operations?

    This organization is quickly turning into a gong show. Real hockey men are required and wholesale change is now required before it’s too late. This summer, not a year from now.

    All you really need to know about the Calgary Flames is 2 things:

    1) Once past the 1st round in 21 years. 2) We are now run by a lawyer and a newspaperman.

    • the-wolf

      This is quite possibly the most accurate assessment of the Flames I have ever heard.

      Although I’m not a huge fan of the oilers… I will admitt that they are taking the necessary steps right now and putting a couple of horrific seasons behind them. I was one to jump up and bash Hall and Ebrele as they were off to very slow starts. However, I was doing the math and both players are averaging at least 0.625 pts/game – which is not too bad for a couple of 19 year old kids.

      It just pisses me off that Edmonton continues to lose… and yet every Oilers fan shows up to every game and cheers on… well what appears to be mostly their farm team. I am crazy scared that after this year our fan base will start to lose interest in the team.

      Forbes reported that the flames lost 4M last season – likely going to be about the same this year due to the extra injuries and no playoff hockey. If the Flames want a new arena they have to be able to prove that they can sustain profitability in a median case scenario (which is most likely this season). It worries me that they NEED to make the first round if the team is to be profitable in Canada. Forbes reported that Edmonton made 9M last year and are on pace for 19M this year (because they only spend way under the cap on salaries) and this is Worst case scenario for them.

      All I can say is it will be interesting how many Saskatchewan and Halifax “calgarians” will stop supporting the team going forward after 2 years of let down.

  • the-wolf

    I appreciate I am in the big minority in saying this but I kind of hope they dont make the playoffs. The Flames would lose quickly in the first round to Vancouver and I think a team like Chicago or Anaheim would really kick the piss out of them or could even win maybe. At this point I have accepted the season will not turn out great for the Flames and I really want the Canuck fans silenced HARD. With all of the trolling and everything I cant help to wait in anticipation to see them lose AGAIN. They are so arrogant with no reason to be at all. Lu will falter and we will laugh :D.

  • Derzie

    Flames just froze ticket prices for next year. Maybe that means the ‘product’ will be changed and it is not a good time to ask for more from fans. Or it means they are staying the course until they slowly get out from under Sutter’s NTC/NMC/No Drafts cloud he left behind.

  • Derzie

    Question for the-wolf:

    Your article makes sense but I’m curious how many teams have had success past the first round of the playoffs in those 21 years. Knocking on the door is a form of success. There is only 1 cup winner a year. The Oilers are perfect example of a rebuild that has potential but is too slow. They have better players (except defense) and are worse this year. By the time they win games they will lose their star players to the cap. 10 year rebuilds do not apply in the new NHL. 5 years or less is required I think. That said, for a team like the Flames I think a winning culture is what they need more than anything. December to early March, they had it. It’s gone now. They need to see why. Morrison & Moss may be a bigger part of the solution than we know.

    • Derzie

      I think in 2-3 years the Oil will be flying high and that they can duplicate Chicago within 5 years, IMO. The trick after that is to keep drafting and developing well when you’re not picking as high so that you can be like Detroit. But you have to start from a solid base and there’s only one way I know of developing that base – d&d.

      Calgary was playing playoff hockey when other teams were not, when other teams upped their intensity Calgary fell off. Playing at that intensity is what they need just to make the playoffs, but it’s unsustainable over 82 games. They just don’t have enough talent.

      I agree with those who say they’ve been off their game for quite a while before they dropped those 6 of 7. Both St. Louis games could’ve gone either way and they flat out deserved to lose to Columbus. Then again, bounces that didn’t go their way early in the season were now doing so, but as Kent alluded to, in the end it all balances out.

      I just don’t see how any unbiased, objective observer can think they’ll be nay better next year, especially if they lose Glencross and/or Jackman, Tanguay, Morrison.

      It’s ironic, but it appears that Darryl made some of his best moves the year he got sacked.

  • Derzie

    @Citizen Kane. Good point about those big 3 guys but Flames would not want a “Second wind” to happen for them elsewhere is my point….

    As for my roster ideas for 2011-12, yes it’s similar to this year but we need to get younger (I proposed keeping/bringing up a few young D and forwards), keeping veteran scoring (Tanguay, Glencross, Morrison) but lose some semi-productive assets that are older like Sarich, Staios, Kostopolous…make sense?