If it Ain’t (is) Broke, Don’t (Please) Fix it



(This article is the first submission in the FN contributor search. Please add your cheers and jeers in the comments. Make sure to keep things impersonal and constructive, however. Personal attacks will not be tolerated). 

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By Scott Lepp**

The title of this blog represents two different ways of looking at the Calgary Flames heading into the 2011/2012 campaign. On one hand, the team was hotter than a two-dollar pistol during much of the 2nd-half of the season and some poorly timed injuries hurt that push late in the year, leading to the team falling just short of the playoffs. Had they continued at that torrid pace, they might have been a difficult team to face in the 1st round. They enter this year with a similar lineup; itching to make that push to the post-season.

On the other hand, despite a late-season push, the Flames blew very winnable games down the stretch and weren’t able to come through when the games counted the most. The team missed the playoffs for the second straight season, with a veteran-laden squad, and the newly appointed head honcho, Jay Feaster, was unable to add pieces to the team to make it better. They enter this year with a similar lineup; expect similar results.

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The argument from those fans (and possibly Flames management) of the former belief is that the return of Daymond Langkow, the continued growth of Mikael Backlund and a full Darryl-less season will prevent the early season meltdown that the boys experienced, leading to a nice spot in the five to eight range of the Western Conference and a chance to make a run at the Cup.

Those fans with a more pessimistic look at the upcoming season will contend that neither the slumping early-season team nor the white-hot, guns a-blazin’ squad we saw, are the real Calgary Flames but, rather the fair-to-middling boys we saw down the stretch. A team is generally not as good or as bad as their streaks will try to tell us.

So – who’s right? Or, who’s more likely to be right?

There are two significant roster changes for 11/12; Daymond Langkow returns after a handful of underwhelming games last season and a full off-season to recover. And, Feaster made Robyn Regehr the sacrificial lamb and shipped him out of town in return for a downgrade on D. Langkow will slot somewhere in one of the top 3 centre spots on the team, likely with Bourque/Morrison, and will be expected to face very difficult competition with a tough zone start %. He’ll be counted on to kill penalties and make the hustle plays… he’s expected to be the Langkow of the past. However – returning from a major injury will more than likely prevent Langkow from assuming that role; a role I often argue he wasn’t even doing that good of a job at prior to his injury against Minnesota late in ’10. Langkow’s goals, assists and points have all steadily declined since his 77-point campaign in 06/07 (you’ll remember that season as the year the team stopped playing defense) and he can’t win a faceoff if his life depended on it (43.7%, 46.9%, 43.5% 07-10 seasons). He barely makes a mark on penalty minutes; so either he’s one of the smartest two-way players in the game (Pavel Datsyuk), or he likes to keep the puck at a distance and reach with his stick. Should the return of Langkow result in anything more than an increase of one or two wins – I’d be surprised, and at 4.5 million, I’m crossing off the days on my calendar until his deal comes off the books (What? It’s at this seasons end? Can you say “trade deadline?”).

Now, don’t get too hasty in adding one or two wins to your Flames projection – we have to factor in the loss of Robyn Regehr first. Maybe Mark Giordano is ready to play the REALLY tough minutes like Reggie – and, let’s say he is, well – who’s ready to take over Gio’s minutes? And on down the line? The problem is that shipping Regehr to the Sabres and replacing his minutes with some sort of combination of Brett Carson/Chris Butler/Anton Babchuk causes a serious downgrade in the Flames defense 5 on 5 and on the PK. The Flames were one of the stingiest teams in shots allowed, which is one of the main reasons they even had a shot at the playoffs. The downgrade that comes from trading Regehr will hurt this and I will argue that the loss of Regehr will have a greater impact than the addition of Langkow. On that note – imagine Cory Sarich paired with J-Bo, trying to make up — … you know what, don’t, let’s not cause ourselves any Sarich-induced head-trauma before the season even starts!

Further to the Flames downgrade on defense comes the relative effect it will have on the goaltending. Robert Cleave did a fantastic job of breaking down Miikka Kiprusoff’s season in an earlier post. That article explains that even with the Flames stinginess last year, they still let in too many important goals in 5 on 5 tied situations. That’s WITH Regehr on the team. And even worse, I think we could all agree that on the outside, it appeared that Kipper had somewhat of a bounce-back season. In reality – he didn’t. And, the loss of Regehr will only compound that problem.

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Which brings me to my final point… Jay Feaster. He jettisoned Reggie, along with Ales Kotalik-wrapped-in-a-2nd-round-pick, in order to dump salary with the intent at taking a blind shot at the biggest fish on the market, Brad Richards. This is straight out of the Jay Feaster historical hand-book. Feaster loves him some re-treads. Feaster also enjoys overpaying his stars. Feaster is known to pleasingly deal draft picks as if they have no bearing on the future of an organization. Jay Feaster was handed a Stanley Cup-calibre team when he took over the Tampa Bay Lightning. He made some nice moves to push them over the top and led them to the cup victory, only to drive the organization into the ground with terrible contracts, even worse trades and a draft record that would make Darryl Sutter look like a – if I may quote Ken King – “genius.”

Ok – so he deserves some credit in bringing back Alex Tanguay and Curtis Glencross at cap-friendly (but term-heavy) deals – but I’ll ask FN readers a couple simple questions: “What would you expect of the GM of your hockey club during the off-season?”… I’d say we’d all agree it would be something along the lines of: IMPROVE. THE. TEAM.

Now, final question: “Do you think Jay Feaster, as GM of the Calgary Flames, improved the team during the off-season?” … That answer is easy: NO.

Taking all of these factors into consideration, how can we reasonable expect any significant improvement from the Flames? We never even talked about how several of the Western Conference playoff competition crazily went out and improved their team during the off-season. I won’t say the playoffs are out of the question and I won’t ever rule out bounce-back seasons – but, exactly how much is there to bounce back from? And, who will provide the bounce? When Kent emailed me earlier in the week as part of the shortlist to be the new FN contributor, he said we could be either an optimist or a pessimist when it comes to our general perspective of the Flames.

Well – Kent, I prefer to use the term “realist” when describing myself and my general take on the Flames. And, to be honest, all this realism is bumming me out.

**Scott is a long-time Flames fan living in Okotoks. After spending time working for peanuts in radio/tv, drinking away memories while toiling in the Alberta oil and gas industry and finishing film school in Vancouver, he’s finally settled on television production and works on the Calgary-shot CBC series, "Heartland". Scott is a die-hard sports junkie with a passion for writing – and when he’s not blogging about the Flames or the NFL or the NBA or MLB or about what was on TV last night – you can find him deep into a 24 of pil. Self-described as a slightly fatter and whiter, but equally agile, version of Ozzie Smith.

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  • ChinookArchYYC

    Interesting viewpoints and observations on both Regehr and Langkow. The article started off well, but by the end I thought I was listening to a guy trying to win an argument at the pub.

    I can’t agree with your assessment of the GM just yet, Feaster’s actions so far have been a very mixed bag, and we don’t have any results in yet. The moves for Modin and P3L were bad ( albeit relatively harmless), the jury is still out on the Regher Kotalik package, the Tanguay and Glencross deals were obvious, but I’ve very pleased with the defensive depth that he has put together in Abottsford. I don’t believe he’s been given enough credit, for what he’s done for the Heat. Feaster may be handcuffed with the Flames this year, but he did what he could to improve the organization. He stocked the shelves in Abottsford with some bonified talent that can be called upon to play minutes in case of injury. If even one of these acquisitions (I.e. Clay Wilson) pans out for 2011/12, it will considered a very shrewd move.

    P.S. I’d give SLepp another read.

  • Vintage Flame

    Feasty adopted a very good team in Tampa and an Average team in Calgary. He’s living out the Darryl Sutter legacy for one more year then we will see the improvement. Why? His supporting cast is far more adept at assessing the needs of the team with Weisbrod, Goulet, & Sutter.

    As much as we hope to see an improvement on paper this year its not going to happen. My guess is Calgary crawls out from the heap the media cast them on and play a team game that will make all of us proud. That would make for a good article but the realist writers always have to play it safe and go with the median. Sad but true.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Marcus.

      I appreciate your optimism, but have to disagree with your take that this blog was nothing more than “play it safe and go with the median.” In fact – I’d say it was anything but.

      If you have a reason to guess that the Flames will make us proud, I’d love to hear it. Otherwise – I’d have to say that believing this Flames team really is the team that made the run for 2 1/2 months (of a 7-month season) and that those who had tough seasons (ie. Bourque/Kipper) will just bounce-back with no historical data to back that up… I’d probably chalk THAT up as the belief of the median.

      Nevertheless, I will hope for the best. Nothing wrong with that.

  • RedMan

    Regarding this “article”, I’d say the first four paragraphs showed real promise; interesting, laying out the possibilities, gaining readers interest, promising some insight. Unfortunately, it was followed by the rest…

    OK, the sky is falling; we get that.

    In fact, if there is anything we have learned from the “realists” (cough) is that everything is wrong…

    The glass is half empty and every move is a failure and anyone could do a better job than feaster (oh, by the way, we missed the fat jokes), kipper sucks and the only good player we had was given away and all we’ve gotten back are useless… I swear, listening to this average, perpetual second guessing and complaining often leads me to wonder if I am in Vancouver!

    Rather than delivering insight, this piece offered unsubstantiated (negative)opinions. Thanks for that.

    In MY opinion – we did well to dump Kotalik, even though we had to give up our top defensive-defenseman to do it.
    In my opinion, our (10/11) defense was pathetic, maybe even our biggest weakness, in that even though we were stingy with the ‘shots against’, many of the shots were given in prime areas, as they regularly gave up the slot and center ice areas.

    As for the piling on of Lankow, all I can say is I am stunned! This man has been nothing but money for the flames, and has never been overpaid relative to his value to the team. I believe it has been Lankow’s absence that has created the center ice hole on our team which led to all the prime scoring chances against, and I can hardly imagine that him being back won’t change this, assuming he can return quickly to form.

    Yes, I know all the core players are getting older…

    So, we can listen to the “realists”, get rid of kipper, Iginla and Bouwmeester, who, it appears, will supposedly bring in all the best prospects in the league, and after sucking and being the worst team in the league for a season, we will get one good draft and be contenders overnight. Wow, that’s sounds so easy and so sure fire!

    Or we start this season and see what happens; if things go well (i.e. continues to build on second half of last season), the team builds up for a run, knowing that at the end of the season most contracts are gone anyway. If the team falters and reproduces the underwhelming brilliance of the first half of last year, you trade a couple of valuable pieces by trade deadline…

    this is, in my opinion, really the only option that Feaster has, and I think he is playing his cards well given the situation.

    thanks for allowing me time to share my opinion,


    • “OK, the sky is falling; we get that.”

      good – I’m glad we’re on the same page… 🙂

      For someone who doesn’t like the “negativity” so much – you sure brought a lot of it in your comments! lol

  • RedMan

    I’m already looking forward to 2012/2013 when the $14 million tied up between the Jokeinen, Hagboy, Sriracha and Daymond (Pronounced with a Team America voice) comes off the books. Talking about next season is pointless – pun intended.

    Perhaps I’ve drank the ‘Kipper Kool-Aid’, but your take (Which I believe is based on the opinion of the stats guy who likely doesn’t have a girlfriend) on poor ‘tending is way off base. There needs to be a combined qualitative / statistical /situational analysis. Kipper is is still a tier one goalie – tell that guy who wrote ‘the weakest entry’ to watch some games instead of spreadsheets.

    If you’re not vying for a shutout and winning a game by a handful of goals no one cares if you let one in with a few minutes to go except bookies and bloggers. Ask anyone who plays net, you’re not focusing like a game seven when it doesn’t matter. When it does, Kipper is as good as they come on most nights.

    • Bob watches every game the Flames play. As do I. In fact, I watch some of them twice.

      You have no proof for your assertions. None.

      So, yes, you have drank “the Kipper Koo-aid”. The irony is, if he hadn’t have stopped an above average amount of pucks when he first arrived (you know, when he won the Vezina and was legitimately elite) you wouldn’t be fabricating nonsense to justify his lackluster results now.

  • Reidja

    A good, although scattered, read.

    A couple of critiques:

    -Missed the elephant in the room (aging, “untradable”, borderline super-star Iggy)

    -Bought into the anti-Kipper sentiment without elaboration

    -Ready to throw wild-card Langkow return under the bus prematurely

    -Alluded to the upper management problem but no specifics

    -Covered a lot at the surface level (possibly intentionally?)

    No worries though.

    I would like to hear some of the ideas in the blog fleshed-out a bit.


    • I have so much I want to say and but one blog to do it!!! haha, thanks for the comment – I’d love the chance to elaborate on all points and perhaps should have chosen one and focused on it. But, I felt Kent/Rob/Pat had already touched on a lot of those subjects on FN and didn’t want to beat a dead horse.

  • To address the feedback re: the Flames.

    I don’t think the sky is falling. I don’t think the team needs to be blown up.

    If – as a fan base – we’re OK with competing for 7th-12th for another year, then so be it.

    But I, personally, am not. And I find that management gives us the impression that they believe we are a team capable of contending. I like the confidence, but the moves don’t back it up.

    Getting rid of Kotalik’s salary was a waste of time, a waste of a nice trade asset (Regehr) and a waste of what could be a very valuable 2nd round pick. The majority of people think I’m too hard on Feaster and that he’s gearing for next year, well if he was gearing for next year he would have just allowed Kotalik’s one year to expire and leave the books. Not off-load it with Regehr and make a run at Richards. That whole scenario leads me to believe the plan wasn’t to prepare for next year.

    It wasn’t.

    But, it might be now that they failed at their attempt.

    History has shown us that Jay Feaster mismanaged the Tampa Bay Lightning (amidst ownership squabbles, for sure) and was a well below-average PRE-LOCKOUT GM with a terrible record at making trades and drafting.

    Time will tell on this… but history is trying to tell us he’s not the right man for the job.

    As always, I hope to eat a lot of crow on this stuff – but, I stand by my analysis and only ask that we as a fan base don’t continue to accept this mediocrity.