Not a Lot of Change

When looking at the Calgary Flames roster as it appears right now, you’ll notice one thing that isn’t the most common in today’s NHL: a group of forwards that is virtually unchanged from the year prior.  There will be slight changes from the coming training camp as opposed to one year ago, as Daymond Langkow will be present and Ales Kotalik will not.  For the most part, however, it’s the same group, something that has it’s pros and cons.  The Flames are leaning far heavier to the former as opposed to the latter.

When things were at their best for the Calgary Flames, the line combinations looked like this:

Alex Tanguay-Brendan Morrison-Jarome Iginla
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-David Moss
Niklas Hagman-Mikael Backlund-Rene Bourque
Tom Kostopoulos-Matt Stajan-Tim Jackman

So, the loss of Kotalik isn’t really all that significant, as he barely played on the big club last year while Langkow coming back was easy to fit in with injuries to Moss and Morrison at the end of the season.  That said, all 12 of those forwards are back for the coming year, along with Langkow, on a team that missed the playoffs last season.

The Flames are certainly excited for the lack of large change during the summer, as the belief is it gives them a great chance to have continuity right off the hop, hopefully to avoid the early season swoon the team suffered last year.  It’s one of the topics I’ve focused on during a number of off season interviews to this point.

"I think it’s great," said forward David Moss when I talked to him last week.  "When you can come into camp and you know the guys, and for the most part you know the guys you’re playing with, you know they’re tendencies, you played together…for more than a couple years and I think that’s great.  There’s no adjustment period and you should be able to go out and play and get the ball rolling right away."

It’s a good concept.  Calgary had such issues getting out of their own way to start last season and it played a large part in why they were sitting near the bottom of the Western Conference for parts of November and December.  In theory, having a group of guys familiar with each other could eliminate some of those growing pains and put the team in a good spot to start the season.

There’s also a desire to keep the group together.  A group that went on a pretty remarkable run through January and February.

"I think it’s really important," GM Jay Feaster told me on Saturday.  "It’s a tough thing to articulate, the kind of change that we saw in the room and the way this team came together and the way they really bought into the things that Brent (Sutter) wants to do in terms of system and style of play and I think it’s going to be great."

I can see the positive side of keeping this group together.  However, there’s also a concerning side of it, when looking at next season by itself.  Let’s remember, the Flames missed the playoffs last year, and did so with names like Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay, Curtis Glencross and David Moss having impressive statistical years.  They also did it while Rene Bourque and Matt Stajan, among others, were generally terrible.

Seeing Bourque, Stajan, Hagman and other have bounce back seasons is not something I’m worried about.  In fact, I think it’ll happen on most, if not all, fronts.  What worries me more is knowing Iginla scored 43 goals last year and the team missed the playoffs, while Morrison and Tanguay both ahd huge rebound years themselves.  Those contributions, especially from that trio, will have to be similar to what they were last year, as we don’t anticipate that line being used in a "best on best" role.

That job of working against top line players on the other team will likely fall to guys like Glencross, Moss, and perhaps Langkow, and they likely will all do a solid job, the same way they have prior in their career.  However, being put in that role consistently also lessens their offensive contributions.  It’s pretty simple: if you’re tasked with shutting down the best of the best on the other side, sometimes your own offensive numbers are going to suffer.  We saw that in effect two seasons ago with the offensive numbers of Langkow.

So while some important players will be taking on very important roles, there’s a chance the Iginla line will be placed in more favourable spots to put up offensive numbers.  But that means they’re going to have to do it.  And it’s not like I’m saying they won’t.  Another full season with another full training camp for the Tanguay-Iginla duo could very possibly result in another strong offensive season, and it would surprise no one if that came to pass.  It was Iginla’s best offensive season in the last three years, and he turned 34 on Canada Day.  Not being surprised seeing Jarome surpass 40 is one thing; expecting it, or relying on it, to happen is another thing.

For his part, Feaster believes another season with the same Head Coach is the way to go for this group of forwards.  "To a man, the guys, I believe understand Brent," he said.  "They saw, in my mind, Brent being himself and coaching the way he believes in that second half and to have that same group come back, I think it’s awesome."

For me, bringing back a largely unchanged team after a second straight non-playoff year is a risk.  I will admit it has the potential to yield some nice results too, but it depends on a number of things coming to pass, and as we know there are no guarantees.  However, as I’ve said many times, I look at the Flames as more than just the coming season.  If this group doesn’t have overwhelming success this year, it doesn’t affect the long term direction of the club.

It’s not the way ownership or management will ever look at it, but I look at it this way: The long term future, starting with next summer, is what’s really important to the Calgary Flames.  Some nice success this year, and maybe a postseason birth, is just icing on the cake.

  • They saw, in my mind, Brent being himself and coaching the way he believes in that second half

    Translation: he was free from interference from his older brother.

    This fact is one of the true reasons to be optimistic about next season. Sutter stepped on a bunch of landmines his first couple seasons here and there’s mounting evidence they were thrown in his path by Darryl.

  • ChinookArchYYC


    I’ve been pleasantly surprised by some the moves that Feaster has made for the Heat. The organizations depth has improved, but in your view can the team count on call ups to play regular minutes, if they have to?

  • ChinookArchYYC

    I think there are a number of reasons for optimism.

    As Kent points out the removed interference from Big Sutter is a strong reason for optimism.

    I think Stajan and Hagman will rebound to some degree. Though I don’t see either being major factors on the roster.

    I think Bouwmeester may improve as well. He was buried as Regher’s partner. Hopefully Sutter will take a more balanced approach with his D.

    The return of Langkow may be a big deal if he is a semblance of his prior self. Hopefully his return will prompt a resurgence of Bourque’s two-way game.

    Jokinen had a rebound season. This season he may not be counted on to do the heavy lifting which could improve his game even further.

    All signs point to Backlund having a break out season. I am also not certain Giordano has peaked. He will be scary if he reaches another level.

    Some people are looking for Baertschi to pull a Jeff Skinner this season. I really doubt it. But there is room for him to beat out Hagman. A few other rookies may make the team, though none of them are primed to be impact players.

    I know some are concerned about Iginla and Tanguay losing some of their production. I am not.

    Iggy has been a consistent 85+ point producer for half a decade. Last season was not the exception. The season prior was. He may not be a power against power option any longer but given his fitness level I don’t see any reason he can’t reproduce last seasons numbers.

    Tanguay has had a rockier path over the past couple of seasons. But if Iggy is clicking he probably will as well. He also seems to have a different attitude then his last go around. Last season PKing was a welcomed challenge, the previous go it was poor utilization.

    If Brent can focus the Flames top line on offense right from the start Tanguay and Iggy could actually exceed last season offensively. Last season he burned the first month by deploying the top line in a P2P role with Jokinen at the helm.

    Players like Morrison and Jackman may fall off. But oh well. Morrison was a replacement player. Jackman is a support player and his 23-points aren’t critical.

    To me the big question is on the d-core and on goal tending.

    Hannan helps alleviate some of the concerns about our D. But the proof will be in the pudding as Feaster says.

    Goal tending may dictate the success or failure of this team. I have no idea which Kipper will show up. If its 09/10 Kipper we will be in great shape.

    I still think this roster lacks the talent to go up against the big dogs in the league. We saw the club near its best the last half of the season and they struggled to get wins against the top teams. However, if they see certain players reach a new level and if Kipper rebounds they could be a decent threat.

  • MC Hockey

    Great article Pat. I agree that the idea of little change at forward (and in general) is possibly good, maybe bad. Continuity helps and the point of picking up early-season wins versus teams still learning each other stands. Then again, the same team essentially missed the playoffs last year but perhaps injury was a factor (late season Moss and Morrison). Again, I also wonder and doubt if some of the underperformers can pick things up while the stars keeping on being great. I agree with SinCity1976 too in that we cannot expect every line to score more if say the OMG line is matched against other teams stud-lines. I believe players on the top 2 lines and 4th line will be OK. So I suggest the 6 key players to watch are Langkow (can he be a two-way performer as in past), Kipper (can he get back to a top-10 in NHL goalie at least), Hannan (can he play the hard minutes), Bouwmeester (can he improve on offense and play more boldly), and Butler (can he be an all-around consistent D-man), and Staj-Hagman-ovich – can he just be a bit better at least.

  • Greg

    I’m not concerned at all with bringing back the same forward group. The flames offensive stats last year were fine-to-very-good, and certainly not the reason they missed the playoffs. The ups and downs of individuals should be more or less a wash… Iggy might drop 10 goals, but Hagman and Stajan could easily go up 5 each. Even on defence, Hannan + Butler is roughly equivalent to Regher + Pardy in my mind. Maybe a little better. Maybe a little worse. Depends on Butler’s progression.

    To me, the two big determinants Of whether they make the playoffs or not is goaltending and Langkow. I’m hoping to see Karlson take a step forward and be able to play 15-20 games, and I’m hoping the lighter load helps Kipper add a .1 to that awful save percentage from last year. I also hope Langkow comes back as a great 2nd line, heavy lifting center he was before. But I also figure if he doesn’t, worst case he can replace Kotalik’s offense just by sneezing in the general direction of the ice. I think if either of those factors work out, the flames will be in a 6-8 spot next April. If neither works out they’ll be in a 9-12. If both work out, they may even push for a 4-5 spot and be a team no one really wants to play next spring.

    On the whole, I’m very satisified, and pleasantly surprised, with Feaster’s handiwork this off season. With the contractual obligations he inherited, not even (insert Demi-God’s name here) could have fixed this franchise this summer. But their second half last year bought him time to re-sell the same roster as having a hope-in-hell of making the playoffs, and he did that without screwing up the franchise for next season. Tanguay and Glencross won’t hurt you with those cap hits, and Morrison, Hannan, Babchuck, et al are short term deals that allow you to go a different direction next year if needed. Everyone seems content with the draft picks. And we can’t forget that with Langkow back, the flames would be $5M over the cap right now if not for the regher trade. I think everyone would agree that keeping regher and Kotalik but letting tanguay and Glencross walk would have left the flames in obvious bottom feeder territory this season.

  • Greg

    It’s amazing to think that Darryl was that big of a detriment to the club, especially after being heralded for such a long time as the guy who changed it all around. I hope that’s the case and the Flames do something because according to this –

    there won’t be any change in the party line of ‘win now’ anytime soon. This’ll be the litmus test, I guess.

    My worries remain their record against top tier clubs, advancing age, complacency with fat, new contracts and leadership.

    I think it’s become more and more obvious that Iginla wanted Regehr out of the room because he was challenging his position as alpha.

    • ON your last point, When I was talking to Skrudland at the draft he made this comment to me re: the Regehr trade: “now who will stand up to Iggy?”

      I don’t know the dynamic in the room, but I thought that was interesting.

      • Greg

        As much as Reg will always be dear to my heart, I could sense that he was kind of a grouch. And a vocal one too. I once heard him defend his position on how some people may not like what he has to say at times but he’ll come out and say it anyway. That said, with Gio emerging as the soulful leader on the back end, it was wise to have a change in post. Lets hope Butler & Byron give us more than we’ve bargained for.

  • Greg

    Based on various comments over the years it’s something I’ve always surmised, so I find your commetn quite interesting.

    I’ve always thought that too much was done to make this team Iggy’s and that the loss of a lot of the guys from the 2004 team was devastating.

    Plus, from a philosophical point of view, having the team belong to one guy is not something I buy into. To me, you can never have too many leaders – the 1989 club, for example, had how many future captains?

    • Sworkhard

      The 2004 team was arguably Darryl Sutter’s team, not Iggy’s. There have been multiple reports of how the players looked to Darryl as their real leader. They call Jim Playfair, JP-22 indicating he didn’t have their respect. Therefore, IMO, it wasn’t until Sutter stopped coaching that it really became Iggy’s team.

  • Sworkhard

    Based on media interviews & on-ice observations, I would say Regehr carried some Sutter in him… which wasn’t a bad thing when it came to contributing on the ice, but you got the sense there were two ways of thinking: Iginla’s and Regehr’s.

    Regehr seems to be a kick-in-the-pants, details type, while Iginla appears to approach the game as a “Don’t think too much, just go out and play.” You could argue either approach is more/less effective, but it was interesting to see these differences at work. Especially after a loss, when Iggy would say something to the effect of “we’re playing tight, we need to relax” and Regehr would call out certain positions (without naming names) and demand more focus and compete. Again, not a right vs wrong argument, just a different approach.

    One very small snapshot of this: When I was in MTL at the Flames/Habs game, Kiprusoff had just left the net for a break, and Karlsson didn’t see that the net was his, so he continued to stretch for a second or two. Typically, the players would shoot on the empty net until the next goaltender steps in. I was in view of Regehr to see him completely lose it on Karlsson. First off, I was frightened because angry Regehr at ice-level is terrifying. Secondly, I couldn’t help but think how different Iggy would have handled the situation. Part of it is being a competitive person, I understand that, but flipping out at the back-up goaltender before a game? Oddly enough, Kipper was pulled after MTL made it 4-0, and Karlsson weathered the storm for a Flames comeback, as they tied the game at 4 and forced overtime.

  • Sworkhard

    I also can’t help but think there’s a reason Regehr was selected as the odd man out. Obviously, he had more value than most players on the team, but I’m sure there were other options available.

    As for the void left by Regehr: he’s a very solid, reliable player, but I would argue the offseason additions somewhat cancel out the loss of his contributions. Couldn’t two potential top-4 D men (Hannan, Butler) fill that void? I’m a big Regehr fan, but let’s not forget: the Flames’ D wasn’t exactly lights-out last season anyway. Change on the back-end could even mean an upgrade, for all we know at this point.

  • For what it’s worth, Skrudland said the Panthers pursued Regehr in part because of the quality of person/dressing room presence he was.

    Reggie strikes me as a guy who will become a coach one day. He almost always talked sense in his interviews.

  • Michael

    The Flames dressing room leadership is an interesting question. From what you hear Iggy is the quiet show by example type, two of the more vocal guys Phaneuf and Regehr are gone, so isn’t it time for some of the other guys (Bourque, Gio…) to step up?

  • Section205

    Translation: he was free from interference from his older brother.

    I would like to see the “mounting evidence” of this. Without first hand accounts of this behaviour, these comments come across as cheap accusations from outsiders. Almost personal jabs at Darryl Sutter’s character. Perhaps some media members and bloggers are jointly withholding their “off-the-record” type info and stories from players and coaches, assistants, scouts that support these assertions. I don’t know.

    On the outside, Darryl seemed to be honest and loyal to his team. I am sure he was passionate and gave people his opinion, whether good or bad. But players and co-workers seemed to respect him and appeared to be disappointed that he had to go. He made some bad trades near the end and he was not good with media. I’m not saying he should still be GM. I just think these comments about his character are a little “below the belt” when there is a lack of evidence in public.

    • Section205

      Hey section 205, I agree a lot is speculation and circumstantial. But & maybe someone or Kent can back me on this, but I believe it was sometime in February when they were on that incredible run & they interviewed Brent & he was asked if he had talked to Darryl since he resigned & the reply was no he hadnt. Now read what you want but that wasnt the first time word of the lack of communication between the brothers had circulated. Do you not find it a little odd that all the asst coaches were purged(except 1) & Brent hired replacements. That tells me he was not allowed to hire his own people when he came in & the only reason for a new coach to do that was that a controlling GM wouldnt let him. If it looks like a duck & sounds like a duck, it usually is a duck.