As the Flames prepare for the last season before the next lockout (there’s only some much optimism I’m capable of), one of the likely strong suits of this year’s team will be the middle of the order. We’ve spent plenty of time around these parts bemoaning the lack of a clear number one center, and absent some fairly strange occurrences, that’s not likely to change, but the Flames’ overall depth at forward is the one factor that might haul them into the second season. With that in mind, there’s one line I’d like to see assembled from opening day.
I don’t think that anyone would argue that Olli Jokinen, try as he might, is really cut out to be a number one center on a top team. What we did see from him last year, however, was improvement, and more importantly, recognition by Brent Sutter that he could be useful provided he wasn’t playing first lines without fail.
The portion of the season that got me thinking that Jokinen might have found a proper pair of wingers to help him along the way was that nice run from December to February that carried the club into the race. During that stretch, Jokinen often found himself playing with David Moss and Curtis Glencross, largely against second or third lines, and they appeared up to the challenge. From the Dallas game December 23 to the St. Louis game on March 1, they shot the lights out by the underlying numbers. Via timeonice.com, here are their EV-tied figures during that time period:
|EV Icetime %||EV PTS with||EV PTS w/o||PTS % With|
The effect of slightly easier icetime and more conducive linemates certainly appeared to aid all of them. The effect was most marked for Jokinen, as he spent 9 percent of his EV icetime with Glencross and Moss while accumulating 27 percent of his EV scoring for the season. Hmm. The other two gents also seemed to get a bit of a boost from their shared time, and given the good outshooting numbers and the fact that Kent’s EV scoring chance numbers had them about 55 % to the good as a unit, it’s fair to say they likely were decent value for the points.
It’s certainly worth noting that all of them had some nice shooting percentages during that period, but if you’re outshooting at 55-58% when the game is tied, you’re playing very well unless you start every shift in the other team’s end, and there’s no evidence these three got that much help from Brent Sutter. As a result, I’m inclined in general terms to believe that Jokinen, Moss and Glencross were effective, bounces or otherwise.
The Flames are in a bit of an odd spot. They really could use Backlund or Stajan or Langkow to take the first line job by the throat, and Rene Bourque would almost certainly benefit from a rejuvenated Daymond Langkow more than anyone, but beyond those minor issues there’s every chance that they might have a group on their hands that could outplay the middling forwards on other teams by a fair margin.
I’m hardly in a postion to tell Brent Sutter what to do, but on the off-chance he was interested in my advice, I might start the year using Jokinen, Glencross and Moss against the middle of the pack, just to see if last year’s good work was a fluke. With the previous solid history of Glencross and Moss in particular, I have some sense that those three might well give the Flames one line they could trust at some level. Throw in the likes of Jackman, Morrison, plus the other forwards that don’t end up playing with Tanguay, Iginla or Bourque, and the Flames should be able to ice a very strong bottom six.
That all might seem like cold comfort in a league where stars drive teams, but as a blind squirrel once noted, you go to war with the army you have, not the one you wish you had. The Flames’ calling card this year will be depth up front, and Jokinen, Glencross and Moss could be the line that gives the Flames something to bank on against the middle orders most nights.