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). 

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.

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.

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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    • TheCalgaryJames

      Kent, 4.5 mill for what Langkow brings even in a decent rebound year is too much. I agree with Scott, I am counting the days down to trade deadline or April, where we have either traded him or we resign him appropriately as a 3rd line centre at 1.5Mill per.

        • Kent – I’d like to know if you think we can expect above-average 5vs5 play from Langkow again, coming back from the injury… you never really addressed that in your celebrating Langkow article. Just curious.

          • It’s impossible to know at this point. I thought he looked like himself in the small games he appeared in, but we won’t really know until the season rolls around. The circumstances around his injury are so unique, there really isn’t anything we can point to in the past as a sort of reference for what might happen.

        • TheCalgaryJames

          my worry is that I’m just not sure what condition we’re getting Langkow back in? I mean, he played 4 games last year. If we’re getting the langkow who played for us in 09/10 then IMO he’s worth the $$. I’ve always felt he’s been one of the most underrated players in the league in his tenure in Calgary. I remember fondly when he was the defensive anchor on lines with Iggy and tangs, and Iggy and Juice. It was easy to get overlooked next to those guys but I really feel he made it possible for them to do their thing offensively. That was then and this is now, as they say. If he’s half that player again IMO he’s worth the money. I worry that’s a pretty big ‘if.’

    • I was wondering how long it would take for the Langkow support to come in!

      I can’t argue with the facts in those articles, but my opinion on Langkow is not necessarily based on the stats I provided either, rather on observation of his play during the peak moments of his last full season. I’d elaborate, but I’d go on too long. I just felt his effort level has sagged as the years have progressed and its often shown late in games and on the PK.

  • I’m not ready to lynch Feaster any time soon. He doesn’t have a ton of assets to trade, so any improving of the team was going to have to come in free agency. It was a weak free agent crop, and the rest of the league was overpaying like crazy. I’m actually glad that he didn’t land any overpriced crap (e.g. Marco Sturm).

    I’m waiting to see how Feaster and Sutter begin to integrate the younger players like Backlund, Nemisz, Brodie, etc.

    I’m a Regehr fan, but he had some hard miles on him and was not getting any faster. Would I like to have him here? Sure. Do I think that trading him is the end of the world? No.

    • Michael

      The assumption being that Feaster and Sutter will begin to integrate the younger players like Backlund, Nemisz, Brodie.

      If the Flames are in the hunt for the last playoff spot, we are going to back in the ‘every point counts’ mode, which means the younger guys get squeezed out in favour of the vets for another year.

      Backlund gets stuck behind Langkow and Jokinen (and maybe even Morrision), Nemisz lacks mobility and is simply to slow for anything other than marginal fourth line duty (and we have a glut of these guys with one way contracts), Brodie has some skill, but the Flames resigned Babchuk and a bunch of bottom pair guys, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him stuck in the minors again.

      I would love to see some of younger guys play, but I think we have to wait until next season
      when a bunch of vet contracts expire.

      • TheCalgaryJames

        totally agree.

        That’s another great storyline to watch this year and will be a litmus test for this new regime as to whether or not the culture under Jay Feaster is truly a departure from that of D.Sutter

    • I think it was the perfect time to trade Regehr as he’s probably one low hit to the knees away from either a major stay on the IR or even a career ending injury.

      I just don’t support the return, whatsoever. Hindsight’s 20/20, but did anyone really think Richards was going to choose Calgary? Should’ve traded Regehr by himself for as much as you could get and ride out the Kotalik year or try to bury him in the KHL a la Marcus Nilson.

      Thanks for reading!

  • Good article & being a fellow realist, you are bang on. But I agree with Vintage Flame. Feaster was not in position to properly utilize the trade deadline last year & their 2nd half play was a god send to the organization to buy time. Last summer, there was very little Feaster could do. You first have to plow the field & prepare before you plant new seeds. I am a Regher fan as well but it was time to move him, it was just sad to package him & a valuable 2nd rounder on a salary dump. I think ownership gave him no choice, I think they have had their belly full of stupid contracts that have found their way on our roster. Tanguay & GlenX were excellent signings. Babchuk, meh, at least it was only 2 years. Morrison is a bad signing as is, a good signing if he gets rid of Hagman, an excellent signing if he gets rid of both Hagman & Stajan. Not holding my breath. We need to take our Buckleys & see what we have with some of our kids. The light in the darkness is at the end of this year & will show the long road to getting a contender back in Calgary.

    • “The light in the darkness is at the end of this year & will show the long road to getting a contender back in Calgary.”

      I hope you’re right! It’s been tough watching a team that was so close, continually fall in the standings.

  • ALL THE WAY IN

    One point I would like to argue is that Feaster hasn’t (tried to) improved the team. This years draft was probably the best draft in recent memory, (possibly because we actually had picks in the first 3 rounds) and also he made a strong play to get the most high profile FA in Brad Richards.

    With this current team, would it surprise you if the Flames finished 5th in the west? Would you be surprised if they finished 10th? I think not, beacuse the team is still capable of getting it done, as they showed in the second half of the season, yet they still showed the inconsistency of Flames past in the first half.

    I’ve said this before, Feaster should be judged after this season when he has the money available to make his mark on this team, not to mention a boat load of rental players (if the season goes down the crapper) to re-stock the team via draft picks or prospects.

    Thanks for the article, you have scratched my itch.

    • Thanks for reading and for leaving some comments.

      I’m excited to see what Feaster does with some cash and a full-season too, but I’m a little tense about it as well, given some of his history.

      Just wait til he signs Sarich to a long-term extension and we all want to jump off the roof of the ‘dome! lol

  • mendicant

    What can I say? He’s my brother and I’m almost always in agreement with him. I like his writing and I can vouch for his knowledge — not just of hockey, but most sports.

  • Vintage Flame

    Good article Scott. Nice work.

    “Do you think Jay Feaster, as GM of the Calgary Flames, improved the team during the off-season?”

    If you ask me, there really wasn’t that much of a chance of Feaster improving this team, this off-season. The status of this organization is nothing short of chaotic transition. Like you mentioned, this will be Jay’s first full year without D. Sutter so I think the writing will be on the wall next off-season.

    This year I think he did a fairly good job in minimizing the damage for this coming season. He opened up some room on the roster and quite a bit of cap-space. He DID take his shot at Brad Richards, yeah. But in the long run they were probably closer to Richards than they ever thought they would have been. Was a “narrow miss” on Brad? Depends if you see that miss as an “ahh crap” or a “phew..” .. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

    What I think he was effective at was paving the way for what will take place next year with this team. I’m not as pessimistic about the loss of Regehr either. I still maintain I’m a big fan of his, but I really don’t think you will see the Flames D take a big of a hit as some fans seem to think. Especially if Butler seems to show some development and promise. Mobility is more effective than bashing people through the boards in the Western Conference. Reggie was really lacking on that side.

    Good job Scott!

    • @jess, @mats thomassen, @Miles Golby

      Thanks guys! Appreciate the feedback. Wasn’t expecting to be first up… but, I’ll take it!

      @Vintage Flame

      Thanks for the notes. As far as Feaster improving the team, my issue lies in the fact that he traded a big asset in Regehr without necessarily improving the team and using a pick to get rid of Kotalik. I suppose we’ll take a wait and see approach on Butler to see if I’m huffing and puffing over nothing.

      • Vintage Flame

        Yes, he traded away a big asset, but I think the positive side of it is to consider the timing of the move.

        Even though Reggie was an asset, he was a depreciating asset, and has been for the last 2 seasons. Moving him now, while they could, adds to your “wait and see” position to see if the Flames make a smart maneuver over the course of this year and next off-season. It gives them a lot more flexibility to make key bold moves, rather than seeing an opportunity and then being hand-cuffed by having to move Regehr in an emergency situation.

        I guess in short.. It took the gun away from their head.

    • I dont think Minnesota improved. They dealt their best defenseman, Brent Burns, and their one of their best forwards, Martin Havlat, to San Jose. They got Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, both who were struggling even when they were playing with Joe freakin Thornton.