Random Thoughts – February 3, 2012

 

 

I continue to gather and organize my thoughts on the Flames, the future and rebuilding. For now, though, I’ll present some other things that are kicking around my head.

– Gabriel Desjardins has added an interesting feature at behind the net – shot and goal charts by team (at 5on5). Here’s Calgary so far so this season:

– As you can see, things are heading in the wrong direction. Flames have been sub-50% in terms of shot and goal generation at 5on5 since about game 20. Around game 25, they really started to fall off the map with no recovery in sight.

There’s a number of explanations for Calgary continued (and growing) power outage at even strength: long-term injuries to David Moss, Curtis Glencross, Derek Smith, Mark Giordano (now better) and recently Lee Stempniak really harmed the Flames depth.

As we’ve discussed in the summer, Calgary’s support players were primarily the ones driving the play in the right direction the last few years. In addition, Brent Sutter decided to start playing Iginla in a straight power vs power type role sometime in December. As noted here, the captain has mostly been crushed in that role and only shy high save percentages has him treading water.

A couple of things need to change if the Flames want to halt the downward slope you at left – Brent Sutter has to find a way to get Jarome the high ground a bit more often (stop me if you’ve heard that before) and Jay Feaster has to find a way to cover the losses of Moss/Glencross and Stempniak up front. And, no, Krys Kolanos and Blair Jones aren’t going to do it.

– Related: the Flames can be both buyers and sellers at the deadline. Looking to add a useful piece here and there doesn’t mean they can’t also aggressively shop guys like Sarich and Babchuk. If the Flames do pursue a forward or two, Feaster needs to focus on Calgary’s explicit needs at this point – strong possession forwards. Preferably centers.

There might be a ew of those guys available. My favorite underrated Selke candidate Frans Nielsen is a pending free agent and the Islanders won’t be making the post-season. If he doesn’t want to re-sign there (and why would he) it’s entirely possible NYI will look to deal him. Nielsen isn’t a mythical #1 center who can come in, play PvP and score 80+ points, but he’s the next best thing – a center who plays in all situations and makes life easier for every other forward on the team. As a bonus, he’s also the best shoot-out player in the entire league.

– If he wasn’t a Leaf, I would also advocate the Flames go after Mikhail Grabovski. There’s a sense in Toronto that Grabs may not re-sign there in the off-season so it’s possible he’ll be available at the deadline. A lot of attention has gone to Lupul and Kessel this year thanks to the pair shooting lights out for the first few months, but for my money Grabovski is the best overall forward on the club, full stop.

Of course, we all know what happens when the Flames trade with Toronto. Perhaps Feaster should wait to try to sign Grabs in the off-season…

– Most relevant to this buying and selling talk is the Flames playoff chances. The Wild have won a couple of games recently and stretched the distance between themselves and Calgary to five points. Sports Club Stats has the Flames post-season probability down to about 14% as a result. Even if we assume a simple coin-flip model – that is, Flames have a 50/50 chance of winning every game – they make the playoffs only 19% of the time. Not good odds. 

– With the injuries piling up and the 5on5 play faltering, one hopes the club doesn’t do something stupid and go whale hunting at the deadline. As noted above, I’m not against the team trying to add useful pieces, but my hope is the focus isn’t some big, splashy move that costs a bundle and makes for interesting headlines, but doesn’t do a lot in terms of actually moving the club forward. I could also do without needless deck chair shifting like dealing a 7th round pick for Freddy Modin.

Late draft picks in isolation aren’t worth a whole lot, but a dime is better than a dog turd if you catch my drift.

– Finally, the hatred towards Chris Butler has grown a little out of proportion in some quarters. I’ll admit Butler has nights where he looks rather overwhlemed. As he should – he’s a $1.25M defender playing some of the toughest minutes in the entire league. That he isn’t scored on in spectacular fashion every night is a minor miracle given his age and prior experience.

Jay Bouwmeester helps in that regard, but I’d have to say the Flames top pairing is better this year absent Robyn Regehr. Butler is probably better suited as a steady second pairing guy, but we should temper current expectations and future groans of frustration with the knowledge that he’s punching way above his weight class.

  • SmellOfVictory

    so…you’re saying brent sutter actually has to coach? shocking.

    my god, I am drooling over nielsen.

    it’s an oversimplification, but according to the flames butler’s the 5th best dman on the team. the “saw-him-bad” phenomena is in full effect when it comes to him because of the types of minutes he plays.

    oh, and bouwmeester’s the best defenseman in the division, bar none.

  • jakeryley

    I’ve been nothing but impressed with Butler this year. The fact that a guy who wasn’t even a regular on his team last season has been able to step in and play top minutes in a tougher conference, even allowing for some uneven play, is fantastic. I think people are forgetting that at the beginning of the season the thought was that Hannan was the Regehr replacement and that Butler would be a bottom pairing guy who might be able to stick in the top four. He’s far exceeded those expectations by any measure. The return on Regehr looked a little light at the time, but he’s gone a long way towards making that trade look good.

  • jakeryley

    trade Olli and Babs at the deadline, sign Stoll and Nielsen in the off-season, get rid of Stajan any way possible without taking on salary πŸ˜‰ – trade 2013 first rounder + magic hairspray to Columbus for Jeff Carter and win the bidding war for Ryan Suter.

    I’m pleased with Butler this season. He’s very clearly playing a role that he isn’t equipped to play and has struggled due to it – but he’s also developed. So, as long as next season we can acquire another top pairing d-man and shuffle Butler down to the 2nd pairing with Gio, this year’s worth of development will have been well worth it.

    …now to go and cry for the next 9 months until I can infuse myself with the blind optimism I feel every October πŸ™‚

  • marty

    good article kent and on the 2 players i couldnt agree more. If nielsen can be had at the deadline the flames should go and get him. I agree with grabovski too, id like to see the flames get him at the deadline but i don’t see how calgary has the package to get him. hopefully with some cap space coming on july 1. I would be fine with the flames offering in the 4.5 range for grabovski. will there be an open thread on deadline day? the day is booked off so i hope so

  • Mitch2

    I agree on Butler, seems like many casual fans are all over him but really don’t see the context. He is doing pretty well given his age, top 4 role and competition.

    Regehr has also deteriorated this year. So if Butler can just get to the level of being a respectable top 4 D man the Flames did ok, provided that 2nd round pick doesn’t turn out to be a win for Buff.

    Sutter at this point is really getting on my nerves. I may get my thoughts out on him at this point.

  • Sobueno

    I’m not really one in the “hate on Butler” group. I know he is receiving additional scrutiny since he was the major return for shipping Regehr out of town, but as Kent says it’s doubtful our back end would be improved if Butler and Regehr hadn’t switched places.

    I just checked Regehr’s numbers at behindthenet, and unless I’m interpreting them incorrectly, it doesn’t appear that he’s been all that great for Buffalo up to this point.

    And the “we could have had a better return!” argument doesn’t really speak to me either. It’s just speculation as we’ll never know what offers Feaster did or could have gotten. Likely, most GM’s and their staff who evaluate players full time are actually somewhat better at their jobs than we give them credit for, and they saw Regehr for what he was: an aging, middling asset with potential knee problems.

    However, I may have to retract that last statement about giving due credit to GMs after we see some of the ridiculous deals that go down at the end of the month πŸ˜‰

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    Here’s a big “Yes, Please” for Nielsen.

    And a big “No effin’ thanks” for anyone wearing a blue maple leaf.

    I have to say that, for a guy who was vehemently opposed to trading Reggie, I have hardly given him any thought at all this season and it doesn’t seem that the team is really missing him all that much.

    Makes me wonder who else isn’t as indispensible as people seem to think (Iginla).

  • jeremywilhelm

    Kent, I suppose a lot depends on which theory you buy into:

    1) The Flames organization as a whole want to win now (including the GM, owners, coach).

    Or:

    2) The owners want to win now, but Feaster thinks the team sucks so he’s following orders while at the same time working behind the scenes to rebuild.

    You can argue point 2 because Feaster has shipped out vets for youth when possible. Props for that (minus the Regehr trade).

    However, the problem I have with point 2 is that the youth he has brought in are not top end players. You can argue Butler back and forth, but up front it’s basically the bottom 6 where the youth has gone.

    The owners won’t let the top 6 vets be traded unless another top 6 vet comes back, like Bork for Cammi.

    So, you may as well go out and get Carter (who can score because the rest of the team can’t) for picks and prospects despite his stupid contract because his stupid contract is the only thing that will allow the team to land a #1 center (giving them a nice 1/2 punch along with Joker), something they haven’t had forever, because either way you look at it, the team is not going to do any sort of meaningful rebuild.

    Full steam ahead captain.

  • SmellOfVictory

    Still think the team misses the ‘keep your head up’ effect Regehr brought.

    Regher has lost a step, but he’s still better than Butler IMO.

    We got the lesser D-man and gave up a 2nd just to get an AHL lifer and to lose Kotlaik’s contract.

    @Beeker73 re: your last line – yup.

  • Jeff Lebowski

    I don’t hate Butler but I don’t think he belongs on top shut down pairing yet. I understand chemistry etc but Gio should play the top pairing with Bouwmeester. There should be some element of physical play from Calgary D on opposing top lines.
    Butler still makes hesitant, timid plays too often. Essentially he looks on his heels most of the time. Mostly he is just hanging on, makes desperate defensive plays and his transition is rimmimg it around or chipping it to stationary players. When he has been good and feeling confident he is noticeably more assertive in all aspects (physical, joining rush, hard tape to tape outlets to guys in stride).

    I like his potential but he needs more time against weaker opponents to get confidence up consistently.

    Gio is more in your face. Calgary is really lacking the tough to play against quality especially vs the other team’s best. Bouwmeester and Butler don’t play that way at all. They have been relatively effective but there is no punishment quality there. A little would go a long way in my opinion.

    • jeremywilhelm

      Hey Jeff! Interesting point. Has Gio & JBO ever been psired together. Why not try it. Put Butler/Hannan together & then Brodie/Sarich. See how it works. I dont mind Butler, he’s just playing way more minutes than he should, considering, his play at his price tag is a good thing.

      Nate Baldwin-I dont think you give Columbus Kipper without getting their 1st rounder. If we have to get a splash Centreman, I guess Carter could be a target, but what do you give up? Backlund & Leiland with no picks might be OK.
      Can you imagine Kipper in Chicago? I think they win the cup, can you get Crawford, a 1st & a top prospect for him. If Bowman isnt calling Feaster about Kippers availability, he’s an idiot then. The age of that team & Kipper in net over the next 2+ years could be huge for that team. JMO:)

  • RexLibris

    I kind of agree with the-wolf here in that it seems like doors are beginning to close on the Flames and that the commitment to winning will require, as he says, a “full steam ahead” approach. Here’s why:

    1.) Flames management has committed to a win-now motto and Feaster has begun to pursue that. In order to make it more than mere bluster, the franchise has a short-term deadline with Feb 27th and a long-term deadline in free agency, to demonstrably commit to the roster at hand. To that end, whale-hunting at either of those deadlines would seem to be the only remaining course of action given the stated intent of this group.

    2.) The price of pursuing their stated goal through the above course of action is beginning to go up, with the increasingly tight playoff race amongst the cluster of teams in which the Flames find themselves. Fans may become divided at the cost of pursuing a successful season if Feaster is forced to “double-down” at the trade deadline. At the same time, if the Flames finish in roughly the same territory this year that they did last season, my guess is that there will be a significant voicing of displeasure and frustration at the management group. While there are some assets that I can’t see being moved (Iginla, Kirpusoff, Cammalleri), the need to make a move in order to appear to be trying to win may become overwhelming unless the management group can swallow their pride and admit they were incorrect in their assessment of this team (this assumes that the Flames continue along this 12th to 9th trajectory).

    3.) The looming CBA negotiations and the threat of a work stoppage, even if only temporarily, puts even more pressure on Calgary due to their roster position at this time. While a cancelled season would allow more time for the development of a few of their prospects in Baertschi and Reinhart, the Flames are heavily leveraged in the area of proven NHL players and aging players more than they are in developing talent. To that end, a lost season at this point in Iginla, Cammelleri and Tanguay’s career is more detrimental to the team, as a whole, than any benefits of an extra year of development for the alluded-to prospects.

    Looking at Feaster’s trade history there isn’t much there to suggest that he does many big deals, but he has shown thus far that isn’t opposed to changing the roster and moving players in and out. He appears to prefer, or at least have a tendency in the direction of, moving pieces at the edges and, once assembled, retaining a core for as long as is financially feasible.

    That being said, while I know that the Jeff Carter possibility (I won’t call it a rumour) rubs many Flames fans the wrong way, it wouldn’t entirely surprise me if Feaster made a deal like that at the deadline, or the draft. Nor would I be surprised if he traded some picks or assets for the negotiation rights to Parise or Suter at the draft.

    Good luck against the Hawks tonight. I will be very interested to see how they respond after last evening’s game.

    P.S. – Congratulations to Sam “The Ocho” Gagner.

  • thymebalm

    I’d like to see an article on exactly what Brent Sutter is bringing to the team.

    I’m tired of seeing the Flames unable to create goals. And it’s not just EV. It’s PP, and SH as well. We must have the softest attack in the league.

    51 games in there are big pockets of emptiness all over the offensive game of the Calgary Flames.

    -Terrible 5v3 (last in the league)
    -No chance collecting SH (last in the league)
    -Terrible 2nd periods (last in the league)

    2 goal at EV in our last 5 games!? (minus edm, against actual NHL teams)

    Is there ANY rumblings at all that Sutter’s job might be in jeopardy? If the task is win now… I just find it weird that his name doesn’t come up more.

  • NateBaldwin

    I usually shy away from speculating because it tends to highlight how little I know about hockey operations but do you think columbus would bite on

    Kipper and Stajan
    for
    Carter and Mason
    ?

    That ‘you’ is directed at anyone that will talk to me. I’m lonely.

  • NateBaldwin

    I am okay with Butler as a defenseman. The reviews on Regehrs play this year out of Buffalo are terrible. Regehr is not the player he once was and getting younger, more mobile, and cheaper in the process was a good deal for the Flames.

    I have heard that Feaster does not want to go all in on moves to make the playoffs this year, and recognizes that the team is not good enough to make the playoffs. But that he would prefer to wait until the summer to make more changes, rather than in February when prices are stupidly high.

    I guess it will come down to how much pressure Edwards has in terms of making a deal and making the playoffs; compared to the leverage Feaster has in terms of using injuries as an excuse and Brent as a scapegoat in the summer when they miss. But it will be hard to see them making anything more than the Morrison type trades before the deadline, regardless of how the team performs.

    I think that the length of contract and character issues with Carter are just too much to want to go down that road. If it were me I would move out Sarich to create additional cap space, I would go after Roy in Buffalo and give up my 2012 1st round pick and Howse. Roy is affordable, has offensive upside, and has two years left on his contract. I am also not apposed to the idea of Stajan and Babchuk for Gomez; especially if I could get our 2nd round pick for next year back in the deal.

    • NateBaldwin

      Hey Shutout! No way I give Buffalo our 2012 1st for Roy. I agree that Roy should the target over Carter but Buff have fresh ugly contracts to underachieving players & slammed us for a 2nd to get Kotalik’s 3 million off the cap. I would say Backlund & a 2013 3rd for Roy & our 2012 2nd back & they gain an NHL playing young centre with huge upside + 3.0Mill in cap space. If we have to add to that, I would say throw in House or Memitz or someone like that. Our 2012 1st is absolutely untouchable. I would trade Kipper or Iggy before I would trade this 1st rounder right now.

  • NateBaldwin

    Butler is at most a 4th or 5th defensemen and is paid accordingly. Feaster has done a good job of reducing their average age this year by about 1.5 years overall. Dumping guys like Regher, Langkow, Kotalik, Hagman and Morrison and getting younger roster players that will improve. I wouldn’t take anyone of those cotton heads back.

    Feaster has done a great job so far rebuilding this team so far considering the mess he was handed. I look forward to seing what the next move will be. He has done exactly what he said he was going to do.

  • AF

    Yeah, I’d say Butler’s a 4th defenceman as well. He’s clearly still developing. Some nights he’s been solid and some nights he’s been horrendous but that’s to be expected given the minutes he’s getting.