As many of you know, I managed to get a press pass for the Heat game last night. it was my first foray into the world of the legitimate journalists and was lucky to know run into Ryan Pike, Lisa McRitchie and Ryan Pinder who all helped guide me over some speed bumps. Thanks also to Delaney Dunn, the Heat’s Communication director, and of course Pat Steinberg who sent me in with some hints and tips.
The view from the pressbox is different than either fan-live or TV, being more of a birds eye perspective. That and my relative unfamiliarity with the Heat’s players/lines meant I spent much of the game just trying to find my bearings. The lack of any meaningful action on the Abbotsford side of the leger also made it difficult to come away with any strong impressions.
Here’s a few things I gleaned from the contest:
– The Flames injuries and call-ups have done a number on the Heat’s depth. It was clear the club is missing the likes of Kolanos, Bouma and Brodie.
– Horak didn’t score, but he stood out on a number of shifts thanks to his wheels and puck skills. He’s not an NHLer yet, but he looks like he’s already at the head of the class in the AHL.
– Someone named Judd Blackwater – previously an ECHLer – was playing on a line with Desbiens and Aliu. He’s a smaller, shiftier player like Dustin Sylvester. That line had some nice sequences, although his AHL stats and confirm he can’t seem to finish at that level.
– New addition Brian Connelly is indeed mobile and good with the puck on his stick, but man is he small. Going to be a big battle for him to push beyond this level.
– The top line right now is Rheault, Horak and Walter. They had some good loks at the net and controlled the puck well on the PP, but like the rest of the team last night (and recently) couldn’t finish. Walter also had an unfortunate neutral zone turn-over that led to a OKC goal.
– Ryan Howse played, but I didn’t notice him at all.
– Chris Breen and Jordan Henry were depth defenders for the club last night. Neither can skate well enough to ever challenge for an NHL job in my opinion.
– Henrik Karlsson wasn’t the reason the Heat lost, but he also wasn’t spectacular either. High, glove hand shots are still beating him because he goes down a bit too early.
– I know a lot of people are sick of this Backlund/Andrew Walker stuff, but I’ll add one last thought – in a way, Walker is correct in that Backlund’s lack of production this year is something of a ticking clock. GM’s and coaches have a lack of patience with nominal scoring rates unless you’re a player type who isn’t expected to score (grinder, pugilist, defensive defender).
Even established guys get sent down the river after extended dry spells. Dale Tallon, for instance, lost patience with Michael Frolik and David Booth when they went cold, despite the fact they both had multiple 20+ goal seasons under their belt. The Ottawa Senators traded Antoine Vermette to the Blue Jackets for Pascal LecLaire (yuck) when pucks topped going in for him a couple of years ago. The knives are also out for Ales Hemsky up north and he’s been a difference maker in the chuck for years. Also, I’d say the reason Conroy was prodded to retire mid-season last year as the fact his offensive zone hands were gone, even though he was still functional in other areas of the ice.
So it’s entirely possible the perceptions of Backlund will be harmed – perhaps irreparably – if his cold streak continues through the rest of the season, whatever his other strengths and successes.
– There are lot of issues to consider heading into the deadline, but perhaps the biggest looming issue now is the status of Olli Jokinen. His resurgence this season is a good news in the present, but it hopelessly complicates matters for Feaster and company going forward.
Jokinen will turn 34 next year. His next contract will have to be his "retirement deal" – so longer term and bigger dollars. And his current on-ice SV% is 11.26 (team high) and his PDO is 103.4 (again, a team high). for context, last year he was at 7.81 and 97.8 respectively (further warning: the highest PDO on the team last year was…Brendan Morrison at 102.7).
This is a perfect storm of circumstances to set the team up for a bad decision. Jokinen’s on the wrong side of thirty, looking for his last big deal and coming off a career resurgence which is mostly percentage based. What’s more, his perceived importance to the team has been augmented due to the power outage and injuries that have occured across the board this year.
If the Flames weren’t as focused on winning now and ensuring continued competitiveness, they could leverage Jokinen’s hot streak to land something of value at the deadline. My guess, however, is he’s cemented himself as "too important to move" in the eyes of management and will be signed prior to July 1 for 4 or more years.
– Taking the two issues togerther, it’s therefore possible the Flames will start next year with an expensive 34 year old Jokinen and without a cheap 23 year old Backlund. I hope I’m reading the lea leaves wrong though.