Heat Game Notes and Backlund, Jokinen Thoughts

 

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.

Other Stuff:

– 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.

  • everton fc

    while my opinion on jokinen has gone from pure, seething hate (2009) to skeptical adulation (burger admission) —there is no denying four years is WAY too much [as it is with tanguay].

    since i believe the idea of a “hometown discount” went away with ference, i can only hope the org lets him walk if he’s requesting too much. and, admittedly, i’ll be a little sad.

  • Mitch2

    if im reading u right, and you are making pretty easy. you think we should either sign jokey cheap, dump him and get some value for him or find some other solution. sounds like dump him and get some value is your opinion and i think your right. clearly we need a set up man, iginla and cams are gunners but they have no set up man. package this guy with bow-meister. if anybody will take it.

  • RexLibris

    Perhaps adding to the “perfect storm” of Jokinen’s play of late is that, were the Flames to decide to trade him at the deadline they would probably get a good return. However, that would go entirely against the message that has been sent out by management this season.

    • Definitely Rex.

      There are two, basic ways to market a team in the NHL: sell success or sell hope. The Flames sell hope, albeit in a fundamentally different way than, say, the Oilers.

      Sometimes, the marketing can run at odds with ideal decision making and the latter will take a back seat to the former.

      Which is why some teams are perpetually selling hope.

      • RexLibris

        I would say that all teams sell hope, just on different timelines and to varying degrees of success. The Canucks and Leafs have sold hope for forty years, but it is essentially the same thing that is being sold in Edmonton or Detroit or Dallas. The difference lies in the timelines and the fact that a fan in Detroit can take their organization at their word more than a fan in Vancouver.

  • RexLibris

    Oh, and congratulations, Kent, on the press pass and the experience.

    It would be a dream come true to be able to write professionally about some of these teams.

    Just not the Canucks.

  • Mitch2

    4 or more years for a 34 year old player? I can’t endorse that. Give him a NMC and 2-3 years max.

    Trade for Carter now and end this Olli for the distant future talk and I like Olli but it is madness I tell you, madness to sign him past 3 years at the most.

  • Mitch2

    Your comments on Backlund are what make you one of the best Flames writers Kent.
    _______________

    There is no denying the statistical argument but I am glad to see you add in the caveat today. It is simply recognizing the reality of what happens with players like Backs who don’t score.

    Backlund is on a ticking clock now. He has the expectation to score and he isn’t, no one should be surprised if a move is made on him.

    It is what happens, the NHL is not a development league, it is where performance has to happen, when it doesn’t happen postal codes of players change.

    At the NHL level you can’t sit on a player for years and wait for his unlucky streak to end, it may never end.

    • Thanks Mitch.

      We always get the sense that what is happening now is going to continue indefinitely into the future. And I mean that intuitively, not consciously.

      So when thinking about Jokinen right now or Backlund, we’re strongly swayed by the successes or failures that have occurred most recently. The emotional import of recent events also have more weight…now that Jokinen’s scoring, no one is really giving much thought to how they perceived him a couple of years ago when his production dipped to career lows. Because our current perceptions take precedence and seem permanent.

      So Backlund may indeed never come around in terms of production. But his fundamentals are good and we know that, outside of really, really lousy players, on-ice SH% percentages tend to regress to the mean in the NHL. So when I project his performance forward, I try to suppress my frustration with his lack of output with the knowledge that performance varies widely and he’s a very good bet to improve based on the ebb and flow of luck and his age.

      We’ll see if the team has the same thought process or not.

  • Graham

    ‘If the Flames weren’t as focused on winning now’

    I’m pretty sure that Custer thought the 7th Cavalry were good enough to win before riding into the Little Big Horn valley.

    The Flames seem to be taking a similar path, ‘charge full speed ahead’ with the same unrealistic ‘win now’ plan that’s failed over and over and over again.

  • Ken V.

    Backlund tripping penalty in OT of a game that if you win you finally see the light of a top 8 spot was extremely disappointing. You know this didn’t go unnoticed either, he is putting himself in the position of fringe player and although he has potential, he just can’t get it together here. I think trading him could blow up in our faces but what if he never comes around? Where do you draw the line between risk/reward??

  • The Flames may be just as well off by holding on to Backlund. The Flames will get absolutely zero back if they decide to trade him. What other GM in the league is going to look at his advance stats and say, WOW, this guy is just having bad luck. What do you think you can get for a soft centre that can’t win a draw and hasn’t been putting up any points at all?

  • I’ll re-post this here:

    Went to the Heat game last night. Some quick observations:

    – the team is terrible. Without Kolonas and Irving they are beyond brutal. I’ve been predicting the demise of the Flames to occur in about 2 seasons from now. After watching their farm team, it’s a certainty. Brutal.

    – Karlsson was awful. On his knees on every shot. Usually before every shot. Most of the shots were deliberately high on him and 3 of the 4 goals were high.

    – Horak was the only bright spot. You could really see his intelligence, but it took him half the game to really get going. Wonder if he’s having a bit of an adjustment problem with being sent down. Still, strong on the pp, lots of ice time. Conclusion? Should’ve been sent down 20 games earlier.

    – Omark has incredible talent. And he does backcheck. But he also loves to play high in his own zone waiting for the breakaway pass and does not play a 200′ game in the sense that he’s not coming back deep. I can why the Oil don’t keep him up. Needs to play with other talent in a top 6 role or nothing. But, under the right circumstances, he could flourish. Half-assed effort and still was effective. Too good for the AHL.

    – After watching the dearth of talent on the Heat and looking at the average age of Calgary’s top 6, this team should be in a mad rush to start selling off assets and rebuidling. Talk about being in denial.

    That cliff is getting closer. Standing pat at the trade deadline will be suicide for Calgary.

    • jeremywilhelm

      There is nothing the Flames can do for the future at the trade deadline.

      They have no real prospects, so they cannot be traded.

      They have no truly worthy veterans that can be traded unless salary is also coming back, so they can’t get anything for them either.

      The team is stuck between a rock and hard place, and it will languish for years.

      Hope is marketed, but that dream only works for a while, and we’re already seeing the dropoff in attendance…

      • jeremywilhelm

        They could start with Iggy and Kipper and keep the rest to ease the transition. Go for a Blues & Sens rebuild approach vs. the Oil, CBJ & NYI approach.

        But the owners are deathly afraid of ending the Iggy era thinking it’s all the fans are hanging onto.

        Instead, he’s a millstone around the franchsie’s neck. The team will go nowhere until the Iginla era is over.

        Playfair’s comments just reinforce my opinion of him. Too much anecdotal stuff for there not to be susbstance to it.

        But rather than sell the concept of the team winning, we can now all hold our breath waiting to see if Iginla scores 600 goals. Big whoop.

        Iginla era = retired jersey hanging from the rafters.

        I’d prefer to see a Cup banner hanging there instead.

        Time to cut bait and move on.

        But since Edwards refuses, may as well go get Carter and see what happens.

        • wawful

          Wolf,this is exactly what I think also. You can’t tell me that the Flames organization wouldn’t be better off by trading Iginla. He could bring back A-1 prospects, maybe a topline young forward and maybe a couple of draft picks at the deadline when 4 or 5 GM’s compete with each other for his services. Hell, if Hemskey is presumably worth a 1st round pick and a young up and comer, what could the Flames get for Iginla? I honestly think that the young players on this team would be better served learning the game on their own from a decent coach. Iginla seems to play his way, practice his way, and from what Warrener says, doesn’t do much off the ice to help team co-hesion as well.

          Don’t get me wrong, Iginla has served the Flames and the Calgary community above and beyond the call of duty of a professional hockey player. But occasionaly, the vets need to be trimmed to allow the up and comers; both in the team’s system, as well as the pieces coming back via trade, to grow into a new unit.
          That likely makes no sense what I just wrote, but it just pisses me off that the owners won’t even think about this team without the god named Jarome Iginla.

  • @Kent

    – yes, Henry is almost painful to watch skating. Very awkward and slow. Breen is not as bad.

    – Howse, indeed, was completely invisible.

    – I’d give Joker 2 years at 3mil, but no NMC/NTC or 2 years at 2.5 with a NMC.

    No more though. calgary’s leverage is that he wants to stay badly.

    And given his comments in the press I’m pretty sure he’d refuse to waive his current NMC.

    • Mitch2

      Given his season I can’t see Joker signing on at 3 million without the NMC.

      You are suggesting that he actually get a pay cut in a season where he has really recovered from previous season lows.

      He is on pace for a 67 point season. 0.84 PPG. That would be his 4th best season ever point wise and he has changed his game to be more defensively responsible.

      He is outscoring at the moment Vinny, Kane, Gaborik, Ovechkin, Marleau, Perry, Vanek, E. Staal, Getzlaf, Brad Richards, and on and on.

      For me the big concern is his age. 3 years I can live with but if he goes to a 4 year deal or more it might be tough. 3.5 million cap hit should be a target price WITH a NMC / NTC.

      The NMC can really drive the price down, as that is absolute security for the player which seems to be something Olli wants…

  • jeremywilhelm

    There is absolutely no way to trade Iggy or Kipper without taking salary back. That’s the rub. Taking salary back means that there’s less cap space to sign UFAs or even RFAs.

    Loved those Playfair comments. They were quite damning. And for some reason the afternoon FAN960 crew tried to downplay them.

  • MC Hockey

    Hey Kent…congrats on the press pass…you deserve it. Frankly some other “real media” organizations could use you to add a new & different persective (like The Herald for whom you nailed a great pre-season article!). Quick digress…my time spent in a press-box was working for the Winnipeg Jets about 18 years ago selling ticket package in the summer…our offices were little mobile desks in the Wpg Arena press-box…and we go to see Winnipeg Thunder practice (minor league basketball)seriously! Anyways, great notes on the HEat…but we all need to consider the 1-game sample size, injuries and players unexpectedly with Flames (Bouma, Kolanos, even Smith). And good further insight on Backlund…GM’s patience does not always endure when someone is a higly-touted first-rounder from a previous “regime”. I DO agree that Jokinen has lots of trade value now too but in the absence of a guarantee to get Parise or similar, he is still our best #1 centre option going forward due to size and skill…. but I still would NOT sign him over 2 years at similar money (but for Tanguay’s unique skill set I agreed with a 5-year contract and the value).

  • RKD

    I don’t see Jokinen getting traded with the Flames close to a playoff spot. Feaster will need all hands on deck with Glencross and Stempniak out injured.

    I could be wrong, but even if Jokinen does get traded. The Flames would try to bring him back on July 1st. If Tanguay got 5 years, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jokinen got 4. However, my wish would be 2-3 max.

    I say give Backlund another season to prove himself. He’s still a fairly young guy, and giving on him would give a negative perception on the Flames organization to other players in the league or AHL regardless of the youth movement this season.

  • Just throwing it out there, but Darren Dreger has tweeted that Blair Jones could be out for a significant period of time.

    Chalk up another injury for the Flames. The boys over at SAIT need to finish debugging the software for GlenX’s artificial knee, Flames could use the help.

  • everton fc

    No way Jokinen’s offered a 4yr. deal. Nor will he waive his NTC/NMC (not sure which he has)…

    He may take a 2yr deal for the same price to retire here… But four years?

    Never. No team would offer that.

    Or would they??

    With Jones gone… Kolanos’ stock certainly rises.

    Man, we are a mess! Yet, we continue to compete. Brent and the staff deserve some credit. We have the looks of an expansion team on paper, many nights.

    • ChinookArchYYC

      What happened to the hometown discount. I think they should trade him, but if the Flames brass opt to keep him, it’s my view Jokinen should pay for it. If he doesn’t take $7M over 3 years, let him go.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    What a ppppppp-off about Jones. He was starting to play a style of game that gets contagious effective in playoff environment.

    Really really shrewd GMs know how to sell high & buy low. Thrilled Olli is having a great rejuvenation year. In the 2 years we paid him 5.5mill & last year at 3.0M he was a shadow of how he is playing this year. That does not constitue a long term big $$$ contract. I’m with CA on this. 3 years 7.0mill max. 4.0mill in 1st & 1.5 in 2nd & 3rd. Does anyone truly think he will duplicate these numbers next year? Probably somewhere between this year & last year would be a good likely scenario. Someone from the Flames brass needs to sit him down & convince him that if the price is right & the situation leads us down to being a seller, he needs to take a 2-3 month road trip with some other team, & that will get him very good concessions to a long term contract this summer.

    While I’m on a sell high kick, just saying if, Flames are sellers, may not be a bad time to get an outrageous price for Kipper. Love the guy, he’s the reason we can say we will have meaningful games through to the end of March. But man, could we extort the likes of Crawford, Olsen & a 1st & 2nd for Kipper & Sarich? Sounds outrageous but I can smell the desperation in Chicago from here.

    I want the Flames to win & if we didnt keep getting these freaking injuries everytime we seem to turn a corner, I would be more optimistic we wouldnt be sellers. I agree with Everton, what a scary roster we are putting out there & B Sutter is getting the most out of these guys. Pretty tough to match lines & give players softer starts when you have a revolving door of AHL’s going in & out of your lineup.