Five things: Mixed bag

1. Injuries are bad

Holy hell.

It’s getting to the point where it might be easier to name Flames who aren’t injured. Mikael Backlund, Blair Jones, Lee Stempniak, Curtis Glencross, David Moss, Derek Smith. I feel like I must be missing a few guys who, like, died or something too.

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And while there’s the old adage that all teams deal with injuries, for all of them to come at this point in the season, for a team like the Flames, is bad bad bad. Calgary is, I’m sure we can all agree, not exactly a sure-thing playoff club even when the roster as it’s currently constituted is at full strength. But to have six players out injured, all but one of them forwards, will almost certainly prove disastrous.

And the worst part is that it throws everything out of whack. Given that Feaster has stated the owner-mandated Going For It™ is going to take place regardless of the team’s spot in the standings, this is likely to become even greater of a wild goose chase than before.

Maybe this is the universe’s way of saying, "No! Stop! Turn back!" but Calgary is now dealing with a mind-blowing number of injuries to several pretty important guys, which is a weird thing to say about Blair Jones and Lee Stempniak, but here we are.

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2. Missing Backlund is worse

I really feel the worst for Mikael Backlund, though. Not only is he arguably the most important to the team among the injured players (I’d listen to talk in favor of Glencross, but that’s about it), but he also was just starting to come into his own.

I made a note of his lack of production a month or two ago when he only had five points on the season or something like that, understanding that his contribution went beyond just the point totals, and that he was just getting terribly unlucky a lot of the time. Since then, he’s more than doubled his total, which, while still not great, is at least encouraging.

Hopefully this injury doesn’t get him down, because while he’s going to be out a good long while, having him back at any point for the stretch run will be very important. That is, if Calgary hasn’t faded by then.

3. Well if ever there was a reason they acquired Cammalleri

Of course, the lynchpin to any of Calgary’s success going forward will be the guy they just traded for a while back: Mike Cammalleri. His first dozen back in a Flames uniform haven’t exactly been evocative of pre-Montreal Cammy, but it’s at least starting to look like we’re getting there.

If Calgary wants to stay in contention (haha), Cammalleri will have to step up his contribution big-time. No excuse for still needing time to re-acclimate to the team or anything like that. He’s going to be the team’s big acquisition for this season, and he needs to start playing like it now, when the team needs him most.

And if he doesn’t step it up again, hey, there’s only signed for two more years with a $6 million cap hit.

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4. A Boston-based prospect update

Moving on to more cheerful news, I promised earlier to provide some updates on Calgary’s two Boston-based prospects when I had occasion to do so.

I have occasion to do so.

Boston College recently won the Beanpot (which is an unwatchable college hockey tournament for the four teams based in Boston, BC, archrival Boston University, Northeastern and Harvard). Flames prospects Johnny Gaudreau and Bill Arnold had one hell of a Beanpot.

Both players, you may or may not remember, started out the year white-hot. Arnold, a sophomore, had 14 points in his first nine games. Gaudreau, a teeny-tiny little freshman, had 10 in that time. Then they both trailed off considerably. Arnold added only eight points to his season total over his next 14 games, Gaudreau just five, and the shine seemed to wear off considerably, particularly from the latter, who looked for all the world like the next Hockey East Rookie of the Year.

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For Gaudreau, that all changed a month or so ago, when he caught fire again and has, since Jan. 20, scored 6-4-10 in his last seven games, including 2-1-3 in back-to-back contests against Northeastern (in the first round of the Beanpot, a 7-1 foregone conclusion that’s played wholly out of formality) and Vermont. He also added an assist in BC’s 3-2 overtime win against BU in the Beanpot final. He was named the tourny’s MVP.

Arnold, meanwhile, hasn’t hit that kind of offensive groove. He has just four points in those same seven games, but scored the overtime game-winner in the Beanpot final. Given the gravity lent to that tournament by the participating schools (and, it’s important to stress, ONLY the participating schools), that’s just about the same thing as scoring the OT GWG in the final of a league championship game. Hopefully, then, that gets Arnold moving in the right direction production-wise.

Combined with the sheer ridiculousness of Sven Baertschi’s season so far and Reinhart looking like a keeper, maybe the cupboard isn’t so bare after all?

5. Why I hate Hugh Jessiman

Abbotsford signed Hugh Jessiman, the biggest bust of the 2003 draft class, and I hate them for it. Let me tell you why.

My old college’s hockey team was having a not-great season in 2002-03, but they had, immediately prior to the Christmas break, cobbled together a modest three-game winning streak. In college hockey, it’s traditional to play in four-team holiday tournaments the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and my school, UMass Lowell, was playing at Dartmouth’s annual affair.

They bolstered that winning streak by clobbering Vermont 5-0 in the opening round of this relatively unimportant tournament, but hey, four wins in a row is four wins in a row. And so, being on break as I was, I took the three hour drive to Hannover, N.H., and hoped my team could beat Dartmouth, which snuck by an only-okay Notre Dame the night before, 6-4. Things, suffice it to say, did not go as planned.

Not only did Dartmouth — which by the way, also had Lee Stempniak on the team at that time — win, but they DEMOLISHED Lowell. The final score was 10-2. Jessiman had four goals and an assist (Stempniak had five helpers). Lowell pulled its goalie, then pulled its backup in favor of the starter who had already been pulled. Dartmouth, incidentally, was outshot 36-30. I remember all this vividly. I didn’t have to look up any of it.

So it has always given me a considerable amount of joy to see Jessiman repeatedly fail to meet any of the enormous expectations laid upon him.

One bit of trivia, by the way, is that Jessiman’s new teammate in Abbotsford is a decent AHL point-producer by the name of Ben Walter. Walter was on the Lowell team for that 10-2 beatdown. His dad, Ryan, who won a Cup with the Habs, is the team president.

In summary, Hugh Jessiman sucks.

  • Gaudreau’s 25 points in 30 games is really, really impressive for a freshman in College. He is third in the team in scoring (just ahead of Arnold) and the next best 18-year old has 6 points on the club.

    Gaudreau’s a long-term project but this is a great first step for him so far.

  • Both Gaudreau and Arnold should give the Flames fan something to cheer about in terms of prospects. Maybe not world beaters but they are respectable.

    I’d LOL if Jessiman makes our team next year as well. I REALLY, really don’t see it, but it’d be funny.

  • Derzie

    Good read but I’m not feeling the same vibe about Backlund. I would assess the ‘value of returning and helping the playoff push’ as follows (most valuable to least):

    Curtis Glencross
    David Moss
    Derek Smith
    Lee Stempniak
    Blair Jones
    Mikael Backlund

  • RexLibris

    Jessiman? Seriously! Well, I can’t say too much because he was drafted by the Rangers based on the scouting reports by Tom Renney. Yikes, he was more of a draft bust that year than M.A. Pouliot (and I want to thank the Rangers for that).

    Flames are doing it in spite of injuries. I will be very intersted to see what happens when bodies start coming back and see if they can continue, improve, or if the returns somehow overturn the proverbial apple cart. Fans should also thank their lucky stars that the injuries have been to secondary players and that neither Kirpusoff nor Iginla have had any sprains or strains to keep them out of the lineup.

    • Ironically things can go south on the Flames even when they get all their bodies back because their success is largely based on percentages right now (particularly SV%).

      The shot rates will likely improve quite a bit though, so if Kipper can continue to be excellent the playoffs are possible.

      • Subversive

        Maybe this is the year when the Flames are finally the lucky team? I feel like we’ve been the unlucky one more often than not the last few years. Would be nice if it could break the other way for once.

      • RexLibris

        Which begs the question: what if you make it past the trade deadline and then the odds start to catch up with the team and they “go south” as you say, very quickly?

        I suppose it would depend on the extent to which Feaster buys at the deadline. But I would imagine there would be a lot of gnashing of teeth over the missed opportunities at selling.

        Are you concerned at all about the workload on Kiprusoff over these past two months and into March? I haven’t compared his gp to previous year’s at this time, so I’m just curious if there has been a change after all the off-season talk of lowering his start numbers.

        P.S. I think you meant that Tambellini is a Cretan, last night. Like King Minos. I’m not sure about the reference, kind of out-of-scope, but interesting comparison. 😉

        • Subversive

          That’s why I’m hoping for a 5 game losing streak prior to the deadline. I have no faith that this team will do anything beyond a possible first round exit (at best), and I don’t want to see pending UFAs squandered on a misguided playoff run.

        • Im not one who puts a lot of faith in the fatigue hypothesis when it comes to goalies. It’s intuitive, sre, but no one has ever shown that goalies play necessarily falls off later in the year as an effect of playing a lot.

          As for Tambo…no, I meant he’s a cretin from the island of Ineptitude. If I was an Oilers fan, I would have started fashioning nooses and gathering an angry mob awhile ago.

          Of course, as a Flames fan that means Im perfectly happy with his work.

          • RexLibris

            Okay, I have to ask (and I ought to know better) what is it about Tambellini’s actions as a GM that qualify him in your eyes as inept?

            I haven’t been entirely happy with everything he’s done, specifically in trying to “fix” the team with the addition of a few high-priced veterans and with his reluctance at the beginning of last season to address some glaring needs (third line centre and some defensive depth) with anything more than band-aid measures.

            However, he has taken a strategy of rebuilding slowly and deliberately through the draft and in doing so has resisted the obvious temptations of trading those building blocks away for some immediate, and temporary, improvement.

            There are better GMs out there, but as far as the needs of this franchise, I would say that he is as good a candidate as any that were available at the time of his hiring and some that have been since.

          • Sworkhard

            I’m not sure you can pin goalie mental fatigue on how many games they play alone, but some goalies certainly do have seasons where they visibly suffer from it. It’s probably a combination of off ice pressure, stress and a large number of games played that result in the mental fatigue people notice. While it’s nice o be able to put numbers on it, it’s often difficult to do as the goalie position is one of the hardest to analyze, and the one that most depends on mental focus and acuity to make saves and read plays.

            For example, Kipper was struggling to track the puck at the end of last year. He looked tired and seemed to be reacting slowly. While that probably wasn’t due to how many games he played alone, he usually had a better game after he got a game off (by my eyes anyways). Considering he went through that rough stretch in January and the coaches have pretty much straight up said that it was purely a mental problem (Kipper was basically worrying about his play instead of having fun), I think that at the end of the year that pressure simply caught up to him again.

            As such, I believe that as a goalie ages, they need more time off to recover to prevent their performance from dropping off. However, despite that, I believe that a goalie coach that can help keep his starter mentally fresh through properly timed games off and plain old good coaching (positive re-enforcement, etc) is going to have the biggest impact on a goalies ability to play at his highest level late into the season and maintain that level into the post season.

  • Subversive

    I don’t look at the injury situation the same way as this post does. Youngsters (Horak and Byron) are getting chances and performing well. The team is playing well. I actually am more concerned about disrupting current chemistry when some non core players (Moss, Jones) come back from injuries.

  • Subversive

    Personally, I think chemistry is generally overrated. Moss is a proven NHL forward who moves the puck in the right direction. The Flames will be better off with him in the lineup than Byron, at this time in Byron’s career.

  • With the injuries, one can only hope it doesn’t become like the last time Cammalleri was here. So many injuries that we can’t ice a full roster and almost have to forfeit games. I don’t know if they do forfeits, but I could see it happening.

    At this point, we have nobody to call up and all of our trade bait is injured with low value. If the Flames don’t drop into last, it’ll be a miracle – getting into the playoffs would be a cosmic joke, somehow wrought by Lanny and Hakan selling their souls to the Devil.

  • Subversive

    @ RexLibris – I’m not so concerned with failure to move potential FA’s, although I agree with you it would be nice to “get something”. My bigger concern is we’re going to see Sex Panther re-signed here for 4-5 more years at $4-$5 million per, simply due to his recent hot streak.

    I’ll take a 1st round exit over missing the playoffs entirely though, so standing pat is ok with me.

    • xis10ce

      Couldn’t agree more on Olli, let’s be honest with ourselves, this season is a outlier for him and he is 33 yrs old. He says he’s dedicated to staying here, prove it and take a Glencross style discount, let him keep the NMC and resign him for 2-3yrs in the neighborhood he is currently paywise. This would be in line with the Tanguay signing and of a appropriate level and length to match.

      Try to resign him to this type of deal as soon as the season ends and if he doesn’t bite Erhoff him out and get value before July 1st comes and another team can pluck him away for free.

    • RexLibris

      I think making the playoffs would be worse long-term for the Flames, but I’ve already had that discussion here and most of the people I talked to said that it is only the short term that many of them want to look at right now. Specifically, getting Iginla into the playoffs and as close to a cup as the Flames realistically can before he retires or is traded (which I understand).

      and @ xis10ce

      I’ve said here before that the Flames, ideally, need to find a way to create enough depth so they can move Jokinen to the third line centre position. That may mean making a trade for Carter, or some other big centre (I can’t think of any, which probably means you’re more or less stuck with Carter) or moving Cammalleri to 1st line centre full time. He has shown well there for one game, but a larger sample size is needed before that call could be made long-term. Then have Backlund on the second line with some decent, and net-crashing, wingers, and put Jokinen on the third line where his age wouldn’t be so detrimental and his usual level of achievement would put him near the top third of third line centres in the league.

      I really don’t think he has enough value to trade his negotiating rights for anything of more than speculative value (6th or 7th round pick or an AHL veteran). When you think of the minimal returns that even more productive players get for negotiation rights, by comparison.

      Oh, and I had to add this, because when it comes to Jokinen, you know that 60% of the time, it works every time!

  • RexLibris

    Hugh Jessiman has had a great year, I think he’s going to be a great addition to the Heat and hopefully the Flames. I’m hoping for a great feel good story from Jessiman, no matter what number he was picked from the draft, that’s the past. He’s healthy and having a great year. Hugh Jessiman will be the Ryan Vogelson of hockey 🙂 Go Jessiman!!!

  • Franko J

    Mixed bag: I thought Arnold was the sole reason Team USA won the games they played at the world juniors. It doesn’t hurt to have another center developing in college hockey.

    As for Gaudreau, hey I think he might be a sleeper 4th round pick in the TJ Brodie mold.

    Sure he doesn’t have the ideal NHL size, however, you can’t teach skill and speed he displays. The worst the Flames will end up with is a pretty good AHL player.