Five things: Is that a mirage?

1. What to make of eighth

For half a second the other night, Calgary actually occupied a playoff spot. That was Sunday night. Less than two days later, simply by sitting idle in preparation for last night’s tilt with San Jose, they had slipped back to 10th place, two points behind then-eighth-place Colorado. And one gets the feeling that’s how the entirety of the season’s remainder will pan out.

Of the five teams between seventh place and 11th, there is but a single point separating top from bottom, all within a few games played of eachother, two from the Northwest (Colorado and Calgary) and three in the Pacific (LA, San Jose and Phoenix). Long story short: Two teams are going to make it and, barring a significant implosion — I’m looking at you, Calgary! — three will feel rather hard done by on Sunday, April 8.

As I pointed out last week, it’s a real tough road for Calgary to walk, especially considering four of their remaining 12 games are against teams they’re directly competing with, and another four are against white-hot Dallas and ruinous Vancouver. Of course, that follows the team’s four straight wins in the time since you (presumably) read that article.

It’s going to be especially tough, one suspects, because of how given to engaging in three-point games these teams all seem to be, especially those in the Pacific, and especially against each other. LA and Phoenix are done with their season series, but played in three overtime or shootout games. LA and San Jose have three games remaining head-to-head and have already gone to overtime once, and Phoenix and San Jose, well, they haven’t gone to overtime yet in four games, but two yet remain.

It would appear, then, that Calgary will be engaged in a tooth-and-nail fight until the end of the season to see which lucky team gets crumpled into a ball and thrown into the wastebin against Vancouver or St. Louis in six games if they’re lucky.

2. That was quite the good start (or, Reinforcements: Part 1)

Sven Baertschi made his NHL debut for the Flames last week and fared only-okay in his first outing against the Jets. I thought, though, that he was dynamite against Minnesota and San Jose.

Obviously he scored his first NHL goal — and in fact, his first professional goal — in that one, and a beauty it was too. Real goalscorer’s-type goal to tip and then swivel to lift the shot over Matt Hackett. Then he picked up another one last night.

The question, though, is how much of that is his being NHL-ready, and how much was adrenaline? It’s tough to say how long, exactly, he’ll be up with the club, since the rules for when his RFA clock starts after nine NHL appearances still apply even though we’re late in the season, and there are, if I’m not mistaken, certain rules related to him being called up on an emergency basis.

He’ll almost certainly get another run-out at the beginning of next season barring some sort of catastrophe, or, I guess, simply making the team outright when camp wraps. But from the look of things, he’s got the tools to be a very, very good pro.

3. Out of the infirmary (or, Reinforcements: Part 2)

Blake Comeau returned to the lineup and the Flames continue to get healthy and fully reinforced ahead of this all-important stretch run.

Good news, I think.

Not only because it might sneak the team into the playoffs when all is said and done, but also because that will effectively eliminate any kind of injury-related excuse-making that would have come if they failed to do so with a still-stocked sick bay. Or at least, it should.

We should be waiting a while, yet, for the returns of Chris Butler, Mikael Backlund, Lee Stempniak and Blair Jones (and who knows with TJ Brodie?) With the team, as of yesterday afternoon, standing at 311 man-games lost to injury, at least we’re getting back to a point of reasonable losses in the lineup, rather than fielding half an AHL lineup every night.

4. Is Alex Tanguay underappreciated?

George Johnson had a pretty good profile of Alex Tanguay in the Herald yesterday as he continues his assault on the 500-career-assist milestone.

Five hundred, eh? Would you have guessed that? Seems like a lot to me. Granted, 126 dudes have gotten to that point already — he’ll be the 127th — but still, Tangs is amongst the 150 or so best playmakers in NHL history? That’s pretty crazy if you think about it.

It should be noted, too, that prior to last night’s game, he’d picked up 181 in 291 games for the Flames, which isn’t a bad total at all. Especially when you factor in his 63 goals. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but when I think of Alex Tanguay, I almost never think he’s a guy that still puts up 0.8 points per game. And Johnson makes a good point, too, in noting that few of his assists are ever secondary.

This is really a pretty good player we’ve gotten to watch here, and while I don’t know if I’m at all comfortable with that contract, at least it’s not like he’s Matt Stajan, or probably ever will be.

5. Speaking of Matt freakin’ Stajan oh god

Six points in his last four games? I don’t know if I’m mentally equipped to wrap my head around that.

  • Speaking of Tanguay…he’s the on guy over the last two seasons who seems to outperform his corsi rate…that is, the team is above water in terms of scoring chances with him on the ice, even though he’s under water in terms of possession.

    I don’t know how long he’ll be able to keep that up over the life of his contract given his age, but it’s pretty impressive.

    • PrairieStew

      There may be a reason that Tanguay outperforms his corsi. Many people have noted he maintains what some call as an unsustainable shooting percentage, (14.7 this year and 18.5 career). If corsi is measured by shots taken, we all know that Alex doesn’t take all of the shots given him, he may be the aberration that corsi can’t measure. His possession of the puck doesn’t translate to as many shots as it does with others because he is very selective in his shot taking. I would argue ( and have in the past) that his shooting percentage for his career is less about luck and more about the choices he makes on the ice. He doesn’t take the shot unless he is sure he has a great chance to score. As a result his advanced stats look skewed, that he doesn’t have the puck as much as in fact he does.

        • PrairieStew

          Understood – you sure wouldn’t want 3 Tanguays to play together. Iggy and Jokinen shot totals less than in their prime years – and Cammy trending down the last 2 years.

          The outlier at the other end for Calgary is probably Backlund who in his short career averages 2.0 shots per game played to Tanguay’s 1.5, despite the fact that Alex gets probably 50% more ES time and 3 or 4 times the PP time. Backlund shoots almost whenenver he can – a good thing sometimes, but also may include some low percentage plays. When I see that trend I take the corsi with a grain of salt – it can’t measure decision making.

  • RexLibris

    When I finished reading the first entry of the article I had a thought about a team that Flames fans, and even the management, may want to start thinking about: the Rangers.

    (For the sake of this argument I’m not going to point out the many differences in roster depth and talent between the Flames and Rangers)

    A few years ago the Rangers lost a playoff spot in the shootout (I’m sure everyone here knows about that story). Then this year, after a few choice FA signings and some unbelievable goaltending, they are near the top of the league and considered a solid Cup contender.

    Sound kind of like what Feaster has in mind?

    Given Calgary’s existing dominance in the goaltending department, and the management’s stated preference for the free agent market, this seems a potential model that could be mentioned by fans and media alike regardless of how the season ends.

    Anyway, just thought I’d offer up the idea.

    • Rangers have one of the top-3 goalies in the game, at the peak of his powers, having a career year. Nobody can build a plan around that.

      And the Flames don’t have existing dominance in the goaltending department. Kipper turns 35 this year and although he’s having a nice turn-around this season, he hasn’t been elite in about 5 years. If Kipper was Lundqvist, or reasonable facsimile, they wouldn’t have missed the dance two years running.

      • RexLibris

        I disagree that if Kiprusoff had been Lundqvist the Flames would have made the playoffs. I think the Rangers have a far superior lineup to the Flames in terms of defensive and offensive depth.

        My point in bringing the Rangers comparison up wasn’t to say that it was logical or even reasonable to hold up a franchise with obvious advantages (prestige, location, travel, money) over the Flames (and many other NHL cities) but instead to say that I wonder if anyone in the organization might point to the Rangers at the end of this season, if the Flames miss the playoffs by a hair, and suggest that New York is an example of perseverance after close defeat.

        Some of Feaster’s talking points would already be in place, so while I don’t think it would meet his requirements of “intellectual honesty” it doesn’t mean that a management group wouldn’t throw out the line and see it anyone believe it.

      • BobB

        @ Kent
        @ RexLibris

        Kent is correct about two things. Kiprusoff has been no Lundqvist (is no Lundqvist?) and you don’t plan around an unsustainable stretch of goaltending.

        Henrik has been other-worldly this year and is having a personal best season (.938). He’s .932 the last three years. Kipper was .937 for three when he was the same age (28-30yrs).

        I’ll meet you guys in the middle. Kiprusoff has given the Flames some of the best overall goaltending in the league since he came to Calgary. But he’s been inconsistent on an inconsistent team. The Flames are not the Rangers, and it’s not all Lundqvist.

        Kipper HAS been elite two of the last three seasons (.928, .929 evsv%), and he is 35 (whereas Lundqvist is in his prime). Kipper has been elite 5 of his 8 years here. Lundqvist 5 of 7 in NY.

        Henrik Lundqvist is arguably the best goalie in the league, and he’s in his prime. His .928evsv% in 7 consecutive seasons is very impressive.

        Kipper is out of his prime, but at .926evsv% in 8 consecutive seasons in Calgary, he’s still a top 10 goalie in this league (likely 6th-8th).

        Anyone who thinks you switch the goalies and the Flames are in first and the Rangers are in 10th this season is blinded by a string of numbers, and I don’t think Kent thinks this. The Flames are not an elite team, or even close to it, the Rangers might be.

    • wawful

      Telling a GM to keep getting amazing goal-tending and pick up some choice free agents is rather a lot like telling a player that he needs to put the puck in the net.

      • RexLibris

        True. But that doesn’t mean that people don’t say exactly that to a struggling player, albeit sometimes couched in more vague, coaching terms.

        And I have read on many fan sites of various allegiances, where it seems landing a free agent is, as they say, “merely a matter of marching”.

        Obviously I don’t believe that, but I know fans in many cities get tired of being told by their team’s management that “next year will be different, trust us”, and almost invariably, fans do.

    • supra steve

      Hey Rex. Have been thinking how Feaster handles this off season regardless how we finish & I dont think you are too far off what Feaster is probably going to do.
      He signed Jackman & no one complained, cheap $$ for a good 4th line energy guy that fights for his team mates. Bouma & guys like Desbiens or Nemitz can play that 4th line. Its cost efficient & has some upside.

      Iggy wont be traded(we all may not feel like that but deep down we know that), meaning Tanguay & Cammi playing centre so admirably solidifies the first line. The OMG line is showing decent chemistry again so there is no reason why Feaster wouldnt resign both Joker & Moss. Length & $$ amounts are very debatable, but thats a later discussion.

      Its the 3rd line that is intriguing. We have so many options plus we need to keep opening for Baerschte & Horak(he has earned his spot). So who centres that puppy. Jones played great, was antagonizing & had offensive upside, would love to see him there. SO what about Stajan, what about Backlund, what about Comeau, no point resigning Stempniak or Kosto.

      If Kipper stays, which knowing King & Feaster he probably will after this years performance, do we really need both Ramo & Irving, both ready to emmerge as NHL goalies. I see Feaster making a package offer for as early 1st rounder as possible & taking a run for at least 1 top UFA 3-4 dman.
      Just not sure that equates to a Rangers type of season next year. But given Ownership/King, this is probably the few options Feaster has come this summer. One thing for sure, we desperately need another top young talent to grow with Baeschte.

      • Bean-counting cowboy

        Despite Stajan’s recent surge – I think Feaster tries to move him. The recent surge might actually help in that regard. He might have some interest from a budget cap floor team, especially if Stajan keeps playing strong for the rest of the season.

        I think Backlund should center that 3rd line with Baertschi, as he will be a cap friendlier option, is the better player & has more upside long term than Stajan.

        Jones centers the 4th line & I’m ok with Horak seasoning in the AHL next year, being the 1st option for a callup when a centre-man goes down. He’d still probably get some games that way (a whole lot of them if its anything like this year)

        I like Comeau to stay at a large pay cut – I wouldn’t mind him on the 4th line, as he has the grit but could fill in higher up the roster with injuries.

        I am indifferent on Stempniak – if we could use the cap space to sign more D, than I don’t care it he walks too much.

        • Bean-counting cowboy

          So OK. Maybe I’m drinking too much kool aid with a kick. But if lets say Leafs(god I hate this thought so much) are picking 7th or 8th & we go to them & say OK, we’ll give you Backlund & Irving for Schenn & their 1st rounder, would you do that deal? Would you give Backlund Irving Stajan & a 2014 2nd for the 1st over all. Without putting Kipper or Iggy in play, that to me is the only way we can score an early 1st rounder. Do we have the luxury of giving up Irving & Backlund for this kind of play? Slow day today & Im thinking too much:(

          • RexLibris

            and B-cb and everton fc,

            I don’t think Stajan’s recent play has really done a whole lot to improve his trade-value, but then I might be accused of being cynical in this regard. If anything he has only begun to dug out of a hole, not actually climbed to any relative height, if that analogy makes sense.

            As for the Leafs trade idea, I don’t know that the Leafs would move that pick for Backlund and Irving. Sorry, but I actually thought that if Burke has that pick he might offer it up to Vancouver for Schneider. There’d be a little movement in other assets on either side, but that would be the lion’s share of the trade. To my mind that would be the relative value for a top eight pick this year. Just a thought.

            So, in that regard, I don’t see how the Flames can score an earlier draft pick and frankly, this isn’t the year to try. This isn’t an overly deep draft year in terms of general talent, in my opinion, just deep in WHL defencemen. There are some moderately intriguing later picks, but aside from that, outside the top two and a few defencemen that are always gambles, from the Flames’ perspective I don’t think there are any talents worth targeting that aggressively.

            As for the comments about having Baertschi play next season, I know he has had a good start but I would still strongly suggest that he at least start the year in the AHL. Same goes for Ramo. Irving should be the backup next year and Ramo might be best served by coming over and splitting duties in Abbotsford with Karlsson.

            I had heard some reports on TSN about the manager’s meetings in Boca Raton and it appears the rumours about an amnesty clause in the CBA, allowing a one-time, penalty-free buyout are baseless. So it seems likely that Stajan will be hanging around for at least one more season, if not two. It could be worse. He could be paid as much as Gomez.

      • everton fc

        Stajan has probably earned a third-line slot here, unless they can move him to a team needing a centre and some “salary” in the off-season. My sense is we won’t be able to move him. Perhaps we won’t want to.

        So if you keep Stajan, and he centres Baertschi on LW… Or Horak, if Baertschi starts his career in Abby… You need a RW.
        Horak and Stempniak had chemistry early on. This could be a very productive third line (Horak/Stajan/Stempniak). Use Horak on the LW, his natuarl position.

        All that said, we haven’t scored many goals this season. But we’ll be deeper on the farm with the kids (Baertschi/Ferland/Reinhard/others)…

        Do we make some moves offencively? Do you move someone like Cammy for a true first line centre?

        I think Jones centres the 4th line, with Bouma on the LW, Jackman on the RW. Desbiens is perhaps your extra forward. We must remember, as good as Jones has looked, he’s been a career minor-leaguer for most of his career, and has never been a consistent goal-scorer. But a fourth line of Bouma/Jones/Jackman might be able to put up some points.

        Nemisz would be best to get more regular shifts in the AHL.

        So, to me… The issue is what to do with Backlund, if Stajan stays on the 3rd line.

        Seems like one of these two doesn’t fit. Thoughts?

        • loudogYYC

          The Flames are gonna have a logjam at LW next season with Tanguay, Cammalleri, Glencross, Baertschi and Bouma.
          Hopefully Cammy can stick at C between Tangs and Iggy but then you have a logjam at C with him, Backlund, Stajan, Horak (drafted as a 2-way C) and maybe even Jokinen and Jones if re-signed.

          The problem seems to be having too much of the same with on LW and C with very little depth on RW with only Iginla and Jackman signed for next season. It would make sense to package a few of these extras to acquire a true top 6 RW or C and still have enough cap space to sign or trade for a top 4 D.

          The biggest question I have about next seasons FWD lineup is who’s expendable to package in a deal when everyone is so damn similar.

          • everton fc

            Cammy will audition at centre. No doubt about that. He was a centre. He is a centre.

            Horak was a LW. We have a log-jam at LW. He is a centre. We have a log-jam at centre. What to do?

            Tanguay and Glencross are the only sure LW next season. Baertschi is probably the 3rd. Bouma the 4th.

            At centre… Cammy & Jokinen, who’ll be re-signed at local discount, are a lock – unless they move Cammy. Could they? Should they?? Might clear the log-jam if the organization’s still high on Backlund.

            If you can’t move Stajan, he’s the #3 centre. And has earned it. Regardless of his pricetag.

            RW – you have Iggy/Moss/Jackman… And Stempniak. That isn’t a bad group. But not the greatest… Perhaps that’s where the improvements lie? On the right-side??

            I think our priority should be on defence. Particularly the right-handed shot. Anyone take a punt on Milan Jurcina? Right-handed shot??

  • For years Calgary rednecks thought everyone on the team needed to be a Sutter type player (gritty, tough and cement hands). Wrong. Every team needs a few of those and a mix of complementary skilled players like Tanguay. Feaster is increasing the skills level and, if allowed to continue, this will pay dividends. Having a fantastic goaltender doesn’t hurt either.

  • wawful

    Here’s a question for the contract-meisters:

    Baertschi will have to go down before too long either because of players returning to the lineup (thus ending the emergency that Baertschi was called up on) or simply because the Flames don’t want to waste a year on his ELC.

    If the Flames make the playoffs, could he be back?

  • Mitch2

    Although I am convinced there is merit to the analysis overall at its young age it simply does not have the predictive power for its advocates to sit too high and mighty up on a throne and pronounce predictive results absolutely.

    Weird shit happens in hockey. No matter how much stat heads can go to their ready quiver of excuses of small sample size, luck and regressive trends to the norm. On a game by game basis you simply can not predict the outcome, you can’t predict the playoff teams now.

    Whats my point? Calgary has every reason in the world to be hanging out with the Ducks and the Wild right now. They aren’t.

    It makes me a little sad to read a comment like the Flames make the playoffs only to be swept out by the Blues or Canucks. When the Flames missed the playoffs for 7 straight years no one was spitting on them, it was genuine happiness.

    7 years is about 10% of your life and making the playoffs is the entire point of the 82 game schedule. It is a significant achievement that puts you in the top 53% of the NHL.

    For the Flames to pull this off this year with the number of games they have missed to injury and in the face of teams like the Kings and Sharks, clearly better teams on paper, is something to cheer, not jeer with a “oh well, they will get thumped in the first round anyway”

    You can cheer for a team your entire life and never see a Stanley Cup. The Blues, Canucks, Kings, Capitals, Sabres all have fan bases that never have in their entire lives and these franchises have been around a long time.

    Believe me, making the playoffs is part one of a successful season. I don’t think the Flames should be knocked if they manage to pull it off, pending first round exit or not.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    Any one notice how this week’s schedule favours the Flames immensely? 4 games (including last night’s) and in 3 of those games they are getting the team on the back end of two games in two nights. Flames are in Edmonton for second of back to back… but at this time of year, most teams should be tired so games versus Phoenix and Columbus should be “easier” to win. If they can win the next three, I say that the team will have a two point cushion in 8th by the end of Sunday night!

    Here’s hoping that Winnipeg continues their remarkable home ice record since they get Dallas on their 2nd of B2B. Avs in tough against a hot Sabres team. Canucks wants to win, but will they be apathetic since the President’s trophy means nothing to them?

    Point spread ticket… Jets to win, Sabres to win, Oilers to win over lowly CBJ, and Canucks to win.

  • Subversive

    If the Flames give up on Backlund after this year, I will be super pissed. I still see him as a Daymond Langkow type once he’s fully matured, 40-50 points and able to play against the toughs.

    • xis10ce

      Totally agree, like someone said earlier, hopefully Stajan continues to fire it up and we can finally unload him for some value freeing up that 3rd line center spot for Backs.

  • Sworkhard

    It really highlights the problem with Corsi and Fenwick as a measurement. I fully expect that eventually we’ll have access to stats that base possession on actual possession time using video image processing as opposed to shots on goal. In addition it would be nice to have actual accurate numbers regarding zone time.

    The technology to do these things already exists. The problem is it costs so much to access this technology that it will likely be another decade before the average person can get access to these stats.

    I should have done this for my forth year software engineering project come to think of it.