FGD: Wandering the Desert



As a franchise, the Phoneix Coyotes are totally lost. The club is operated by the NHL for lack of better ownership options. The town of Glendale has no plan to improve the situation aside from "pour more local taxes into the scheme and hope". The club plays in front of a mostly empty building during every home game.

Ironically, the team on the ice is the best it’s been in a very long time. Under the guidance of Don Maloney and Dave Tippett, the Coyotes have defied the odds and been consistently competitive in the West. It’s a fairly remarkable feat given their various, not insignificant challenges, including a restricted budget and the reputation as a rapidly dying hockey market.

The Flames, on the other hand, are one of the strongest organizations in the league – stable, committed ownership, big gate receipts, corporate buy-in and established, grassroots support. Of course, the club on the ice isn’t quite as successful currently and is poised to start wandering the desert in earnest (recent dash for the post-season notwithstanding), if it hasn’t begun already.

Both teams seem to be dancing on a knifes edge, albeit in different ways – while the Coyotes try to stave off financial oblivion, the Flames battle ceaslessly to avoid tumbling down the western standings and into full rebuild territory. 

The Lineup

While apparently a lot of injured guys are skating – including Stempniak, Jackman and Bouma – there’s no indication they will be in tonight. Which means at least one more contest for Sven Baertschi.

Glencross – Jokinen – Moss
Tanguay – Stajan – Iginla
Baertschi – Nemisz – Kostopolous
Comeau – Horak – Desbiens

Hannan – Giordano
Sarich – Bouwmeester
Smith – Babchuk

Comeau subs back in for Kolanos who was sent down to the farm yesterday. The bottom-end hasn’t been terrible despite being staffed with AHLers and kids. That said, Sutter has mostly made sure to stick to his NHLers as much as possible during this on-going plague of injuries.

Babchuk, on the other hand, looks as bad I remember at even strength. TJ Brodie is apparently getting healthier but there’s no timetable for his return.

Kipper goes in net tonight.

The Opponent

The Coyotes defeated the Canucks last night despite missing two-thirds of their top unit. Martin Hanzal has been out for awhile and Radim Vrbata is day-to-day with the flu. Here are the combos they ran versus the Canucks

Whitney – Vermette – Brule
Torres – Langkow – Doan
Korpikoski – Gordon – Pyatt
Bissonette – Pouliot – Boedker

Ekman-Larsson – Klesla
Yandle – Rozsival
Schelmko – Aucoin

Vrbata is a game time decision. Expect him to bump Brule off of the top line if he returns. Aucoin only played about 8 minutes at ES last night and might be out for this evening. If so, ex-Hitman Mike Stone might make his way back into the line-up. Derek Morris has also been hurt for an extended period of time, but is close to returning. If he can go, expect him to take Aucoin’s place.

One guy who has very quietly become a good player this year is Oliver Ekman-Larrson. The former sixth overall pick has slowly taken over top pairing duties for the Coyotes, in part due to some consistent injury problems for Phoenix on the back-end. He’s now a fixture on both special teams and his ice time has crested 24 minutes in each of the last four contests. Not bad for a 20 year old sophomore.

Mike Smith played last night in Vancouver, but there’s a good chance he’ll go again tonight.

The Story

Phoenix is one of the five teams in the mix for the final two playoff spots in the WC. They are currently in 7th place with 81 points, three up on the Flames, Sharks and Kings who sit 9th-11th respectively. A win for the Coyotes gives them much needed breathing space. A win for the Flames means keeping pace.

Scoreboard Watching

Like it or not, the rest of the season is going to involve a lot of anxious glances at the out-of-town scoreboard. This evening the San Jose Sharks play Nashville and the Colorado Avalanche face New Jersey. A win by either means the Flames will remain outside of the playoff picture come tomorrow morning no matter what they do versus Phoenix. Calgary can claim 8th, however, if they win and both the Sharks and Avalanches fall short. 

  • RexLibris

    I don’t care who, doesn’t matter who, but one of Butler or Brodie needs to get back in this lineup ASAP! Sorry Babchuk, but there was a reason you were never being played and its a big one. Unless the Flames were willing to go 7 D every night there’s no roster spot for him.

    Buffalo Sabres can go choke on a dick after their choke job last night and giving up easy points to Colorado. I know we have to take care of our end, but really, 2 seconds left in the game?

  • RexLibris

    That Avs buzzer beater last night was heartbreaking to watch. Watching the Canucks bomb was… fun, but it really doesn’t help the cause. The out of town scoreboard has been just nasty lately.

  • RexLibris

    Kent I take offense at your using the “wandering the desert” title for the Flames. It is clearly a title that only the Oilers and Islanders deserve, if I recall correctly. (sarcasm implied)

    This must be excruciating for Flames fans right now. The team has won four games and afterwards has only moved up one spot on the standings effective today. In the end all this playoff positioning battle may effect is to worsen an already middling draft position.

    I know that the excitement is in the pursuit, but when you run your best race only to see that all you’ve accomplished is to pace the opposition it can be dispiriting.

    Anyway, best of luck tonight and here’s hoping for a 60 minute win.

  • RexLibris

    Look at Dallas(8-1-1) and Colorados(7-3-0) last ten. I swear the NHL is just trolling us, I remember them being behind us in the standings I though and now, two of the hottest teams in the NHL. Watch, just as they fall off a cliff, LA, PHX and SJS all go on like 8 game winning streaks.

    Also, return of Crosby and Letang to the Pens tonight. A team that has won 9 games in a row can go for 10 and they just put in the best player in the game and a guy who if healthy the whole season was probably a Norris finalist, yeah that team is scary good when completely healthy.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    You mention Brodie is getting healthier as though he will be the closest D – man to returning. What is going on with Butler, I thought his injury was supposed to be for 3 weeks & we’re at that now aren’t we?

    Anyone know where Butler’s progress is at. We need one of those two ASAP.

  • T&A4Flames

    I know it’s off topic but, Kent, Roger Millions was tweeting about CGY having interest in Dan Dekeyser & JT Brown (unsigned) of the NCAA. Bob McKenzie had a piece on D.D. a few months back on TSN. Do you have any frther information on either of these guys? What are the chances CGY could sign either one? ANother interesting NCAA player may be Brian Flynn, a big center.

    • RexLibris

      I was under the impression that the Flames are currently maxed out on their 50-man reserve list and so are contractually unable to sign another body until the end of the season (+playoffs) and they are able to move someone or have the free agents come off the list.

      I could be wrong there though and they might have one spot open.

      • T&A4Flames

        No, I think you are correct there Rex. It doesn’t mean that a courtship period hasn’t begun. When would a team be able to sign unsigned junior players? At the end of the regular season with out said players being able to join the team for the P.O.’s?

    • I dont know anything beyond their stats lines.

      As Rex notes, the Flames would have to wait until the off-season to sign them anyways, since the team is maxed out when it comes to pro contracts right now.

      If Calgary lands either one, I’ll do some due diligence.

  • T&A4Flames

    Wasn’t Wisebroad(our assistant GM) a scout for the Bruins with regards to college hockey especially? Which would make sense if we are now targeting some College hockey guys.

    We could offer them AHL contracts right now for them to play with the Heat and then have the wink wink nudge nudge that they will be getting a 2/3 year deal in the offseason. I don’t think theres an NHL team that’s gonna want them playing minutes in the NHL right now anyways. I don’t know if they could play in Abby’s playoff run though could they? If Abby makes it in the playoffs anyways.

    • RexLibris

      It’s true that’s what the Flames could offer, but there is not guarantee that another team couldn’t offer them more, like a two-way contract right now.

      If they signed with the Heat I don’t think they would be eligible for the AHL playoffs. There is a deadline for when a player had to have spent some time on your AHL squad for him to be eligible. For example: Anton Lander, Linus Omark and Magnus Paajarvi have all spent more than a game playing for the Barons in OKC prior to Feb 28th (which is the deadline, I believe) and so at the end of the NHL season they can all be assigned to the Barons for their playoff run. Hall, Eberler, RNH, and others cannot. The waiver rule is also removed for players sent to the AHL at the end of the season when their NHL clubs have been eliminated from the playoffs (this relates to Omark).

      So, from a Calgary perspective, were the Heat to make the AHL playoffs the Flames, if they miss the post-season (I said “if”) could send down Bouma, Desbiens, Kolanos, Butler, Irving, Karlsson, Smith, Nemisz and I think Horak (he spent time in the AHL early this season didn’t he?). Players like Brodie and Comeau would be ineligible because they haven’t spent time on the AHL roster this season (At least I don’t think Brodie did).

      One question I am uncertain of is if a player has spent time on another team’s AHL roster and afterwards was claimed off waivers or acquired by trade, are they still eligible. I would be inclined to say “yes” because it is a league-wide rule and AHL time is, or at least ought to be, AHL time, regardless of NHL affiliation.

      Anyway, long answer, I know, but I had some spare time.

        • RexLibris

          There are different restrictions from different leagues. The NHL/AHL restriction is to prevent playoff-missing NHL teams from loading up their AHL squads for a Calder run and taking jobs away from AHL vets.

          As I understand it, WHL players can only go to an AHL squad once their WHL season is over and they are considered an overager in the WHL. There may be an exemption for players coming out of junior and playoff eligibility. Eberle did that with the Springfield Falcons (where the playoffs weren’t even on the horizon) in ’09 and again in ’10 at the end of the Pats season. He got 9pts in 9 gp in his first go-around and 14 pts in 11 gp in his second tenure.

  • I find it curious that Sven can be up on an “emergency” basis and the org sends Kolanos down. A signed pro with longevity and tenure.

    Its the correct call by the flames (on ability) but I find it a curiosity within the league rules.

    Flames should win this one. The littlest hobos were put to the test at sea level last night and should suffer at altitude tonight.

  • RexLibris

    I had a quick look at Dekeyser and from what I have read the Wings are the frontrunners for his services with Tampa Bay being the rumoured second (due to the Yzerman connection and Dekeyser’s affinity for that franchise).

    Dekeyser is a lanky left-handed defenceman who came out of the BCHL (same as Turris, I believe) and has played two seasons in Michigan in the NCAA posting some decent numbers for college d-man going 42 gp 5-12-17 and 43 PIM last season and 38 gp 5-11-16 38 PIM this year to date.

    He’d probably be a good depth defenceman at this point in his career but the prospect of a 6’3″ left-handed d-man with the early years already under his belt is attractive to most organizations. He’d be an AHLer for a season, at least, I would think, barring another run of injuries next year for the Flames if they were to sign him.

    Brown is a smaller forward at 5’10” and 170 lbs but has spent two years in the USHL and is in his second season in the NCAA with the Univ. of Minnesota Duluth. The Flyers are, unsurprisingly, interested in this player from what I have read. His numbers are 42 gp 16-21-37 and 50 PIM last season and 36 gp with 23-23-46 and 53 PIM this season to date. From what little I know of college hockey, those numbers are decent, but it’s the penalty minutes that attract attention and I am inclined to believe that he plays the role of a shift-disturber with hands. There’s not much info as to his position aside from a vague description as “wing” on one site.

    My guess is that either of these players may end up being the Tyler Bozak, Viktor Fasth or Fabian Brunnstrom of this off-season. Landing either of them might be more of an item of prestige than practicality. That being said, for a Flames team that has displayed a desperate need of development-level depth this season, either of these players would probably make welcome additions to their farm club for next year.

    Anyway, I don’t know if that really helps, but I thought I’d throw out the information.

    • RexLibris

      Interesting. I don’t know that either of these players would be worth getting into that kind of contract bind as it would limit the amount of free agency period.

  • everton fc

    We should be able to pick up two points in regulation this evening. Coyotes coming in on back-to-back games… Possible injuries on defence… Seems like it could be a good night for us.

    It’s the Oilers game that scares me. I like Irving, but they need to play in front of him. And the Oilers have been kind-of-competitive lately…

    • RexLibris

      I wouldn’t worry too much. The team has been straying away from a total team game lately. They might put something together and Hartikainen will likely play so that will add a more physical presence, but the vets haven’t been as supportive lately as they were earlier this season.

      It might be closer than earlier games, but I wouldn’t try to call an easy winner either way right now.