The defense got pretty beat up over the course of the season, both physically and during play, forcing the coach to make changes to the pairings. Both injuries and lack-luster performances both contributing to frequent juggling on the blueline. Unlike the forwards, who also had their fair share of injuries to contend with, the defense wasn’t really weighed down by bad luck. If anything, their misfortune came as a result of the injuries, where the team was forced to dress overwhelmed and outmatched lines.
REPORT CARD – DEFENSE
82 GP, 5G-24A-29 Pts
When discussing Jay Bouwmeester, there is no other defenseman for the Flames that will have such a wide range of support and criticism. Since being thrust into the position of the number one rear-guard with the departure of Robyn Regehr, Jay has been like a two-headed coin that still always manages to come up tails.
With five goals and twenty-nine points, there has been plenty of vitriol to go around for the once offensively gifted Eastern Conference D-man. What has made matters worse is that a salary of 6.6 Million dollars accompanied by a cap hit of 6.68 M, has left the fans feeling that even if the Flames management wanted to get rid of J-Bo, they would never be able to find a taker for his contract. That is, not unless they were prepared to take back an equally as bad contract.
Then there is his current NHL leading “iron man” streak of 588 regular season games, which is all the proof some fans need that Mike Peca was right when he said Jay was too casual, and easy to play against. The lack of a dominating physical presents has left many shaking their heads, especially since his arrival made Dion Phaneuf expendable, and wondering why the Flames ever dealt Regehr.
When He’s Good: Bouwmeester is fantastic skater with good vision that is capable of carrying the puck. When the powerplay is clicking, Jay is the quarterback that moves the team up the ice and allows the forwards to set up in the offensive zone. He also has very good speed thanks to his natural smooth skating, which allows him to pinch in on the play but also recover quickly enough to cover his position in the defensive zone. Nobody plays harder minutes than Jay, as he faces the opposition’s top lines night in and night out. As much flak as Bouwmeester takes for his lack of offensive production, he should receive double the praise for the twenty-five plus minutes he plays every night and the goals he prevents when on the ice for the Flames.
When He Struggles: There are some nights when the team and/or the defense is struggling, be it due to effort or ailment, and Jay seems to feel like he needs to do more than more than he is capable of. It’s these times that you see the untimely turnovers or loss of possession that lead to the defensive breakdowns and unfortunate results. There weren’t many nights where Jay felt confident enough to pinch in and become an offensive option on the play. Whether that was due to either leave his defensive post or leave an inexperienced partner as a liability, we can’t say for sure.
Regardless of what his motives were, the Flames production suffered and will continue to suffer if Bouwmeester can’t find the opportunities or the will to come in off the point.
68 GP, 2G-13A-15 Pts
From the day Chris Butler got to Calgary, his job was pretty much to push a rope up a very steep hill. Brought in as a replacement for the incumbent #1 blueliner and longtime fan favorite, Robyn Regehr, Butler went from playing as a bottom four D-man with Buffalo to being baptized by fire in the top pairing with Jay Bouwmeester.
While playing in the top pairing is not the ideal situation for Butler, he also cannot be considered a liability there either. So by no means can he be collared as the fault in the Flames defense. For the large majority of the season he was a decent compliment for Bouwmeester and was positionally responsible enough that Jay could focus on his side of the ice without having to cover for Butler. As a result, the pairing faced the opponent’s toughest competition each and every night with Butler averaging 21:36 of ice time, ranking him third on the team for all defensemen.
At $1.25 million, Butler is a bargain compared to Regehr’s $4.02 cap hit. Add to the fact that Reggie finished his season in Buffalo with 1G-4A-5Pts in 76 GP and the trade looks a lot better than it did at the time it was made. With the new and improved NHLNumbers.com, there is an interesting function added whereby you can see the “Spending Efficiency” of a player in relation to his contract. If you’re a cap team and are looking for the best bang for your buck, then Chris Butler’s 12 PTS/$MM is a lot better on the organization’s bottom line than Robyn Regehr’s 1.244 PTS/$MM.
When He’s Good: Butler is a good shut down defensemen. He’s not going to wow you with his skating like Bouwmeester, but he is solid on his feet and physical against the opposition. Given what Butler had to work with in Buffalo, his learning curve was a lot more extreme in Calgary and for the most part he answered the bell. If the Flames manage to find a proper #2 D-man to play with Bouwmeester, then Butler could end up being a good serviceable #4 guy to pair up with Giordano. He’ll be 26 in October, so he could definitely still factor into some long term planning by the organization.
When He Struggles: We all saw the Boston game and it’s one that’s going to be hung on Butler for quite awhile. It may not be a fair assertion of his capabilities, but when you have a fan base filled with venom, even one game makes you fair game. One area that Butler struggles in his assertiveness: he tends to take his leads from what Bouwmeester does on the ice, which makes him more of a reactionary player. Because he’s not fast enough to play that role superiorly, his reactions are sometimes late which gets him into a mess of trouble. That being said, part of that burden could be attributed that he is playing vastly over his head, and could be eased if he was moved to the second pairing where he belongs.
61 GP, 9G-18A-27 Pts
After scoring 8 goals and 43 points last year, Giordano looked like he was poised to step up and assume the leadership role that was vacated with the departure of Regehr. It was a natural fit to see the “A” on his jersey and big things were expected of him as it pertained to his role on the blueline and on the team.
The season was a strange one for the fourth year Flame. In each of his previous three, Gio had shown progression from one year to the next, but seemed to have regressed this past campaign. He scored two points less than Bouwmeester but also played in 21 less games, indicating that he is still Calgary’s most offensive threat from the blueline.
However he also saw the second most offensive zone starts, with his 51.2% only ever so slightly under that of TJ Brodie. That shouldn’t be surprising though given how much time Bouwmeester and Butler spent in the defensive end, coupled with Gio’s second highest average ice time (23:01), naturally leads to the conclusion that Mark saw more time in the far end of the ice.
Giordano’s offense suffered in the first half, scoring four goals and four assists in the first twenty-three games. His struggles were punctuated by (what was thought to be) a devastating ruptured tendon injury. For a few weeks afterwards there wasn’t even a timeline for his return, which made it even more surprising when he came back after only five weeks.
The injury dove-tailed into the strangeness of the season because when Giordano returned, he came back better and played a lot more like to his play last year. In the final thirty-eight games, Gio would record five goals and tack on another 14 assists, and he also managed to elevate his defensive play, becoming more that of which he was expected to be like from the start.
When He’s Good: He’s the best all around defensemen on the team. Giordano is a good skater and has a good sense of where the play is and where he needs to be. He’s not afraid to jump into the play and easily becomes an offensive option when he makes the jump. Rarely will he be out of position, and even when he is, it’s not long before he’s back in and engaging the play. One of Gio’s best qualities is his complete lack of tentativeness. He has pretty good hands for a defensemen and has shown that puck-handling is more of a strength than a weakness; after all who could forget this play…
When He Struggles: It’s difficult to say which Mark Giordano the Flames can look forward to over the next four years. Is he the player that dominated last season or the one that struggled this one? It would be easy to blame the dip in his stats on the injury, except for the fact that he got better after it. Much how I said that Butler would most likely benefit from moving from the top pairing to the second pairing, I also think that Giordano would benefit in having a partner of that calibre. I
t’s not so much an issue that he is bad in his all around play, rather, he may not have the capability to mask the inefficiency of his partner as Bouwmeester does with Butler. Many might question how I can give Butler a ‘B’ grade and then give Gio a ‘B-‘? The answer is simply while Mark is clearly the better player, he was playing the role of the #3 defensemen when there is the expectation that he should be a 1-2 guy. Butler on the other hand should be a 3-4 guy, but was able to perform respectively while grossly playing over his head.
47 GP, 2G-9A-11 Pts
Derek Smith was the mirror image of Giordano this year. Smith had a great start and seemed to be gaining respect and playing time. When Mark Giordano went down to injury, it was Smith that stepped up in his place, even earning time on the power-play. The former Senator signed as a free agent last off-season and managed to make enough of an impression to earn a two year contract with the Flames for $775K per.
Before Calgary could get Gio back into the rotation, Smith went down with a high ankle sprain. Prior to the injury, he had two goals and eight assists. Unfortunately, upon his return he would only register one more assist the rest of the season.
It wasn’t just his statistics that suffered when he got back to playing. Often Derek looked to be behind the play or out of it completely in the offensive zone. In the defensive zone he was also behind a step or two and seemed to struggle with his assignments.
When He’s Good: He has the capability to be a decent two-way defensemen. Before the injury Smith was able to keep pace and was more than willing to jump up into the rush and even venture down low in the offensive zone. Smith isn’t a power skater but has good hands and can distribute the puck well.
His last season in the AHL, he managed 10G-44A-54 Pts in 71Gp, placing him 4th amongst all AHL defensemen. When he brought that game to Flames, he was a pretty good bet as 5-6 guy on the blueline.
When He Struggles: Unfortunately the guy that came back after injury seemed uninvolved and unimpressive. Whether he had lingering effects from the high ankle sprain is unclear, but he just was never in sync after it. If not for the lack of depth on defense and the fact that he suffered another injury later, Smith had played himself into position as a bubble guy that had a lot more to prove even with the inexpensive contract.
54 GP, 2G-12A-14 Pts
Definitely one of the surprises and bright spots of the Flames season. Brodie was less than impressive in training camp after expectations had set the bar fairly high as a Calgary prospect. Last year, he had a great training camp only to have it derailed by an injury. This year he didn’t seem to come to camp prepared or with enough determination to break into a lineup that shouldn’t have been too hard to crack.
When he was finally called upon he made the absolute most of the opportunity, solidifying his place in the line-up and a part of this organization moving forward. Despite not seeing a lot of time on the power-play, he managed to put up 14 pts in 54 GP.
While most of that can be attributed to receiving the highest 5v5 offensive zone starts of all Calgary’s D-men (51.9%), Brodie has it in him to continue progressing.
When He’s Good: He is a talented puck moving defenseman that can also play a physical game. Not one to shy away from the corners or deliver a big hit, Brodie uses the combination of checking and good hands to separate a player from the puck and then move it out of his zone. He is also a good skater that can deliver accurate outlet passing that with time could be used to quarterback the power-play.
When He Struggles: Every rookie player has areas of improvement and Brodie is no different. With all his skills, there are still pieces of his game that he will have to work on. He has a good vision of the ice but can still improve his anticipation to expedite the transition game. Sometimes while looking for the “pretty play” he can get caught holding the puck too long which can get him into trouble, especially against some of the larger power forwards.
There isn’t a lot of flash to his game at the NHL level, as he mostly focsues on not screwing up as much as possible. As his development matures he will hopefully learn to make plays and release his shot faster, which would casue his point totals to increase.
62 GP, 1G-6A-7Pts
Nobody hacked on Cory Sarich like I did this year. Often if there was a defensive collapse or an unwarranted stupid penalty was taken when the play was already gone in another direction, I was looking for Cory. Another case of a Flames defenseman that was too slow and too immobile to be of any serviceable use to a defense core that needed to squeeze blood from a stone.
As the year went on though, Sarich is one of the guys that stepped up when the team was once again trying to make a run at the post-season and the Flames needed tiny miracles to fall like a freaking blizzard.
No one could ever question his effort or intentions as they were always legit and he has been a loyal soldier for the Calgary Flames. It might not even be fair to question every aspect of his game, given that the guy is 32 and has injured pretty much everything there is to injure in your body, but despite all the physical excuses that may be… well excusable, the mental breaks where he becomes a liability and costs his teams opportunity or puts them in a jam is what earned him his grade. Don’t believe me? Look at the picture people…
When He’s Good: There are no bells and whistles to Sarchy’s game; his plan is to hit and hit hard… and he’s damn good at it when he’s healthy and isn’t called upon to do much more than that. He’s the typical old-school player that figures it’s better to let the opponent figure out how to get into the zone, I’ll just hit ‘em till he leaves for a line change and lets someone else try.
When He’s Bad: He’s terrible! Like it has been said, he is not the most agile defenseman anymore, if he ever was. The likelihood that his opponent is probably going to possess the skill to get around him often takes him out of position or gets him into trouble to the point where he takes a penalty. Sarich is a UFA now and barring some disastrous turn of events, will most likely part ways with the organization. He made it quite clear that he wants to play where he is wanted and I’m not sure that is a fit for either party going forward.
Anton Babchuk & Scott Hannan
32 GP, 2G-8A-10 Pts 78GP, 2G-10A-12 Pts
Grade: F Grade: D-
There is just not too much to say on these last two gentlemen that hasn’t been said already. The consensus that Babchuk was nothing more than a panic signing as a power-play specialist gone awry is evident in his ten points and re-affirmed that he only got in thirty-two games – in most of those due to necessity from injuries.
When he was brought into the line-up, he wasn’t even on the first PP unit, hardly indicative of a specialist of any kind. In the defensive zone, fans held their breath and could barely watch because of the liability he was with or without the puck. He’s not a very good skater or puck handler, and when all you’re known for is a big shot, it’s not very hard for even a mediocre PK unit to take that away.
Scott Hannan is in some ways even worse. He played over double the amount of games that Anton did, and managed two more points. He doesn’t have the shot Babchuk has, but he can skate (slightly) better. Scott’s problem is that he is just too slow and is often caught out of position or simply gives the puck up in the worst situations; like in overtime to David Jones… in front of his own net. The upside on Hannan is that he makes $1.5 M less than Babchuk and is now a UFA, and most likely is not going to be re-signed; meaning the worst is over in regards to Hannan.
When They’re Good: They’re keeping the popcorn filled. Both struggle at ES, but Hannan was actually okay on the PK this year. Babchuk’s lone plus remains his shot and presence on the PP.
When They Struggle: They are usually on the ice.