Five things: Look at the new guy

1. What to make of the Cervenka signing?

It came out last week that the Calgary Flames had signed former KHL all-star Roman Cervenka, who’s a 26-year-old center, to a one-year deal with $3.775 million deal.

I wasn’t happy with it — I know, right: me? — but basically what it is, at the end of the day, is the signing of a much younger, slightly more expensive Olli Jokinen. Which isn’t a bad thing in theory. But in actual practice, who knows?

Sorry, but it’s hard to get excited about an older player who’s never, never played more than a few games on a North American-sized ice sheet, if he ever has at all (even the 2005 World Juniors, in which he played for his native Czech Republic, was played on a pair of 200-by-85 rinks in North Dakota). His biggest claim to fame, of course, is centering Jaromir Jagr for Avangard Omsk two seasons ago, and surprise surprise, he had a great season. He picked up 31-30-61 in just 51 games, but saw that total drop to a mere 23-16-39 in 54 this season with his Hall of Fame wing playing in Philadelphia instead of Siberia.

Am I dismissing this signing as ludicrous? No. It’s a low-risk, potentially middling reward deal that costs the team nothing but money — of course, they say that about every so-so college free agent signing too. But am I optimistic that he actually slots in as a top-6 forward at the NHL level? Also no.

Let’s not forget, the last 26-year-old European free agent the Flames signed and assured us all would be serviceable in his role was that terrible goalie whose name I already forget (Henrik Karlsson, the internet now informs me). He was not serviceable in his role. But he also wasn’t a waste of money. Or at least, that much money.

So I’m ready to believe Cervenka can be an okay NHL player. I’m just not counting on it.

2. Losing earlier than you expected?

Lately, it seems a popular thing to do: You get bounced from the playoffs earlier than you might have liked, you talk very publicly about the possibility of firing your coach. This is a practice that has been around a while, but in the last year or two in particular, it seems to be growing more common.

For the last few weeks, people have speculated wildly, and many thought for sure the Canucks were going to can Alain Vigneault after a first-round bounce-out (though perhaps that’s just what happens when you have two No. 1 goalies and don’t have a clear idea of which one to play at any point ever, least of all in the playoffs), and the same was said of Joel Quenneville in Chicago. In fact, as I type this, the world is waiting with bated breath for his conference call with team officials to take place so they can clarify why they just fired an assistant coach.

And of course, Todd McLellan is now being linked with the coaching jobs in Calgary, Edmonton (if/when Tom Renney gets fired), Montreal, Vancouver (if/when Vigneault gets fired, which he won’t), and so forth. Basically, name a Canadian team that has no coach or even one on slightly uneven ground, and he might come to them and save the day or something I guess.

But what this fundamentally ignores is another tenet of hockey that goes back a million years: Any team can win any series. Sure, the best teams usually win the series more often than not, but it doesn’t always happen that way, and in series as short as seven games, one bad bounce in two or three games is the difference between advancing and golfing. So sometimes, even the world’s best coaches with the world’s best teams don’t actually win all the playoff games they’re supposed to. It’s not really a reason to fire your coach.

3. The Kings’ reach

Who would have predicted a Darryl Sutter-led Kings team would look so convincing in these Western Conference playoffs?

Oh I don’t know, how about anyone who watched him coach the Flames to being a really good hockey team? I wrote about it when he first got hired for Puck Daddy, but anyone who confused Sutter’s abysmal general-managing of the Flames with his ability to kick an entire team in the ass and make it play mean, defensive hockey behind the bench was and is a fool.

Despite their performances early in the season, where they either lost 2-1 or won 1-0 thanks to the Herculean efforts of Jonathan Quick, this was always a fairly elite team — witness their roster of skaters like Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Drew Doughty, etc., even before they brought in Jeff Carter — and then put a your-friend’s-kind-of-mean-dad coach like Sutter behind it. If the Kings are one thing, they’re a team that has to be good both on the cycle and in their own zone, because they sure don’t get the puck up and down the ice in a hurry, and therefore cannot score or defend on the counter.

Darryl Sutter is really, really good at coaching hockey teams built like that.

The matchup with Phoenix is intriguing but it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see the Kings either flatten them or squeak out a seven-game winner. I do, however, have an awful hard time seeing the Coyotes stop them.

4. Something happened this week

You may or may not have read it the other day, but Jarome Iginla’s grandmother died. Sad news.

But it made me realize something: There’s no way this guy gets traded.

If they’re running stories in the local newspaper about the grandmother of a player on a team, and people are legitimately sad about it, that’s a pretty good indication that the player is beloved to the point where he simply cannot be moved unless the team’s management wants to be met outside both their home and office by sizable torches-and-pitchforks type crowds.

No matter how much it helps the team, the casual fanbase simply will not accept it.

5. How about that Heat power play?

Was reading a little bit about the Abbotsford Heat and their performance in the AHL playoffs.

And well hey what do you know, it looks like the power play is humming along at just 14.1 percent, and is 0 for 16 in its current series with Toronto, headed into last night’s Game 4.

Like father, like son, I guess.

  • Michael

    What I like about the Cervenka signing is what it represents. A change in direction. Not signing a KHL player. But rather their approach to solving the C situation.

    In the past they would have retained Jokinen on a high salary long term contract. It would have been a no brainer. No other free agents. Nothing realistically available via trade. Only Backlund on the team with any chance of picking up the mantle.

    This would have prevented substantial change and introduced a contract that we are all going to hate in a couple of seasons (if not sooner). The contract would have had a NMC, a bit of a home town discount, and a year or two added to on to drop the cap hit.

    In short, more of the same.

    The Cervenka signing may pay dividends. It may not. But it is a refreshing change of direction win, lose, or draw. And it is the type of strategy that the Flames need to roll the dice on if they want any chance of getting out of this mess we are in.

  • @Sincity1976

    I somewhat agree and certainly get your point, but I would argue that there is a true change of direction.

    A new way of doing business? Sure. But a real change? To me, and this may seem incredibly narrow, but the only true indicator of real change would be moving Iginla.

    Kent actually stated well in a recent article: new shirt, shoes, pants, hat, coat – same dude inside.

    Now, don’t get me wrong. I appreciate this new way of doing business. These new clothes, if you will.

    However, the team is still doing what it has done seemingly forever now – band-aid, patch, stick fingers in holes in the dam, but never build a new dam., never get a new man to put inside of all those new clothes.

    Whether Cervenka works out or not, in the end, the guy in the new clothes is still just a bum.

    • It’s true this foray into new territory could end up being more tinkering than anything else. What the club does going forward will really determine if we’re seeing a truly new approach, or just a slightly different spin the same old.

  • Michael

    In terms of the Cervenka signing, I must admit I was stunned by the original contract, a whole lot happier once it was clarified as being mostly bonuses.

    Time will tell on this guy, but unless he turns into a workable top 6 guy, we are going to have issues down the middle. Assuming Jokinen isn’t resigned, Cervenka and Backlund will have to pick up his scoring, otherwise it is going to be a long, long season…

    A center group of Cervenka, Backlund, Jones and Stajan has to be one of the weakest groups in the league.

    • It’s entirely possible it’s going to be a long season no matter management does this summer. I’m going to concentrate on processes and whether the guys in charge seem to at least be making decent bets without hoping they are going to somehow turn the club into a contender.

  • Michael

    #4 – I wonder if the fact that his grandmother died moves Iginla to consider leaving the Flames. Being close to family, and his grandmother has been important to him. Now that she is gone, does this remove one of the reasons for staying?

    • Mitch2

      I agree – Ryan has this upside down.

      Both his Grandfather and Grandmother on his Mom’s side have passed now. I don’t see this as stopping him from being moved and I still believe that Jarome will be a part of wanting to move on.

      And no one should deny him or critique him in the slightest if he does want to move.

  • MC Hockey

    @Michael…are you really Mike Cammaleri and saying you DON’T want to play Centre and you DO want Olli back…that;s quite tricky I must say as I am sure John Weisbrod trolls her! But seriously Michael, Cammy was a decent C in the last 9 games and Olli is (sadly) probably back. Even without Olli, the line up at C of Cammy, Cerveza (LOL mmmm beer in Spanish), Backlund, Stajan, Jones and others is not that bad if Cerveza adjusts to NHL in any way.

    @shutout….I actually had the same idea as you…a major family death actually FREES people to move forward (and away physically)…now maybe Iggy will allow a trade and even play in the World Hockey Championships each spring.

  • I don’t understand how Cervenka can be a “slightly more expensive Olli Jokinen”. His reward-based contract bottoms out at under a million dollars! If you mean a slightly more expensive version of the 2011/2012 Jokinen, then I say great. If I’m just looking at his points per game, Olli’s (now expired) contract doesn’t bother me at all. I haven’t seen the numbers required of Cervenka to max out his paycheque, but isn’t it safe to say that we all hope he reaches it? If you mean Cervenka’s a slightly more expensive version of next year’s post-surgery, 34(35?)-year-old Jokinen, then I’m okay with that too, because he’ll probably be making about 1.5 million.

  • Greg

    Just read Elliot friedman’s 30 thoughts article and one point was the cervenka signing caught a lot of people off guard because “there wasn’t much interest”. If that’s the case then there’s even more reason to temper expectations for him.

  • BurningSensation

    The Wolf:”A new way of doing business? Sure. But a real change? To me, and this may seem incredibly narrow, but the only true indicator of real change would be moving Iginla.”

    That isn’t just a ‘narrow’ view of change, it is an incoherent one. Iginla is just one guy on an entire team of guys. Are you seriously suggesting that if they moved out everyone but Jarome they haven’t changed? Or that a team with Jarome on it can’t be succesful?

    If you define change or a new direction as ‘ditching Jarome’, you are bound to be disappointed – cuz every indication is he doesn’t want to leave, and that mgt doesn’t want to trade him.

    See how Ottawa rebuilt itself into a playoff team without gassing Alfredsson? Keeping your good players and then adding more good players to the mix is a recipe for success. Doing a scorched earth rebuild just makes a perpetual doormat (see; Oilers, Columbus, Islanders, etc.).

  • BurningSensation

    “a one year 3.77 mill contract”? Wrong. It’s a ELC worth around $925,000 + some really hard to reach goals that would provide a few bonuses that I’m pretty sure most of us would be happy to see reached.

    “at the end of the day it’s the signing of a much younger, slightly more expensive Olli Jokinen” Really? More expensive? Explain.

    “sorry, it’s hard to get excited about an older player thats never, ever played more then a few, if any games on North American Ice” Really? Older? 26 is Older? And I know it’s not much but didn’t Roman play in Vancouver during the olympics?

    ” a mere 23-16-39 the following year with out his hall of fame winger” Do we know if the team shifted philosophies when JJ left town? Do we know if Roman adjusted his game to play to the level of talent that he was surrounded by? Did he not still lead the team in points?

    Just some things I was wondering about.

  • BurningSensation

    As for the Cervenka signing, it’s all thumbs up. Not just low risk, but ‘no-risk’. His salary is an ELC! Jagr may have helped his stats, but he was over a ppt in the playlets without him. He cost nothing but money and effort, and I give kudos to mgt for being the first in line to woo him.

  • the-wolf

    @BurningSensation – it’s not incoherent if you actually read the post. As Kent opined in a previous article, some fans believe the Flames exist to support Iginla and Kipper and not the other way around. I’m one of them.

    The Alfredsson comparison doesn’t hold water. Alfredsson 1) gives a rat’s arse about playing a team game and winning; 2) the Sens have Spezza.

    The Flames have no Spezza and Iginla is here for the geographical location, the comfort factor and because he’s the big fish in the pond that even the GM and owners are scared to move.

    Sundin is a far better comparison.

    The team is paralyzed with him here. No ‘true’ change will take place until the Iginla Era comes to an official end.

    btw, the Pens rebuilt from scratch twice and have 3 Cups. Chicago did it, it’s mostly worked for Vancouver. It worked for Anaheim, Carolina, TB, Colorado. And, oh yeah, it gave those Oilers you mention 5 Cups.

    Bad management will ruin even the best plans. Mike Milbury is an idiot, not an argument.

    But maybe you’re right, I mean the Flames formula for success since shifting away from drafting and development has gotten us 1 miracle run on the back of a hot goalie in 23 years. We should stick to what works, I guess.

    Also, since we have next to no legit top 6 talent under the age of 30, where do you plan on obtaining it? Please don’t tell me you buy the Feaster PR spin? College and European ranks have been heavily scouted for years. The Flames, as usual, are playing catch-up, not trail blazing.

    We didn’t win with Iginla in his 20’s. We’re not going to win with him now. Ditto Kipper. Except reality. Nostalgia does not win championships.