Five things: Cross one off the list

1. Well there goes that

The search for a guy who will be in charge of coaching this team rolls on and, even without anyone making hires yet in the offseason, the field is thinning.

The latest casualty, Elliotte Friedman reports, is the guy many tabbed as the most likely candidate: San Jose coach Todd McLellan, who’s staying put but likely getting a slew of new assistant coaches. That’s too bad. McLellan has, in the past, done a pretty good job of managing a roster that was often made up of a healthy mix of both young and veteran players (for every Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle and Patrick Marleau, it seems, there’s a Logan Couture, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Joe Pavelski). This makeup is, obviously, not unlike the Flames’.

The problem with the NHL coaching fraternity, if you want to call it that, is that your options for replacing someone you fire — who leaves of their own accord? Dale Hunter and nobody, that’s who — are often old retreads or NHL assistants who have quietly been making names for themselves for years. Not to say either is a bad choice, necessarily, but at some point you know what you’re getting with whoever you hire, before you hire them, and so the rumors about guys that might or might not come to the city are easy to suss out as being either good or bad for the team as it’s currently constituted.

Which is what makes the hire of Troy Ward to run the hockey club both intriguing and, apparently, more likely by the day. Puck Daddy had a big story earlier this week about Ward and the job he might do — very good? — with the team given its newfound and wise move toward a youth movement, relying heavily upon the guys Ward wrangled as an assistant last season and a head coach this year.

And I guess the more I think about it, the less jazzed I am to see the team bring aboard a guy like a Bob Hartley or Marc Crawford or whoever else’s name has been trotted out in the time since Brent Sutter’s ship was scuttled. I think I like Troy Ward for this job. Glowing testimonials aside, no one is going to have a better idea of how to handle the roster, and obviously the young guys, whose development is more important at this point than actually going somewhere in the standings, in particular. He’ll know who’s ready for such-and-such a role and when, and will be in a position to help them succeed.

People might say he’s not ready — and perhaps my support for his hiring is predicated upon 1) my desire to "blow it up," and 2) my associated belief that the team can therefore lose all it wants and still be a-okay in my eyes — but the concern I have is that, like a Kirk Muller or Guy Boucher before him, some team will come in and snatch Ward up while Larry Robinson or whoever is on the second of a three-year contract and performing dismally.

As the PD story noted, it’s not like players like Ward because he’s easy on them. He isn’t. He gets them to buy in with what is apparently disconcerting ease, and then gets them to play physically dominating and exciting hockey. Isn’t that, like, what everyone said the Flames’ problem was?

Look, I get that longtime NHL players like the Flames have on the roster aren’t the Abbotsford Heat’s mix of so-so rookies and AHL vets, but this is, at this point, their concerns shouldn’t be the team’s concerns. Don’t like how Ward (or anyone really) is coaching? There’s the door.

That went on far longer than I expected it to. I guess what I’m saying is Hire Troy Ward.

2. Sven Baertschi’s future

We can all pretty much agree he’s an NHL player at this point and will be with the big club to stay come October, right?

I was able to catch only the highlights of some of his games in the WHL Finals and he made the Oil Kings defenders look silly. FInishing these playoffs with 14-20-34 in 22 games doesn’t seem particularly fair, but he’s done playing against this soft competition. This time next year, he’ll have a full season of playing against men under his belt.

Or at least, he should.

3. Karri Ramo and the goaltending situation

Two weeks ago in this space I wondered about the future prospects for Leland Irving, who, mere hours after I posted the item, spectacularly flamed out (no pun intended) in his attempt to regain the Heat’s starting goaltender position in the playoffs. I found that curious but wasn’t necessarily discouraged — it didn’t, for certain, preclude him from being the backup with the big club after toiling in the minors for parts of two seasons.

But then there was word from the World Championships, carried over to this side of the globe by the Canadian Press and later, the Calgary Herald, that Karri Ramo would entertain thoughts of leaving the KHL to return to the NHL in a backup role. And now things are interesting.

On the one hand, Ramo was a bust of the highest order in his first try at North American hockey and has been hiding in the KHL, which is simultaneously the second-best pro league in the world and also a massive step down from the NHL. On the other hand, he has been a wall over in Russia.

In two seasons, he has a .925 save percentage and 1.96 GAA and that, I don’t need to tell you, is unbelievable, even in a relatively low-scoring league. Does that translate here? Who knows? But it has to be seen as bad news for poor Leland Irving, who might be stuck riding the bus for another season or perhaps more if Ramo comes over and acquits himself well.

4. The last thing I’m going to say about shot-blocking

I know it’s a new big thing to act like shot-blocking is ruining the NHL, but it is, of course, not doing that. In fact, I saw where the Hockey News said there were actually more shot blocks per game in last year’s playoffs, widely considered to be exciting and cool and great because guys also punched each other with regularity.

All you need to know about what the "THIS IS AN OUTRAGE" crowd wants out of the league was tweeted a couple weeks ago by Kevin Paul Dupont, the Boston Globe columnist and Hockey Hall of Famer whose work got me into hockey writing in the first place when I was a way little tyke.

Tweet 1: Not unreasonable. 

That is, I think, something everyone can get behind.

Tweet 2: A head-scratcher.

This, at least, addresses the actual problem seen in the postseason: Goaltending is realllllllllly good. Everyone is good at it. If you want more offense, you have to restrict goaltenders’ ability to make saves, probably by shrinking their equipment. But dreams of an .800 league-average save percentage? Based on the number of shots being taken in the league these days, doesn’t that put us on pace for games to end 7-6 every night? Isn’t that obscene and bad? Seems like it to me.

Tweet 3: Outrageous. 

This is perhaps even more unlikely than the save percentage demand, because in the modern era, the only teams that ever finished with 30-something save percentages were the 1970s Habs. Y’know, the best hockey teams ever assembled. And this is something he wants for the league average? Keep dreaming.

Tweet 4: Laughable.

So in the end, what they want is physically impossible. Just so we’re all clear and on the same page here.

5. One last quick question…

Is anyone else surprised that the Flames haven’t come to terms with Mikael Backlund on a new deal yet? Just wondering.

  • Parallex

    @Arik – you should buy it and I don’t see how you can’t. All the other coaches were grown men too. If he can get rid of a man like Brent Sutter then why would Ward fare better?

    Maybe the word “ruin” is not quite what the poster intended. More like he’ll get him canned. Prevent him from being able to achieve full buy-in and implement the total team game he desires. Prevent him from fully putting his stamp on the team. Cause him to be dismissed before his time.

    Which, in turn, could hinder future career aspirations. You know, “ruin” him.

    Iginla is a selfish player and a coach-killer. Period.

  • Graham

    The signing of Cerveza may make Backlund expendable. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Backlund packaged off in return for a top six center. Backlund, Cerveza as your top centers simply isn’t going to cut it. Cerveza on the second line playing behind a quality center does…

  • RexLibris

    Kent, I would rather see a #1 line of Desbians, P3L & Aliu than see that trade you suggested. So please delete it just in case Feaster reads this & thinks thats a great idea 🙁

    Ryan I agree with a lot of your points & agree we just hire Ward & get this mini explosion(trade Iggy & Kipper) going.

    Rex, lets put a damper on the parading,dancing & celebrating 7 lets leave that celebrating for Vanc so they can do their Luongo for Lecalvier flip.

  • RexLibris

    Perhaps Feaster is leaving Backlund’s negotiations for the last minute in the hope that Scott Howson puts in a $5 million dollar/year offer sheet? (that thought should brighten VF’s day)

    Baertschi sounded like he knew his WHL career was over in his post-game interviews the other night.

    The best place to slot him in on the wing is probably either 2nd or 3rd line in front of or behind Glencross so that he can play easier competition with less pressure. He won’t have the best linemates, but I suspect that will be compensated with some powerplay time.

    Ward might be a good choice, but I do have to wonder about a younger coach coming into the Flames dressing room that has chased off veterans like Keenan and Brent Sutter. Then again, what have the Flames got to lose by trying?

  • Parallex

    1: Ward – Don’t want him as head coach. Even if he is a good developmental coach, the NHL is not a developmental league. If he’s good at developing players into NHL quality talent (evidence of which is pretty lacking actually) then he ought to stay as a coach in the league whose primary purpose is developing assets into NHL talent. Plus not having him as coach will save us having to listen to the mouthbreathing blathering segment of the population insisting on the team slapping a pair skates on undeveloped fetuses on some sort of misguided notion that since he’s allegedly good with young players somehow promoting guys not ready for prime time will magically make the team better. Not to mention that IIRC the Heat didn’t exactly have an impressive offense which is probably the area the Flames need to improve upon the most

    2: Baertschi – Yes he’ll be with the club next year baring some sort of unfortunate calamity. Seriously 2.0 PPG during the reguler season and a performance near as good in the playoffs absent the weak sisters of the WHL… amazing. Ordinarily I’d be in favor of folk spending a year in the AHL just to get them experience playing against men if nothing else but I think I’d be a shame to burn a ELC year in the AHL for a talent like him.

    3: Goaltending – If I had my way I’d trade Kipper post-haste (He’ll never be worth more to us in trade then he is right now). I’m more then willing to take a gamble on a Ramo (if he can come over) Irving tandom and reap what riches we could get from a Kipper deal… unless the deals all stink

    4: Shot Blocking – Yeah, I want more offense too but that guy is just a wee bit unrealistic. 70% Kill rates? .800 sv persentages? riiiight.

    5: No not surprised at all. I mean all the team has done so far is sign Cervenka, lot’s of time to sort out the off-season and a guy who you can retain via qualifying offer is hardly a high priority.

  • Arik

    @Colin.S

    You’re not the first person to mention it (though you were somewhat more discreet than the last), but I don’t buy the idea of Iginla ruining Ward.

    The fact is, Ward is a grown man- one player, regardless of whether or not he’s a star- shouldn’t ruin him. If Iginla does “ruin” Ward, then shouldn’t be coaching in the NHL.

    • Colin.S

      Maybe Ruin isn’t the right word. However the last three coaches (playfair, Keenan and Sutter) have all may somewhat ambigious comments when they left town and most people can connect the dots.

      So here’s an example, say Iginla decides to go for a stroll on the back check again and we get scored on again (lets say its the oilers for rivalry sake) and Ward decideds to drop him down the line-up for the rest of the game. Iggy complains to the owner. Now who’s the owner going to listen to, easily replaceable head coach or Star Player bringing you in millions of dollars to the team and an institution in Calgary. You can bet the owner is giving Ward an earful before next game. And then what happens if the same scenario happens again and Iggy isn’t benched? The rest of the players know whos boss and Ward is just killing time at that point.

  • Arik

    Brent Sutter’s looking pretty good right now at the worlds. I think possibly coaching wasn’t the problem and it really dosent matter who the flames hire were going to end up the same or worse next year. God I hope they blow it up.

  • RexLibris

    Kent, if the Flames made that move I think there would be dancing in the streets, fireworks, a parade, dogs and cats hugging each other, and a general state of exuberant revelry…in Edmonton.

  • Arik

    @Kent Wilson

    From my understanding the Flames are only passively moving forward with contract negotiations. Moss mentioned something about how there were very /vague negotiations for a new contract for him, but it sounds like the team is probably waiting on the playoffs to end to take care of re-signings, etc.

    I’m guessing they have interest in a player or two that’s still in the playoffs and don’t want to unnecessarily commit $$$ that could preclude a trade.

    Pure conjecture based on a lot of unknown quantities of course.

    • Vintage Flame

      I’m guessing they have interest in a player or two that’s still in the playoffs and don’t want to unnecessarily commit $$$ that could preclude a trade.

      Pure conjecture based on a lot of unknown quantities of course.

      I don’t think you’re too far off the mark there Arik. My thinking is that they haven’t announced a coach because they want to wait until the at least the Stanley Cup finals to allow for more possibilities; it only stands to reason that they are approaching contracts and player moves in the same fashion.

  • loudogYYC

    Flames haven’t really done anything NHL related lately. Cerveza is a KHL signing and mostly a scout and Weisbrod thing.

    My guess is that the Flames brass are waiting for Sullivan and the Rangers to end their season and maybe pitch him the job? If not, I’m now comfortable with Ward being the coach next season. As long as Iggy the Country Club host is traded.

    As for Backlund, you have to think that Chris Snow likes the kid and hopefully lets Feaster know that all the time.

  • Flames haven’t come to terms with anyone yet. I still fear they’re going to use Backlund in some package trade that doesn’t really help the team though.

    “The Flames have traded Mikael Backlund and Miikka Kiprusoff for…..VINCENT LECAVALIER!”

    • Colin.S

      Well that’s going to replace the regular monsters in my nightmares now.

      I was trolling Vancouver fans earlier that they were going to trade Luongo and Ballard for Lecavalier. That did not go over well for them.

      Anyways back to five things, 1.) I think Ward is the perfect coach for our team minus 1 player. With guys like Butler, Smith, Brodie, Backlund, Aliu, Cervenka, Bouma, Horak and Jones, I think he gets through to all those guys. Most of the middle-aged and younger veterans will also most likely buy in. However I just don’t see 1 guy buying in. And it could ruin Ward.

      2.) Baertschi will most likely start his year off on the big club, doesn’t mean he’ll finish here. The big concern with me is where he slots in the Lineup. He’s currently playing LW, which has Tanguay at 1 and Glenncross at 2. Would Tanguay be okay with playing the 3rd line with say Backlund if Baertschi starts hot With whoever is 1C and Iggy/? I know Glenncross could be move to 3LW as well and probably be okay with it, but after his stellar year last year, he should be given a fair shake at 2LW.

      3.) Don’t care much about the goalie situation unless Kipper gets moved, cause if he doesn’t, it does not matter really much who the backup is. All we know for sure is Karlsson is in Europe next year.

      4.) Shots are going to get blocked and there is no realistic way to stop that, deal with it. Not saying that to you, but to those who hate shot blocking to the 10th degree.

      5.) Backlund is an RFA with no real negotiation rights or arbitration rights either. So there is absolutely no rush to get a new deal done, I think we hear something around the draft. We’ll get our new coach and he’ll have some input into where he thinks Backlund fits in the lineup and if the Coach and Feaster both think that he’s an expandable part of the lineup, he’ll be gone at the draft. If the new Coach and Feaster see that his possession numbers reflect a guy moving the puck in the right direction and the offense will come we’ll see a new contract after our coaching situation is finished.

    • Vintage Flame

      “The Flames have traded Mikael Backlund and Miikka Kiprusoff for…..VINCENT LECAVALIER!”

      Kent, the only thing that didn’t make my heart stop when I read that is the solace I took in that Tampa Bay will get Roberto 7uongo, so they won’t need Kipper.