With training camp finally opening on Sunday we here at FN figured it was time for another roundtable. I asked VF, Ryan, Justin and Lambert for their take on a variety of topics, from their feelings on the lock-out to what they expect to see in terms of line combinations this year. Here’s what they had to say…
1.) So…are you happy the NHL is back? Or are you bitter?
Ryan Lambert: Oh I’m very bitter. I don’t think they should have had a season at all. I hate the owners a lot because of this and I hate how everyone just dove right back in to being all excited. I can’t stomach it. I’m obviously going to watch because I am compelled to do so, both by work and compulsion, but man am I not happy about it.
Justin Azevedo: Eh, I lean towards bitter. Mostly because I didn’t really miss it at all and I’m pretty pessimistic about the team’s chances this year. Plus, Iggy’s 30-goal streak thing is probably going to end and it isn’t fair. *tear*
Ryan Pike: A little of both. The fan in me is both excited and frustrated at another work stoppage. But at least we’re having a season.
Vintage Flame: I’m one that’s in the "happy it’s back" camp. I didn’t take sides during the lockout, I think both sides showed apathy and disregard. That being said, the game is bigger than the sum of its parts and I’m just happy they’re getting back on the ice.
2.) More to the point, how do you like the Flames chances in a shortened season?
RL: Certainly better than their chances over 82. They (well, Kiprusoff) could get hot and win a bunch of games in a row and I wouldn’t be especially surprised.
JA: I really don’t subscribe to the "slow start"/"fast start" theory, so I don’t think that the amount of games matters. However, I don’t think this team is all that much better than last year’s edition. There will probably be a bit more offence from the back end with the addition of Dennis Wideman, but it will be marginal. The team still lacks a true tough-minutes line and I have no idea how the new coaching staff will utilize players. The forward group will probably produce the along the same lines as last year.
The only thing that comes to mind that has the potential to have a big impact is the whole "Kiprusoff-playing-every-game-except-for-like-4" thing. It could have a positive impact if he stays a league average goaltender, but as we’ve seen he can vary quite a bit year to year. Obviously, the less games Leland Irving and Henrik Karlsson play, the better. Another 9th/10th place finish wouldn’t surprise me.
RP: I’m uneasy. The team’s core is just as old as it was and, outside of the emergence of guys like Mikael Backlund, Sven Baertschi and T.J. Brodie as key contributors, I’m not sure how the team’s performance will be all that different than last year. The shortened season merely means much less margin for error.
VF: It’s easy to say as a fan that they have just as good a chance as any other team starting with a stunted training camp. It’s also easy to say that this team really hasn’t done that much to improve its station in the Western Conference. Right now, I’m somewhere in between, but they have a very small window to either make or break their season. If the team struggles off the bat then, they better get the phones going and get ready for the trade deadline.
3.) What interests you most about the Flames in 2012-13? What will happen with guys like Iginla/Kipper? The play of young guys like Baertschi and Brodie? Or Newcomers like Wideman, Cervenka and Hudler?
RL: I’m most interested in what they do this summer, to be honest. I expect nothing from them during the season itself. I think Iginla and Kiprusoff both stay and sign extensions. I am interested to see how the young guys do in a 50ish-game schedule but I doubt Baertschi lives up to these huge expectations everyone seems to have for him. Finally, I’m of the opinion that all the free agent signings will either be outright terrible (Wideman, Hudler) or underwhelm (Cervenka, if he’s even healthy). We’ll see how it goes but again, I’ve come to expect very little.
JA: Honestly, I don’t feel like there’s a lot to be excited about for this particular season. Next season, sure. I feel as though the vets (Tanguay, Iginla, Giordano, Kiprusoff, etc.) will have comparable seasons to last year. While I’m excited to see Sven play at the NHL level, I just want him to play every game without serious injury more than anything. Brodie is intriguing, and he could probably play top-4 minutes this year, but due to the addition of Wideman and the presence of Bouwmeester, Butler, and Giordano, he’ll probably be relegated once again to 5/6 minutes with Sarich (ugh) or Smith.
I disliked the signings of Wideman and Hudler right for the start, so I’m not bullish on their chances to be huge contributors. Cervenka would interest me more if there were a line that could open up a ZS% of about 60 for him. As it is, I think he’ll be a perfectly average #2 guy at best.
RP: I’ll be looking keenly for two things: can Iginla continue to play the way he has for the past five or so years, and can the emergence of the younger guys take a bit of the heat off of him offensively?
VF: First and foremost, I’m excited to see Baertschi play a full season (you mean about half a season – ed.), with Brodie right in the conversation. We got a glimpse of what Sven can do last year and the energy he brought into the team. You could tell he invigorated the vets and that’s a positive going forward. Brodie took a big step in his development in Abby. I’m looking forward to seeing him as a top 4 D-man for the Flames, and I think he’s just about there.
4.) Give me your top-six forwards and their line combinations.
RL: I don’t know how things will start but I think it’ll end with Cervenka centering Iginla and Baertschi then Tanguay (if they insist on keeping him at center) between Hudler and Cammalleri. Man, those lines aren’t pretty at all hey?
JA: Well, obviously Iginla, Tanguay, and Cammalleri will be the first line. I guess with the revelation Monday that the coaching staff asked Tanguay to center the line Cammalleri will be on the left wing and Iginla on the right. On the second line, a SVEN-Cervenka-Glencross comination wouldn’t be outshot too badly, allowing for a "tough" minutes line of Hudler-Backlund-Stempniak, which doesn’t look too bad. The fourth line would then be Jones-Stajan-Comeau, which would be a great checking line.
RP: Tanguay – Cammalleri – Iginla, Baertschi – Hudler – Stempniak
VF: Cammalleri – Tanguay – Iginla, Baertschi – Hudler – Cervenka
5.) How will the top-4 defense rotation end up?
RL: Bouwmeester, Wideman, Giordano and Butler are your guys, for better or worse. (Hint: Worse.)
JA: If I had my druthers, the defense would be Bouwmeester-Wideman, Giordano-Butler and Brodie-Smith.
RP: Bouwmeester – Giordano, Butler – Wideman
VF: Bouwmeester – Wideman, Giordano – Brodie
6.) Do you think Hartley will be able to make meaningful changes in terms of systems/player usage? What you would like to see different to how Brent Sutter used to handle the roster?
RL: I think he will, yeah. Mainly because he hasn’t been in the NHL in years and things are likely to be very, very different from what an established NHL coach like Sutter would bring on a nightly basis. I’d like to see Hartley bring a little more flexibility to the lineup. If things aren’t working, it would be nice to see him not-stick with them. This is especially true if young guys are making a better case for expanded roles than the guys ahead of them.
JA: God, I hope so. What, you want more? I’d like to sit Bob Hartley down in front of a TV showing Canucks games from 2010-2011 and say "do it like this". Basically, more line matching and situational deployments (read: 1st line after icings ALL THE TIME) would be what I want. Oh yeah… death to the shell.
RP: I think Backlund (and his line, presumably with Comeau and Glencross) will be given a lot of defensive zone starts to that the Iginlas and Baertschis of the team will be given the high ground. That may be the only "real" change.
VF: The biggest thing being said is just how "offensive" oriented Hartley is. I’m hoping that means he is going to be able to recognize, early, the strengths and weaknesses of this roster; and make the appropriate changes. To be blunt, hopefully he stops playing Iggy in a power vs power situation and we start to see the captain getting far more sheltered minutes and offensive zone starts.
7.) Would you like to see anyone bought out in the summer?
RL: Stajan, obviously, but no one really beyond that.
JA: Personally, I don’t see much point in buying out contracts with only one year left on them unless there is absolutely no other way to become cap-compliant in 2013-2014 (and there will be: Iginla et al account for 19 million coming off the books this summer).
With that in mind, there’s 5 players left on the roster that could be bought out: Hudler, Tanguay, Glencross, Wideman and Giordano. Glencross’ contract is minuscule, so there’s no reason to buy him out. Tanguay and Giordano’s contracts likely won’t be high-value (or break-even value for that matter) by the time each of them are in their 2nd last years, but there’s no point in buying out those guys next year because they’ll still be good.
I realize the optics of buying out the contracts of two guys signed just last summer would be, uh, bad, but those are the worst contracts on the team and the least likely to provide value (in my opinion) in two or three years time, when there will be a clean slate for Feaster or whomever to work with (5 contracts total, $19 million committed and 4 contracts total, $17 million committed as it is right now.) Get those two contracts off the books and you’d have another 9 million free for both of those years. The timing works well with the Backlund and younger ("prospects") group as well.
RP: Matt Stajan. A perfectly fine (and occasionally quite good) depth option, but way too expensive at $3.5 million.
VF: This is a trick question right? Like do you mean someone OTHER than Stajan?
8.) What do you think the Flames will do at the trade deadline?
RL: Get someone underwhelming in an effort to continue "going for it."
JA: Nothing. They have nada in terms of assets that they can get rid of, and they’ll be close enough they won’t be able to justify selling.
RP: Depends on where they are. If they’re with the pack, I can see them doing nothing. If they’re a bit behind, they may be tempted to sell off a Bouwmeester.
VF: Like I said at the beginning, if the Flames season stumbles off the bat, then it’s over pretty quick for them. If that’s the case then they have to start paving the way to deal Iggy and Kipper. That’s easier said than done, and if they can’t, then it is what it is and I’m not going to be broken hearted about Iggy ending his career as a Flame.
Once again, we are talking about Calgary’s "BIG 3", only this time it’s Bouwmeester instead of Regher. If Ramo is ready to come over then, I think that makes Kipper a target for Calgary to make a deal with a Cup runner.