Flames 5 Early Season Surprises



Four Games isn’t enough for anyone to be engaging in any sort of meaningful analysis unfortunately. Let’s put it this way, in the past I had counted 10-game samples where Matthew Lombardi led the team in possession rate. I always had a soft spot for Lombo, but he was never the best forward on this team at any point during his tenure here.

As noted previously, weird stuff is going to happen in small bursts, especially early in the seaason. With that caveat noted, here’s some of the surprises that have emerged from the Flames first 10 days of 2013.

1.) Lee Stempniak, Superstar!

He leads the team in points, plus/minus, powerplay goals and is second in shots on net to Jarome Iginla. And it’s not just the superficial numbers that are good for Stempniak. Of regular Calgary forwards, he currently has the best corsi rate as well

Stempniak teamed up with Backlund much of the time last year and together they managed similarly good possession rates, so the corsi thing is nothing new. Still. beyond the numbers, Stempniak has passed the eye test as well – he looks like a man who hit the ground running coming out of the lock-out and has become a go-to player under Hartley. Previously a third line option, Stempniak has averaged more than 18 minutes of ice for the Flames new bench boss despite the team’s notable depth on the wings.

It’s unlikely Stempniak will continue to be a point-per-game player indefinitely given his career to date, but he’s certainly looking like a nice value signing at $2.5M per year.

2.) Brodie Overtakes Butler

TJ Brodie established himself as a capable 3rd pairing option last season and after taking against, obvious step forward in the AHL with the Heat scratching him in the Flames season opener seemed like an odd choice. The Flames lost and the kid got a chance the next game where he showcased the mobility and pin-point accurate headman passes that marked his performances in Abbotsford all year.

Since then he has moved up the rotation and landed onto the second pairing with Dennis Wideman.

What’s more surprising is his promotion has come at the expesne of Chris Butler, who spent almost all of last season facing the heavies with Jay Bouwmeester.

Now, there was always a sense that Bouwmeester was carrying Butler to a significant degree, in part because of the younger guy’s limited experience with toug minutes and in part because Butler visibly struggled to keep up some nights.

That said, it’s still unexpected to see him lose his spot in the lineup entriely, particularly to a sophomore. It’s a situation that might not persist long-term, although Brodie hasn’t stumbled at all in his new role so far.

3.) Flames Powerful PP

Last year the Flames man advantage was actually pretty effective, finishing 13th overall with a 17.7% success rate. The team was only middling in terms of actually getting shots on net and in fact was one of the worst clubs in the league in terms of shots/60 minutes of play through the first few months.

Calgary has scored on 29.4% of their PP’s so far this year (4th overall), but even more impressive is the fact they’re currently third in the league with an average of 64.6 shots/hour at 5on4. In contrast, they were at just 48.6 last season.

Maybe it’s just a nice run over 4 games or maybe the new coaching staff and roster additions really have improved Calgary’s man advantage to a significant degree. We’ll only know for sure at the end of the year.

4.) Fast Starting Jarome

If I was asked to bet on anything coming out of the work stoppage I would have put my money on Jarome Iginla having a slow start to the season. He didn’t play during the lock-out and will be 36 years old come July. It was a pefect recipe for the captain to spend the first 10+ games finding his legs. Add in Alex Tanguay trying to figure out how to play center at the NHL level again and you had a recipe for a problematic first line.

Instead, Iginla has played like a man who shed a few years in the off-season. Some persistently poor habits that had creeped into his game the last few years (skating into coverage in the shallow end of the offensive zone, giving the puck away in the neutral zone, etc.) have been refreshingly absent from his game so far this season. He’s never going to be a paragon of defensive acumen, but Iginla has seemed quicker and more involved all over the ice than I remember him under Sutter.

What’s more, he’s consistently dangerous in the offensive zone again as demonstrated by his 19 shots on goal (4.5/game). Iginla’s shot rate has consistently fallen since 2008-09 0 last year his 251 in 82 games (3.01) were the fewest he’d managed since 2000-01. 

The points haven’t really been there for Iginla so far (3 assists in 4 games) but they will if he continues to play like this.

 5.) The Oilers Still Suck

Haha, just kidding. That’s not a surprise.

  • Willi P

    To answer my own question, it appears that the Flames own his rights until the 2014 offseason (Flames own his rights until he turns 28). If he doesn’t play this year, looks like he will have to be signed next year or they lose his rights at the end of the season. Given his performance in the KHL, I would sign him to a 1-2 year deal next year (if he doesn’t end up here this year) and play him many more games than the normal backup plays historically (depending on performance after “X” amount of games).

  • RKD

    As Flames fans we can only hope it’s been a coaching issue.

    Hartley preaches possession and uptempo style. The players brought aboard with Hudler, Cevernka, and Baertschi all possess that skill.

    Stemp has been really strong, good for him I think he was really frustrated by the injury last season and wants to prove again he can be a go to guy.

    Not surprised Brodie has taken the next step, Butler had a lot of brutal moments last season. He was as soft if not softer than Jay-Bo. Other teams forwards would just skate around him and score and he barely flinched!

    Still a long way to go, beating the Oilers is nice but the real measuring stick will come against a powerhouse like Chicago.

  • Vintage Flame

    You should try this….
    This is what I get when I click on your name while reading Ryan Pikes comments.

    The page you were looking for doesn’t exist.

    You may have mistyped the address or the page may have moved.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    “I, for one, welcome our new ant overlords.”

    We’ve had 1 win, which was also our 1 “complete” game, against a team that might make the playoffs if their goalie is lights-out all season long. After that 1 game everyone starts throwing around hyperbole like “Iggy is awesome again”, and “JBo is awesome”, and “Stajan isn’t awful”. Bunch of fanatics.

    So it’s no wonder people aren’t sure if don’ttradeourcore is serious or not.

    • T&A4Flames

      Exactly. Like I said earlier, it’s 1 win. Also, we should remember that they played their most complete game and looked very good, EDM looked not so good and at the end, we still only won by 1 goal

  • TheRealPoc

    “Now, there was always a sense that Bouwmeester was carrying Butler to a significant degree, in part because of the younger guy’s limited experience with tough minutes and in part because Butler visibly struggled to keep up some nights.”

    Understatement of the year.

    It’s far too easy to give Butler a free pass for last year because of his QualComp and ZS. Yeah, he faced tough minutes all year, but that doesn’t mean he’d improve drastically if you started finding him softer minutes. This is a perfect example of a guy who didn’t pass the eye test at all last year – turnstiled far too easily, lost coverage in his own zone repeatedly, had difficulty switching off with his partner and barely threw a hit all season long…and that’s just his play without the puck. The pace of the game might be more palatable for him against weaker lines, but if his basic skillset doesn’t improve, it won’t matter.

    I’ll take Derek Smith over Butler every day of the week, at just over half the cap hit to boot, thank you very much.

    • T&A4Flames

      Wow. Last year was Butler’s 1st full season in the NHL. With Buffalo he was up & down struggling to stick in their top 6. He gets traded & thrown in there & was doing a functional job in the 5-6 pairing when the injuries hit & he won the top rotation by default. When has Smith played top 4 tough minutes? Then I’m sick and tired of hearing how he brought JBO’s game crashing down. Newsflash, JBO struggled for years before Butler came to town. I think another name has more to do with JBO’s huge disappointment, his name is SUTTER.

      Now that Brodie is clearly stepped up his game & playing well in the 3-4 rotation, Butler should be in that 5-6 rotation with Sarich. We should be showcasing him so that Feaster can get at least a 2nd rounder back for him if it is felt Smith or Babchuk or Carson or Breen can bring the same as Butler to that bottom pairing. Otherwise anything less does not offset the value of the depth Butler brings. This Butler witch hunt smells similar to the Backlund witch hunt last year.

      • T&A4Flames

        I’ll agree with all of that except with the caveat that I still feel JBo carried Butler to a large degree, but not that his game came “crashing down.” Which isn’t Butler’s fault per se, as noted he was thrown to the wolves, but it’s also obvious he’s not a top 4 D, at least not yet.

        I think Butler on the 3rd pairing works though and is better than Sarich for sure.

      • T&A4Flames

        I don’t know where you’re getting that Butler spent any time on the 3rd line last year. He was paired with Bouwmeester pretty much the moment he arrived in Calgary.

        • Before Gio went down, Butter had Butler bouncing around including time in the 5-6 pairing. Agreed, not many games in that pairing & I guess thats my point, maybe we should let the guy get his confidence & comfort back in that 5-6 pairing this year with Brodie stepping up. I would be the first one to agree he was in way over his head in the top 4 last year. I am sure Kent could find posts from several applauding Butlers performance compared to Regehr & how happy they were dumping salary & getting a more functional cheaper dman. Whatever, I think he’s a good 5-6 option & should be in there. If not, lets move him while demand is out there & before his value plummetts to a 4th rounder sitting him in the press box. Sometimes when you snooze you lose.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    Saw this in regards to Sopel which would pertain to the Ramo debate:

    “according to the NHL, any player who dressed for a game in another league after Jan. 19 must clear waivers.”

  • Vintage Flame

    I’m not so sure we have to worry about Ramo whether re-entry waivers apply to him or not.

    Supposing they do apply, that means he has to pass through waivers before he can join the Flames. Yes, fine. So what if he’s claimed? If he’s claimed (a la Nabokov) it will be by a team that needs goaltending. Which means it will be a team that needs Ramo to play now. Which means Ramo will have to go through waivers again. Which means the Flames can just claim him back.

  • Vintage Flame

    Hope your enjoying last place Kent! I guess there’s no other direction to go but up but I highly doubt that’s going to happen with Ma & Pa Kettle leading the charge! 🙂