Kipper Down? Keep Your Chin Up



When CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) started up the Large Hadron Collider there were many who protested the experimental lab over fears that the particle accelerator could accidentally open up a black hole that would engulf the Earth (and most of the galactic neighbourhood as well).

The LHC went live at 10:28 am local time (France and Switzerland) on September 10th, 2008.

Nothing bad happened.

The popular critics were improperly inferring a dramatically unrealistic worst-case scenario and then broadcasting them to a vaguely informed public.

This past December most Western societies were sheepishly inching towards the final day of the Mayan calendar, the end of which was prophesied to bring about a mixture of destruction and rejuvenation to the world. The Mayan calendar is more accurate than our Gregorian version, and this lent credence to the thought that they were on to something. On December 21st the world waited, many slightly bemused, as the clock counted down to the fateful hour.

Nothing bad happened (except that John Cusack movie, which only felt like the end of the world).

Again, popular culture, led by some well-meaning but culturally myopic academics, misunderstood the Mayan conception of time as being linear when it was treated as circular.

On Tuesday, February 5th 2013, Miikka Kiprusoff went down with what later diagnosed with a grade 2 sprain of his medial collateral ligament. The Flames are expected to be without their starting goaltender for the remainder of this month.

Last season when asked about a possible trade of the Finnish netminder, Jay Feaster replied that the Flames without Kiprusoff would be worse than 30th (which is a curious argument in a 30-team league). Many fans have often voiced the same concern.

With Kiprusoff down for the month of February, this must mean that the end of the world is nigh and that the Flames’ organization as we know it is over.

Or not.

What the Future Holds

Around the time that Kiprusoff’s injury was upgraded to a grade 2 sprain, Joey MacDonald was claimed off waivers, replacing Danny Taylor as Leland Irving’s backup. And perhaps even replacing Irving himself.

The Flames now have Irving, MacDonald, a rehabilitating Kiprusoff, and Danny Taylor under contract. There are questions about whether the Flames management has faith in Irving, but they obviously feel that MacDonald is an option worth pursuing. More so, it would seem, than Taylor who was signed but never played before being sent back down to Abbotsford.

In addition to this the Flames are eagerly watching Avangard Omsk, Karri Ramo’s team in the KHL, as it is expected that once that season has concluded he will come over to the NHL, time permitting.

Meanwhile, up the highway in that fabled sylvan grove that is the provincial capital, Laurent Brossoit has been doing some dandy work between the pipes for a team that just concluded an 11-game win streak.

That Jon Gillies kid isn’t so bad either, posting a .927 save percentage and 2.21 GAA over 23 games at Providence. As a freshman, no less.

Dealing With It

In previous incarnations, the Flames were a default defensive team. They would cheat on offense if it meant preventing a goal, and they were structured to lose 2-1 rather than win 5-3. Under that system Kiprusoff was the lynchpin. If he held the fort, then the Flames were happy to play a game of attrition and wait for Iginla, Tanguay, or a player like Langkow to get the deciding point.

Today, the Flames are built to attack and create more chances than neutralize the chances the opposition creates: defense through offense, in a way. The roster lacks some of the impact players on defense they once boasted, and the game has changed enough that creativity and speed are more heavily favoured. With that in mind, it could also be argued that a recent development shown by teams in playoff series is that, while good goaltending is necessary, outstanding goaltending is fleeting and does not inevitably lead to success.

Could Leland Irving and Joey MacDonald be enough in net for the Flames to keep their playoff hopes alive until Kiprusoff returns? Could the Flames, in fact, survive without him and prove that there is life after Miikka?

I suspect so.

MacDonald has a long resume in the NHL, almost exclusively as a backup. The most games he has played in a season was back in 2008-2009 with the Islanders (the year they played well enough to draft John Tavares), in which he played 49 games, faced 1427 shots and managed a .901 save percentage. He isn’t the same kind of goaltender that Flames fans have become accustomed to over this past decade, but he might be good enough to hold the fort for awhile.

Between Irving and MacDonald the Flames might be able to keep their heads above water and begin to capitalize on what are some very encouraging statistics to start the season.

In fact, one could argue that if the team can begin to turn the corner by winning games based on their strong play, backed by Irving and MacDonald, then when Kiprusoff comes back the team could even make a strong push to vault themselves into the post-season.

Be that as it may, the remainder of this month might just serve to illustrate several things to the Flames organization and their fans: that the team can survive without Miikka Kiprusoff and that they will find other options in net. I still have grave reservations about the organization as a whole. I believe that the team is closer to the bottom than the top and that there are still systemic issues which have not and will not disappear until ownership and management re-evaluate their priorities.

Karri Ramo, Irving, MacDonald, Taylor, Joni Ortio and possible free-agents are all netminding options for the Flames to explore next season either with or without Kiprusoff.

The world isn’t going to end, and the Flames will be fine without Miikka. There will be changes, certainly, and it is likely that the level of goaltending will drop back closer to norm such that the organization won’t be able to use one man’s phenomenal abilities to paper over other glaring errors in the roster. But, is that really such a bad thing?

*I wrote this independently of  Book of Loob’s article Wednesday which is similarly optimistic for the season, with a focus more upon the skaters. We actually agree on something. Sorry, BoL, I promise it won’t happen again.

  • I like the opportunity for the club to try to find its way without the “crutch” of Kipper. It’s like flooding therapy for a phobic.

    That said, I’m starting to think goaltending will be the club’s true achilles heel this season, even when Kipper returns. If/when Backlund comes back and Hartley can continue making the right decisions, the Flames should be a capable outshooting club based on the early returns. That will all be for naught if Kipper + dubious back-ups can’t provide at least league average netminding.

  • Subversive

    I demand that you retract your slanderous and obviously wrong comments about the great movie “2012” forthwith.

    And while you’re at it, don’t get any funny ideas about slandering the also awesome movie “The Day After Tomorrow.”

  • AF

    Still don’t understand the Irving / Taylor situation. To elaborate I don’t understand why Irving who played mediocre in the AHL is the starter over Irving or even Brust.

    This article reminds me that we have quite a few solid goaltending prospects in the pipeline. Interesting.

    • Welcome to the fun of internal organizational politics!

      Timeline: Irving, former first overall, has some decent showings in the NHL last year but then loses his place to undrafted Danny Taylor in the AHL.

      As a result, Flames hum and haw about re-signing Irving in the summer, but end up committing to him cheap and short-term because they have even less faith in their other readily available back-up option (Karlsson).

      The lock-out happens, shutting things down. A brief Training camp goes in January and the Flames are left with Karlsson and Irving as potential back-ups with contracts in NA. Meanwhile, Irving has spent three months having his lunch eaten by not one AHL journeymen but two in Brust and Taylor, further undermining his long-term stock in the org.

      His contract status gives him a leg up come training camp though. The team doesn’t have anything invested in Taylor or Brust (who were supposed to be AHL fill-ins) and they likely aren’t convinced either of them has a true NHL future…so they don’t want to sign them to NHL deals.

      So Irving is back-up by default. Then Kipper goes down and Irving’s the ONLY option to start some games. By this time, the team is more or less publicly committed to the kid as an NHL option having dealt Karlsson and made noises about Irving in the press. They sign Taylor because they have to, but he was never really in the team’s plans. Irving probably isn’t either (Hi Joey MacDonald!) but the forces that conspired to get him a two-way deal some months back now have him as the de facto netminder right now.

      Personally I would have given Taylor a shot in the show to see what he was made of, but then I don’t have to face the anxiety of two rookie puck stoppers.


  • ChinookArchYYC

    Goaltending could end up being a boom for the Flames. With some luck this year, they may find that playoff bound are looking for a decent backup. Irving wasn’t great last night, but has a chance to assert himself as a capable backup over the next few weeks. MacDonald already has this pedigree now. If the Flames are realistically out of the playoff race before the trade deadline, they may be in a position to fix current holes in their overall depth, or simply get back more picks in the next draft(s), by unloading one or both backups. Obviously, this would be more realistic, if they know Ramo will be in camp next year.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    Earlier in the summer I thought to myself, “man, even if the Flames make the playoffs, they aren’t a good enought team to do anything. so what’s the point?” I still believe that if the Flanmes somehow make the playoffs, they probably won’t do anything, but just a taste of post season would be so nice.
    As a die hard Minnesota Vikings fan, I was thrilled when they made the playoffs, even though I knew they would get crushed by the Packers. It was a moral victory, and nice to have one extra game
    Just an extra 4 games is all I am asking boys. Give us some sort of hope, and something we can build off next year.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    In addition to my last post, dependant on Kipprusoff’s health. They may really capitalize on trading him. I expect most of the NHL teams would give Kipprusoff a look, and someone would likely pay a hefty price (in terms of players and picks) for his services during a playoff push.

    Not only does a potential trade partner acquire a perceived elite goaltender, they’d secure his services next year for a paltry $1.5M as well.

  • RKD

    Maybe Kipper was playing injured before he went down with the Grade 2 MCL sprain and was why he struggled early on in the season.

    Irving will need to be way more consistent in his play, once in a while he will need to steal a game. If not, MacDonald will need to come in and try to stabilize things.

    When Kipper comes back, he will need a few games to get back into rhythm. I’m sure there are team interested in his services but he has a no trade clause and could still retire at the end of this season but I hope not.

  • RexLibris

    Any team trading for Kiprusoff would likely want some ironclad assurances that he wouldn’t simply retire during the last year of his contract and head back to Finland. A Stanley Cup aside, there aren’t many reasons for him to play another year at $1.5 million.

    And yes, I am somewhat disgusted at what that statement actually means to the rest of us.

      • RexLibris

        As a principal part of a trade, or in addition to the main asset returning?

        Big question.

        Conditional 1st if he plays more than 50 games in 2014 means the conditions have to affect a 2014 pick. That may dilute the return on assets acquired immediately.

        Probably better to just load up on the immediate return and ask for less overall, thereby mitigating the risk taken by the trading partner.

        One and a third years of Kiprusoff is far more valuable than one, but if the one year is in doubt, then few GMs are going to be willing risk as much in a trade.