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.
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.