Jarome Iginla’s attempt to pull a Ray Bourque was put to rest by the Boston Bruins recently, a grimly ironic result after the whole "Iginla to the Bruins" kerfuffle. Some are no doubt pointing to karmic retribution, but, really, the post-season is where dreams get crushed without mercy all the time.
I don’t wish Jarome any ill will and sincerely hope he manages to cap off his great career with a cup win at some point. What’s more interesting from a Flames perspective is how Iginla fared in his new digs. Not as any sort of enduring indictment of the captain, you understad, but just because one of the most useful analytic gauges of a team and a player are when a guy switches clubs. This allows you to compare his pre-and-post outcomes in order to determine to what degree his failures or successes were team/circumstance based.
Meaning, if Iginla had gone to Pittsburgh and suddenly started to drive possession again, then we’d know something had gone very wrong in Calgary – be it in terms of strategy, coaching or quality of linemates.
Instead, the opposite was true – the erstwhile captain’s struggles continued in Pittsburgh, despite a vastly superior team. Iginla finished the playoffs with a -7.2/60 relative corsi, despite a very favorable 58.3% zone start. He also spent a lot of time with Malkin and Crosby through the first two series before Dan Bylsma eventually gave up and dropped him down the rotation.
Those are surprisingly abysmal underlying numbers, even granting the fact that Iggy has had trouble moving the puck north for the last few years here. They suggest Jarome has devolved to the kind of guy who can’t really be effectively sheltered at this point in his career; that he will be a liability at 5on5 in just about any top-9 rotation. I’m guessing those numbers are somewhat overstated by a few of factors, including playing on his off-wing, some uncertainty about joining a new team after nearly two decades in Calgary and the much stronger level of competition in the playoffs relative to the regular season.
Still, it’s fairly clear that Jarome’s downturn as an effective top gun in Calgary wasn’t caused by environmental factors. There was always a chance something in the local water had turned down the dial for Iggy, but he got a couple months to play on the wing of two of the most dominant centers in the league (starting in the o-zone more often than most to boot) and he still spent more time in the defensive zone than the opposition.
– It will be interesting to see what Iginla chooses to do in the off-season. He’s made a ton of money in his career and all that’s really left is to win the cup. Most of the legit contenders outside of St. Louis won’t have much cap space left to invest in a player like Jarome, particularly after his turn in Pittsburgh reveled him as a supporting piece (at best) on a quality team these days. For the record, I don’t think there’s any chance he comes back to Calgary.
– There’s lot of talk about "big changes" coming in PIT after the sweep, which is pretty silly in my estimation. The Pens still boast some of the best players on the planet. Also, as well as Boston played in the third round, there’s no question Pittsburgh simply hit a string bad luck as well.
What Ray Shero should be worried about is the bottom-end of his roster. Without Jordan Staal anchoring the third line that portion of their club has taken a huge hit, to the degree that the top-end isn’t quite able to float them possession-wise against good teams as much, which is problematic given how often Crosby/Malkin tend to get injured. The later rotation should be relatively easy to fix, assuming the team asks the right questions this summer though.
What they shouldn’t do is fire Dan Bylsma, trade key pieces or keep MA Fleury. Find some competent guys to patrol the bottom-six, firm up the blueline somewhat and get rid of the needlessly expensive mediocre goaltender and things should all be well.
– Switching gears, a lot of arrows are pointing to the Flames being interested in probable first round pick Zach Fucale, who is the highest ranked goalie in the upcoming draft. Both Bob Hartley and John Weisbrod have publicly praised the Halifax Moosehead’s starter recently.
We’ve gone over this before in this space, but I’ll re-iterate that taking a goalie in the first round is a generally a terrible bet. Unless you are sure a guy is more or less a generational talent, it’s always prudent to a pick a skater.
I came to this conclusion a long time ago at my personal blog, and subsequent investigations by smarter men than me have all pretty much confirmed my suspicions: that forecasting the future of 18 year puckstoppers is the toughest gig an NHL scout has. There are all sorts of systemic and market reasons why picking goalies high in the draft is a bad idea, but I want to focus and expand on why goalies are so difficult to project and develop.
The path to starter-dom for a goalie is incredibly narrow relative to skaters. There are 12 forward positions and 6 defender positions on any given team – and one starting goalie. Skaters can be gradually developed in lower ends of the rotation and work their way up until they hit a ceiling. Skaters can also be developed into a variety of roles ranging from shut-down defender to the powerplay specialist. You can stick a slow guy with a faster guy to help cover up his mobility issues. You can play a rookie with a veteran to help him with the defensive side of the game. You can protect a defensively suspect sniper by starting him in the offensive zone way more often than the defensive zone.
So when picking skaters in the draft, you can essentially pick them for a multiplicity of end-points. Maybe the kid pegged as a future power forward becomes a checking winger instead. Maybe that defender who scored a bunch of points actually becomes a second pairing, two-way guy. Skaters are easier to protect, easier to develop and they can be groomed to take on more than a single role. Essentially, for a rookie skater to make the team, he just has to be better than the one or two of the worst options ahead of him on the depth chart. Then you can groom him and move him up from there, depending on his abilities and progression.
There’s no such opportunity or flexibility with goalies. They simply have to stop the puck at a higher rate than the next guy. A goaltender’s mistakes are the highest impact errors on the ice, so there’s no sheltering him on the 4th line or on the powerplay. As a result, there are no multiple roles or fall back positions for drafted goaltenders – in contrast to skaters they have to be better than the best available option for the organization at every given point in order to garner playing time. Meaning there are far greater obstacles standing in the way of every prospective goalie’s development path.
Let’s put it another way – if you were to target centers in the draft but only one center could play for each team every year, that means you more or less have to hit a homerun with that pick – if the chosen center isn’t a future number one center (that is, one of the best 30 in the league), then he’s more or less worthless.
And that’s how it is with goalies. Either you choose a guy who will be a high-end puckstopper in the show a few years down the road, or you have more or less flushed a pick down the toilet.
Goaltenders are the higest impact single players on any given team, so it’s incredibly beneficial to land a quality puckstopper in the draft. The problem is, projecting goalies is hard and developing goalies is hard. Much harder than skaters. Goaltending is also often cheaper to purchase in the UFA and trade market as well. So, for example, trading a first round pick for an established NHL goalie usually makes a lot more sense than drafting one with that same first rounder.
So, in short – please don’t take Zach Fucale Jay.
– In case you missed it, all of the Flames first round picks have been solidified now that the Pens are done: 6, 22, and 28. One of the reasons I envision the Flames targeting Fucale is they get two skaters they really like at 6 and 22 and then decide to take chance on him with that 28th overall pick (assuming he’s still available). That is, of course, if the club doesn’t trade it for something.
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