1. What we can take from the preseason
Obviously it’s difficult to draw a lot of conclusions from the games that are going on right now. Calgary, for one thing, seems insistent on playing split-squad games, which is actually really smart if you think about it because that all but ensures that everyone can get plenty of game action and it affords teams a better opportunity to see how goes react when dealing with this and that. The fact that this kind of tactic is something most NHL organizations don’t do regularly doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.
With that having been said, it’s important to not put too much stock into these kinds of things. The ability to dominate preseason games does not always extend to same in the regular season and that’s a very important distinction to make.
For instance, the big, funny joke about preseason games and statistical leaders during the mid-2000s was that you could, like clockwork, expect Jon Sim to score a trillion goals and lead the league in scoring. Then once the regular-season started and teams began fielding their actual full-strength rosters, Jon Sim once again became Jon Sim, the guy who scores somewhere in the neighbourhood of 12 or 14 games a year when he gets a full NHL season, which is to say, rarely.
Jon Sim is therefore the term I use for anyone who performs exceptionally well in the preseason, perhaps well enough to earn a spot on a roster he might not have otherwise been able to count on. The preseason and first several games of the season is littered with Jon Sims. The end of the year and the playoffs? Not so much. Jon Sim had just 15 career postseason appearances in his 14-year NHL career.
2. The Flames’ Jon Sim this year
I don’t know that there should be any question in anyone’s mind as to who exactly is going to be Calgary’s "guy who makes the team but probably shouldn’t."
Sean Monahan has admittedly been excellent in this preseason and that’s all well and good. You hope that all the talk from Bob Hartley about the team having "big plans" for him means somewhere down the road, but I’m not so sure. There is, obviously, the contingent who believe that if he’s good enough now, Monahan would be better off playing 12 minutes a night on the fourth line and perhaps in spot duty on the power play, than if the Flames sent him back to Ottawa, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true.
How many times, exactly, have we heard about a kid left too long in junior or college or the minors whose NHL career was therefore ruined? Hell if I can think of any at all. On the other hand, boy do you hear an awful lot about promising prospects who went bust because he got rushed to the show. I’m not saying that will happen with Monahan, and in fact I don’t think it will, but the fact that he’s still junior-eligible should be enough to convince the Flames not to torch a year of his entry-level deal on a flop of a season anyway.
I’ve said this before, but very few kids are exceptional enough to warrant getting decent playing time in the NHL at Monahan’s age, and I don’t know that I consider him to necessarily be that exceptional. I think he’s very good for his age, but he doesn’t exactly have transcendent talent, and the Flames don’t exactly have need of his services in the way that, say, Edmonton did for any one of their several top picks in the last few years. A Taylor Hall or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Nail Yakupov could make an impact offensively for that team in a way that few other players in their pipelines could; what does Monahan bring that Corbin Knight for instance does not?
If they don’t have to use him — and they don’t — then I really hope they won’t. For his sake, for their sake. I think Monahan is probably going to be a pretty good NHLer some day, but I don’t see why that day has to be this season.
3. Wideman and the future
Speaking of guys who are doing extremely well in this preseason, how about the work Dennis Wideman’s been putting in? He’s just doing everything exceptionally well, and I really enjoyed watching him play in the one game and several highlights I saw. (Obviously judging a player on his highlights only is how you end up drafting Mark Jankowski, but I digress.)
I wonder, then, what this could mean for him. If he can keep doing anything resembling this kind of regular scoring I wonder if that chums up any interest in him at the deadline, or if he starts thinking about greener pastures as the team nosedives into this most serious of serious rebuilds.
Given what other guys are starting to get on the open market, Wideman’s deal (three years left after this one at $5.25 million per against the cap (though a little more than that in actual money) could possibly fit into someone’s wheelhouse if they’re looking for a good, mobile power play quarterback defenseman. The term is obviously cumbersome for anyone to take on, but you wonder what kind of an appetite a guy like Wideman, who will be 31 when the season ends, has to stick around.
The same, I suppose, could also apply to Jiri Hudler, but I would imagine people like Wideman a lot better given the price point and term. Mike Cammalleri, meanwhile, might as well hang a for-sale sign around his neck for the stretch run.
4. What of Karri Ramo?
Karri Ramo was also excellent in beating the Islanders the other night and is looking, I think, more and more likely to be the No. 1 starter outright, rather than platooning with Joey MacDonald to start the season. That’s all well and good.
I don’t know that it necessarily behooves him to play for a spot against a guy who’s barely good enough to be in the NHL. The guy’s a career backup and while Ramo obviously has to prove he can play in this league long-term, MacDonald has already largely proven that he can’t.
On the other hand, there is the game against the Oilers to consider, in which Ramo was lit up for four goals on 17 shots but I didn’t so much consider that his fault.
The thing is, I think maybe that’s just what Ramo or MacDonald or anyone else the Flames might put between the pipes this season gives you: Mostly decent to good performances and then a real stinker or three thrown in every once in a while. On this team, that’s not a huge issue – but two or three years from now it will be.
5. Finally some good news
I saw where ESPN voters called Sven Baertschi the 100th-best forward in the league right now, which is nice. Even better, though, is that he finished ahead of Bobby Ryan and Jordan Staal, among a number of others. Feels good.
Now, I’m not saying that the rankings are correct in any way, but the outside world positively acknowledging (good) Flames players is cool.