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.

  • RedMan

    I’ve never been real huge on Butler being top 4 – third pairing fine, but not top 4. Broadie’s tape to tape passes are amazing – something this team has seen precious little of over the past year or two.

    If these “pieces” start actually clicking, and this coach turns them into a cohesive unit and has some success, we will have to pause to give Feaster some credit… now that would be eating crow, for all the hate he gets!

    I agree with Backlund being a surprise… I hope he keeps his swagger and actually grows it a bit… I mean, I don’t expect him to be a first line power forward, but if he grows into a solid full time 2nd line contributor, what more could we ask for… and he will then be the “veteran” to mentor Johny Hockey and that skinny center they drafted this year from high school

    • MattyFranchise

      I would have no problem giving Feaster the credit he is due. So far his moves have been generally positive and if the Flames keep playing like they are then by the time they regress to the mean they are going to make Feaster look like a pretty smart dude.

  • T&A4Flames

    Iggy has looked good. He’s gotten points and that’s fine.

    Oh look, Baertshi played and didn’t even need his booster seat tightened. And hey, what do you know, Duhatschek agreed with me this morning – keep him up here, take a long look at him (fer crying out loud, give him 10 games, right? At least that’s something resembling a plan) and have him play a few minutes. And believe it or not, it doesn’t ruin players. Or maybe it really was the Flames’ coaches that ruined Rico Fata.

    • T&A4Flames

      It’s the few minutes part that people had a problem with.

      You don’t develop scorers on the 4th line.

      If he plays meaningful minutes then keep him up, fine. Not sure why that’s so difficult to grasp.

      Also, nice example, a guy who played 27 games for the Flames in total. Of course, by your logic, had the Flames just kept him up he would’ve turned into a superstar. They stunted his development by leaving him down. See how I turned that around?

      Check and mate.

      • T&A4Flames

        You’re the one that asserts that “sheltering” prospects makes them “better”, whatever “better” means.

        You’re a funny guy. You bitch and whine about how much the team sucks year after year (which, hey, it’s true – they suck), and when someone finally shows up that has some potential, you want to play the losers over him. Good job.

        And maybe you’ve totally forgotten about Iginla’s history, but he played junior, came up for some Flames playoff games, and never went back down. He was obviously ruined.

        How about you listen to what the Hat said? He made some good points.

        • Vintage Flame

          I never said “shelter,” you really like to twist people’s words.

          I do think he’d benefit from finishing the year in Abby, top minutes, pp, pk, all that stuff.

          I’ve also said he’s capable of playing in the NHL and if he’s playing top 6, then fine.

          If he’s not playing top 6 though, I think it’s better for his development to be in the AHL.

          Part of Detroit’s success in drafting lies in their development and letting players ‘over-ripen’ as they put it. I believe development is just as key as drafting is. You can contrast that with any number of teams who have rushed and ruined prospects.

          Calgary has had several players with great junior pedigress, lots of hype, pegged as scorers and the team wouldn’t live with their mistakes on the top 2 lines, but wouldn’t let them stay down and dominate a lower league until they had the confidence to walk straight into the NHL. Those players were either turned into checkers or found their scoring touch after being traded.

          Now, I’m not saying Baertschi would be ruined if left on the 4th line (though I don’t get how that helps an offensive player develop his game), just that there’s no harm in him staying down.

          Not everyone is Iginla, btw. Iginla is a 500 goal scorer and a probale HOF’er and one of the only prospects in the last 17+ years the Flames let play in the top 6 and lived with his mistakes.

          I’ve stated I want to build the team around Baertschi, Backlund and Brodie. But Baertschi on the 4th line is stupid and a waste of development.

          Backlund, btw, is a good example. He totally would’ve benifited from another year in the AHL developing his offensive game. And, he was close to being ruined here by being buried on the bottom 6 all the time. Thank goodness for the lockout. Playing in Sweden is what’s given him his swagger back and thankfuklly Hartley is playing him top 6. He still has a lot to prove, but early results are promising, but if there was no lockout and he was 3rd line again, where would his career end up?

          I’m waiting for the Flames to miss again this year, Iginla ask to be moved and hopefully see some sort of rebuild that doesn’t revolve around 30-ish year old castoffs from other teams.

          Does that clear things up?

          I love your passsion.

  • T&A4Flames

    If we were going to try and move Babchuk we should be eyeing up teams that are hurting on the PP; Detroit, NYR, LAK, Philly are all hurting in that department and are rumored to be shopping for D. Maybe Darryl can convince Lombardi that Babchuk is a great offensive Dman and we can get a 2nd for him. 🙂

    • Knowing Darryl, we’d get their best D-man, a 2nd, and a spare part, and all we’d have to give up is a crate of rolling tobacco and some used farm equipment.

      The Flames are still one Roy and one Kovalchuk away from a Cup, there’s no kidding ourselves. Doesn’t matter if they beat the Oilers – I don’t think the Oilers care about the BoA anymore. That’s a remnant from a bygone era where both our teams used to be good and when the Dubnyks and Stempniaks of the world were sitting on the bench, giving water to the other players.

  • T&A4Flames

    Hey Kent, are we getting a weekend prospect update?

    Re: Butler; perhaps Hartley had a look at him or Smith playing the right side (both left shots)and it just didn’t work. Hence, making Sarich the best choice. I have a hard time believing that Butler has been passed by both Smith & Sarich. There has to be something, an injury, trade talk, something.

    • Stockley

      I think we would have been more surprised and disappointed if Backlund had a bad start. There was a lot of talk about his play in Sweden and in training camp so there was an anticipation that he was finally going to take that next step we’ve all been waiting for.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    It is a little surprising Butler isnt at least on the 3rd pairing. But I have high hopes for Brodie so I am glad he is being given an opportunity and is running with it. His ceiling is much higher than any of Butler, Sarich, Smith and Babchuck.

    I only wonder what will happen when Babchuk is healthy. Do the pairing stay the same? And more importantly who gets sent down? Or will there be a trade?

    • Stockley

      I think well hope and pray that Babchuk will ride the pine and hopefully the one year left on his contract out of town. I don’t care if he sits in the press box, accepts a demotion to Abby for playing time or goes back to Europe. He’s a one-trick pony PP specialist with a heavy shot. He’s terrible in his own end, his passing is nothing to get excited about, his hockey sense is almost non-existent and for a big guy he’s even less physical than Bouwmeester. Given the depth ahead of him there is just no room for Babchuk on this team. If Butler lost his place how do they justify letting Babchuk play?

      Given how much talk Feaster and Hartley offer up on the Flames being a meritocracy I don’t understand how Sarich keeps getting dressed. His non-existent speed has continued to deteriorate and sometimes it just looks like the game has passed him by. I like the guy and respect his accomplishments but I just don’t get where he fits in.

      • Parallex

        Yes and yes.

        Butler should be a 3rd pairing D and should be able to thrive there as well, especially with last season under his belt.

        I do agree with the theory that not playing with Butler anymore has freed up JBo to play more offensively.

        Sarich signing was as bad as the Babchuk signing.

        • Stockley

          Anyone else curious what a Butler/Smith pairing would look like? I understand that Sarich brings some needed grit and sandpaper to the back end but as was mentioned above it’s just a matter of time before he’s caught out of position and his lack of foot speed burns the team. The team seems to be going for a free-wheeling and fast game; he’s one of the guys who just doesn’t seem to fit in. Go all or nothing, having one pylon of a defenceman when the rest are all over the ice and aiding the transition seems counter productive.

          • seve927

            Balance is certainly not counter-productive. All or nothing approach to anything usually results in nothing. The Smith-Sarich combo has scared me, but they haven’t been that bad. Butler-Sarich seems much better to me though. Maybe they’re trying to showcase Smith for a trade?

            I can’t say anything has truly surprised me yet. 4 games. Anything can happen in 4 games. Closest thing to a surprise is that Wideman seems to be a better defender than I was expecting. I really like our top 4 the way it is right now.

            If Backlund can keep up a reasonable scoring pace, Iginla chooses to play the way he’s capable of, this team can set it’s sights higher than squeaking into 8th.

            My biggest worry right now is probably a backup for Kipper. It’ll be interesting to see if a backup can actually have success if the team in front of him is putting in a respectable effort.

          • T&A4Flames

            My theory is that if the team doesn’t have a true first line or #1 stud D, then they should focus on demolishing everyone else’s 2nd/3rd/4th lines and 2nd/3rd D pairings.

      • Parallex

        I was so choaked when I heard about Sarich signing for 2 years. I could understand 1 but 2 at 2mill was ridiculous to me.

        That being said I think he has played well in a third pairing role. He is slow, that much is true, but I think he is earning his keep as of right now.

        My love/hate for him is leaning more to love right now, that could change after a couple errant passes or being caught out-of-position and too slow to get back situations arise.

        In all honesty the only players I don’t like on this team right now are Stajan (I’ll take heat for this but I just cant get the bad taste out of my mouth that is the last 2years of having him here) and arguably Comeau.

        If Stajan and Comeau were on the fourth line together with Jones I wouldnt mind the make-up of this team at all.

        Sorry to all Stajan lovers but he is not a second line player, he is a third liner at best, and over the course of the next month I hope he gets moved down and Baertschi moved up (Cervenka moved to center).