Flames Notes – Icebergs And Rising Tides

 

 

The Flames opened the season with a rough first 10-games record-wise but I was encouraged by some of their performances, their underlying numbers and many of the decisions Bob Hartley was making. It seemed that if the club could weather the poor goaltending storm and continue to outshoot and outplay the bad guys, then they could emerge on the other side as playoff contenders.

Those sordid hopes have been utterly dashed since then. With the Kiprusoff and Backlund injuries, the potential for an immediate turn-around in net and continued high-level possession were both destroyed. I still suspect the team is still suffering from worse than average luck currently resulting in their awful record, but the processes and decisions that seemed so positive in the ealry going are starting to crumble.

Consider:

– Blair Jones waived and then demoted despite the total lack of natural centers in the line-up. Jone’s results were fine considering his role on the team, so we can only assume it’s something off-ice that caused the coach to take such a sudden dislike to the grinder.

– Akim Aliu recalled. There’s lots of noise about the Flames being soft recently and I agree they aren’t the meanest roster in the league. Let’s establish something right now, though: a few more post-whistle face washes or fights after someone hits Calgary’s goalie might feel cathartic at the time, but they aren’t going to meaningfully improve Calgary’s goals for or against rates. If hockey was that simple, Ben Eager, Darcy Hordichuk and Steve MacIntyre could have ensured the Edmonton Oilers wouldn’t still be terrible.

Akim Aliu is a nice story, but he’s not an NHL level hockey player. He’s barely an AHL player truth be told (a frequent healthy scratch for Abbotsford this year who was acquired for nothing from his previous team). So while he makes the Flames marginally bigger and tougher, he doesn’t actually make them any better. When the decision makers stop trying to dress the best roster they can, you know it’s panic time in the upper offices.

– Roman Cervenka a probable scratch. Word today is Calgary’s aged rookie has joined Jones in the Hartley’s bad books and was the odd-man out during rushes at practice this morning.

Cervenka has been okay in his NHL debut, ranging from dangerous and creative in spots, to somewhat invisible (especially recently). He has some more acclimating to do to North American ice and his underlying numbers are mediocre; but then the coach has saddled him with the 4th most difficult zone start ratio on the team amongst forwards so far (45.4%). Originally Hatley was giving the high ground to Hudler/Cervenka and Tanguay/Iginla as much as possible but without a third line/Mikael Backlund, the offensive zone draws have mostly fallen to the captain again.

Suffice to say, scratching Cervenka, demoting Horak/Jones and then dressing Aliu tomorrow night would make the Calgary roster significantly, uh, below par.

Of course, coaches and GM’s engage in these little roster games every so often for what I assume are motivational and disciplinary purposes. Still, in a shortened 48-game season and with the team already significantly behind the 8-ball in the Western Conference, I’d say the smart bet is to dress the best collection of players you can every single night. When you stop doing that – and start hoping to stumble on secret formuals of toughness/chemistry/compete level, then it suggests you’re more or less lost in the dark.

Things are getting ugly in Calgary fast. The team has one real center on the roster (and it’s Matt Stajan), almost every high-priced player in the top-6 is now underwater in terms of possession, Backlund’s gone for weeks, the goaltending is replacement level and the coaching staff is starting to make nearly indefensible personnel decisions.

Feels very much like furiously re-arranging deck furniture on a certain large, sinking vessel…

  • beloch

    Re: Akim Aliu

    Of Flames that have played 10 games or more this season, Steve Begin has the most penalties minutes per game played at 1.00 PIM/game. Akim Aliu has 2.96 PIM/game.

    In 27 games this season Aliu has 3 ten minute misconducts for unsportsmanlike conduct, 1 ten minute misconduct for “abuse of officials”, 2 five minute fighting majors, and an assortment of two minute minors including 3 more for unsportsmanlike conduct. Apparently Aliu is tougher on the refs than he is on the opposition.

    Calgary’s penalty kill is currently 73.5%, which is second last in the league.

  • “The Goaltending has been replacement level”

    Honestly… I wouldn’t be surprised if it were worse then replacement level. Such an effing pity… If Kipper comes out of the gate just as an average goalie (and backlunds knee doesn’t get hurt) the Flames are probably in a playoff spot right now but he comes out and lays a stinker in his drawers (and his replacements are equally poor) and the Flames become an after thought. Such a shame.

    I still think that regardless of all that the Flames don’t finish bottom 10… probably 18th or 19th.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    If Hartley is looking for Akim Alui to provide a spark for this team, it may end up blowing up in his face.

    I read an article last year when the Flames picked him up, (and which I cannot locate!) where Troy Ward bluntly talked about Alui’s biggest challenge was to learn how to treat his teammates and coaches. I doubt he’ll be as impact-full as he appeared last season. Regardless of his level of play, no organization can afford a cancer in the room.

    Maybe Comeau can fill in with Hudler on the second line, given his success as a center. Benching Cervenka? He’s been one of the few good stories this season.

  • Subversive

    Kent, an increase in toughness will make this team better. It will prevent our goalies from getting run over plus if players feel their teammate had their back, they will play more confidently. The last 2 champions were perfect examples of this

    • Oh hogwash. That’s the most silly myth in all of sports fandom.

      “Confidently” really? you think that by gosh if the team just felt better about themselves they’d be winning?

      Balderdash, teams lose because they have less overall skill then the other teams (or because they’re just unlucky), if “confidence” was all it took to be an elite athlete a bunch of joe schmoes could just hire a hypnotist and make themselves millions of dollars. No amount of confidence is going to allow Tim Jackman to win the Richard Trophy or the Columbas Blue Jackets the Presidents Trophy.

      Hell Kent even wrote an articule more-or-less debunking that a ways back… http://blogs.thescore.com/nhl/2010/12/21/the-rorschach-is-confidence-a-cause-or-effect/

      • SmellOfVictory

        Team toughness is needed as is more size. Was LA really the most talented team? Was Boston more talented than Vancouver? No. JF, do you not believe that having Thornton in the lineup made chara and Marchand more confident that they could impose their physicality? How well did sedin perform in that series?

    • The last two champions also had several lines of high level forwards, elite goaltending and at least one Norris level defender. Which probably had a lot more to do with them winning cups than mere toughness.

      If improving poor teams was as easy as adding Akim Aliu, then there wouldn’t be poor teams. Or Akim Aliu wouldn’t be a readily available minor-league, minimum-salaried player.

      In principle, Im not against adding tough players. I’m against adding tough players who can’t play at an NHL level and thinking it’s a meaningful step towards improvement.

      • Cowtown 1989

        To your point Kent, I couldn’t agree more about the key elements of a championship team. Another key element to all these teams is ACTUAL CENTERS. Anyone who has ever played or coached hockey is aware that your best skaters and most reliable defensive players reside at that position. Blair Jones would never be more than a marginal NHLer, but he was groomed for that position. This isn’t TimBits hockey, players don’t need to take turns at all positions.

      • beloch

        At no point did I say adding aliu was the answer but this team must get much tougher to play against and sometimes that involves employing players who cross the line but moreso players who can continue to dress in meaningful games and impose physicality in all zones. Of course this is as a complement to the skill player

  • takeyourvitamins

    @ the-wolf

    I too find it amusing that they’re shilling Cervenka as a winger now. They might want to change the press release and soundbite from Feaster on their website.

  • schevvy

    What about Weiss? Anyone here have any interest in him? Apaprently Florida is looking to move him.

    I use to be really high on him and if we were more competitive I still would be, but at 29 I don’t think we gain much by adding him.

    • He’s due to be back around Mid or late March. No help there.

      As for Weiss, he was an underrated player for years and would be an upgrade to the Flames current line-up of centers. That said, he’s fragile and definitely a diminishing asset. This year, for example, he’s facing the big boys but is getting his head beat in in terms of possession. Not really that the Flames need long-term.

  • RKD

    At this point I don’t think shuffling lines, or bringing in the odd player from Abbotsford is going to change anything… inconsistency can affect any team.. but in my opinion is not the underlying issue.

    The Flames do have the skill or talent there but are seriously lacking leadership, or that desire to win… or grit if you like.

    It’s obvious trades need to be made… not saying it has to be anyone in particular, but what is holding Feaster back from offer sheeting Ryan O’Reilly?

    • RKD

      A an ever increasing chance of getting Seth Jones or Nathan McKinnon and either blowing that chance or else watching Colorado simply match and trade him elsewhere.

  • RKD

    @Colin S. – re: JBo rumors – apparently Detroit is extremely interested. I still say package him with Iggy and bring back salary if needed. Shouldn’t be too much problem at the deadline anyways and Iggy is UFA next year so they can sort out how JBo’s contract fits in come summer.

  • RKD

    My own Titanic comparison posted under the 5 Things thread:

    “I imagine the Flames as the Titanic headed for the proverbial iceberg. Except, in this case, every passenger on board is standing on the decks for days or even weeks, frantically waving their arms in the air and pointing towards the giant chunk of looming ice while the captain of the ship still refuses to change course.”

    • Colin.S

      Heh, I like that. Captain Iggy of the SS-Middling
      We stink of desperation! I kind of feel like we will accidentally come into a win and then some morons will think it was the great move of getting rid of the Centers and bringing in Akim..

      Well I guess the bright spot for me is the fact that Sven is back. Hopefully he can generate something resembling offense. Would have liked to see Sven Cervenka Hudler line tho.

  • RKD

    I think scratching Cervenka would be a mistake, I think he has shied away from physical play but I think Hartley can relay that message to him through Hudler.

    Aliu probably isn’t a guy you want in your lineup all the time but last season he really got under the skin of the opposition. If you can get the other team off their game a little bit, your probably doing more than underachieving floating veterans.

    I think Danny Taylor will get the call against Minny and I am hoping for an Iggy breakout against the Wild.
    We won’t get McKinnon, once Kipper is back we will probably end up 9th-11th.

  • RKD

    @Smell of Victory – Feaster’s not smart enough to do manage premeditated sabotage.

    re: Jones – Frnacis on the Fan this morning alluded to some incident where Jones should have stuckup for a teammate and instead ignored the situation. Still, dumb as dumb gets.

    Aliu call-up is a joke.

    Also talk on the Fan this morning on how Cervenka is not and never was a center and yet that’s how he was advertised to the fans by management.

    Intellectual honesty?

    The Flames have neither intellect nor honesty.

    • supra steve

      Feaster has managed a team to the first overall pick in the past (Stamkos), so let’s hope he recognizes the value in that player and can connect the dots to MACKINNON/Jones/etc. It’s not my belief that Feaster is stupid, it is my belief that he is being held back by the owner’s unrealistic desire to win it all every single year. If he is able to get ownership on board with reloading, then we’re cooking.

      Now if I’m wrong about what’s motivating Feaster, then I would tend to agree with your assessment that he is STUPID.

      • Colin.S

        I sometimes wonder if maybe Feaster knows this is what we need to do and is purposely trying to fail… I guess that wouldn’t help keep his job but always some puzzling moves. But yeah if he could get management on board with retool (please call it a retool, they might be stupid enough to buy into that) life could be good.

        Lets face it at the very least this team needs some “retooling”

    • Colin.S

      Really Jones wouldn’t go full goon and just start knuckle chucking so they waive a competent NHLer, LOL. This team is just management and coached so well. Let me guess the player was Iggy so he told Feaster he had to go……

  • Colin.S

    Quite honestly I’m just getting sick of it, and then theres a bunch of the regular Flames reporters and such (looking at you steinberg) that are trying to make these decisions defensible, which they are not. Jones IS an NHL player, Aliu fooled a bunch of people with a couple games last year into thinking he was. But this last little stint in the AHL should clear that right up.

    The defence(3rd pairing) is a game of Musical Chairs at this point and is getting to the point of sad. Our top 4 is more than okay, but Wideman has shown(to me at least) why he got demoted to third pairing during last years playoffs. And it’s only going to get worse, Wideman is now playing 25+ minutes a night in the last 3 or so games. Combine this with the rumors that JayBo may be trade bait(scouts from about 15 different teams here for the LAK game), and this season is about to go off the rails fast.

    There are only 3 forwards above 50% in terms of faceoffs, Jones, Street, Cervenka(Huddler is exactly 50%). Oh hey, they are all no longer playing, thats a great sign if we want to be a puck possession team, or is it…..

    You are not going to be able to compete without actual real centers, you need to win draws and you need guys at center who understand the defensive responsibilities of the center position. If the entire concept that Hartley wants to instill is team defence and moving the puck, you need actual REAL centers.

    As an aside and Stampeders fan, they just hired a former Newspaper man as the President of that team as well, FML.

  • SmellOfVictory

    Feaster clearly has his eye on MacKinnon. Whoop whoop! At this point in the season, I think I’m with him. I may get some “no real fan” flak for this, but we’re nearly a third of the way through the season and the Flames aren’t even in spitting distance of 8th, much less a real playoff berth, so I’m ready to sit back and enjoy the ride to the bottom.

    I’m sure as I write this, the hockey gods are preparing a hot streak for the Flames wherein they reach 9th in the west.

    • Subversive

      If this is truly his plan, I would prefer some ‘intellectual honesty’ and just admit it, instead of pretending you’re trying to win and making decisions that make no sense from that perspective.

      I can live with a single season tank job, there are numerous reasons to believe the Flames could be a playoff contender again next season without enduring years of hardship.

      • supra steve

        Kinda hard to come out and say “we want to come in 30th and draft first overall” in the middle of the season. It’s the kind of thing that gets you fined, I think. He has to say it with his actions, not words. So if we see Iggy, JBow, Kipper, or Cammi dealt for youth…then we will all know.

        • beloch

          Ottawa still has Turris, Silfverberg (another reason not to toss away 2nd round picks all the time), & Zibanejad.

          As for toughness – it’s vitally important, but the skill factor has to be there too.