We’ve crossed over the 41-game mark of the 2013-14 Calgary Flames season and are past the half-way point. To get a sense of how the club is doing on (and off) the ice, we’ve gathered the FlamesNation posse for another edition of the Roundtable.
Join myself, Kent Wilson, Byron Bader, Christian Roatis, Justin Azevedo and the Book of Loob, and add your take in the comments!
The Flames are low on elite talent but seemed to be high on hard work early on. What’s your take on their on-ice struggles over the past few weeks?
Kent: Talent eventually rises to the top. It’s a fallacy that teams can simply "out-work" severe talent deficits in the NHL over the long term. These are pro athletes all being driven by pro coaches and organizations – they all work hard. The difference is, some have more talent than others. The Flames don’t.
Byron: I think the better teams in the league have started to play a little more intense, to shore up those playoff spots. The Flames impressed early on their hardwork and forechecking, which led to a lot of goals. As teams are playing further into the season, the games are getting more intense by the day. They’re watching more and more video and have a better understanding of the Flames tendencies. As a result, that hard work that got them through the first few months just isn’t enough anymore. They don’t have the horses to play with the big boys.
Christian: They’re gassed, in my opinion. Teams have out skilled and out classed them since the beginning of the year, but their insane work ethic and grind kept them in games. That doesn’t seem to stand all too true of late. To me, it seems they’ve lost some of that work, not from lack of trying, but from lack of resources. To put it simply, they’re pooped. I think we’ll see a resurgence of sorts after the Olympic break, but until then we’re looking at some painfully ugly, rebuild hockey.
Justin: Their on-ice struggles or successes have nothing to do with hard work. I doubt the level of effort they’ve demonstrated over the course of the year has varied much. They got lucky early on, averaging about 3.5 goals per game through the first 20 or so. That was, and is, unsustainable when you’re averaging less than 30 shots per game. As the scoring has regressed to the mean, so has the goaltending – but since it hasn’t really kept pace with the dip in scoring, it’s resulted in these losses. They’ve had some bad scoring luck; it’ll even out and they’ll start winning a few again. However, don’t expect it to improve drastically: the team’s Corsi% is cratering.
Book of Loob: Well, it’s pretty obvious that they’re just not a good enough team talent wise, but that’s not a total surprise. The work ethic in nice, great in fact, that’s one thing I hope never goes away and an area where I’ll give Bob Hartley credit. They have a system and they stick to it. The problem is, they just don’t have the personnel to play their system and be consistently good at it. When it’s a rebuild, these things happen. You can see some of the young talent in Abbotsford and junior/college slotting into the system soon enough, but right now, woof.
Ryan: I’ve mentioned this here and there, but the impression I get from watching this team this month versus in October is that this group isn’t surprising anybody anymore. The hockey world is a shockingly small world, and news of the Flames lunch-bucket mentality has spread. As such, nobody’s half-assing any of their contests with the boys in red and black. As a result, teams get on the gas pedal against the Flames in the first (rather in the third) and the games are a tad less competitive.
Related to the prior point, after 40-ish games, has your opinion of Bob Hartley as Calgary Flames head coach changed?
Kent: Meh. He seems to have finally settled on rational player usage after a few bumpy weeks in November. I still don’t quite understand the treatment of Sven Baertschi overall, but that seems to be an organization thing as much as a coach thing. Overall I think he’s fairly mediocre – certainly not a Tippett or Bylsma level coach who will be able to draw more out a line-up than your average coach. I could do without his need to dress an enforcer every night though.
Byron: My opinion has changed a little throughout the season. Earlier on when he was benching Backlund and Sven almost exclusively it seemed like there was something he really didn’t like about those two. But now that I see him rotating everybody through the 4th line when they’re not going, Colborne and Monahan included, it’s a little bit easier to take. If a guy’s not playing well and isn’t putting up huge offensive numbers he’ll drop down the depth chart a little and I’m ok with that. He’s done well with what he has. He has a system that keeps the Flames in most games which is about the most you can expect from the group. I’d give him a B+
Christian: I’m a bigger fan of Hartley now, than I was at the beginning of the year. I think he’s done a masterful job with the crew he’s been provided with and the circumstances he was put in. A great point was made by Rob Kerr on the Fan960 the other day and I paraphrase, "if past teams like the ones after the first lockout which were Top 10 in NHL perennially had the same work ethic and attitude as the guys in the locker room this year do, they’ve gotten a lot further in achieving their goals." I couldn’t agree more. Hartley has the right mindset and work ethic instilled in these guys, they’re just not good enough on their own to translate that into wins. I’d like Hartley to get a shot with a quality roster, but that’s probably unlikely.
Justin: No. He hasn’t really adjusted until he’s been forced to and he’s not providing plus coaching value.
Book of Loob: Nah. Again, credit to him to get what he’s got working as hard as they are, that’s an admirable trait in a coach, but beyond that, damn. He still does not demonstrate a clear vision when it comes to playing his charges in the situations in which they’ll thrive. He’s come around on Mikael Backlund, who truly has earned the ice he’s getting now, but some of his moves are maddening. He’s wasting Jiri Hudler’s skill set by playing him so frequently with David Jones and Joe Colborne, and why you’d EVER need to have Brian McGrattan and Kevin Westgarth in the lineup at the same time (or at all, but that’s a fight I know I’ll never win) is beyond me. I think that last point might be a directive coming from Brian Burke so I won’t put it completely on Bobby, but he seems like he’d be more than happy to do it anyway. Let’s just say I’m glad Sven is safe in Abby.
Ryan: I have a lot of time for Bob Hartley generally, as he’s gotten more out of this group than I would’ve expected prior to the regular season. I’m not sure his "tough love" approach goes over as well with some players as with others, though.
You’re the GM. Assuming that Joey MacDonald’s not in your plans, which of the organization’s four pro goaltenders (Karri Ramo, Reto Berra, Joni Ortio and Olivier Roy) do you move forward into 2014-15 with?
Kent: I’d stick with all of them. Well, not Roy, but keep the rest. Unless an obvious upgrade suddenly jumps into the club’s lap, there’s no reason to toss any of them aside.
Byron: Well both Ramo and Berra are playing quite well of late after slower starts. Ortio is doing pretty well in the AHL and Roy isn’t doing too bad either in the ECHL. It’s a tough call. I would probably keep Ramo up with the Flames, bring up Ortio and perhaps try and trade Berra to a contender in need of a back-up goalie. Next year I would let Roy have a job in Abbotsford while also signing Jon Gilles out of Providence and let him get equal starts with Roy in the AHL for a year to see if he has the "right stuff."
Christian: Ramo is on my team for sure, I’ve really liked what he’s provided. Almost exactly as advertised, in my opinion. Unfortunately the team in front of him stinks. I most certainly give Ortio a shot in training camp to establish himself as a backup goaltender, competing most likely against Berra, although I haven’t made up my mind on him yet. Some nights he looks great, others he looks like Henrik Karlsson. I’d probably search for an established ‘tender in Free Agency or through trade, depending on who’s available and at what cost. Roy is pretty interchangeable in the ECHL, but I guess I’ll hold onto him for one more year to see if he’s made any real strides.
Justin: Honestly, I roll with all four again probably. I don’t know if Ortio is ready to play 30+ games in the NHL next year, Roy has shown some positive results and is still 22 but is nowhere near NHL-ready and I’d be hesitant to give Rämö more than 50 appearances. Berra will be cheap to resign and this team sucks, so you might as well try to mould him into something; if it doesn’t happen, who cares. Ideally Rämö and Berra go about 50/30 at the NHL level while Ortio and Roy split starts in the AHL. At this point, I doubt Gillies makes the jump from the NCAA.
Book of Loob: I had a pretty lengthy discussion about this on twitter a while back, and I don’t really know where my own opinion on this ended up. A lot of it depends on what happens with Jon Gillies and whether or not he goes back to school or tries the Abbotsford route next season. If he does go pro, you need to make sure he gets a lot of starts (A LOT of starts), and if that means flipping him between Abby and Alaska, then so be it, but he needs to play.
It also depends on how seriously competitive the organization intends to be next season. I don’t believe they CAN be competitive next year unless they go full Holmgren on the free agent market. As such, I’d roll a tandem of Ramo and Ortio next season. Berra is a free agent, and if (and this is an if for sure) Bob Hartley isn’t next year’s coach, I don’t see a spot for Reto on the team. Ortio has been fantastic in the minors this season, and I think he’s been good enough for at least a shot at being the guy in Calgary next season, but a tandem role with Ramo probably suits both of them the best.
That said, I’m for more time with Ortio in the minors as well. Supposing the Flames get themselves something resembling an established starter for next season (and I don’t know what that is, but let’s call him James Reimer) a solution of Ortio in Abby with Gillies and Roy flipping back and forth between Abby and Alaska (Again, you have to get Gillies a lot of starts, this kid is undeniably the future of the Flames crease) that probably keeps everyone happy. I don’t think anyone has any serious designs on the development of Olivier Roy beyond a warm body, and neither do I.
Ryan: Short of the Flames finding a magical goaltending solution on the free agent market, I probably go to war with three of the four guys – sending Olivier Roy elsewhere. And I do what I can to get Jon Gillies signed, as I’m not sure another year dominating the NCAA is really that good for him.
You’re the President of Hockey Operations. Who do you hire to be your general manager and why?
Kent: If I was the President of Hockey Ops, the question might be relevant, but with Burke there it probably isn’t. Whoever comes in will have to be Burke guy through-and-through since the erstwhile Leafs GM will have the final say on trades and signings anyways.
Byron: I’m probably in the minority here but I’d probably try and get Darcy Regier. He has his faults. Many of which could be attributed to his over zealous owner, Terry Pegulas, pushing for a winner too early and being too aggressive in the free agent market. But after what Regier got for Vanek (Moulson – a player that actually has more points than Vanek in the last few years, a 1st and a 2nd) I have faith in his trade abilities. Put a stable ownership group that’s willing to spend but doesn’t NEED to spend right now and I think he’d be great for the rebuild.
Christian: It’s a tough one for me between Bruins AGM Jim Benning and Preds AGM Paul Fenton, but I lean to Fenton, mostly because of past draft results. Besides the obvious picks in the first round, Fenton – who I understand is mostly tasked with Nashville’s amateur scouting business – has found diamonds in the rough in later rounds like Roman Josi, Mattias Eklund among others. Heck, Finland just won World Junior Gold on the back of late round Fenton find, Juuse Saros!
Justin: Well, if I was president I would probably hire Gabe Desjardins, but I don’t think that’s what the question is asking. Paul Fenton, Ron Hextall, Laurence Gilman – those would be my top three guys. Really, anyone that shows a plus drafting record and intimate understanding of the cap is a good starting point. I would also like my candidate to have (at the very least) a cursory understanding of advanced hockey statistics.
Book of Loob: None of the guys who are currently on the short list. And that’s not a knock on their credentials or the ability to do the job, they’re probably all very qualified (that said, a HARD NO to Dave Poulin. That guy does not, to me, indicate that he gets it), but they’re on the list now because they would essentially be the yes men Brian Burke is looking for, and that is not a good thing.
I don’t think any GM the team brings in will ever have the full autonomy to do the job they want to do, but if you could bring in someone, for lack of a better term, more Burke-esque, someone with an alpha personality of their own, that’s probably the closest you’d get. Someone that wouldn’t hesitate to stand up to Burke if he disagrees. Ron Hextall, to me, seems like that guy, unfortunately I think the Flyers are aware that Holmgren is a dead man walking and Hextall could be the guy their sooner rather than later.
Plus those kind of hires just aren’t likely. Can’t see Burke hiring a guy he knows is going to oppose his own vision unless he really wants to get that barn fight in.
Come to think of it, that’d be a great way for a new GM to voice his concerns.
Ryan: My gut says we’ll end up with somebody previously affliated with Brian Burke, like Laurence Gilman, Dave Poulin or Claude Loiselle. I hope that, as either AGM or GM, the club grabs somebody like Kevin McDonald, Paul Fenton, Mike Futa or Jason Botterill.
Which Abbotsford Heat players do you bring up to the NHL once the team jettisons veterans on March 5 and needs human bodies to fill out the roster?
Kent: I imagine guys like Reinhart, Granlund and Knight will get a cup of coffee before the year ends.
Byron: Well if we look at who’s likely to go, you have Cammalleri, Stajan, Stempniak and maybe Butler. So you’re top sniper and two of your top 5 two-way players are out the door and a 5/6 dman. In that case, I would probably bring up Sven (pending he’s performing to the degree he should be in the AHL at that point), Knight, Reinhart and Wotherspoon. Sven because he has the most offensive skill and vision. Corban Knight because he’s been a good two-way force in Abby and is a killer in the dot. Max Reinhart because he’s probably the most likely and most experienced to fill that winger role. I’d bring up Wotherspoon because I think he would be the best fit for that 5/6 spot. I’m sure a bunch of guys are going to get looks and it’ll be a revolving door but those are the guys that I would bring up with the greatest regularity.
Christian: Corban Knight and Markus Granlund are two guys that have definitely earned it, in my opinion. Granlund especially, after he was given the call-up tour and didn’t even get to play. Baertschi is another but needs to find some offense and consistent play before he’s brought back up. On the blueline, seeing a Wotherspoon or Sieloff would be cool, but it’s important not to rush them up. I’m also in favour of leaving Ortio in the minors a full year before bringing him up, barring injury.
Justin: Assuming Bouma, Byron, Jones and Smith all remain on the main roster, I’d call up Chad Billins, Ben Hanowski, Mark Cundari and Corban Knight. The contracts of the first three expire this season and (in my opinion) all three are at the point where they need to prove they are NHLers if they are going to get another contract. Knight has played well in Abbotsford and it will be a nice transition after spending the entire season there to Calgary – where I believe he’ll stay permanently.
Book of Loob: Let’s be good and clear about this right now so we can all get a good cry out: We have not seen the end of Lane McDermid.
But if it were me, there’s no shortage of guys that will have their shot. Markus Granlund was recalled this season and would’ve checked into the lineup if not for it coinciding with the Kevin Westgarth Experiment (great band name, by the way), and I suspect he’ll get his shot eventually. He’s earned it too, he’s had a terrific season.
Corban Knight is another one I expect to see. I’m honestly surprised this much season has passed without him putting on the Flaming C. He’s also had a great season, AND he’s a big boy with local roots, it seems like a no brainer.
I’d like to see Ferland get his shot depending on how he does recovering from his injury, and I wouldn’t be surprised for Sven to get another late season Renaissance like he had last year.
The real problem is there are no real defensive veterans on their way out, so unless they just decide a lot of the bottom 3 guys can be worth waiver wire demotions, guys like Wotherspoon and Ramage and an uninjured Sieloff may not be seen around these parts too much, which is too bad. Abbotsford has more defensive depth than we really give them credit for considering Calgary’s own D is something of a tire fire past the top 4.
Ryan: First off, I hope that the team brings in some bodies as part of their deadline deals so the need to strip-mine Abbotsford for parts isn’t too crazy. But I probably keep two or three roster spots open and rotate guys through for a road trip or a home-stand at a time. I figure we see Markus Granlund, Max Reinhart, Ben Hanowski, Corban Knight and Chad Billins for sure, and maybe Patrick Sieloff if he seems to be a decent player after his lengthy time off. Maybe a start or two for Joni Ortio, as well.