Before I get to the Matt Stajan stuff, let’s get the Canucks/Flames brawl out of the way…
I don’t have any strong feelings on the subject. I think Hartley definitely iced the goon squad with a view to starting something and I definitely think Tortorella could have countered with a scoring line to defuse the whole thing. Of course, one of the unwritten rules of the North American game is obvious aggression MUST be met with aggression, so Tortorella "couldn’t" do anything but fight fire with fire according to the still persistent machismo mores of the NHL. Ironically, had a Sedin vs McGrattan match-up happened organically during the game, Tortorella would have taken it eagerly.
Which is, I think, the best way to counter outright thuggery in the league. Punish clumsy physical attack with a skillful, precision offensive counter-strike. Like so:
As for whether the ploy did anything for the Flames, I think it’s irrelevant. The team won’t win anything this year or next regardless of such shenanigans. I’d say it’s the move of a club desperate for some modicum of respect in the face of sinking fortunes. Unfortunately, there is a law of diminishing returns when it comes to these sorts of stunts and the organization’s long wander through the desert is going to far outlast whatever sort of benefit one might want to assign to a coaching-imposed donny brook (if any).
– Before we leave the topic, I submit this incident as another data point in my thesis that enforcers do more to incite, rather than deter, needless violence in the game.
– From my angle, the Matt Stajan signing is a good one. He has solid underlying numbers through most of his tenure in Calgary and he remains one of the best overall forwards on the club. I’ve mentioned several times since the rebuild began that it’s a bad idea to simply purge any and all middle-tier veterans from the team with a hope that the entire roster can be built back up from scratch once the kids start finding their legs. Stajan will be a useful placeholder for a few years while younger guys figure things out – or until the team can attract a superior replacement.
In addition, Stajan’s presence potentially dissuades the club from trying to seek a replacement in free agency come July. Buying talent from the UFA pool is an expensive and risky venture at the best of times, but for terrible teams in the middle of a rebuild with cap room, it’s a veritable minefield. The Oilers were saved from numerous errors over many ill-fated summers by players simply choosing to play elsewhere despite the fact that Edmonton drove a dump truck full of money up to their house.
An average team has to overpay on July to land a noteworthy player. A terrible team usually has to do more than that. The resultant contract is almost always a mistake.
– Probably the only complaint about the Stajan deal is length. Ideally, it would be only about 3 years long, though it’s hard to complain too loudly about an extra season at just over $3M per year. By that time, assuming 5% annual revenue growth, Stajan’s deal won’t even account for 4% of the Flames total cap budget (assuming they are still a cap ceiling team). If he falls off a cliff by 34, It’s not a big deal.
Besides, the club had to throw some sort of bone to Stajan to get him to stick around. He went through a lot of crap during Brent Sutter’s tenure here and he will likely go through a lot more (albeit of a different variety) through this next contract. A single-tacked on season isn’t a terrible price to pay.
– Keep in mind how dreadfully thin Calgary’s depth chart at center is. Backlund and Stajan are the only two actual NHL C’s on this club. Colborne might be an NHLer, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s shifted to wing permanently since he mostly got eaten alive down the middle (and looks much more comfortable as a winger now). Of course, he might simply be a replacement level player who isn’t even retained down the road tool.
The rest of the hopefuls: Corban Knight, Max Reinhart, Markus Granlund and Bill Arnold – are complete unknowns at this point and it will likely to take at least 3 years for any of them to make the club and usurp a player like Stajan. That’s IF any of them prove to be NHLers.
– Related: a lot of folks are penciling Monahan into one of the top-2 C positions sooner rather than later, but the truth is we don’t really know…
a.) if he’ll ever be that good or,
b.) when he’ll actually be capable of that assignment.
A lot of young players have had splashy starts to their careers only to settle into "okay at best" territory down the road. Exhibit A is Sam Gagner up north. He had a career high of 49 points as a tenager. Seven years later and he’s still just a middle-rotation center who doesn’t drive the offense or possession to any notable degree.
Monahan is a toolsy kid. His draft pedigree and position as the prospect to kick off the rebuild gives him organizational clout. But we still don’t really know if he’ll be a useful NHL player quite yet, let alone a top-six forward or star.
– Switching gears, I think the Flames have played a lot better recently since emerging from the post-Christmas drought, although they still can’t seem to put together many wins. I think they stood toe-to-toe with two superior squads in VAN and SJS lately, for instance and were full value for the recent win over the Coyotes.
That said, it’s kind of amazing how bad the Flames luck has been for the better part of a month now: if refs aren’t blowing calls or disallowing legitimate Flame goals, opposition shots are ricocheting off the goalie’s chest and blocker before somehow bouncing into the net…
Even if you reasonably assumed the Flames are so talent deficient that their percentages would trail the league mean legitimately this year (ie; not due to variance alone), it’s hard to get past just how little affection the hockey gods have for this club currently.
– Of course, in the grand scheme of things that’s actually good news for the team since the overarching goal for the next few seasons is to collect as much young talent from the draft as possible. It doesn’t make it any less painful to accept, however.
– Finally, since I am usually accused of disregarding toughness/grinders, I should note that I’ve liked the strides Lance Bouma has made this year. He’s never going to make his money as a sniper in the NHL, but he’s a player who combines toughness and aggression with at least moderate levels of hockey sense, skating and skill. His underlying numbers this year are good given the fact that Hartley almost never starts him in the offensive zone. He had a number of plays at both ends of the ice last night in the win over Phoenix that speaks to his growing utility for the Flames.
Personal Stuff – This isn’t good-bye
As some of you have noticed already, I stopped being the Nations Overlord and managing editor of FlamesNation at the start of January. After several years of making hockey writing and analysis my first priority, I had an opportunity to join Evans Hunt Group here in Calgary which I couldn’t pass up. As a result, I regretfully had to step take a step back here.
I will still be contributing to FN here from time to time with pieces like this. I will also lurk in the background, helping out with editing and business development occasionally.
Of course, I will also continue to add pithy observations and glib remarks on twitter about the Flames and NHL as whole. If you’re interested in what I’m doing outside of the hockey arena, check me out on Linkedin or or track me down at EH. I will also be active in helping out some of my family’s local entrepreneurial endeavours, including Kidoodle (Uncle, Cousin, Father) and Wilgrip (brother).
As for FN, I leave you in the capable hands of Mr. Ryan Pike. He’s a lot more positively oriented than I am and has much more energy for the journalistic side of things. Im confident he will be able to keep developing quality content on daily basis for our great (but demanding) readership.
I’d like to give eternal thanks to Wanye Gretz and the Nations ownership group who were willing to take a big chance and hire me on full time during a period when almost every other media entity was shedding salary. I learned a ton as the director of the network and got to work with a lot of intelligent and driven people including Jason Gregor, Jonathan Willis, Thomas Drance, Pat Steinberg, Robert Cleave, Cam Charron and many others. Not to mention the opportunity to cover two NHL entry drafts live.
Finally, thanks to all of the regular readers here and all those who have followed me since I began yelling into the abyss at my own humble blog way back in 2005. I never began this with any grand ambitions because, frankly, I never really considered it possible that anyone would pay me to write about hockey. It was – it is – a privilege, and it’s only made possible because enough of you have the patience to hear me out from time-to-time.
Thanks again to everyone. Go Flames.