1. Hudler got screwed
The Czech Olympic team finally named a replacement for Vladimir Sobotka and all you Hudlerheads out there are going to be baffled as hell when I tell you that it was, for some reason, not Jiri Hudler.
It was, instead, Martin Erat, who has lately been ripping the hell out of defenses in the Eastern Conference. While he still doesn’t have a goal this season — a thing I literally can’t even believe — he’s got 14 assists in his last 25 games playing third-line minutes against tough-ish competition. That includes five helpers in the last six games. This seems very much a case of Erat filling a role that Hudler simply does not, but it’s still dumb. You want, or at least should want, your best players in a tournament like this, and Hudler is pretty clearly a better hockey player at this point in his life than Erat, not that I’m sure there was ever a point at which the opposite was the case.
On the other hand, I kind of get it. Hudler has put up roughly a jillion points more than anyone had reason to logically expect, but he’s done it against indescribably soft competition, of which there isn’t going to be much in Sochi because these are, apart from a few nations that will go unnamed, mostly all-star teams. Playing for a team this deeply bad also has a negative impact on perception; remember, Jarome Iginla scored 52 goals on a line with Dean McAmmond and Craig Conroy and still didn’t win the Hart, so this really can’t come as that much of a surprise.
Still, though. No god damn goals and the guy makes the Olympic team. That’s crazy. Maybe they figure he’s due.
2. Cammalleri extension? Russell extension?
Thought it was interesting on Tuesday to see Bob McKenzie talking about the possibility of the Flames and Mike Cammalleri actually agreeing to a contract extension. That is, I have to say, something I did not in any way see coming. The rumored extension for Kris Russell, mentioned in Elliotte Friedman’s always-great 30 Thoughts, though, comes as no surprise.
First, the thought on Cammalleri was that it’s been a foregone conclusion for months, maybe even more than a year depending on who you ask, that Cammalleri was getting traded as hell around the deadline, and now they’re saying he might stick around? That seems very strange to me. Again, I get the whole thing about the Flames have to make it to the cap floor next season, and they need veteran players around to fill the roster and “show the young guys how to be professionals” and all that kind of thing.
But this ultimately boils down to asset management, and he’s one of the few guys that’s going to fetch any kind of price on the open market in a way that will meaningfully help Calgary going forward. Even if they take on a problem contract for the remainder of this season (and maybe the next one?), getting a first-round pick and a prospect should be the utmost goal here. Not retaining him. Maybe Brian Burke has had conversations that say the price for Cammalleri from other teams isn’t as high, and that’s the reason the team retains him instead, then okay, sure, but it has to be answered for.
As for Russell, well, he’s been perfectly fine in Calgary, as I think many suspected he would be. Nothing spectacular but he’s rarely bad either, and there’s a paucity of that flying around the Calgary blue line this season. Keeping him around is a good idea.
3. The streak and its inevitable end
So the Flames finally lost, snapping their five-game winning streak, in the Flamesiest way possible. They were shut out by one of the worst defensive teams in the Eastern Conference over the last months. No surprise there, because even the Habs playing at their optimal offensive best these days is probably only good enough to sneak one past a Calgary netminder.
It had to end at some point, mainly because it probably should never have happened in the first place, but that was some kind of weird run the Flames went on there, wasn’t it? They scored 16 goals on 147 shots in those five games, which is closing in on 11 percent shooting. That more or less has to even out all those clean sheets opposing goaltenders held for that stretch in late December and early January, right? This is how hockey evens things up over the course of a season, and now the Flames can go back to losing a lot. Everybody wins. Except the Flames for the rest of the year, I guess.
4. Butler earning praise? C’mon
Saw in the Herald where Chris Butler was getting a bunch of kudos for playing well this season. We’re talking about Chris Butler the Calgary Flames defenseman. Yeah he blocks a lot of shots. Okay great. Hit people a lot too. Sounds fantastic.
A scary thing is: In terms of puck possession, this is actually Butler’s worst season in Calgary. So of course he’s blocking a lot of shots and hitting a lot of guys. He’s awful. Now, to be fair, he spent basically from late November to the middle of December getting buried in his own zone at every opportunity, and has certainly rebounded more recently, but this kind of thing is such nonsense. Every team has guys who block a lot of shots but it doesn’t mean they’re doing well. It actually means the opposite. How are we still having this discussion in 2014?
5. A look at Ortio
In discussing the Flames’ goaltending options last week I neglected to take into account the fact that Joni Ortio, who’s been playing extremely well in the AHL this season, might be a backup option for next season. Didn’t think it was something they might explore. But now with the injury to Karri Ramo, he’s certainly going to get a look here and there for the next little while. Maybe he acquits himself well and earns the job that they might have otherwise given to a veteran No. 1b kind of guy, but I’m not sure you want to put a guy in his first full season of North American hockey into that kind of situation right away, especially when he’s just 23.
There’s plenty of time to get a good, long gander at what he can do, and having him as the backup for next season isn’t going to help or hurt the team any. We all know they’re going to be bad. It seems to me that you should bring guys like this along slowly. Hard to see any reason to rush.