The 2013-14 National Hockey League season is nearing the home-stretch. Once teams return from the Olympic Break, it’s off to the chaos of the trade deadline and then playoff stretch drives. When the Flames return, they won’t have to worry about the “playoffs” thing, but they will have 24 more games to evaluate players and likely after the deadline, to bring in some new faces.
To reflect upon the season thus far and offer thoughts on the Olympics and other topics, here’s another exciting, giant-sized installment of the Roundtable. This time, we feature myself (@RyanNPike), Kent Wilson (@Kent_Wilson), Justin Azevedo (@azevedoj), Byron Bader (@baderader), the Book of Loob (@bookofloob), Christian Roatis (@CRoatis), Taylor McKee (@TaylorMcKee_), Arik Knapp (@Arrrrik) and Vintage Flame (@Vintage_Flame). See what we think, then tell us how wrong (or right) we are in the comments!
Has the last month of Calgary Flames hockey changed your mind on the
direction of the club? Are you more or less optimistic about things?
Ryan: I’m about as optimistic as I was before generally, although the fact that Mikael Backlund has seemed to level-up offensively and that Lance Bouma has appeared to extract himself from the fourth-line group makes me very curious as to how the club will build around these pieces going forward.
Kent: The Flames as a whole are more or less where I figured they’d be
at. There are some individual performances worth being optimistic about
though. Specifically Mikael Backlund ad TJ Brodie, both of whom have
continued to move in the right direction developmentally. Having players like this blossoming into the prime of their
career as a rebuild kicks off can be key to eventually turning things
around when the kids start maturing. If the Flames can add some elite
talent via the draft over the next few years, they have a good chance of
getting themselves out of the basement in no small part because
Backlund and Brodie will be hitting their stride.
Justin: Eh, I’m more or less in the exact same place I was at the start of the
season. For every Jay Feaster firing (good!) there’s another Brian Burke
promotion or whatever (not as good!). That, plus the rumours about
Cammalleri’s contract negotiations continue to show me that nothing is
changing or has really changed.
Book of Loob: I’ve always been optimistic about things anyway. I know a lot of
people want the team to tank for the next couple of years so they can go
hard after Connor McDavid, and believe me, I want him too, just not at
that cost. I don’t like the idea of actively promoting a losing culture
through a rebuild, and it’s nice to see the team ice a product worth
watching and maybe getting excited for. It’s hard to look at the results without taking them with
a grain of salt, because the team is fully aware they’re not going to
be making noise in any matter of playoff battle, so these guys are
getting up for the games with the motivation of job security in the
future, and sometimes that translates into wins. Couple that with the
randomness and up and downs of a season and baby, you’ve got a stew
going. That said, it’s always fun to watch, and when you know
there are some decent depth options in Abby, it’s encouraging to think
that maybe a rebuild won’t be Edmonton Oiler long. God I hope it’s not
Byron: About the same. After being shutout for several games, they’re getting
some bounces and winning a few. They’ll still finish in the bottom 5,
maybe even bottom 3. It’s good to see them not get completely dominated
every game. They’re playing hard and keeping things close and I think
that’ll help build confidence down the road.
Christian: Nothing has really changed. They continue to work hard and hang around
in most games which only reinforces my trust in this coaching staff and
their ability to get everything out of the group they have.
Taylor: Not really, winning is nice, especially a nice stretch of games at home.
Especially when you consider that there will be a lot more misery in
store for Flames fans for the next little while. The memory of this nice
little stretch will be a distant memory this time next season, though
hopefully by then there will some new faces that are the product of the
past couple lost seasons.
Arik: I’m still not optimistic in the short term: I think Calgary will end up
in the bottom 5 at least, if not lower given the likely results from the
trade deadline. Long term is another story, however. Kevin Westgarth
aside, Brian Burke has made some pretty shrewd moves, with the new Kris
Russell contract being nothing short of excellent. I’m still not 100%
sold on the Burke/GM-to-be-named era, but a little more sun peeks out
from behind the clouds every day. Really though, the single greatest reason for celebration in Calgary is the fact that Joe Nieuwendyk is no longer an option for GM.
Vintage Flame: Nothing that has happened this whole season, especially over the last
month has changed my mind on the direction of this club. The goal is the
same but I will admit that the enthusiasm and the work ethic this team
has shown this season has made this “rebuild” far more palatable. I
can’t say that I’m any more or less optimistic either. It’s just too
small of a sample size so far. Let’s just say that I’m content to see
the Flames continue in the direction they are going in for now. All that
being said, with Brian Burke running the show and depending on who he
brings into the fold, I’m concerned about the future of Sven Baertschi
with this club.
Do you believe the club will retain Flames head coach Bob Hartley for a
third year, or do you think the new GM, whoever they are, will bring in
their own guy?
Ryan: I am still unconvinced that anybody could’ve gotten more lemonade out of these lemons than Bob Hartley has. He may still get axed when a new general manager arrives, and I’m 50/50 on that, but if it happens, he won’t deserve it. And if it happens, there’s probably an entirely new coaching staff in Calgary anyway.
Kent: I think so. Hartley has done a reasonably decent job with the team this
year, absent his turn toward madness in November and fetish for
Justin: I doubt they’re going to let Hartley go. Two big reasons: why cut loose a
guy in the last year of his contract, especially with the team being as
bad as it is? So you can have the luxury of paying two coaches to win
25 games? The second, and more telling, reason is that Burke seems to
love the guy. He coaches Burke’s style and every time he’s mentioned to
Burke in the media he only has glowing reviews. If you want a new coach,
it’s much easier to save a million bucks and wait a year.
Book of Loob: He’s been better of late
(scratching Westgarth? On purpose? And you don’t believe in evolution
after seeing that?) but I still believe the writing is on the wall for
him. It’s probably a matter of it’s a little too late, and Brian Burke
has said his job is safe, which ultimately means he’s doom, because
Brian Burke has proven not to be a man of his word when it comes to
hockey decisions. I think he wants to bring his own guy in, and
Hartley’s a lame duck and he knows it. The rest of his season is an
audition he will ultimately fail.
Byron: I think Hartley will at least start next year as the coach, I don’t know
if he’ll finish the season. He’s done a pretty decent job and not even
the owners are delirious enough to think already “If we get rid of the
coach I think we have a chance.” The Flames are rebuilding and have at
least another year before things start to change dramatically.
Christian: I think it depends on the GM. If it were me, I would keep Hartley for a
third year and possibly beyond because I think he’s done an excellent
job with what he was given this year. Some don’t seem to agree for
whatever reason (sour grapes over the Backlund and Baertschi doghousing
early in the season, I assume) but I think he’s done great. The new GM
though would probably want “his guy” at some point so I think it’s a
50/50 chances Hartley’s still behind the bench in September.
Taylor: If the Flames go on a streak again, it will become exceptionally hard to
get rid of Hartley, which I believe was the original intention when Jay
Feaster was fired. Perhaps Hartley gets a ‘third’ season but in either
case, I seriously doubt he is the long-term coach of this club, more of a
place-holder who can scare the kids into working hard.
Arik: I have trouble seeing Hartley around for another season- Burke’s always
been the sort to want his own guys around him, and I’m sure the GM will
feel the same way. And while it hasn’t been entirely a trainwreck,
Hartley really isn’t a good NHL coach, and he’s always come across as a
bit of a jackass.
Vintage Flame: I don’t think they have any immediate reason to get rid of Hartley. The
team seems to play for him and buy into what he is selling them. The
fans have all questioned him at times, but you’re never going to please
everyone, all of the time. He seems to be doing a lot, and the best he
can with what he’s got. However, many people asked the same question
about Feaster when the Flames hired Burke. He wasn’t Burke’s guy and
that was going to be a problem. Well the same applies to Hartley and
regardless of how good of a job he may do with this team, he just may
not be the choice of whoever comes in as the new GM. If it was up to
me… I’d keep him… for now.
With another cluster of talented youngsters coming in next season, do
you try to sign Abbotsford Heat coach Troy G. Ward to a new contract?
Ryan: I’m a big fan of Ward, and he’s done a great job with the kids. I’m not 100% sure what he wants to do, but he’s spoken at length before about wanting to build Abbotsford into a “destination program” that develops solid human beings and good NHLers. There’s an implied statement there that it would take awhile. If he wants to come back and you can’t find somebody better, might as well hold onto him.
Kent: I have no real opinion of Ward as a coach since I haven’t seen how he
manages his bench. That said, he gets nothing but praise from people who
tend to follow the farm team, so I don’t see why you wouldn’t re-sign
Justin: Sure. He seems to pretty good at his job and the players seem to like
him. I’m not sure how much plus value he gives to the development of
Calgary’s prospects but everything is working smoothly right now. Unless
you can be certain that you can get an upgrade, why walk away?
Book of Loob: If the Flames don’t get him first.
Byron: Oh, absolutely. He seems to be doing a pretty good job down there and it sounds like the players really enjoy playing for him.
Christian: I haven’t seen all too many Heat games but by all accounts Ward has done
an excellent job and is great teacher of the game – the type you need
handling your youngsters and teaching them the ropes of the pros.
Taylor: Hell, I would love to see what Ward can do in the NHL with the Flames
but if he is willing to stay and the club decides not to retain Hartley’s
services, I would think it’s a no-brainer to sign him to whatever kind
of deal he would want. Though, if there isn’t an opportunity with the
Flames, I would assume that Ward would look to find an NHL job
Arik: I admittedly don’t pay a whole lot of attention to the farm team as a
whole, but the results he’s produced from some of the individuals seem
to be solid, so I have trouble seeing a reason to get rid of him. He’s
good with the young guys, keeps the Heat competitive, and always has
that middle initial in his name. It’s not just “Troy Ward,” it’s “Troy G. Ward.”
Vintage Flame: Absolutely. I see no reason to get rid of Ward, nor do I think that
there is someone better for the system out there waiting in the wind.
Presuming the Flames draft Top Five but miss out on Sam Reinhart and Aaron Ekblad, who should the Flames draft and why?
Ryan: I haven’t seen Sam Bennett of the tippity-top guys, so I’m leaning heavily towards Michael dal Colle. He’s big, he’s a good three-zone player and he has offensive talent.
Kent: Probably Michael Dal Colle or Leon Draisaitl. Both are big, high scoring
centers which is something you can never have enough of.
Justin: Right now, Bennett in a runaway. He’s the youngest of the next three or
four guys, has the best raw results (NHLE of 42, well into “elite”
territory) and plays the most influential position in hockey. His point
splits look damn good, too: his PP% is just 35%, his primary assist
ratio is 57:43 and his percentage of team scoring is 34%, all of which
are pretty healthy; suggesting his point totals aren’t inflated too
Book of Loob: Michael Dal Colle. If the Brian Burke era is going to continue
round these parts, you know damn well that most of the players coming
in are going to be big lumberjacks with hands the size of glazed hams
(or regular hams, which are also the same size, but glazed!
mmmm….ham) Naturally, if you’re going to be infusing your lineup with big
hunks of meat, you better hope he can play hockey as well. Dal Colle
fits into that rather large frame. at 6’2″, 171 pounds (and counting),
he has a strong skillset for a large power guy. Basically he fits the
mold as to what a Burke kind of player should be, and you don’t sell out
on talent by acquiring size. (I’ll take Sam Bennett too)
Byron: Sam Bennett. Good wheels and a good shot. He’s tracking towards an
NHLE of 50 which is pretty good. He’s actually scoring more than
Reinhart. Reinhart may have the better vision but I like what Bennett
brings. Arnold and Knight are looking good and could take a center spot
next year. With Monahan, Backlund and Stajan we’ll be okay there.
Christian: Sam Bennett, only because he’s the third ranked prospect after those two
in my mind. There’s nothing that suits more than others to the Flames
besides he’s slightly better than everyone else at this point and has a
nice, high ceiling. I do think the Flames should try and move heaven and
earth to grab Ekblad though. Franchise defenseman types don’t come
along very often.
Taylor: Well, prospect guru I am not, I think the lack of consensus surrounding
the top-three in this year’s draft speaks volumes to the absence of
sure-fire elite talent at the high end of the board. So, if they miss
out on say, Ekblad, whom I would love to see in Flames silks, I wouldn’t
mind Michael Dal Colle or Sam Bennett. Dal Colle looked real good in
the prospects game though it’s too bad Bennett didn’t get to play. The
Flames should draft someone good. There.
Arik: I’m a bit of a Leon Draisaitl fan. He’s a bigger kid who can play center
or winger, and his skill set (playmaking, rather than shooting) seems
like it’d complement Monahan and Gaudreau really well on the top line.
On the other hand, I’ll be thrilled if Sam Bennett falls to Calgary. Not
only is his raw skill at or about the same level of Reinhart, he’s also
super young and just barely draft eligible, which means he’s got more
time to grow physically and skill wise.
Vintage Flame: I’m going to go out on a bit of a limb here. Maybe it’s only because I
get to see a lot more of him but I really have grown to like the
Hitmen’s Jake Virtanen. The kid can wheel when he has to but he also is a
smart positional player. From what I’ve seen he has a really good head
on his shoulders and he’s not afraid to knock someone else’s off theirs.
A strong skater on the right side with a good shot… sounds like a
decent prospect for the Flames next season. I could see him matching up well
Which country wins the gold medal in the men’s hockey tournament?
Ryan: Canada. They’ve got John Tavares on the fourth line, for crying out loud! Super-deep squad.
Kent: Hahahaha. (Editor’s note: I presume he’s backing Austria or Latvia. Right? Right.)
Justin: Canada. Objectively, they have the best team. Sample size and luck
always take over these tournaments, though, so sometimes picking the
best team doesn’t mean you win.
Book of Loob: For some reason it seems to be an unpopular choice to say Canada, like
we believe there’s some sort of cosmic force out there waiting for us to
say something about ourselves as a nation and hockey loving people and
gleefully raining karma on our heads as our heroes claim bronze. But
Canada’s team, to my eye, still looks the best, the deepest, and the one
less likely to budge. I know Sweden looks deep, but they’re dropping
like flies. I think Canada is the slam dunk in this one.
Byron: I’ll say Canada. They have by far the best team on paper.
Christian: Kanada. Hopefully in another tremendous final, against the host Russians
this time. Bouwmeester with the OT winner and the most disinterested
celebration in Olympic history.
Taylor: Gotta say, really liking the Norwegians.
Arik: U-S-A. U-S-A. U-S-A. U-S-A. U-S-A. U-S-A. U-S-A. U-S-A. U-S-A. U-S-A.
U-S-A. U-S-A. U-S-A. U-S-A. U-S-A. U-S-A. U-S-A. U-S-A…. (Editor’s note: It went on like this for awhile…)
Vintage Flame: I hope you let Lambert answer this one first and everyone is done
laughing now. (Editor’s note: Our pal Ryan Lambert was scouting the Beanpot and wearing his American flag Zubaz or something at the time of this publication.) We all know how this is going to play out and there is
only one feasible ending to this story, so let’s just move along and
yeah, Go Canada Go.
Which country is your dark horse favourite in the men’s hockey tournament?
Ryan: Switzerland. They’re bringing that sick World Championship team that shocked the world, and they’re adding in some NHLers in key spots.
Kent: The Finns have probably the best goaltending and a better than average
blueline. They could surprise a few teams I think. The Russians have an
incredible amount of firepower between Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, Datsyuk and
Malkin so they could roll to gold if they catch fire.
Justin: Finland. “Tuukka Rask in international tournaments” is basically all I have to say about that.
Book of Loob: Maybe Slovakia? I don’t think they have enough talent to make some
noise, but the Olympics are a short tournament with a lot of variance,
and they’re good enough to go on that kind of short term roll. Plus Chara will kill you if they don’t.
Byron: Finland. They have some holes up front and on defense, especially with
Mikko Koivu and Filpulla missing the Olympics. But one of those goalies
goes on a hot run and it’s 1998 all over again.
Christian: The Czech Republic. As Bob Hartley once said, “if you’re going to leave
Hudler off your team, you better win Gold”. In all seriousness, I think
Finland has a shot despite all their injuries, simply because
goaltending can take you a long way and especially in a short tournament
if you can get one of their 3 world class ‘tenders hot, they could
knock off anyone.
Taylor: If not Norway, I would say Canada has a pretty good shot though. Especially with Jeff Carter and Dan Hamhuis.
Arik: I’m not really sure if they qualify as a “Dark Horse” since they’re part
of the Big Seven, but I’d have to go with the Czech Republic. Martin
Hanzal is such a fantastic hockey player, and with Krejci, the Michalek
brothers, Plekanec, and Voracek, they’ve got some very good puck
possession skaters. That said, Ondrej Pavelec is their goalie and he’s a
hot steaming pile of garbage.
Vintage Flame: When a country snubs a player like Jiri Hudler but takes Petr Nedved,
you’d like to jump right on them as a dark horse. Unfortunately that
horse is on a non-stop delivery to the glue factory. I don’t know if
you can really call them a dark horse but I think the Swedes are really a
team to watch for. As much as I think Canada will only lose if they do
something to beat themselves, Sweden is one team that could just take it
all away on their own.
Outside of hockey, what is the event you plan on watching the most during the Olympics?
Ryan: I’ve watched a strange amount of moguls so far. What a crazy sport. I’ll probably watch curling more than anything else, but I usually just have the Olympics on in the background of whatever I’m doing anyway.
Kent: I don’t have any set plans when it comes to the Olympics outside of
hockey. I catch them when I can and tune into whatever is most
compelling at the time.
Justin: Curling. Nothing like a beer, curling and reading break to make you forget about all your worries, man.
Book of Loob: Curling, man, everyone loves curling. I’m also a sucker for the sled
sports. I wish I had committed to staying in some kind of athletic shape
in my youth. I’d have become a skeleton racer by now.
Byron: I watched figure skating today for 8 minutes. That will probably do it.
Christian: I like the skiing events, seeing as I enjoy skiing. Nothing is viewed with as much passion as the men’s ice hockey, though.
Taylor: Short track speed skating is super intense. Also, biathlon is
terrible to watch on TV but is cool to see whom would be best suited for
a post-apocalyptic snow world and once again, I’m really liking
Arik: Really nothing. I don’t have cable and I catch my hockey through
streaming, so chances are I won’t see anything outside the Olympic ice
hockey games I’ll stream. I might try and watch some curling at a bar
Vintage Flame: I’m an Olympic glutton for punishment. Every four years I am hopeful for
Canada in downhill skiing, and every four years and roughly one week,
I’m frustrated, mad, disappointed and ready to tear my house down to
it’s studs. Don’t ask me why! Obviously after watching Eric Guay Saturday night, I’m already there! So let’s go with another option. I have really grown to love short-track
speed skating and I always look forward to it. It’s intense and
exciting and it’s one area that we seem to come out on the positive side
of the ensuing melees.
Finally, what’s your opinion of the Kris Russell signing?
Ryan: It’s really solid for both sides on both term and money. Low-risk for everybody.
Kent: The term and amount are both ideal for the Flames. Russell isn’t a great
top-4 defender, but he’s better than average when it comes to the
Flames current options beyond T.J. Brodie and Mark Giordano. He’s probably
been as good or better than Wideman this year. Whatever his ability, at two years and just $2 and change per year,
the signing is virtually zero risk for Calgary. It’s a good bit of work
Justin: I like the Russell deal. Ideally, he’s a number five guy and this
contract pays him like a good one. When used correctly, he obviously has
significant offensive upside, he’s right in his defensive prime and the
term on the deal is as such that he’ll still be on the right side of 30
when it expires. Good work, Brian Burke.
Book of Loob: He’s been something of a revelation here in Cowtown, and at a 2
year, 2.6 cap hit, that’s pretty damn reasonable.You can theoretically
sell him off for more prospects at the deadline, but he’s still
relatively young himself and an important part of the back end. Between
Brodie, Giordano, and himself, there’s a good base there. Someone’s possibly being traded, and I gotta think if
they try to move anyone it’s going to be Dennis Wideman. Wideman’s been
fine, but ultimately no one wants Chris Butler on their team (though
it’s an approach the Flames should actively pursue). Smid seems like
hard move too. I just really wouldn’t move him or Brodie or Giordano at
Christian: Awesome term, awesome money. Only a 1.1 million dollar raise for a guy
who’s been one of the team’s best blue liners all year. It’s especially
good because it protects the Flames from being screwed if Russell’s play
ever drops off considerably. You’d think he could get close to, if not
more than $3 million on the open market, so a job well done by Burke.
Arik: First, this is a fantastic deal for Calgary. A second pairing D at this
price is a rarity. In terms of what it means for the future, well, SOB
is almost certainly gone, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wideman out
the door at the deadline as well.
Vintage Flame: I love the deal. I was really on the fence at the beginning of the
season with Russell, with a strong lean to the dislike side. I’m pleased
that has changed. I think Russell has really become one of the
cornerstones of this defense. The team showed how much they missed him
while he was injured. What really impressed me the most is once he got
back into the line-up, it was like he was never gone. The guy didn’t
even miss a beat and the team’s play reflected that. Russell is one of those guys that epitomizes the work ethic of this team
and it’s new way of thinking. He of those guys that is Hartley’s
soldier on the ice. 2 years at $2.6 million is a steal if you ask me. All but
spells the end of Shane O’Brien if you ask me.