Five things: Doin’ good?

1. Reassurances

Yesterday there was an article about Brian Burke on Sportsnet, about how he really isn’t doing much besides reporting to work every day and doing his job. And I hadn’t really thought about that, but I guess it’s true. Haven’t seen much of Burke all summer, and even now you get the feeling that he wouldn’t have come out and done any press or interviews unless Sportsnet hadn’t specifically called and asked for him.

Which is interesting, really.

When he came aboard, you knew what was going to happen: He was a safety net for Jay Feaster. His arrival in Calgary set the clock ticking for Feaster’s dismissal, and Burke was nothing if not conspicuous pretty much that entire time. But once that interminable period in which he had the reins as de facto/interim GM — although I guess I’m not sure he ever officially hold that title? — was over, he said Brad Treliving was the guy making the decisions, and you wouldn’t have Brian Burke to kick around much any more.

I don’t think it’s reasonable to say we had much basis for believing him. “Brian Burke” and “omnipresent in the media” go together like “Brian Burke” and “facepunchers,” but here we are with him rightly pointing out that he hasn’t done much of anything to draw attention to himself since Treliving came aboard. (Though one has to scoff at the, “I’ve never craved  the spotlight,” quote which is clearly a laughable assertion.)

But if that has come to pass, then maybe I really should start to believe him that he’s not hovering over Treliving’s shoulder every day, quietly picking up the other end of the line on every incoming and outgoing call with another team’s GM. Maybe all that, “Brad’s the GM, not me,” stuff is actually true.

Here’s more evidence of that: The Flames have made good personnel decisions this summer — for the most part anyway; there’s still the Deryk Engelland and Brandon Bollig acquisitions, which scream “Burke’s idea” — and that’s not something I associate with Brian Burke either. Maybe, just maybe, this is a hands-off approach for once. Unless, or perhaps until, things get really bad.

I guess that’s reason to be cautiously optimistic that the club can turn it around within the next few years.

2. The Diaz situation

(Please note I am writing this ahead of Hockeyville, so I don’t know how Raphael Diaz did there.)

One thing that stood out to me in reading the reactions to the exhibitions against Edmonton was that everyone fawned all over Raphael Diaz. Now, I did not have access to the game itself, of course, and thus the reactions are all I have to go on, but that says to me two things:

A) Diaz was actually pretty good. He got more ice time than anyone on the club, and was second only behind someone called Brad Hunt (a high-octane points producing D at the AHL level) for the game. The stats say he also put a game-high five shots on net, blocked four shots, and so on. That’s about all you can ask of a defenseman playing opposite Taylor Hall et al.

B) He was being closely scrutinized. He is clearly the defenseman most likely to make this club outside the guys already on one-way contracts, and the numbers from his career suggest he can be a very positive player in certain roles. You wouldn’t want him playing 23-plus minutes a night for 82, but this is a nice chance to audition for a job and he seems to be making the most of it.

I really hope he makes the team, because he’s good and youngish and everything like that. People want to see the kids make it instead, but this is essentially a free and low-cost asset the team could control to some extent going forward. Even if he’s on a one-year deal, if Diaz plays well in a low second- or high third-pairing role, he can be traded for something at the deadline. Maybe you even end up re-signing him.

And if he sucks after a little while? Well, you should be trying to tank anyway.

Can’t go wrong with him.

3. Injuries aplenty

Wednesday was a bad day for injury news, as major players for a number of teams (the Hurricanes, Rangers, and Red Wings) all came down with serious knocks that will hold them out of the lineup indefinitely. In the case of Carolina and New York, star centers who would have been asked to carry heavy loads at both ends of the ice — Jordan Staal and Derek Stepan, respectively — broke their legs and are out indefinitely. In Detroit, another star center who would have been asked to carry heavy loads at both ends of the ice — Pavel Datsyuk — is out at least a month with a separated shoulder.

Why does this matter to the Flames? Well, for one thing it shows how important it is to properly protect your best players from injury in meaningless preseason games and warmups. That’s why I’d be a little concerned about how hard certain coaches (like say oh I don’t know Bob Hartley or someone maybe) push their teams in practice. That said, you obviously can’t hold guys out of exhibitions forever, but if you’re at home you at least have the benefit of line-matching so you’re not putting your stars out there to get themselves roughed up by some no-neck idiot looking to make a name for himself by crushing an actual good player away from the play or something.

It also matters to the Flames because the race to the bottom of the league is going to be a little more crowded this year (Buffalo can’t be as historically and hilariously bad as it was last season, just based on the math, and a bunch of other bad teams improved as well). Now, with Carolina losing Jordan Staal for what could be a number of months, that’s a lot more games in which they’re going to be downright awful, making the draft lottery area — which, by the way, we need to come up with a better name for that since everyone who doesn’t make the playoffs is in the lottery now; the Futile Five or some such — a little less comfortable.

Speaking of protecting your centers from injury…

4. Mikael Backlund’s abs

Saw something in the Herald the other day about how things with Mikael Backlund’s abdominal strain aren’t necessarily progressing all that well. Day-to-day and all that, but no real progress. Bob Hartley said he’s actually “worried” about the fact that Backlund isn’t even skating.

Again, this is both good and bad. Backlund was supposed to be the No. 1 guy this year, and he was going to really drive the bus with Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie. They could have ground up their opponents pretty convincingly. But if he’s out, things might get pretty dire pretty quickly, even if this isn’t a major injury, a setback in camp could hold back performance for a little while longer.

Of course, if you’re in the “tanking is good” camp, then guess what, bud: Backlund being out is a blessing in disguise. You sure wouldn’t wish for something like that, but maybe it’s not so bad from that point of view.

5. Karri Ramo’s hip

Finally, another guy who hasn’t done much in a while is backup goaltender Karri Ramo, who’s still recovering from his bad hip. Doesn’t really matter, of course, because the only thing he was pushing with respect to his job was the bench door, closing it after he opened it for a defensive line change. 

Jonas Hiller is still the No. 1, and was always going to be this season, regardless of Ramo’s injury status. Oh well, that’s life. I don’t know how much of a difference there is, really, between Ramo and Joni Ortio to begin with. Oh well.

  • playastation

    Diaz did well yesterday. He really does play a simple game. Shoot right-handed one-timers and move the puck.

    It’s funny how there’s all this talk of Burke favoring large players. But our defense might even smaller than it was last year.

    Also Brookbank is bad.

    • playastation

      Agree Diaz played well and is putting together a string of good games. Liked his PP one-timer which I haven’t seen from too many other Flames. He also seems to be able to skate the puck out of trouble fairly well and hasn’t made any bad passes I’ve noticed in a couple other defenders. Hope he makes the team.

  • playastation

    I’ve expressed this view on Burke a few times.

    Brian loves this job (as per somebody close to him that I’ve chatted with about this very subject). It keeps him close enough to hockey operations that he gets to stay in the game, but it really is an advisery role. It leaves him with time to travel back to Toronto for his Rugby Canada stuff and New York for You Can Play. It sounds like his official role is more of an executive advisor. He shares advice and opinions on direction, but keeps distance from transactions.

    It gives him the opportunity to add to his legacy a little more while riding off into the sunset.

  • RedMan

    1. BB and BT combo makes sense to me in the fact that if BB is going to be “President of Hockey Ops”, it makes sense to have a young, ambitious GM under your wing. Good hire by Brian.

    2. Diaz looks like he wants to be here, and he wants a contract.. can’t say the same for Brookbank. Kulak is looking awesome, hope his progression continues.

    3. Injuries suck, but Flames are looking like they’ve more depth then they’ve had in a while.

    4. Backlund does seem like he’s injured a lot, but I think it shows how hard he’s trained over the summer. Hopefully he won’t be out long.

    5. With Ortio playing so well, not really concerned about Ramo.

  • RexLibris

    In 2009-2010 the Oilers felt they could get close to the playoffs by sneaking in home wins with teams travelling from Calgary to Vancouver because organizations might view Edmonton as a rest-stop where they could relax in between more difficult opponents.

    There was a great deal of optimism in the fan base and media with predictions that they could finish as high as 9th in the West (still outside the playoffs, but a damned sight better than where they’d been the previous few years).

    Later that season they lost Hemsky, Horcoff, Souray and Khabibulin to injury and the lack of depth that had been papered over was made apparent.

    Injuries can be a blessing in disguise. They can force a franchise to see just how dependent they are on a few individual players amongst a roster of 23.

    It wasn’t until the Flames lost Kiprusoff that it became abundantly clear how insufficient the rest of the roster was to compete for a playoff spot.

    Granted, acquiring the necessary talent within the current NHL landscape to survive serious injuries to key players is incredibly difficult. However, there are degrees to which different teams are dependent. The Kings’ loss of Quick last season is an excellent example of the exception that proves the rule. Without the benefit of high draft position, the Kings have fostered significant organizational depth by way of strong scouting and development models.

    If Backlund is lost to injury for the first month of the season, to pick a time frame at random, which results in the Flames going 3-7-2 in the first 12 games, then perhaps it will set the tone for the team’s future come June, whether that materialize in the form of McDavid, Eichel, Hanifin, or some other young prospect to emerge.

  • RedMan

    Diaz looks good, skilled and slick with the puck.
    Sielof needs to spend some time in the AHL to find his game again; hasn’t really played any hockey for two years and it shows. Lot’s of potential there though.
    Engelland/Russell duo look good as well.
    Johnny looks a little nervous yet; think a whole summer of thinking about camp maybe weighed on his mind a little bit. He will be fine though, too much potential there I think.

  • jeremywilhelm

    The only issue with Diaz is he a tad weak in the corners. But if you could pair him with a slightly stronger Dman, I think the guy is gonna be very valuable to the team.

  • Burnward

    Can we talk about Engellend for a minute here?

    Dude looked very solid last night. Killing penalties, calm in his own end, even wired a sweet wrister home.

    If he gives them something even close to that each night he’ll earn his money.

    • everton fc

      Engelland is an adequate #6 stay-at-home d-man. Better than O’Brien, obviously. I’ve always liked him.

      Diaz should stick. He’d be a nice addition to the PP. And Brookbank may end up in Europe!

  • jeremywilhelm

    No, Brian Burke is not hovering over Treliving’s shoulder – he had a cattle prod firmly entrenched in Treliving’s backside just prior to Engllands and Bolling acquisitions.

  • RKD

    Never really know with Brian, he’ll still have his input on personnel decisions but if Brad can do his job without having someone over his shoulder all the time that’s a bonus. Maybe Brian is seeing the light of day to back off a bit, be a consultant and give advice but don’t breathe down someone’s neck. I think Diaz should be signed, he’s had some pretty strong seasons in Montreal and just came off a Cup final his experience would be invaluable. I think Smid or whomever will be supplanted by Wotherspoon in due time.

  • SavardianSpinorama

    Okay, I did a double-take and then, just for confirmation, I checked the weather network to see if hell had frozen over. By all accounts, it is sunny and warm in Edmonton today.

    Am I the only one who noticed that Lambert, sort of, kind of, a little bit maybe, said something almost slightly kind about Brian Burke?

    Oh sure, Lambert threw the “face puncher” thing Burkie’s way (it was an obligatory toss-up between face puncher, truculence or pusillanimous, of course) but he was practically apologetic when he said it.

    Weird.

    And yeah, Lambert had to criticize the Bollig and Engelland signings, because we can’t expect a complete about-face on two players he thinks have no real purpose in the league.

    But still.

    Well, finally, I went to another site for which Lambert writes and came to the conclusion all is right with the world:

    Lambert doesn’t like ice girls and he hates the people who do.

    Thank you, Ryan, I was getting a little worried about you.

  • supra steve

    I must not have had enough Calgary flame koolaide or I am not wearing the right rose coloured glasses but all the love for Diaz and Engelland based upon last nights game has me worried. They were the 3 and 4 best defenders on the ice for the Flames bhind Russell a 4/5 on this team and probably a 6/7 on aby playoff team. Kulak was better than both of them and bailed Diaz out a number of times and he is rookie. I saw flashes of Diaz offensively but also saw how many battles he lost on the boards, how many times he got beat first step at the blueline and ended up on his butt, and then in corners, yikes. Engelland on maybe his first shift being outmuscled for the puck behind the net by I think Samwise G, I never saw the physical presense he is supposed to bring and how many of his outlet passes went astray. Sorry they both have a lot of work to do.
    Diaz gets another chance to play with another rookie hopefully he outplays the rookie.

    • supra steve

      And your overall point is…?

      The Flames may be contending for 30th place this season, so if their personnel’s less than world-class, I am OK with that.

      • supra steve

        I totally get where we probably will finish and I’m okay with it but when I read the reviews of both Eng’s and Diaz I think people are being too positive. That’s my point.

          • supra steve

            I like the rebuild as well but when it comes overaged vet(engs is 32) and people blowing his game out of proportion then I’m more a half empty guy. I have been very pleased with Kulaks improvement then I’m excited. Ask for my view on the key forwards I’m excited and optimistic. Unfortunately I have always been a realist I have a hard time watching any sport that I know something about and not think like a coach. Which behind close doors is how do we get better.

          • SavardianSpinorama

            The Flames’ defense corps is much ado about nothing. There was no one out there that fit the bill for the Flames, aside from Engelland.

            The Capitals over-spent for Niskanen and Orpik and I am not sure competing with the Oilers for Mark Fayne would have been the best, either.

            You are thinking like a coach. Start thinking like a GM who may have to deal with some larger contracts two to four years down the road.

            I have looked over the free agent defensemen several times, and aside from taking a hypothetical shot at a guy like Del Zotto, it was slim pickings.

            You can buy that crappy old used car you were looking at and spend money on it every time it breaks down or you can suck it up and ride the bus, save your money and buy something actually worth driving in a year or two.