Five things: Away we go

1. Tough start

And so here we go, with the 2014-15 season now under way and the Flames off to a tougher start than literally anyone in the league. As though they needed the help. I can’t actually believe how difficult the schedule is for a team that’s going to get run over all season anyway.

First game at home against a decent enough team in Vancouver, then they’re on the road through the 19th, playing at Edmonton (back-to-back), St. Louis, Nashville, Chicago (another back-to-back, to add to the indignity of having to be humiliated at United Center in the first place), Columbus, and Winnipeg. That’s a slog of seven games in 11 days, all of them involving travel. When this trip ends, the season will be almost 10 percent of the way over.

So with that having been said, I don’t really see many points available to the Flames here, and that’s both good and bad. It’s good in the sense that it will likely discourage the kind of senseless optimism in which many fans love to traffic at the start of any given season, regardless of the team’s overall quality (Calgary’s, you’ll recall, is “poor”). I consider this a good thing because we don’t have to sit through too many “The Flames say they’re going in with high expectations” stories for much longer. Dealing in reality is my preferred state, even if that reality is unfortunate. It’s also good because losing a lot in a season with either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel as the guaranteed prize for the worst team in the league is just good for business.

It is, however bad, because watching a team you like get clubbed, and put at the significant disadvantage of having to change first, is no fun either. The facts of what this team can and cannot accomplish don’t change, of course, but you’d probably like to see a little more wiggle room to keep things entertaining to start, eh?

Ah well, someone has to go on the long road trips.

2. Poor Matt Stajan

We knew things were going to be bad with this lineup. Of course we knew that. Look at the roster construction, and then add in an injury or three. That gets you to where we were last night, with Poor Matt Stajan (I believe he legally changed his name to that, but I’ll have to check) centering a line of Brandon Bollig and Brian McGrattan.

Now look, I’ve said all along that center depth is actually a pretty good point of strength for the Flames, with the ability to run out Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, Poor Matt Stajan, and Joe Colborne on any given night. That really isn’t bad, at all. (And Paul Byron as your No. 5? You could do worse.) 

And you knew, also because Bollig and McGrattan play opposite wings and are both as useful to the Flames’ ability to win this season as the average dog, they were always going to end up on the same line. Thus, some center was going to be stuck with the indignity of playing with both of them unless, of course, Bob Hartley saw fit to scratch them.

Last night, he did no such thing.

Stajan really is a pretty damn decent center, a solid No. 2 on a team with a few strong No. 2/potential No. 1 centers already. It’s a shame that he’s being wasted between these two guys, even if it is for 10 or whatever minutes a night. That will teach him a lesson about re-upping with the Flames for that new deal, though. No amount of money is worth this.

3. And about those linemates…

Plus here’s the other thing with dressing McGrattan, Bollig, and Engelland in the same lineup every night: What are they there for? And I don’t mean that in terms of “Why do you even dress fighters in this day and age?”

I mean that in terms of “There’s no one for them to fight.” Not on the Canucks, not really anywhere any more. Maybe one of them — ONE! — gets a chance to go with Zack Kassian or Derek Dorsett in a dream scenario where they both get to be the most useful. Didn’t happen last night. Instead that line got eight minutes.

You’ll recall that even the Leafs and Flyers sent their goons to the AHL, and while the Bruins and Panthers are still carrying one such player, they and the Flames are just about the only teams left doing it at all. So it is utter nonsense for this team to continue dressing three guys whose primary skill seems to be face-punching. (I know, I know, Deryk Engelland isn’t a fighter any more, but he’s a third-pairing defenseman who, despite his ludicrous contract, can’t be counted on in real game situations. If he’s out there in the third period, you should be nervous.)

These guys are dinosaurs, and if they’re looking for like players with whom they can spar, they’re only going to find skilled, faster fourth-liners brought up to capitalize on the movement away from guys who can’t skate. One would hope that under normal circumstances — with health being 100 percent for the club — this is a thing that wouldn’t happen, but this seems to be the team fans have been given.

Like it or lump it.

4. Svent down

That interview with Sven Baertschi after the Flames demoted him earlier this week was a real knife in the heart. The kid seemed on the verge of tears, lost and confused about where his career is going.

Back to the AHL for another year of bussing it until someone gets hurt, and to some extent it’s his fault because he came in so hot that he built up expectations he couldn’t match. Now, he just turned 22 and obviously he can still make this club as a regular in the relatively near future, but the team has weirdly packed the left side with middling NHL talent (Glencross, Raymond), more tantalizing prospects (Gaudreau) and a thug (Bollig) in what could be read as an effort to send Baertschi a message. 

Barring injury, who does he supplant from that group? You sure don’t keep a player like him — first-round pedigree, high ceiling — around to platoon on the fourth line. So that’s why they sent him back down.

Still, though, you gotta feel for the kid. In a reasonable man’s world, he makes the team. But this is Brian Burke’s world. So, y’know.

5. The goaltending

So they are starting out with a platoon, after all. Perhaps it was to be expected. As many pointed out last week, Karri Ramo mostly got better as last season went along, putting up a .919 save percentage in the final two months (granted, that’s over just 11 games) and never dipping below .911 — which was his season average — in any month after November ended. 

So maybe splitting time with  reasonable, at least to try out for a while. And if it doesn’t work, oh well, this team wasn’t going to be that good anyway, right? And it’s not like Jonas Hiller sucks or anything. And if he does, oh well, this team wasn’t going to be that good anyway, right? And if Ramo re-takes that top job if Hiller falters, and he also sucks, oh well… you get the idea.

I guess what I’m saying is that even after reflecting on this idea for a while over the past week — in part because of some of the points made in the comments — I’m more or less of the opinion that in either event, I’d expect the team’s save percentage to be a little below league average if the goalies both play to their potential. So basically, it doesn’t make much of a difference. Whoever is the goalie is going to be fine, and even if he isn’t, that’s perfectly alright too.

McDavid and Eichel aren’t going to tank for themselves.

  • redricardo

    Interesting observations. I think Sven bolts for Switzerland if the Flames don’t recall him and give him a fair chance early this season. BB has really mishandled the kid.

    • SmellOfVictory

      Why the hell is it that, every single time a player is European, they’re going to “bolt for” their home country if things don’t go ideally for them? How often does that legitimately happen? Especially with a kid who’s been living and playing in North America for like five years?

    • McRib

      Get better… If he played the entire year last year he would have finish fifth on Flames in scoring… Tied with Sean Monahan the prodigal son. Sven isn’t going anywhere, as the Flames had a handful of teams make offers for him this summer and they turned them all down.

      • piscera.infada

        Totally. Sven just needs to prove he’s a professional. He’ll be up sooner than later. Treliving eluded to the fact that Chicago was looking for a Sven + package for Leddy, and they thought that was too high a price. At the very least, they aren’t trying to jettison the poor lad.

        • McRib

          The next time Sven Baertschi is called up it will be for good! I actually think what the Flames have done the last couple of years might turn out to be a major positive, because Sven seems much more mature this year. They obviously knew him better than we did outside of the rink and maybe they thought he just wasn’t mature enough to handle the spotlight…

          His defensive game looks much better as well [lets face it offense has never been a question. Anyone who scores 2.0 PPG in NHLE +1 season has what it takes offensively (see Jonathan Drouin)].

      • Burnward

        Better overall. That’s all that’s holding him back.

        I’m still high on him, just tired of this whole debate. He’s got some improving to do before he is a full time NHLer.

        He’s going to be great, some guys just need a little longer to bake.

    • everton fc

      Thank you!

      You don’t hear or see Ferland, or Jooris, or Reinhart, or Knight down in the dumps because they were sent down. He’s gotta learn to suck it up and take it as a challenge. And I was very impressed with a few of his interviews, what he worked on this summer, particularly decision-making. If he can’t suck it up, this may very well be what keeps him from a regular role w/the big club.

      More of these kids should mimic Bouma’s attitude. I was impressed when Ferland was asked who he looked up to on the big team. “Lance Bouma,” he replied, without hesitation.

      In a rebuild mode, I’d simply put him on the big club in a month, or so. First guy called up when an injury hits the left-side. See what he can do. Why wait?

  • McRib

    “Still, though, you gotta feel for the kid. In a reasonable man’s world, he makes the team. But this is Brian Burke’s world. So, y’know.”

    This sentance discribes Brian Burke perfectly.

    There was actually a good article in the Calgary Sun yesterday, where Sven was speaking on his agents and fathers negative words on the situation the past couple of years. For the first time ever he came off in a positive light with the press, showing a real mature side. Nice to see and I doubt it will go unnoticed by Flames brass, especially when we start getting our heads beat in on a regular basis in the coming weeks with McGrattan, Seto, Bollig, Engelland, Smid, etc in the lineup.

    http://www.google.ca/url?url=http://www.calgarysun.com/2014/10/08/calgary-flames-prospect-sven-baertschi-refutes-his-fathers-words&rct=j&frm=1&q=&esrc=s&sa=U&ei=Abc2VMuHIoGGjAKIqIFg&ved=0CB4QqQIwAQ&sig2=IXgupfZv8lm7jSeqzwDT3w&usg=AFQjCNEVt8PyQzS265tKzyytnAlnu9DUsg

  • piscera.infada

    I was most disappointed with the lineup and lines last night. Agree with you on Poor Matt Stajan…sucks to be with 2 plugs. Flames never needed 3 punchers in their lineup.

    I suspect Hiller will get the most of the games on the road trip with Ramo just playing the second half of back-to-back games…unless, of course, Hiller sucks ine night or Ramo plays outstanding toinught against the Oil.

    Hopefully, the rust of not playing in a real game has gone and they will pounce on the star-struck Oilers tonight! Hope that the game is not delayed half an hour introducing the past Oilers! The young Oil will have pressure on them tonite!!

  • icedawg_42

    Looks like Wideman and the dancing bear are scratches tonight. Things are looking up!

    I got 50% of what I was asking (McG out Diaz in) ….Engelland and no Ferland? *sigh*

  • SmellOfVictory

    1)Yup

    2)Yup

    3) Dinosaurs is right. Time to look at a calender Burke and Treliving.

    4) Sven should already be here. Maybe he needed to suck it up last year, but he got hosed this year. One standard for the skill guys, another for the goons. He’s obviously matured though, which is good.

    5)Yup, but odds are it’s better this year than last.

  • RKD

    All this Sven talk is getting annoying. He will be the first guy called up when the Flames are hit with injuries or down the road if they are well out of a playoff race. He’ll get top line minutes in the AHL and if the Flames start trading away veterans like Glencross and/or Hudler, it will open up a door for the Flames unless BT does something drastic to change the makeup of the new core.

  • Grant

    Lambert wrote:

    “…the team has weirdly packed the left side with middling NHL talent (Glencross, Raymond), more tantalizing prospects (Gaudreau) and a thug (Bollig) in what could be read as an effort to send Baertschi a message. Barring injury, who does he supplant from that group?”

    The answer is simple:
    * there is nothing stopping the Flames from making room for Sven at any time.

    The overall talent on the left side is very good and MUCH better than the right side after Hudler who is playing 1RW. It would be easy to play Raymond on the right side as 2RW where he has spent a lot of time during his career, replacing Seto, Jones or McGrattan.

    Personally I’d rather also see Granlund as 3C and shift Colborne back to 2RW or 3RW depending on the opposition and the line combinations, again by opening up a spot with one of the above 3 sent down (even if we lose them on waivers).

    • Colorado Flames

      Stajan for Marincin + pick (if you’re feeling greedy). Ideally the Ottawa Senators’ 3rd rounder gained in the Hemsky trade.

      Marincin is a good-to-great possession defender, he’s big (6’4″ – dat size) and he’s got a bit of a nasty streak in him (see this here: http://lowetide.ca/blog/2014/08/moon-over-martin.html/comment-page-1#comment-331824).

      The Oilers are already treating him like garbage after being their best possession defender. He’s been replaced by the new shiny toys (Klefbom, Nurse).

      Nothing crushes the Oilers better than former Oilers who were given a raw deal.

      Marincin immediately helps the team. The Flames’ bottom-four are questionable, the bottom two a five-alarm tire fire. Even if Marincin slotted in as a 3-4D, he’d be a damn good 3-4D to have.

      Replace the not-good Czech former Oiler – Ladi Smid – with the good Czech former Oiler. Martin Marincin.

      He may not be the most physical guy, but he’s a guy who’s going to get the puck out of the zone and into the other guy’s zone – and that’s what I want out of a defenseman.

      Rex, how much would you hate the Oilers if they traded Marincin for Stajan?

      • Colorado Flames

        The chance of the oilers trading marincin for Stajan is -100%

        He is a central part of their future for 10 years and for once they are developing a player properly. He will be back up after nurse gets his 9 game cup of tea.

  • Grant

    Just one thing more about Bennett.
    Do you think he should have let Calgary know he was injured , which he did not?
    Do you think Calgary still would have drafted him at 4th overall if they would have known about his shoulder?
    A little misleading if you ask me!!
    Can you say Entry Level Contract $$$$???
    Think about it?

  • Grant

    I think we are putting Sven in a better place to succeed. Make him work his way up, which we know he can do, rather than keep him up with possibly having to send him down.

    Last year we gave him the spot and it didnt work to well, and crushed his confidence. Lets wait a bit and let him show us he is ready.

  • Colorado Flames

    Do you guys think Bennett keeping his shoulder injury a secret was his idea, or his agents, or maybe his parents. I think he got some bad advice from someone.

  • Tartan Flame

    Let’s stop babying Sven. Spend some time in AHL and earn the opportunity. As for our “eclectic” 4th line, don’t worry, there are bigger issues with the first 3 lines. I’m an advocate of balance between youth and experience. Of skill and grit but most of all of effort. And I want the right players not necessarily the “best” players. But most of all, I find it easier to cheer for what we have today than what I had to observe for several years before