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.