Five things: Of power dynamics, ambiguity, and rookies

gold-number-5

1.
Something I’ve been thinking about

I
don’t know why this occurred to me the other day, but it did and I
thought it was interesting vis a vis Brian Burke and his role with
the team.

(I
apologize, by the way, for bringing up something along these lines
again, but there’s very little else to talk about with regard to this
team of late. Anyway, this is also pretty front-of-mind for me right
now for another reason I’ll get to in a minute.)

When
Burke was first brought aboard and Jay Feaster was inexplicably still
in his role, we were told that the general manager/president of
hockey operations dynamic they wanted to lean on — i.e. that the GM
had autonomy but the president of hockey ops had final say and would
certainly lean in there with his opinions whenever he felt like it —
was relatively new to hockey and one that would give the Flames
something of a rare opportunity to approach the player and team
evaluation process with the new partnership.

I
wonder, I guess, about its efficacy, because we saw Feaster get
canned, predictable though it may have been, pretty early on this
season, and Brian Burke take over from him as the de facto GM until
such time as a new one can be hired, which is to say after the
season, which is to say that he’d keep the job in which he stated
repeatedly that he had no interest for at least a few months. Then
there’s the fact that another of these partnerships existed in
Buffalo, and there the new GM seems to have effectively run his
direct superior out of town in some way; I don’t know if we’ve ever
gotten the real explanation behind Pat LaFontaine’s decision to step
down as the Sabres president of hockey ops but those reports about
him not wanting to trade Ryan Miller ring true enough for me that I
buy them no matter how much it’s refuted in public.

So
it’s interesting to me that two of the bigger dumpster fires in the
league adopted this new and revolutionary dynamic this year (if I’m
not mistaken, the Oilers have had a similar one as well with Kevin
Lowe technically overseeing Craig MacTavish, so that’s another for
the pile), and both had them blow up more or less immediately on the
launchpad. Maybe, probably, it was unavoidable in both cases, given
the states of the teams.

2.
So what does that mean?

Is
it a coincidence, then, that three of the worst teams in the league
have perhaps the most conspicuous of these dynamics (as a
counterpoint the Boston Bruins also kind of have one, with Cam Neely
technically, I think, being Peter Chiarelli’s boss, but he’s just
“President,” not “President of Hockey Operations: the Bruins
site says he “oversees
all of the club’s hockey and business operations”) and that most
agree they haven’t worked especially well.

I
also wonder whether this has had any kind of impact on the ways in
which the GM hiring process went or is going. After all, we heard in
the immediate wake of Feaster’s firing that Calgary had a few
candidates in mind and wanted to hire soon. Then it was changed to,
“They’re waiting until the end of the season.” That was curious.
Maybe the initial reports were wrong, and maybe a few candidates said
“Thanks but no thanks.” One of those candidates was apparently
Joe Nieuwendyk, who said he would pass on the chance to run the team
because he wanted to focus on his family.

Maybe,
at the end of the day, you have to be concerned about how well this
kind of thing can work, and maybe the fact that it’s not prevalent in
hockey (yet, maybe?) is for a reason. Maybe it can’t work, or maybe
you need the right people involved at all levels. After all, it seems
to me that Jeremy Jacobs has little to nothing to do with the hockey
decisions being made by the Bruins, as long as the money is coming
in, while owners in Calgary, Buffalo, and Edmonton seem to be, shall
we say, far more conspicuous.

We
have no evidence yet that this can work in Calgary, at any rate, and
as such it’s important to consider that kind of thing when thinking
about who’s going to be the next GM. We’ve heard it said he’s going
to have to subscribe to the kind of hockey that Burke espouses
(fight-y, losing hockey, apparently), but there’s a legitimate
question at this point whether the autonomy he’s supposed to have
will actually exist.

3.
The Nieuwendyk ceremony

Maybe
I was prompted to think about all the above by the Nieuwendyk
non-retirement ceremony, at which they really should have just
retired his stupid number anyway. I’ve never really been clear on the
difference between retiring them, as the Flames have with Lanny
McDonald and Mike Vernon, and simply “honoring” them, as they
have with Al MacInnis and now Nieuwendyk. I understand what it means,
but I don’t understand why you make the distinction; is someone
really any more worthy of wearing No. 2 than they are of wearing No.
30?

Anyway,
that ceremony was nice. Very enjoyable. Occasionally moving. It’s
weird how sports can do that to you.

4.
On Granlund

Now
that we’ve gotten a decently long look at the contributions Markus
Granlund and Joni Ortio have made (seven and five games,
respectively, as of this writing), I think it’s fair to begin to look
at how they’ve done in their admittedly limited roles.

Granlund
has, understandably, gotten a little bit sheltered early on, but it
should be noted his zone starts have actually been a little bit
tougher than Sean Monahan’s: 54.2 for the new kid, 59 for the
less-new kid. And while he’s not driving play in any appreciable way
at 45.2 percent corsi, that’s to be expected because only four guys
on the whole team drive possession north of 50 to begin with (Mark
Giordano, TJ Galiardi, TJ Brodie, Mikael Backlund). Maybe, though,
you’d like to see more than eight SOG total in seven games, even
given the limited minutes.

From
a “watch the games!!!” perspective, though, I think he’s actually
looked less out of place than Monahan did at the beginning of the
season, even if the numbers obviously don’t bear that out.

5.
Then there’s Ortio

Tough
to judge any goaltender on five starts, sure, but in that time one
has to think we’ve seen some building blocks that weren’t there with
the other potential saviors in net. Having a .907 save percentage is
still, obviously, not good enough for anyone, but those games haven’t
exactly been against the easiest competition, and that’s obviously
going to be exacerbated by the fact that the Flames are awful.

Unlike
your Reto Berras or Karri Ramos, both hailed at different points as
being guys who can play this position at the NHL level, Ortio has
dominated an actual good lower league where success there translates
to the NHL. Even if they don’t make him the starter next year (they
shouldn’t), you can tell he’s going to have a better shot to be be
strong against North American competition because he has done it in
the AHL. The Swiss A-League and the KHL remain mysteries in many
ways, because success there, for whatever reason, doesn’t seem to
translate as well to the NHL game.

There’s
also the fact that Ortio is 22, rather than the 27 of Berra and Ramo.
Lots more to build on there, and reason to hope that .907 isn’t the
ceiling, but the floor. Tough to be sure either of the older fellas
aren’t already exactly what they’re going to be.  

  • Freakin' Saprykin

    My concern with the Forever A Flame program lies with exclusivity. Will we be solely honouring numbers from now on, as opposed to fully retiring? That may cause a problem when a certain Bruin decides to hang them up.

    • Brent G.

      I absolutely agree. I will say that nieuwendyke was likely just as important and emperative to this organization and his number wasn’t retired. It’s a sad thought Iggy will likely only be a forever flame.

  • The Last Big Bear

    I’d also like to point out that any system that results in Feaster getting fired as a very early order of business is probably a good system.

    As they say, it’s not a bug, its a feature.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Mr Lambert, you need to get past this & quit with all the over thinking & spins. Feaster was targeted for termination after the Oreilly fiasco. Burke was just Edwards messenger & it’s not unusual in corporations to execute an upper directive within 6 months after the decision was made.

    Also please get past the semantics of job descriptions & assumptions of what Burkes role will be rebuilding the Calgary Flames hockey team. It is what it is.

  • Craig

    Purely eye test here but Ortio seemed really solid in his first few games, coming up with some spectacular saves, catching everything in sight and not bobbling any pucks. Over the past two games, against very good teams, to me he’s looked a little shakier.

    I wonder if anyone knows his even strength save percentage? As that’s how we’ve primarily judged Ramo as well.

    All this being said, I like the tools that Ortio brings, his glove is amazing, great positioning, and pucks just seem to get sucked into him.

    I’m glad he’s getting time in the NHL.

  • Derzie

    Monahan is a smart player. If you watch him with and without the puck he is a step ahead. His weakness is his skating (legs slower than brain). Easier to work on legs but working on a hockey brain is impossible. His smarts at 19 are trending towards elite.

    • I don’t 100% agree with this. There is very good sports literature out there that suggests you can work on your cognitive game skills. It just requires effort and time devoted to that. The #Flames probably don’t do much beyond the traditional (video analysis).

      However, what do you think Video Analysis is? It’s a training tool for Hockey intelligence. As is reducing feedback, open ended questioning towards a player, forcing them to analyze situations in chalk talk and then breaking down the logic of it with them (even small verbals cues on the bench is cognitive training). There are plenty of tools that can make a player smarter cognitively. So no training the brain is not impossible.

  • T&A4Flames

    I don’t believe the Flames organization has done an adequate communication of explaining the difference between a ‘Retirement’ vs ‘Forever a Flame’ concept. Perhaps others on FN are aware and would like to share there understanding?

    I’m going to guess and say the ‘Forever a Flame’ ceremony gives the Flames more flexibility in recognizing greatness i.e. Niewy, McGinnis…in future Roberts, Fleury, Pep etc. Players who don’t quite meet the elite standards of a full number ‘retirement’ ceremony such as MacDonald, Vernon.

    I hope I am incorrect in my assumption because when it comes to Kipper he will definitely be in the elite class and a number retirement and recognition will definitely be in order! Not sure how they plan to manage this?

    Bottom line is that I believe they should stick with tradition and have only one ‘Retirement’ ceremony based on elite accomplishments regardless!

    • prendrefeu

      I can partially see the difference between ‘Forever a Flame’ vs. jersey retirement when I compare it to, say, the NBA where players excel on different teams and there is a question about which team’s roof would they have their jersey retired.

      That said, with Fleury who definitely met the standards of full number retirement, I don’t understand why he’s lopped into the ‘Forever a Flame’ category. He, of all people, really deserves the proper retirement in the Flames’ rafters.

      The other guy who needs it? Loob.

      The counter-argument from the Flames org would probably be something like “oh, then we can’t use that number ever again”… which is true, but while I wouldn’t mind seeing Gaudreau wear #14 just to pull at my heart strings a bit, I also feel that Johnny needs to find his own number (#15 with Westgarth choosing another number if he’s around, perhaps?) and #14 is on perma-display up there.

      Take a look at the numbers available. Jerseys can go from 0-99, one hundred possibilities. Although probably not many want to wear #99 because of that guy… you know, that guy who once wore that number…. you know… what his name…. uhhh… yeah, that guy.
      Anyway, many numbers have never been worn by a Flame.

      • MattyFranchise

        “The other guy who needs it? Loob.”

        No offence but if #12 is to be hung to the rafters it won’t be for Loob.

        I like your thinking on the Forever a Flame vs. Retirement in that if a player impacted this franchise in a way he didn’t anywhere else then his # should be Retired. Players like Vernon and McDonald had significant careers outside of Calgary but were not heralded and engrained into the other cities they played in, like they are here.

        MacInnis had a huge impact and longstanding relationship with St. Louis and same goes for Nieuwendyk in Dallas..

        This is why #14 and, as discussed earlier, #12 should be retired one day and perhaps even #34…

      • Parallex

        99 is retired league wide (not that anyone would choose to wear it because who want’s to put themselves in direct comparison).

        As for Fluery… I dunno man, sure by virtue of his accomplishments as a hockey player he’s not only worthy of a number retirement but likely inclusion in the HHOF but he’s burned a lot of bridges behind him. The kind of bridges that tend, rightly or wrongly, to not have the corporate minded people that run the NHL be much inclined to heap honors such as that. I’d think that if he were to be honored they’d have done it sortly after his pre-season try-out with the club.

  • TheoForever

    This sentence is a travesty.

    “I wonder, I guess, about its efficacy, because we saw Feaster get canned, predictable though it may have been, pretty early on this season, and Brian Burke take over from him as the de facto GM until
    such time as a new one can be hired, which is to say after the season, which is to say that he’d keep the job in which he stated repeatedly that he had no interest for at least a few months.”

  • RedMan

    to my eye, ortio has been better them Ramo, and MUCH better then Reto.

    I too have been wondering about Monahan. He doesn’t seem to stand out, then all of a sudden he is putting it in the net. He doesn’t look fast, doesn’t seem to play overly physical, doesn’t seem to be making the play most of the time, but then, wham! goal!

    • TheoForever

      I was thinking the same thing about Monahan. Is he a Center or is he more suited to wing? He definitely seems more of a goal scorer than playmaker. Might be a bit early in his development to come to that conclusion, but his junior stats suggest the same thing.

      • T&A4Flames

        I know next to nothing about evaluating young players or their development arcs, but I wonder if there is an extra element to play making that takes a bit more time to click at the NHL speed of play. The instinct to shoot the puck seems more automatic to me, where as passing and evaluating the available plays and receivers is a bit more complex. Maybe it just takes more time?

  • The Last Big Bear

    Ah, the weekly Lambert troll-job.

    1) Two teams currently overhauling their structures top-to-bottom have both chosen a similar upper-management model. “That new model must be stupid, because both of those team are bad right now.”

    Logic.

    Also, the Oilers are not proof of anything. There are loads of fundamentally sound ideas the Oilers are incapable of executing successfully.

    2) “We have no evidence yet that this can work in Calgary”, thus refuting any and every change, to anything, ever.

    3) I don’t really get the Forever a Flame thing either.

    4) Monahan still looks out of place, he doesn’t pass the eyeball test at all. The only reason hes in the NHL is because he delivers the goods. When he hits a rough patch, the tide of opinion is likely to turn against him very, very fast. Like, Sven fast.

    5) Success in the KHL doesn’t translate into success in the NHL, but success in the AHL does?

    I’m assuming you’ve got some pretty solid stats and analysis to back that up, and that your argument doesn’t entirely consist of “Roman Cervenka was supposed to be good”.

  • While Ortio’s save percentage isn’t spectacular, I can’t remember 1 goal against him that had me thinking he should have stopped it. His positioning is excellent, has a good glove and plays the puck well. Ortio and Ramo could be a good tamdem.