FGD: A Visit From Buffalo

Tonight’s game is the 69th game of the regular season for your Calgary Flames, and also the 69th for the visiting Buffalo Sabres. Neither team is on the way to the playoffs. Both teams are looking forward to the NHL Draft and next season. Both teams have rosters plum full of guys from the AHL – and guys fighting for NHL jobs.

That’s one of the reasons this game could actually be pretty fun.

THE LOCALS

The big news today was the arrival of Kenny Agostino, fresh from Yale University and with a freshly-inked NHL contract. He’s wearing #51 now, but likely will not play tonight. Friday’s a safe bet, though. Corban Knight’s down to Abbotsford and Matt Stajan’s back, so the lines look a tiny bit different.

Via Daily Faceoff!

Bouma – Backlund – Byron
Cammalleri – Monahan – Colborne
Glencross – Stajan – McGrattan
Hanowski – Galiardi – Westgarth

Giordano – Brodie
Butler – Russell
Smid – Wotherspoon

Ortio

Out for the Flames: Karri Ramo (knee), Jiri Hudler (upper body), David Jones (upper body), Markus Granlund (upper body) and Dennis Wideman (upper body). Kenny Agostino is the lone healthy scratch.

Joni Ortio makes his 8th start – tying Joey MacDonald for appearances this year. Ortio’s 3-4-0 with a 2.33 goals against average and a .904 save percentage, both of which are better than MacDonald. But sample size and all that.

As seems to be Bob Hartley’s way, he’s starting a veteran coming in off a long absence on a third line with McGrattan. I’m not 100% sold that Stajan will stay there, but it’s a nice way to ease him in (and to keep the top two lines, which have been working well, together). When Agostino’s ready, I imagine he knocks Ben Hanowski to the press box.

Is anyone else amazed that each of three players on Calgary’s top line are (a) 25 and under and (b) were healthy scratches during this season? Amazing how much each guy has progressed over the last 68 games.

THE SABRES

It’s been a rough year in Buffalo. They have just 19 wins, with 7 of them on the road, and they’ve been a bit of a circus both on and off the ice. But on the other hand, there’s a lot of young kids getting a shot to play, so that’s exciting. And they’ll get better in a hurry next year, as they have a ton of draft picks.

Lines from Daily Faceoff!

Conacher – Ennis – Stafford
Foligno – Hodgson – Flynn
Mitchell – Leino – D’Agostino
Deslauriers – Ellis – Scott

Ristolainen – Ehrhoff
Ruhwedel – Tallinder
McBain – Weber

Lieuwen

Out for the Sabres: Jhonas Enroth, Michal Neuvirth, Tyler Myers, Chris Stewart, Zemgus Girgensons and Alexander Sulzer. Zenon Konopka is a healthy scratch.

WHL vet Nathan Lieuwen makes his first NHL start for the Sabres after coming into their game in Montreal in relief, while Matt Hackett is up from AHL Rochester to back him up. The Sabres are riding a six-game losing skid, and last won on March 6 in Tampa. Calgary eked out a win over this group back in December, back before the Sabres well off a cliff and just before the Flames went through their “can’t score a goal” phase.

There’s a lot of potential in this line-up, but so far it’s unrealized potential.

SUM IT UP

The NHL’s worst and fifth-worst teams are tangling tonight at the Scotiabank Saddledome! The game has virtually no bearing on draft position or playoff races. The biggest implications are for the AHL call-ups that are auditioning for jobs on both sides of the ice.

  • beloch

    TANK-O-DEX:

    Flames:
    Average games played this season per player: 45.7
    Average percentage of a full season played: 67.3%

    Sabres:
    Average games played this season per player: 39.5
    Average percentage of a full season played: 58.1%

  • Tenbrucelees

    I personally do not have any respect for the Sabres organization. In my view they have been throwing games for draft positioning. Ditto Florida.

    I would include the Oilers but they had already done so in previous years to secure RNH and Taylor Hall. Now they are simply pathetic.

    • beloch

      It would probably come as a relief to most Oiler fans if their team was tanking deliberately, but I don’t think they are.

      Tank-O-Dex for the Oilers last game:
      Average games played this season per player: 49.2
      Average percentage of a full season played: 71.2%

      Their tank-o-dex indicates they’re icing a more experienced lineup than the Flames, and that’s not even considering that it should be less experienced given that they sold off Ales Hemsky and Nick Shultz at the deadline. They’re not tanking deliberately folks! It’s 100% pure, natural, suck.

      Now, just because they’re trying (and failing) now doesn’t mean they didn’t deliberately tank before. However, they really don’t have anything on the sidelines to help them out. They’ve been pretty healthy this season and currently are not missing anyone who is going to make them a lot better by returning. Their farm system is not devoid of talent, with a couple of promising defenders in particular, but it’s still weaker than average by league standards. That’s an utter disgrace considering that early 1st round picks mean early second round picks and so on. They have not drafted well outside of the first round.

      So… Yeah. I pull for the Oilers whenever it doesn’t hurt the Flames, but they’re a tough team to cheer for right now. Absolutely nothing is working right for them. At a point in their rebuild when they should be stacked with talent and really starting to sail they appear to have hit a reef and sunk. It’s going to be an ugly summer up North.

      • Tenbrucelees

        I honestly don’t believe the Oilers tanked this year. They have a number of issues including too many coaching changes and systems and lack of a credible defenseman. As well I think some of the young stars are no longer listening and may have tuned off the coaches.

        In previous years I’ll let the performance determine what people think and there ability to secure those highly regarded 1st overalls.

        Anyways…I believe the league has recognized this (Panthers, Sabres included) and will be making drastic changes to the lottery / formula processes currently in place.

        • ChinookArchYYC

          “Anyways…I believe the league has recognized this (Panthers, Sabres included) and will be making drastic changes to the lottery / formula processes currently in place.”

          I’ve been thinking about that recently. How’s this? The draft order could be determined by teams that collect the most points after they are numerically eliminated from the playoffs. This would mean that the earlier a team is eliminated from a playoff spot, the more points could potentially collect. The more post-elimination points the better your draft position. I believe this would rid the league of tank-mode.

          • ChinookArchYYC

            That’s not a bad idea!

            I know one area they are looking at is amending the formula to include where you finish in the standings over a 5 year period as opposed to just the previous year. This will give credit to teams like the Flames who have been out of the playoffs for sometime and not benefit teams that have had one off year.

          • beloch

            Officialish rumors:

            http://www.cbc.ca/sports-content/hockey/opinion/2014/03/30-thoughts-changing-odds-in-nhl-draft-lottery.html

            Analysis of the so-called “Edmonton Rule II”

            http://www.mc79hockey.com/?p=6809

            Summary:

            The current lottery odds are thought to be poorly suited to the current degree of parity in the league. The goal is to make the odds less favorable for the worst teams in response, both out of fairness and to discourage deliberate tanking. Here’s one (highly speculative) method the league is considering.

            Calculate lottery odds based on a five year rolling average as follows: Each year, 14 teams miss the playoffs. Add up the total number of points that all non-playoff teams missed the playoffs by. Then, to find the odds for the Nth worst team to win the playoffs, add up the points the Nth worst teams missed the playoffs by for each of the last 5 years and divide that by the above total.

            For example, if this was done last season the total would have been 693 points. The last-place finishers in those five seasons finished a total of 131 points out of the playoffs. 131/693 gives the probability of the worst team to win the lottery: 18.9% (compare this to the 25% in the old system).

            Under this system, the #5 worst team (a likely finish for the Flames) is practically unaffected. Everyone worse than them would have a slightly decreased chance of winning the lottery relative to the previous system while everyone better than #5 would have slightly better chances. So, bad for Edmonton, Buffalo, etc., good for Vancouver, etc. and no change for the Flames.

          • ChinookArchYYC

            Interesting, and I’m glad the NHL wants to make changes. The one thing I was hoping for was an incentive that rewarded fans with better more competitive games regardless of whether a team will or won’t make the playoffs. I’m nit sure the NHL proposal addresses this.

  • mk

    Maybe these will be the teams in the cup final in say, about six years. It will be interesting to watch how these teams compare in the next few years. Both have good young prospects. But they don’t have Burke!

    • RedMan

      It has been obvious to me that Hanowski is a long ways off in his development and could benefit with 1-2 years of further development in Abby.

      Unfortunately he is already 23 years old and given his age and where he is in his development I’m not liking his chances. Regardless he has great size and leadership so I would not write him off just yet!

      • ChinookArchYYC

        I like Hanowski, but that was a horrible decision, Joni had no chance there. He does need time in the AHL, I like his strength along the wall and in front of the net.

        • piscera.infada

          I’m not sold on Hanowski, perhaps I’m not watching closely enough… He just seems slow?

          I think Wotherspoon has been exactly as advertised – not flashy, just solid.

        • Jeff Lebowski

          What?

          That was a great tactical play by the Sabres. Calgary loves to reverse the puck so Buffalo bracketed Hanowski along the boards. Hanowski saw the strong side dude but didn’t see the backside (I guess you can blame him for not having eyes in the back of his head).

          Sometimes the other team does well.

          On another note, how good is the Regehr trade return now?

          • beloch

            Great tactical play? It was a dump and chase, all three Sabre forwards stayed in their lanes. Basic play. Hanowski saw Ennis on the other side of the net and blindly reversed right to Stafford and watched as he stuffed it in the net. Bad play!

  • Jeff Lebowski

    I have been very impressed with Byron this year.another testament that the size of the heart is more important than the size of the player (the wheels don’t hurt either). I’m interested to hear what people think will happen with him at the end of the year? I think they ahold sign him but he isn’t a “Burke type” so what do you guys think?

    • Jeff Lebowski

      Yes sign him. You can have Byron and JohnnyG on the same team and still have a big “truculent” team!!

      But make no mistake you will see a ton of changes on this current roster. Remember we are a bottom 5 team with a rebuild strategy.

    • beloch

      Paul Byron has been playing medium-tough minutes, hasn’t been getting a whole lot of TOI, is slightly above team average in terms of possession metrics (which still isn’t good enough) and is currently on a 42 point pace if he played a full season in the NHL. If he keeps this up he’s likely done with the AHL.

      Byron is an RFA this summer, so this is a contract year for him. I’m really not sure what Burke is going to do with Byron. He might try to sign Byron to longer term at a low cap-hit. This is risky, because players often don’t maintain the same compete level once the big contract is inked. Also, is Byron likely to continue improving or, at 24, is he close to his peak? He doesn’t quite check the size and truculence boxes off for Burke, but at 5’10”, 180 lbs he’s not tiny either. Could he be traded?

      Byron will likely be one of the more interesting players to follow over the summer.

        • beloch

          Hrmm… Hockeydb has him listed as 5’10”, 180 lbs. Hockeysfuture has him as 5’9″, 180 lbs. Wikipedia has him listed as 5’7″ 170 lbs. The Flames website has him listed as 5’7″, 153 lbs, but there is absolutely no way in hell he’s 153 lbs..

          Hey Ryan, is there any chance you could take a tape measure and bathroom scale with you the next time you visit the Flames dressing room? 😉

  • P. Ennis

    @Burnward
    I’ve only seen a few youtube clips, so I don’t know much about Gillies beyond the boxscore (and we all know how illuminating those numbers are). But with Ortio, I see a goalie who moves point to point in his crease way more fluidly than Berra or Karlsson did. Even his tracking through screens shows an economy of movement that lends itself to a strong technical style. I know it’s reaching after 8 games or whatever (and comps aren’t really helpful), but he reminds me a lot of (a poor persons) Carey Price in that his style and composure allows him to make the first save and control his rebounds from there.

    Also – thanks for the handle love. I also considered “Tugnutt stops Semin”.