The careers of hockey executives and the lives of hockey teams are often boiled down to sound-bites and quotes that define them. For the 2011-12 Calgary Flames, the season boils down to a pair of statements, and I’m paraphrasing here.
- “This team deserves a chance to win.” – Jay Feaster, on why he didn’t blow up the team at the 2012 trade deadline.
- “Mark Jankowski will be the best player in the draft in 10 years.” – both John Weisbrod and Jay Feaster on their decision to go off the board at 21st overall (after trading down from 14th overall) at the 2012 Draft.
This was that season, where the Flames just barely missed the playoffs, Brent Sutter rode off into the sunset, and Jay Feaster re-signed Tim Jackman at the trade deadline rather than trade him for anything.
The 2011-12 season was a frustrating one. Nobody could score, but Miikka Kiprusoff regularly stood on his head and kept the Flames in games. On the surface, the Flames seemed like a team that maybe, possibly could eke into the playoffs. But they didn’t, missing the dance by five points and prompting the organization to part ways with head coach Brent Sutter and the balance of the coaching staff in the off-season.
This was the season where the old powerhouse Flames devolved into the Calgary Flames of today – spunky, spirited, but frequently out-shot and playing in their own zone. One of the reasons was that the core of the team was beginning to fall on the wrong side of 30, and the results of Darryl Sutter sending high draft picks out the door with virtually every big trade were finally being felt. The team was able to put complementary assets into the NHL on the third and fourth lines, but there was no way for them to bring in assets at the trade deadline that could make a difference.
And the Flames needed guys that could make a difference. The team had more long losing streaks (six 3+ losing skids, including two 5-game streaks) than winning streaks (four). They also had the NHL’s second-worst overtime record, going 5-16 in extra time. Had the Flames a back-up goalie that could win another game or two, or a player that could be a difference-maker in overtime, or during one of their ugly streaks, maybe they could’ve made the playoffs.
But acquiring those players would’ve changed the team, and they no longer would’ve been that same group that Feaster felt deserved a chance to win. Thus, they were doomed.
Miikka Kiprusoff started “only” 68 games, winning 35 of his starts and posting a .928 even-strength save percentage, a nice rebound from the prior year where he seemed just completely exhausted all the time. Leland Irving and Henrik Karlsson, who both struggled to fill the back-up role adequately, combined for two wins in 14 starts. Yikes.
Jay Feaster was busy in 2011-12, making a bunch of minor moves – a fairly big one in January – which many predicted would be a precursor to big moves at the trade deadline. Then he didn’t do anything at the trade deadline.
- July 9, 2011: traded Keith Seabrook to Florida for Jordan Henry.
- July 14, 2011: traded a fifth round pick to New Jersey for Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond.
- August 29, 2011: traded Daymond Langkow to Phoenix for Lee Stempniak.
- January 6, 2012: traded Brendan Mikkelson to Tampa Bay for Blair Jones.
- January 12, 2012: traded Rene Bourque, Patrick Holland and a second round pick to Montreal for Mike Cammalleri, Karri Ramo and a fifth round pick.
- January 27, 2012: traded Brendan Morrison to Chicago for Brian Connelly.
- January 30, 2012: traded John Negrin to Winnipeg for Akim Aliu.
- June 22, 2012: traded down in the first round (from 14 to 21) with Buffalo, gaining a second round pick.
- June 27, 2012: traded Jordan Henry and a fifth round pick to Washington for Dennis Wideman’s rights.
Reportedly Feaster received offers for Tim Jackman. He flat-out told the media post-deadline that he received offers for Tim Jackman. All he had to announce post-deadline…was the signing of Tim Jackman to a contract extension.
This was also the Spring of Sven, as 2011 first round pick Sven Baertschi was brought up on an emergency basis from the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks in an attempt to save the Flames season. He scored three goals in five games, forever setting the bar for the remainder of his Flames tenure abnormally high. But more on that later.
In the summer of 2011, the team added complementary assets in Derek Smith and Scott Hannan, along with minor-leaguers Guillaume Desbiens, Ben Walter and Clay Wilson.
The 2012 Draft was borderline. On one hand: Jankowski and Sieloff aren’t anything yet. On the other, Gillies was a great college player and Kulak and Culkin have become at least decent minor leaguers.
The less said about Olli Maatta, the better. Even three years later, it’s still a head-scratcher.
RETHINKING THE 2011-12 FLAMES
The 2011-12 Calgary Flames were, from an analytics standpoint, the beginning of an era of Flames hockey were the team was underwater in terms of possession hockey. Granted, a big chunk of their key players were north of 30, so that makes some sense.
They posted a Corsi For percentage of 47.4, fifth-worst in the NHL. They were also bottom-third in the league in shooting percentage, but the team was propped up by their goaltending – primarily Miikka Kiprusoff – rebounding from the prior season and being in the top-third in the league in save percentage. They had playoff goaltending, but they spent a lot of time in their own end and couldn’t bury the few chances they were able to generate.
They were thus, simultaneously, lucky and unlucky to have been just five points out of the playoffs.