Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Not-So Cautious Optimism

In our last blog, we took a cold, hard look at reality, heading into the 2010-2011 season.

But it’s so easy to be negative, so easy to criticize. Not today! Today we’re going to take a glass-overflowing optimistic approach to the team’s fortunes, so we can enjoy the first year of a 10 year contract between the Flames and Sportsnet. We’ll take a look at high-level team positives, before delving into individual factors that we can get excited about. It will be a long process, but we will be pumped up for training camp by the end of it.

Let’s face it. It was very painful for many of us to watch our hometown hockey team completely deteriorate for the last half of the season... Which is why we will forget these painful, vivid images for now, and take a higher-level view of the team’s performance.

Quick Positives from 2009-2010

- Among the top teams in terms of GAA

- First time missing the playoffs since 2002-2003

- Subtracted an ego-driven risk-taking defenseman in Dion Phaneuf, and added a solid, consistent force in Ian White – who earns half the annual salary

We seem to speak of this team as though it had the worst season in NHL history, when the team we follow actually recorded 90 pts – one of the better “terrible” seasons a team could have. Compare that to, say, the off years in Columbus (79 pts) and Edmonton (62 pts). Above all that, the Flames were 2 or 3 wins from the bottom two spots of the playoff picture. Consider this the difference between McElhinny and a more capable back-up goaltender. Does this perspective make you feel any better about horrific losses to the NY Islanders or Boston Bruins in April? Of course not, but stick with me here.

Most of these underachieving Flames had the worst year of their respective careers. From an individual perspective, this team can only improve. Let’s take a look at a few individuals within the organization to further break this down.

Let’s not sugar-coat it – From an outsider’s perspective, the decision making that took place on behalf of Flames’ management has been comical (at best) in very recent memory. So rather than re-hashing all of these bad memories, let’s give the guy some credit:

1. Darryl wants to win. Sounds obvious, but it still shocks me at how many GMs around the league base their decision making on excitement and entertainment value. Darryl doesn’t hand Kovalchuk a contract worth 102 million dollars so he can have an exciting player that will sell tickets. Instead, he trades for Steve Staios, re-signs Olli Jokinen and cuts Theo Fleury. Any of these moves can be disputed, but you can’t dispute Darryl’s intentions – he wants to win. Not make friends, not sell tickets, not make noise – Darryl wants a cup.

2. GM Sutter is anything but gun-shy. Based on transactions, Darryl is the most active GM in the NHL. While this is not always ideal, he’s not afraid to shake things up. He trades star players, he brings in controversy (Bertuzzi, Jokinen, McGrattan), and he signs just about every under-achieving prospect that doesn’t already have a job. Only 10% of these prospects actually become productive players, but based on shear volume alone, I’ll take Darryl’s 10% over Dean Lombardi’s 10%... that guy seems to make about 2 signings per summer. In short, Darryl’s managing is exciting to follow, and he makes moves for the right reasons.
Could you imagine being a fan of the Buffalo Sabres this offseason? “Oh golly, we signed Rob Neidermayer in early July. Thrilling summer, can’t wait for training camp.”
That wouldn’t cut it for me. I’ll take Darryl’s active controversy over the alternative.

Simply put: Brent knows exactly what he’s signed up for come September.

Nothing to see here folks. Consistency all season long from these gents, and we can expect nothing different next season. Oh yeah, except for Kiprusoff – let’s bank on Kipper being solid next season... Not god-like, because skate blade saves on Scott Nichol just isn’t a fair expectation. He will be solid, and that’s all a good team needs.

Let’s see: Impressive numbers through 60 games on one of the worst teams in the league. Assuming these guys take on a lesser role with the Flames, we can look forward to respectable contributions from this group, with some necessary secondary scoring. A second line of Bourque Stajan and Hagman should stack up pretty well against the opposition.

Our very own Jonas Gustafsson. Only bigger, and we won’t expect him to carry our franchise. Just step in and try not to lose games for us – that’s all we ask. At bare minimum, this foreign experiment will be a lot of fun to follow. Considering our back-up goaltending in recent history, what do we have to lose here?

My take? I don’t think this guy needs a bounce back season at all. He’s been the leading scorer for years. In triple coverage. Against top d pairings. Game in game out. Getting 30+ goals consistently. You can’t expect your leader to get you 45 goals, because relying on that could kill your team in the standings. Instead, you ask that Jarome continue on with his 35 (ish) goals, ask that his centreman score 35, and his playmaking left winger contribute 25 of his own. Not mentioning any names here...

At this rate, your first line chips in with a total of 95 goals, which is 8 goals shy of that deadly Heatley-Thornton-Marleau combination. The lack of scoring will be a thing of the past, and Iggy`s “bad year” will actually be a very productive year, just without the entire weight of the organization on his shoulders.

Now that Darryl has flat-out told us that Tanguay and Jokinen will round out the first line with Iginla, let’s take a closer look at these two wildcards:

How do you get Alex Tanguay to score 25 goals again? Simple. You play him with Jarome Iginla for 82 games, and give him some time on the powerplay. With Iginla in triple coverage, there will be plenty of opportunity for Tangs to get 25. Just shoot the puck, you twit.

Couldn’t wait for this one, could you?

A fresh start for Olli, on a team that he really wants to play for. He and Iggy have expressed an intent to shoot more often, and not worry about the pretty plays that result in very little. Tanguay will help simplify Olli’s game, as a player that can pass with ease and hit teammates in-stride at ideal shooting areas. This will allow Jokinen to simplify his game, and focus on getting the puck on net – because “Olli cow” can that guy shoot the puck.

All of this considered: In a full time role on the first line, could Olli decline at all from last season? At only 30 years old, I’m not sure it’s possible for him to have a worse year than his most recent 15 goal output. And at 3 million dollars for each of the next two years (Kotalik-type money), I’ll take a chance on him recording totals closer to his career bests than his career worst. After all, we’re talking about a former 50 goal scorer.
My two cents: Put Jokinen on the point on the powerplay with Bouwmeester. This was the set-up in Florida, and an effective set-up at that. Let Olli focus on unleashing that cannon of a shot from the blueline, and have Iggy and Tangs along the half walls as viable options to dish off to. Throw Bourque in front of the net, and you’ve got a very well-rounded unit on the powerplay, with many different options available. Don’t buy my theory? Take a look at Jokinen’s video highlights the NHL website. If you scroll back to his Florida days (which, believe it or not, was merely two seasons ago) you’ll see how well the Jokinen, Bouwmeester powerplay connection can work. Shooting the puck is what Olli does, so let him do just that, and have J-Bo serve as the prime puck-mover, while Tangs, Iggy and Bourque settle in to what they do best. A more productive Jokinen AND a more productive powerplay.

Forget the three goals and watch the guy play. He’s still one of the most skilled defenseman in the league. The game is so effortless to him, as he understands positioning and stick work so well. He is by far the best skater on this team, and tops in terms of defensemen in general. He needs to jump in the rush more – and he will. I think Jay tried to do too much last year, based on uniting with a new coach and a hefty new contract. I expect he will bounce back in a big way next season. It’s tough to pencil in a well-rounded defenseman to score 15 goals, but I think 10-12 is pretty realistic. One year has passed, and I still love this signing. If only the guy had a sense of humour.


- Reconfigure the PP

- Keep that frightening Robyn Regehr on your team, because he’s far more valuable than it seems at the

- Bare Minimum: Excluding Giordano, Bourque and White... Pencil every player on the team to score at least two more goals than they did last season – a very realistic objective. At minimum, that adds roughly 40 more goals to your team’s offense. That by itself will make a big difference in the standings. Now, assuming members of the top line improve by more than this margin? We would be set for a much improved 2010-2011 season.

Feeling better?

I know I am.


  1. Many good points!

    You were right, now im excited! Interesting perspectives on Jokinen

  2. Great read! The Flames will have lowered expectations this year compared to those previous, the last time expectations were this low and they were written off as a non playoff contender they went all the way to the cup finals...just saying


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