Tuesday, September 27, 2005



So: is the Flames roster stronger than last year? Without looking at things too closely, you can easily take either side of this argument. "They added Amonte, McCarty, and Hamrlik to a team that made it to the Finals - of course they're better!" Or is it, "There's been a lot of turnover on a team that succeeded through playing as a team - this can only end badly!"

As it happens, it's rather straightforward to look at the positions on the team (or rather, roles) and pair up the players deleted with the players added. This should enable us to get a clearer idea of just how the team has changed. To wit:

Delete: Craig Conroy and Add: Daymond Langkow
Delete: Martin Gelinas and Add: Tony Amonte
Delete: Ville Nieminen and Add: Darren McCarty
Delete: Chris Clark and Add: Jason Wiemer
Delete: Oleg Saprykin and Add: Steven Reinprecht

Delete: Toni Lydman and Add: Roman Hamrlik
Delete: Denis Gauthier and Add: Dion Phaneuf

Delete: Roman Turek and Add: Flip Sauve (or Brent Krahn)

From the pipes out, I think for starters we have to assume that the Flames have downgraded at backup goalie. I wouldn't be startled if Flip or Krahn proved otherwise, but given their NHL experience, it's a fair assumption.

The changes on D I see as almost definitely an upgrade. I don't have high expectations for Hamrlik, but nevertheless I doubt he'll have me pining for Toni Lydman. If Dion Phaneuf's not already better than Gauthier, he surely will be by Grey Cup time. Also worth noting here is that Lydman and Gauthier were injured for over 3/4 of the 2004 playoffs, so in a sense, Hamrlik and Phaneuf are replacing Commodore and Montador. I like that trade (although I also like Montador, & he'll presumably be remaining with the team as the 7th defenceman).

Up front, it's a little tougher to tell. I love Conroy, and I think he'll be missed, if not his 8 goals. Langkow seems pretty well-regarded and has 5 years on Conroy (Happy Birthday, Daymond!), but why is he on his 4th team in 7 seasons? That is not a chronology associated with great young players.

Tony Amonte is a downgrade from the 2004 Playoffs Marty Gelinas. But then again, so is Marty Gelinas. He's been in the 13-23 goal range since 1997, whereas Amonte has scored 35 as recently as 2001. I think they're at about the same point on the downslopes of their careers, but Amonte's peak was higher to begin with, so this should be a wash at worst.

Reinprecht is only an "addition" in the sense that he missed the last half of the season (his first with the Flames) plus the playoffs due to injury, so he might as well be a new player. Saprykin may turn out to be a 30-goal guy with Phoenix, but it just seemed like it was never going to happen with the Flames. He ought to have been a core player by 2004. I'm very comfortable with Reinprecht taking his place on the roster.

Nieminen has more offensive upside than McCarty in my eyes, but then again, he had 2 goals in 60 games with the Hawks before being traded to the Flames in '04. I stuck up for Nemo when he passed through town, but he will not be missed.

And lastly, Wiemer v. Clark. I never gave Chris Clark much thought, one way or another. Decent player. Wiemer, based on his last tour here, is my least favourite Flame ever, tied with Rob Niedermayer and Trent Yawney. This time, he will be slotted as a 4th-liner instead of a 1st-liner, so I assume he won't be capable of frustrating me as much this time around.

In sum, I'd say there probably is some cause for concern with the roster turnover, at least at the forward position. That said, quite a bit of faith is owed to the Flames' coach and GM. He has, by his own account, selected his new players pretty carefully, to minimize the dressing room discombobulation factor (DRDF?). I think a guy can go too far with the whole, "Another good Western Canadian boy, blah blah", but I'm inclined to trust his judgement - at this point, how could anyone not?

And lest we forget, the Flames still have the best all-around forward in the league, a defence that is by all accounts the top young group in the league, and a goalie who posted the lowest GAA of any season in the modern era of the NHL. And, there's that whole "making the Stanley Cup Finals" thing. I'd say high expectations aren't just appropriate, they're sensible.


Actually, when you combine this analysis with (a) the pathologically-ignored fact that the Flames were only five points clear of missing the playoffs "last year" and (b) the arguable improvements in Edmonton, Nashville, and L.A., you could definitely cost yourself a few nights of sleep as a Flames fan.

But of course, a couple of the teams ahead of Calgary are quite likely to fall on their faces, and I rate Langkow much higher than you do.

First, I reject the idea that 5 points is somehow analogous to margin-of-error in a poll, or something. They were "only" 7 points short of winning the division outright - so what?

Second, Oil fans like you are fond of citing their record from Feb. 1 on. Well, the Flames started 6-8-0-2 and were tied for last with Columbus, then went 36-22-7-1 over the rest of the season.

Third, the Flames, Blues, Kings, and Preds were all tied for 6th-9th with 60pts in 54 games at the All-Star break. The Flames of course finished 6th ahead of all of them, gaining 34 points in their last 28 games. If anything, the Flames 6th-place finish understated their performance for the bulk of the season, which was borne out by...

Fourth, the Flames were the legitimate better team in all 3 of their West playoff series. I suppose if there had been some different bounces vs. Detroit, they could have lost, but only in Game 1 did they win when they were the lesser team. They outplayed San Jose convincingly. They way, and I mean WAY, outplayed Vancouver - the 1st half of Game 6 was the only time the Canucks looked like the better team.

All of which is to say, it's crazy to use 6th/94pts as a reference point for whether the Flames have improved or suffered. The only way they're fighting for a playoff spot late this season is if Kipper falters, or gets hurt.

I'm perfectly happy with the Geneva Convention whereby we mutually acknowledge that the Oilers and Flames made redemptive midseason goaltending changes, and that the Flames made theirs first. But I guess if I'm going to play devil's advocate I had better see the lawsuit through.

Your first point doesn't show that five points is a whole lot over the course of an 82-game season; that's a doomed argument. The point merely shows that the conference was packed very tight, and that any slippage is all the more dangerous. If you're serious about assessing the Flames' talent you can't say "so what" to that.

Your third point makes 28 games "the bulk of the season", so my only rebuttal there would be some kind of Spike Jones "boing", antique car horn, or flatulence sound effect.

And your fourth point isn't exactly comforting to your fellow red scum. Against Vancouver the Flames, as you suggest, outworked and outskated a team with a headcase goalie and lacking its best player--and still had to go into a game-seven overtime. Oh yeah, and you put the guy who scored the clutch goal on a bus out of town. How's all that a plus?

It was headcase goalieS, x3, as I recall. :) And the bulk I was trying to refer to was the final 66 games, not the final 28.

The fact that Van-Cgy had to go to Game 7 OT I write off entirely to accumulated bad playoff kharma. It's hard to break that seal.

I personally know several rabid Flames fans who didn't see Gelinas score that goal, having turned off their sets out of sheer angst after Vancouver tied it up with 6 seconds left. The bloody ghosts of Esa Tikkanen, Pavel Bure, and Ray Whitney, among others, loomed large.

In fact, that Gelinas goal to win the first series was my most satisfying moment of the whole run, the excitement of the thing being augmented by the utter relief of getting of the schneid.

Five points away from missing the playoffs? That's absurd.

Vancouver has a headcase goalie, no bertuzzi and naslund was on one foot, as I understand.

I think if there is a do-over the canucks take it in 7. Which saddens me, but the canucks always scare me.

The victory over vancouver was teh sweetest point in the playoffs. All the other wins were gravy.

The '5 points' or you're out of the playoffs argument is a bit misleading. Calgary's top goalie was out for 20 games or so in the middle of the season. While his replacements did ok, you have to think Kipper would have stolen a couple or three more points in that stretch. I liked Gelinas and Conroy, but they are both pretty long in the tooth and I Amonte and Langkow seem like upgrades at both those spots.

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