Tuesday, January 30, 2007

 

Like a Saskatchewan pothole

So yeah, I'm pleased as punch with the Conroy trade. The hook for the national media seems to be the reunification of Conroy with Jarome Iginla, and while I don't want to totally discount the "getting the magic back" angle, I think it misses the main point, which is that it makes the Flames pretty deep in the middle. Bruce Dowbiggin and Eric Francis, who follow the Flames on a day-to-day basis, pin things down a lot better. Dowbiggin first:
As much as the crimson crowd at the Saddledome will rejoice that Conroy is back with his buddy Jarome Iginla, he was mostly brought back to this area to push and cajole other members of the team. [...]

The repatriation of Conroy means that head coach Jim Playfair can now say to his forwards, "Gentlemen, Craig Conroy is going to play 17 to 20 minutes a night. That means someone will lose 17 to 20 minutes of ice time. From whom will he take those minutes?" Which should be followed by a number of people checking their security index.

Better yet for Playfair, Conroy is conversant with the Calgary system and with him as well.

Francis:
No, the 35-year-old American won't supplant Daymond Langkow from the top line he used to anchor, he won't wear the captain's C again or post a point a game like he did in 2001. (He won't even get his old stall or No. 22 back -- he'll wear Lundmark's 24).

Jury's out on whether he'll even be able to bump Matthew Lombardi from the second line.

What he will be able to do is fill in for any of the aforementioned, if need be, as well as provide the club with the type of stellar third- or fourth-line checking assignments that earned him a pair of Selke Trophy nominations years ago.

Make no mistake, he'll see plenty of time playing alongside the team's top guns on a Jim Playfair squad that loves to mix lines.

However, he will likely spend his time roaming between the second and third units, taking crucial faceoffs and showcasing the type of defence that got his Flames to the 2004 final while providing leadership that made him one of most popular players in town from 2001 to 2004.

Whatever is asked of him, Sutter knows Conroy can and will do it.

That about covers it, I think, especially Francis' piece. Surely the #1 reason why this is a good deal for the present is that it bolsters the Flames' depth up front. I don't want to overlook the fact that Conroy is 35 and unquestionably on the downslope of his career, but I'm pretty sure he can still play. Behindthenet.ca shows him as being 47th in the league (28th among forwards) in Quality of Opposition, which surely goes partway to explaining his -13 on the season (Cloutier, Brust et al go some more of the way).

I'm going to assume that for starters (and when healthy), Langkow & Lombardi are the 1/2 centres, and Iginla, Tanguay, Huselius, & Kobasew are the 1/2 wingers. Having Conroy and Yelle as the 3/4 centres seems like a nice thing for the coach, as they really don't need to be shielded from anyone in the league. In fact, this might go a ways toward pulling the road record out of the dumper.

Having two real solid defensive guys as the 3/4 centres also affords Playfair some flexibility as to who he dresses at the wing on the 3/4 lines. One of his more inspired moves this season, I thought, was the game in LA where he put Yelle between Moss and Boyd. The idea was (as I interpreted it) that the rookies would still have to do their jobs at both ends, but that it took some of the pressure to be perfect off of them as they had Old Yeller covering for them a bit. It meant that they could attack, or forecheck, with a bit more abandon -- no panicking about being a bit out of position for a few seconds.

There are four slots at wing on the 3/4 lines, that will be filled by Amonte plus any three of: Moss, Boyd, Friesen, Nilson, Ritchie, Godard, McCarty, Prust. Coach can make his lineup decisions based on the opponent, on who's hot/not, on line chemistry, or on who might need a punch in mouth that night.

At any rate, time will tell if Conroy can still perform, and if his contribution to the team exceeds what is (or will be) reflected in his stats. There is a second big reason (or #1A) why I think this is a great deal, though. I love the message it sends from the organization to the players.

I've been on a bit recently about how Kevin Lowe's failure to improve his defensive corps has had a negative effect beyond the tangible (the Wait and See attitude at the top trickles down to the team, to some extent). What Sutter did yesterday represents the flip side of this phenomenon.

They're asking the team to play their asses off, to take risks by sacrificing their bodies and their stats for the greater good, to do all the little things, and to do everything else they're asked, toward the goal of winning the Stanley Cup this year. Acquiring Conroy, and his likely-overpriced '07/08 contract, shows the players that the organization is willing to do the same: to take risks for the good of the here & now. We're not waiting until February 27, we want to run away with the division now. We want to load up, get it together, and win in the playoffs. We'll worry about tomorrow tomorrow. In other words, it demonstrates the same kind of committment that they want to see from the players, or really, that they need to see from the players, if the team is to make a deep run.

It'll be interesting to see if this jolts K-Lo out of Monitor & Assess mode, won't it? The best thing to happen to the '05/06 Oilers was the Flames '04 playoff run; maybe this deal will have a similar, kick-in-the-ass, excuse-neutralizing effect on the organization up north, and they can take that run at 8th place. Go Flames.

UPDATE, moments later: Metrognome covers some of these angles and a few more in a good piece.

Comments:

You are killing me with these long posts that bump my stuff down. It's positively Grabian.

GOILERS!
 


It'll be interesting to see if this jolts K-Lo out of Monitor & Assess mode, won't it? The best thing to happen to the '05/06 Oilers was the Flames '04 playoff run; maybe this deal will have a similar, kick-in-the-ass, excuse-neutralizing effect on the organization up north, and they can take that run at 8th place.

I'm fine with Monitor and Assess mode, myself. I don't think much will happen until a couple more teams fall in the standings or have their GM finally cave. I know they are are out there, working a bunch of angles. A week ago I was certain that there would be no deals done by the Oilers this year. Now I'm getting the feeling that it won't be just one, but three to five. I'm also pretty certain that some of them will be of the "I never even heard a rumour about getting that guy" variety.
 


what exactly is the line about the saskatchewan pothole? You can see it coming from a mile away or some variant?

pardon the ignorance of an easterner.
 


Deep in the middle. Sorry, I was having a horrendous time coming up with a post header.
 


Well first thing that comes to mind, is just how much money did Calgary save while Craig was away? I'm thinking if they had won game 7 vs Anaheim, the bump in revenue would more than paid for the differential between Conroy and Lundmark. I think having CC back will definitely helps the penalty killing; hopefully I'm not damning CC with faint praise, I really though that Calgary's PK would improve with Yelle back but that doesn't seem like its happened so I'm curious and hopeful CC can put a modest dent in that Sisyphean struggle. Plus he's bound to chip in more secondary scoring than Lundmark and I wouldn't be shocked if he gets some second unit PP time.
 


There has got to be something wrong with Desjardins' stuff there. Too many EC players and players from crap divisions in there to my eye (which could be my bad, ;) natch.)

Of course I do realize the Central looks a lot better when you're in St Louis' shoes, but it's still the worst division in the West IMO.

Anyway, it's a great reference, but I just think there's something a little fishy there...
 


Matt -- did you see my note about the $600,000 bonus clause that kicks in for Conroy if he plays another 20-odd games? Maki had a piece on it on Globe on Hockey yesterday.
 


I did notice Maki's piece. Other than that little nugget, I didn't think much of it.

I generally like Al Maki (like the Hat, an old Calgary Herald guy), but that piece read like he hasn't watched a Flames game all season (starting with the header: "Iginla gets his setup man back"). It is doubly weird having it *right above* your entry from hours earlier noting that the Flames aren't actually having trouble scoring.

Also, there might be all sorts of reasons why Conroy is having a tough season, but "lack[ing] a strong finisher a la Jarome Iginla" distinguishes him from very few NHL centres.
 


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