Wednesday, October 03, 2007


Flames Preview: the Forwards

1, 2, 3, 4: Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay, Daymond Langkow, Kristian Huselius

Heckuva start. In his 10th season (and on his 4th team), Langkow finally reached his time last season. He's a nice all-around player, with enough skill to keep up to any linemates (he was probably the first Flame to "click" with Tanguay last season, a feat he managed mainly by finding a few feet of room and getting his stick on the ice any time Tanguay had the puck). Huselius was a powerplay phenom last year, and is probably due to regress a bit in PP production, but the reports out of TC (and preseason results, and his age/experience) indicate that last year's 34-43-77 was more likely a leap than a one-off career year.

Tanguay, Iginla (who missed 12 games), and Joe Thornton led the WC in scoring at evens last season with 60 points each. Tanguay & Iginla's rates were both 3.28EVPts/60; no one else in the WC was above 3.00. These dudes can play. Furthermore, Tanguay has been producing at that same rate for three seasons now; there's no reason for his point totals to go anywhere but up (with some more PP success).

It'll be interesting to watch Iginla. On the one hand, he's somewhat unlikely to match last season's offensive production (per game or per minute). On the other hand, he still has great linemates; with the exception of '05/06 he's been observably and statistically one of the best players in the league; he's as fit as ever; and he's Jarome Freaking Iginla.

5: Matthew Lombardi

It'd sure be nice to see him build on last season's mini-leap. Probably the only other Flames forward with the potential to really bump his numbers up to a high (~Top 100) level. He sat out most of the pre-season with a hand injury, but since he doesn't really fight or shoot, that doesn't seem like a problem that should linger or affect his game. Hopefully the full year he put in on the PK has taught him how to pick his spots there better: he was on for 7 SH goals (scoring 4 himself), but looking at the numbers, it was to the detriment of preventing PP goals by the other guys. My outlook here is nervously optimistic.

6,7: Craig Conroy, Owen Nolan

The two older guys who can still make something happen on occasion in the other team's end. Just where, exactly, these guys are on the downslope of their careers is TBD. On a pure gut-feel basis, how effective these two guys are will go a long way towards determining whether the Flames are on the playoff bubble again or whether they contend strongly for the NW title.

8: Stephane Yelle

No reason to expect any surprises from Sandbox. Did you know: he had a career-best offensive year last year? Only 3 points off his career high (of 27), despite missing 26 games to injury; his EVPts/60 rate of 1.95 was the same as the likes of Rick Nash, Dainius Zubrus, Raffi Torres, and Darcy Tucker.

I do suspect that's a one-off; looking over his career stats, last season's 18.2% shooting pct. stands out like something bigger than a sore thumb. That said, he is skilled enough to be the defensive conscience on a line with more offense-oriented (and/or inexperienced) wingers without dragging them down with him, Peca-style.

And of course, he's a great face-off man, blocks shots, busts his ass every night, and is just generally good at what he's asked to do. Nice to have him aboard.

9: David Moss

I'm still not sure quite to make of Mr. Moss. The good: 10-8-18 is pretty good for a rookie in 41GP. He did it playing only 11:12 per game (1:56 on the PP), and while sometimes he played with Langkow and Huselius, sometimes he was with Amonte, Primeau, and the like. Subjectively, he's clearly willing to go to the high traffic areas, and sell out his body to score.

The... less good? Unknown? Dubious? that I'm not too sure his upside is much higher. You won't find me sneezing at a 20-goal scorer, especially at the back end of this crew, but he is a 25-year-old 7th-round draft pick who played 4 years of college and has never in his career put up gaudy scoring numbers. These guys just don't tend to suddenly become 30+ goal scorers in the NHL.

10, 11, 12, 13: Wayne Primeau, Marcus Nilson, Mark Smith, Eric Godard

Yeah, so David Moss is pretty much a dream come true set next to these guys. Vic Ferrari had a fascinating post on Depth last month, which included some graphic comparisons showing just how big the discrepancy was between the Flames' Top 6 and Bottom 6 forwards (go read). Nut graf:
In terms of results from the top of the roster: given the difficulty of their schedule you could rationalize bumping the Flames past OTT, BUF and DET into first place. The obvious area with room for improvement is PK, which for some reason was poor, but beyond that the 3rd and 4th lines, and especially the bottom defense pair, needs to be improved. Because if those players were on a weaker squad their +/- numbers would drop a bunch, and for guys playing in front of Kipper on a good team... those are really shitty numbers to start with.

Indeed. Primeau is not bad, and has been effective at times on a whole bunch of teams. The scouting reports (other than mine) on Marcus Nilson this pre-season have been positive, so that's nice. But Eric Godard is not a NHL-calibre player, and signing Mark Smith, who appears to be best described as "a poor man's Marcus Nilson", is mystifying. (In case you missed it, here's Keenan on Smith: "I don't know a thing about him.")

14, 15: Warren Peters, Dustin Boyd

Peters will actually start the season with the big club, while Boyd was sent to QC and appears destined to be first-man-up when the need arises. My numbering in this post isn't quite a depth chart: assuming that Lombardi and Nolan are healthy tomorrow night, Peters may be the #12 forward with Smith and Godard in the PB. He's a good story: he can do just about everything (including fight), just turned 25, and is about to play his first NHL game -- and he leapfrogged a lot of guys on the pre-Camp depth chart to get himself in this position.

I would have loved for Dustin Boyd to be a full-fledged, Day 1 member of this team, and I'm not real clear on why he isn't. He has definite and excellent upside, played very well in the preseason by all accounts, and -- in sharp contrast to the squad up north -- the team has no recent history of failed rookie experiments to make them gun-shy. (The obvious counterpoint here is, "Well, that just shows that the Flames know when a rookie is ready!" But that's not certain either: it might just mean that they're erring on the conservative side instead of the throw'em to the wolves side.)


Not noted above: the addition-by-subtraction effect of losing Amonte and Friesen. Even though I don't know anything more about Mark Smith than the coach does, I can pretty confidently predict that he's no less effective 5v5 than either of those guys. Combining (1) the addition of Nolan with (2) the development of Lombardi/Moss and (3) the fact that the bottom end shouldn't be any worse, it looks to me like the forward crew as a whole is probably slightly improved over last season. It is definitely still top-heavy, but whether 4 guys are covering for the other 8, or 9 guys are covering for the other 3, remains to be seen and will probably determine whether the Flames are a good team this year or an excellent one.


Not noted above: the addition-by-subtraction effect of losing Amonte and Friesen.

Losing Friesen is one of the best things that can happen to you. All of a sudden things just generally look more competent among the forwards.

Oh, and in limited viewing, I really liked Smith in SJ. He's not all that special, but will give some honest grinder minutes. Not a bad pickup at all for the price.

and signing Mark Smith, who appears to be best described as "a poor man's Marcus Nilson", is mystifying.

Completely agree. At least he's cheap and on a one year deal (can't say as much about Eriksson).

I have some concerns about Yelle. Seems like he is only soso on the PK last season (I don't have the stats) after being much better earlier in his Flames career. ES +/- should be higher too.

Not at the goalies yet but any thoughts on McElhinney backing up?

Goaltending preview here, defense preview here.

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