Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Stab #1

Here's the Flames' cap situation for next season as it sits right now. Typical reports on this are not very illustrative, as they tend to mainly talk about (a) number of players under contract and (b) dollars committed. What that misses is the fact that empty roster spots have to be filled, and you have to spend real money to do so (league min. salary will be about $500k next season, IIRC).

At any rate, that bottom line number is likely either at or above the 08/09 NHL salary cap (I'm sure the new Reebok jerseys goosed revenues a bit, but not to the tune of 250 million dollars). Two things seem clear.

One: Sutter is going to have to shed some salary, one way or another. Trading Tanguay (along with another salary, touch wood), sending Eriksson to the minors and hoping he retires back to Sweden, buying out Warrener; these are some of many options and permutations.

Two: Sutter is going to have to be a good bargain shopper to improve the roster via free agency.

Important note, though: success at the first takes pressure off the second. Other important note: it's almost impossible for next year's 4th line to be worse -- less effective -- than this year's, no matter who's on it (touch wood again).

Having thought hard about it for a good 15 minutes, here is one concept for next season's roster. I'm not quite saying this is my ideal scenario (see: 15 minutes), but it's one that involves only a moderate, rather than extreme, amount of salary dumping.

Here, Warrener and Nilson are still around. In the past 24 hours or so, I've talked myself into believing that Aucoin is tradeable, so he's been traded. Eriksson has been waived, and Primeau has been bought out. (I repeat: this is not a guess as to what will happen; more like an illustration as to what the possibilities are if some but not all of the bad contracts are disposed of.)

As far as I can tell, WJC performance aside, Backlund isn't ready for the NHL quite yet, but that's too bad 'cause here he is. I didn't want to trade Tanguay for Michael Ryder, but I'm happy to spend money on a 27-year-old with some nice scoring numbers in his past whose value should be depressed for all sorts of reasons.

Conroy is back because he really wants to be, he'll take less money to be here (said so quite explicitly), and I think he still has a couple of useful years left as a 3rd-liner who can keep his head above water. Todd Fedoruk needs to be signed because, as we saw this year, Keenan simply will not fill out the lineup card without a heavyweight. So, let's make it a priority to find one who can play a bit. And no offense to CuJo, but I hate the idea of bringing him back. The good value bet here is to pay someone who has been successful stopping pucks at a good rate in the AHL; whether that's McElhinney, Michael Leighton, or someone else, I really don't care.

All for $1M less than the current scenario. This isn't how things will go, but I can at least look at this roster and think, "Hey, the Flames might be a decent team next year." YMMV.


It's buy low, sell high, not the other way around

I read a nice couple of season review/looking forward pieces on the Flames Monday afternoon. Metrognome has a terrific piece (Part 1) with a whole whack of enjoyable and incisive lines:
...When I first heard the Sutter interview in March, his claim [~"it's parity, what do you expect?" -ed.] struck me as a bit of ass-covering sophistry. "Okay is not okay" was one of his famous lines from the previous off-season. "Okay is simply inevitable" seemed to be the new Franchise motto come the end the regular season, however.

And though I agree with it quite a bit less than MG's, Eric Francis did a pretty good job of laying out the basics of a plan:
[Tanguay is] the first to admit he struggled, which is why he spoke cryptically about his future here Friday -- a future few believe will (or should) last past the NHL draft.

While Sutter is too smart to simply give a man of Tanguay's talents away, as soon as he finds a reasonable offer, he has to free up that precious cap room and inject some much-needed youth into the club. In that vein, he might just be the Flames' most-valuable player this summer.

EF's other bullets are: gut the scouting staff; re-sign Langkow and Giordano; buy out (at least?) two of Eriksson, Nilson, & Warrener; and "decide on a backup goalie" ...which is a topic for another day.

What's the actual GM thinking, as opposed to we wannabes? I thought this, from Saturday's Herald, was interesting:
The GM says the toughest calls he'll have to make this summer aren't necessarily tied to a list of unrestricted free agents that includes Kristian Huselius, Owen Nolan, Stephane Yelle, Jim Vandermeer, David Hale and Curtis Joseph.

"Those aren't the tough decisions," said Sutter. "It's the guys already under contract who aren't earning what they're making. There's a number of those guys that, based on their careers, they're third- and fourth-line guys. Well, every one of our forwards in Quad Cities (the Flames' top farm club) can play on our third and fourth lines."

At first it looks like Sutter is going down the same road as Francis, but then he takes specific aim at the depth players... wait a sec... this can't be right. Who are the guys who are (A) already under contract, and (B) based on their careers, third- and fourth-line guys? Not Iginla or Tanguay. Moss doesn't have enough GP under his belt to be one of the guys singled out here (nor does Boyd). Lombardi? Maybe, but in the same Herald piece, Sutter is quoted as saying, "...when you look at his minutes played and the way he played down the stretch... I think he can clearly be a No. 2 guy based on minutes played and performance. We're fine with that."

That leaves Wayne Primeau and Marcus Nilson. Let's insert their actual names into that quote, and tell me if you're as jarred as I am:
"Primeau and Nilson, based on their careers, they're third- and fourth-line guys. Well, every one of our forwards in Quad Cities (the Flames' top farm club) can play on our third and fourth lines."

I guess if you're a mere fan who, like me, was confused as to why these two got signed to multi-year contracts last summer, you've got company -- because Sutter is too. Which segues to my next thought, which is: if you're looking at buying anyone out, the first guy getting the money to just go away ought to be Wayne Primeau. I'm really not sure why everyone one else seems to like him more than I do, but I maintain that he doesn't bring anything to the table. He doesn't score (career high = 11 goals). He doesn't kill penalties. He doesn't shut down the other team's good players. He doesn't fight, at least not much. He doesn't stay out of the penalty box.

He may be big, and he may not be a hide-your-eyes liability in any one area, but he doesn't help you win. Here's a little table that you may wish to laugh, or cry, at. Numbers are from Vic/Time-on-Ice, and are for when that Flames forward is on the ice in even-strength situations (excluding when either goalie is pulled, i.e. 6-on-5 & EN situations).

Columns from left to right: jersey #, games played, goals for & against, saved shots for & against, missed shots for & against, Fenwick# (Vic's gloss for the total of those 3 things, for minus against), and finally Fenwick# per GP. Not to re-explain all this from scratch (that's another summer project), but if you're looking to find out who is helping the team win the even strength battle, you could do a lot worse than this table.

The biggest thing not captured by these numbers is quality of competition and quality of linemates. In Primeau's case, I'm reminded of the joke from Rounders (older than that no doubt): if you can't spot the sucker in the first half-hour at the poker table, then you ARE the sucker. Accordingly, if a guy is dead last on the team in shots for minus shots against (by a huge margin), it's a bit of a waste of time to worry about whether he had crappy linemates, because he is the crappy linemate.

A few footnotes for you to ponder as you review that table:
- Desjardins has Tanguay and Conroy as playing the toughest opposition (which matches my eye)
- Moss is a player. Nystrom probably isn't. Godard definitely isn't.

Let's wrap this up by getting back to Tanguay. There are a whole bunch of reasons why trading him right now (or in June) is a less-than-ideal plan.
  1. His counting numbers (G-A-Pts) sucked this year. He will certainly have some value based on his career numbers and age (potential), and some of the teams that look closer at EV play (and correct for the fact that he "performed" on the #2 PP unit) will be interested. But trading a guy coming off his worst season in years doesn't exactly maximize return (see post header).
  2. They're limited in what they can seek in return: they almost have to get a quality LW in return. Not sure if you noticed, but the Flames' depth chart at LW sans Tanguay and Huselius is virtually non-existent. Who would the #1 LW be? The right-shooting Moss, I suppose? He, or some centreman playing out of position.
  3. Per 1 and 2, he's almost a mortal lock to be better next season. Huselius is gone, so he'll almost certainly be the LW on the #1 PP unit, and his numbers will go up. He just scored essentially 20 points less than his career average, and his shooting % was 5% lower than his career average. These are things that are extremely likely to bounce back.
  4. If he is reunited with Iginla on the #1 line -- i.e. if the Flames can cobble together a #2 line that doesn't get torched without Tanguay on it -- their performance ceiling is unbelievably high. In 2006/07 (a mere one season ago), those two were the most productive EV players in the entire conference. They really were! Forsaking the possibility of that repeating in order to fish for "depth and energy" (esp. given Sutter's non-success at doing so to date) seems like a bad bet to me.
Your mileage may vary, as we say, but I think there are other ways to find money and try to improve that have a better chance of working. I think Aucoin showed this past season that he still has value: he stayed healthy, did a competent job on the PP, put up some attractive-ish counting numbers (10-25-35, +13), and was generally solid. The Flames can use him next season, but I'm a lot more confident that they can replace his contribution to the cause for $4M than they can replace Tanguay's for $5.25M. He has a no-trade clause (so does Tanguay), but maybe they can work with him to find a situation where he'd be happy. Primeau's contributions, as noted above, are that of a minimum salary player, but he's earning making $1M/yr more than that. Same goes for Eriksson. Etcetera.

I'd love to finish with a stirring conclusion of some kind here, but I think I'm stuck with, It should be an interesting summer.

Monday, April 28, 2008


Kipper & Keenan, cont'd

Jean Lefebvre covers it all -- including the unanswered (and unanswerable) questions.
There's amazingly little grey area in this discussion, with one side vilifying Keenan and the other accusing the media of being sensationalistic making a mountain of snow out of a mole hill.

While the media (a very broad classification that unfortunately makes no distinction between those who operate on opposite ends of the professionalism and reasonability scales) in the past has indeed been guilty of blowing things out of proportion, it's very surprising to see so many fans so quickly ready to sweep the entire matter under the rug and shrug it off. Really, it shouldn't be easy to take at face value either hypothesis, that it's either a irreparable crisis that will necessitate either the coach or goalie leaving the organization, or that this is all entirely a media fabrication and that there's no problem at all.

Read the whole thing.

Friday, April 25, 2008



There's a temptation, when deconstructing the performance of your local hockey team after it fell short of your hopes, that ought to be resisted. It's the temptation to generalize; to attribute things to philosophy, rather than performance.

Some will say the Flames were too old, but they're not really talking about everyone, just the guys who failed to perform up to their paycheques. "We're too old... we should let Yelle go, get rid of Eriksson and Warrener, see if Aucoin can be moved so we can use his $4M for a more pressing need, give Nolan another 1-year deal, and bring back Conroy at a reduced salary, ..." -- this is not actually a beef about old guys, this is a beef about specific old guys who didn't do enough to help the team win. Or, if you prefer, who suck.

Some will say the Flames need more energy, but they're not really talking about, I dunno, finding the five guys who fly around with the most reckless abandon, adding them to the lineup, and calling it a day. They're talking about guys who are actually effective on the forecheck, not just effective-looking. If Eric Nystrom returns as the guy from March/April (post-face injury), then he'll help the team. If he returns as the guy from November and December, he won't. If Brandon Prust is nothing more than a Wayne Primeau clone, adding him to the lineup won't help. They don't need "energy guys"; they need energy guys who don't suck. And who doesn't.

Some say the Flames are too slow, but they're not referring to Robyn Regehr, who, despite having below-average speed, does an important job and does it well. They're referring to the slow guys who also suck.

As the great Brad Goodman said, there's no trick to it: it's just a simple trick. You need good hockey players -- regardless of age, speed, style, whatever -- and to be really good, you need guys who will outplay their contracts. If there was a simple formula to achieve that, 26 or 28 teams would win the Stanley Cup every year. Actually, you're right, still only one would.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Reality check

First, my own take: I didn't agree with the decision to pull Kipper in favour of CuJo in the 2nd period of G7 (and then leave him in for the 3rd), but it was defensible. Pace Darryl Sutter and many others, that 2nd goal was horrible: Kipper clearly did see the puck, which is why he moved his stick in anticipation of the deflection that didn't happen and left his 5-hole open. And the fact that the Flames players were "furious" with the move is a point in Keenan's favour, not against him. (When you're down 4-2, furious isn't a bad way to be IMO.)

Anyway, this whole brouhaha is mostly (A) misplaced fan frustration, and (B) relieved told-you-so's re: "Iron Mike" from the media corps, but it is obscuring the broader, more serious issue -- if you want to be stressed about something, this is it, and just because Cosh brought it up simply to be a dick doesn't change the reality of it. These are Kipper's career numbers with the Flames:

I guesss you could look at this and shrug, and say he'll be fine, he's an elite goalie. I'd prefer some sort of explanation, though. Possibilities:
  1. He had a couple of hot years, and he's settling down to be a quality, if average-ish, NHL goalie
  2. He is progressively deteriorating, due to age, wear-and-tear, a specific health issue, poor fitness, an unhealthy lifestyle, dwindling desire (pick any or all, and PS, no libel in the comments please)
  3. He was very comfortable and confident with Sutter as the coach, less so with Playfair, and even less so with Keenan
  4. The team in front of him is, progressively, allowing better quality scoring chances
  5. Other
I'm open to suggestion on #5. I'm almost certain that #4 is not true, but give me a couple days and I might track down someone who can tell me more empirically (JavaGeek, for one, tracks Expected SV% and GAA based on the location & type of Shots Against).

#3 is the hot button topic right now... I'm sure I won't change anyone's mind here, but I have a hell of a time attributing the difference between today's Kipper and the one of 2-3 seasons ago to Head Coaching. If Kipper had had the same EV SV% this season as he did last season (the Playfair season, where, again, I'm pretty certain the D wasn't "tighter" re: quality of shots), he would have allowed 20 fewer goals. Twenty. To me, that's an awful lot of missed saves to put onto Mike Keenan.

Believe me when I say, I hate to sound gloomy about this, but I'm hoping that the answer is #1; I think #1 and #2 are the only explanations that hold up, and #2 is far too horrible to contemplate. (Kipper's contract extension might prove more regrettable than Kevin Lowe's? Say it ain't so!!!)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Who's Next?

Okay, the hated rival is out, the arrogant p**ck who skipped town is shopping on Rodeo Drive, and most of the Canadian teams are gone. So who's left to cheer against?

Calgary Flames
Burke Prongers
Ottawa Senators
Vancouver Canucks
Carolina Hurricanes
Toronto Maple Leafs
Minnesota Wild

I think it's pretty easy. Here's my list of who I want gone.

Dallas Stars
San Jose Sharks
Montreal Canadiens
Detroit Red Wings
Philadelphia Zoolanders

I'd be fine with a Ryan Smyth vs. Georges Laraque final. Anyone else? Crosby? Here's the schedule for the conference semi-finals.


Lowe Refusing to Talk to Canucks?

“We haven't done many deals with Vancouver, although Dave Nonis and I had many conversations,” Lowe noted. “I suspect we won't be doing any in the future."
--Darren Dreger, TSN

So what is that, four teams the Oilers can't deal with now? Anaheim, Buffalo, Calgary, and now Vancouver?

While I understand Kevin Lowe's frustration, and the fact that the Oilers and Canucks don't often trade with each other, I also don't think it's wise to bump the number of teams in the league that you can't trade with up to 14%. Call me crazy, but that just doesn't make a ton of business sense. Which brings to mind the words Lowe had for Brian Burke earlier this season: it's a business. Let's hope Lowe keeps those words in mind, along with the fact that the Oilers narrowly escaped being stuck with Michael Nylander for four years, before he makes any more rash statements about the hiring of Mike Gillis.



(Flashback) The Flames were a five-handicap in a tournament where they needed to beat a bunch of threes, twos, and scratches. They didn't need miracles, but they needed a lot of things to go right. And it sucks to say (it sucks even more that it's true), but their putting let them down a bit. Sorry Kipper.

Also, looks like this 'Lupul' is a real playoff performer. KLowe will probably want to look into him, he's a G-A-B who even has a family connection to the Oil's outgoing ownership.

More Flames season debriefing later, when Private Time is over.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Flames Game Day

This is Ray Whitney. He has, quite quietly, put together a heck of an NHL career. He has two more years on a well-earned contract with the Carolina Hurricanes; during that time, he's likely to pass some significant milestones: 1000GP, 300 goals, 800 points.

In 1995, he was a San Jose Shark. At that time, he had established himself as a major-leaguer, but was still mainly known as that other Spokane Chief, having been drafted by the Sharks in the '91 2nd round after his junior teammate Pat Falloon was drafted in the 1st (#2 overall, right behind Lindros). I'll get back to him later.


I guess, whatever happens tonight, I can at least say that my optimism was justified. The Sharks aren't the '77 Habs; Brian Campbell isn't an "every shift" type of difference maker; the Flames have been the Sharks' equals (at least) 5v5; and Calgary's depth forwards haven't been run over by San Jose's 4 Lines. (Thru 6 games, the Sharks are +4/-4 5v5 with Thornton on the bench; with Iginla watching from the bench, the Flames are... +4/-4.)

These are all things that, contrary to the "playoffs are a different game" chanters on the tee-vee, follow closely from what we saw in the regular season (with a dose of common sense thrown in). Iginla and Thornton are great players who will create scoring chances every game; sometimes more, sometimes fewer, sometimes they go in and sometimes they don't; that's what they are. Nabokov and Kipper are excellent goalies who occasionally let in an iffy one; that's what they are.

The only thing that hasn't quite followed to form is the special teams, where CGY is 5/20 on the PP and SJ is 4/27. If they played another 6 games, I'd expect those numbers to reverse (or worse). But, they aren't... :)

So are there any wild cards for tonight? Things we might expect to see that are, uh, unexpected? Maybe a couple:

*Huselius. I'm really not a big believer in 'confidence' as a driver of results -- my default assumption is that pro hockey players are more confident in their abilities on their worst day than you are confident in their abilities on their best day -- but maybe this guy is the exception.

He had a terrific game on Sunday, got into it physically, and looked strong on the puck. Maybe this will translate into a PP goal.

*Godard. I wrote a big thing last month about consistency, using golf as an analogy. If the Flames were a competitive golfer, scratching Godard would be the equivalent of taking the 3-iron, which they always hit like crap, out of the bag and leaving it in the trunk. It's a move that can have immediate postive consequences on the score even though it doesn't magically make them a better golfer.

*The Tank...


I was in the Saddledome for Game 7, Sharks v. Flames, in 1995. The home crowd was weary from several seasons worth of disappointing playoff exits, and while they were plenty loud and ready to explode when things went right, they were tense. When things went wrong, there was an unmistakeable, "Oh, no, here we go again" vibe.

So based on some agonizing personal experience, I'm going to guess that the longer tonight's game goes with the result still in question, the more it will turn into a Guillotine Game for the home fans. They'll be raucous and emotional, but not necessarily in a manner that helps the Sharks. They'll just be waiting, assuming, knowing that Calgary's Ray Whitney, whoever that is, will eventually stick the knife in and twist. Go Flames.

Hell yeah. Go Flames!

Monday, April 21, 2008


Les Mots Justes

Robert Cleave, last night's game thread:
I likely saw the Flames 25 or so times this year, and I don't remember them having so little to do in a third period to hold a lead against an allegedly competent team. Maybe one of the woohooing types can amplify, but my sense is they normally exhibit the late game defensive zone composure of Kevin Bacon at the end of Animal House.

Stars Guy james t o'brien, basking in the post-victory glow:
I think I've stumbled on a solid nickname for Brad Richards: the $5 shake. As you may remember from "Pulp Fiction," Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) orders the questionably priced shake and John Travolta is understandably skeptical. Although no shake could be worth $5, Travolta ultimately admitted that it was a "damn good shake." But not worth $5.

I love the hockeysphere.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Flames Game Day

This is Alex Tanguay. I spent much of the middle part of this season banging the drum for him, whether it was regarding trade rumours, or what to do to retain Huselius (there's a topic not broached much lately), or just the state of the club in general. Naturally, he ended up posting very indistinguished G-A-Pt numbers, and really, just didn't have a great season.

Game 6 vs. San Jose goes tonight (6PM MT, CBC) at the 'Dome, and my victory scenarios (and 2-game winning streak scenarios) all involve some bounces going his way.

Signs from the last couple of games, in this regard, are promising. The puck has been following him around. My personal bellwether for whether Tanguay is being effective is if a lot of fans are annoyed by his refusal to shoot more. If they are, that's good! -- it means he has the puck a lot in and around the scoring areas, and a career's worth of precedent tells us that it will regularly end up in the other guy's net when that happens.

I don't have a prediction for tonight. I really hope the Flames play as well as they can. Next year, the team will look different; their biggest hole is forward depth, and they're going to be going backwards before they can go forwards. Right now -- even down 3-2, to a very good team, in only the first round -- their odds of winning the WC and the Stanley are probably better than they are for next season.

Go Flames!

Saturday, April 19, 2008



While we have no way of knowing if the [Tom] Gilbert signing was in any way motivated by the threat of a potential offer sheet this summer, we do know that thanks to the large increase in the average league salary (ALS), it will be easier for teams to make offer sheets without risking as much compensation.

That's from a piece at The Hockey News Dot Com, poking at one of my biggest pet peeves.

The paragraphs that follow that one give correct details as to how the CBA works; the problem is the word "easier", and the headline for the piece, which is

Signing RFAs will cost teams less this summer

What an utterly silly way to look at things. Because the ALS has gone up a bunch, then yes, offering an RFA a $2M/yr contract will not cost as much in draft pick compensation. But $2M/yr doesn't buy you the same quality of player as it used to. Why? Because the freakin' ALS has gone up a bunch.

An offer sheet (one that could plausibly be accepted) to a superstar will still cost four 1st-rounders; one to a 2nd-line centre will still cost what it did three years ago; etc. etc. down the line. When draft choice compensation is indexed to player salaries, it can't be any other way.

The kicker to all this is that the piece was written by player agent Rand Simon, who I believe is nominally Don Meehan's lieutenant at Newport Sports Management. The headline isn't his fault, but the gist of his piece -- where he says that the relative price (draft choice compensation) of offersheets is going down, when in fact it is staying the same by design and definition -- certainly is. I don't know if he's unclear on the concept, or actively trying to mislead readers for his own reasons, but whatever. -1 to you, Rand.


And that's One to Grow On

"The midget hooker story? Oh, yeah, absolutely true. Definitely. It was about 8 a.m., I think, and hotel security called up mine and Kidder (Trevor Kidd)'s room and the guy said 'There's a couple of midget hookers down here. Do you want us to send them up?' "
--Theoren Fleury, on being Public Enemy #1 in San Jose

Friday, April 18, 2008


Viewer mail

Let's get a bit off-topic here: PJ Stock! I'm pretty neutral on the guy. I can see the charm that has led the HNIC braintrust to give him a substantial role in the telecast, and in the category of Saying Ludicrous Things, he's not too bad (probably everyone on the rotating TSN panel with the exception of McKenzie is worse in this regard).

On the other hand... well, let's go to the comment threads. G4, Lowetide:
I'm watching PJ Stock and wondering just how much he can improve. Unable to speak the language, it also sounds like he has a problem with too much spittle after about four words. [...] Bring back Danny Gallivan, please.

G4, Tyler:
...watching PJ Stock do the highlights is starting to remind me of Zach Stortini's early shifts. Completely out of sync with what's going on around him, overwhelmed, constantly a beat behind the play... it's just amazingly familiar.

G5, Dennis:
They've handed the highlight keys to Stock and he's running into lightpoles all over the studio...

G3, Tyler:
Jesus Christ. Stock is presumably reading this off a teleprompter and there's just blood all over the studio.

It might be just me, but I also see Maclean taking him less and less seriously over the past several days... I'm inclined to write it off to the farcical nature of the fishbowl setup, but it seems like there's something there apart from mere jocularity.

I think a good filler post for the summer would be a playoff bracket (voting) for the analysts on the national networks plus Oilers/Flames local TV guys. Simpson, Millen, Galley, Neale, McGuire, Healy, Ferraro, Garrett, Simmer are the 9 colour guys I can think of... then add in Milbury, Pang, Stock, Brophy...

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Your mileage may vary

That was the best game the Flames played this series, and in future games, if they play that well and outchance the Sharks by a similar margin, they are likely to win.


[P.S. If I don't write something this summer about how pointless the concept of 'momentum' is in the sporting context, someone remind me.]


Flames Game Night

Game 5, Calgary @ San Jose, 8PM MT, CBC

A hard day at the rat races has prevented me from posting anything interesting (though as many of you understand, distractions on playoff game days are for the most part welcome -- it zips right by). (And if you're looking for something interesting, check this.)

I'm ready to cheer. There were stretches on Tuesday that were ugly (a lot of the 2nd, the last few minutes of the 3rd), but surely this series has demonstrated that what the TV guys call momentum can change without much notice or explanation. Once more: there's not much separating these teams.

Calgary 3 (Huselius, Aucoin, Iginla)
San Jose 2 (Michalek, JR)

Go Flames.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Oilers DVD to be released

Finally. Thank goodness. The NBA has been producing a dynasty series for a few years now, and it appears the NHL is at last following suit. The best part is, Oilers fans get to determine which games will be on the DVD. Just click on the first link above, and you will have the option of voting for the ten games you'd most like to see. There are 21 options to choose from, and voting ends April 25th.

I can't think of many games that aren't available as options, here. The hockey buff in me suggests both the Miracle on Manchester game and the Steve Smith game, but I suffered through both of those already, so forget it. There is a great Battle of Alberta game that should be on this list, actually. April 23rd, 1988. The Oilers won 4-2, to take a 3-0 series lead over the Flames. It's also the game where Marty McSorley speared Mike Bullard, Tim Hunter ran Grant Fuhr, and Mark Messier elbowed Perry Berezan. Both Berezan and Bullard left on stretchers (video here). Just a vicious hockey game. Maybe we'll get that one in a Battle of Alberta set, eh? Eh? (nudge nudge)

The game I was most excited to see on the list? The May 8, 1990 game against the Hawks. That's the Messier "I'm carrying this team on my back" game. The game I will not be voting for in a million years? The May 1, 2006 game against the Wings. Other than the last four minutes, that game was excruciatingly painful. We had no business winning that one.

Anyway, there are lots of great games to choose from. So many so, in fact, that some damn good ones had to be left behind. Some early games had to be abandoned, along with some Stanley Cup victories. But we carry on. They'd have wanted it that way. Here are my ten choices from the list.

1) April 22, 1984 - Edmonton 7 Calgary 4
2) May 19, 1984 - Edmonton 5 NY Islanders 2
3) May 31, 1987 - Edmonton 3 Philadelphia 1
4) April 21, 1988 - Edmonton 5 Calgary 4
5) May 8, 1990 - Edmonton 4 Chicago 2
6) May 15, 1990 - Edmonton 3 Boston 2
7) April 16, 1991 - Edmonton 5 Calgary 4
8) April 29, 1997 - Edmonton 4 Dallas 3
9) May 10, 2006 - Edmonton 3 San Jose 2
10) June 14th, 2006 - Edmonton 4 Carolina 3


*glove tap to Abboud and Mustafa for the link*

Tuesday, April 15, 2008



**A little thought that occurred to me during the second period (the Chuck Norris-y tempo is unintentional): Wayne Primeau doesn't do the little things -- he gets the little things done to him.

**Apart from the times that he is actually on the ice, this is the problem with playing Godard (and Nystrom): you can't put your 4th line out for a lift. You also can't bury Huselius when he's having a horrendous, useless game like he was tonight. And you can't bury Primeau when he goes 2 periods without making a single good play.

**This is basically moot now -- the better team over 60 minutes won -- but the shot clock (again, with these two teams) was a pretty lousy proxy for scoring chances through most of the game. The Sharks were up 6-2 thru the 1st; I think they had one scoring chance (a backhand from the slot whiffed by Ehrhoff), against a handful for the Flames. 12-5 in the 2nd; Sharks had the edge in chances, but not 'more than double'. By the end of the 3rd, 14-3 felt like the margin of chances and play, although the Flames actually had several chances to score the insurance (3-1) goal, including the game's only post/crossbar.

**That last shift, after the icing with 38 seconds left, was the only thing tonight that was really disheartening. I was OK when Cheechoo scored; I thought, hey, they're not having a great game tonight, but they're still having some good shifts, and the D is pretty solid, so it's probably near 50/50 that they win this puppy.

But that last shift wasn't merely like the Sharks were on the PP; it was like a fantastic PP vs. a cruddy PK. I know -- as you should -- that this game ebbs and flows, and looking good today is a rather lousy predictor of tomorrow. But getting pwned that hard at what would quite rightly be called a key time in the game is tough to take.

**Not positive what my G5 preview will be like, but a good guess would probably be a lot like G3. We haven't seen anything we didn't know, these teams are pretty closely matched, and it could go either way.

The Sharks certainly aren't any hotter than they were 10 days ago, and Calgary has beaten them twice since then. Go Flames.


Flames Game Day

Game 4, Flames v Sharks, 8PM MT, CBC, C of Red

ESPN Sports Guy Bill Simmons has written at length, and with much conviction, that the single most powerful team-building, ultra-motivational thing in creation is being written off by a critical mass of media/fans/etc. It's the old, "Nobody believed in us!"

Now, I'm nowhere near as big a believer in this as he is -- in fact, I admit to having basically zero sense or understanding of what, if anything, can "motivate" a team to play their best -- but it's remarkable that, in the course of three games, the popular consensus has completely flipped. And, may I add, it's very unsettling...

Listening to Calgary radio yesterday morning, I heard "What a gutless team!" from one talking head, and "Are the Sharks... a fraud?" from another. Noooooo!!!! What is wrong with you people! I also heard similar, if less extreme, comments from the XM Radio folks, as well as various print/online media, local and national.

For a reality check, it's always best to go to the people who have real money riding on it. Bowmans presently has Calgary as -125 favourites to win the series (San Jose +105), which according to Vic's new sidebar JavaTool equates to Calgary being about 53/47 to win. That's awfully close.

Even more shocking, particularly to Flames partisans who might not be clear that they have to win two more games to take the series, is the line on tonight's game. Bowmans has San Jose as a -130 favourite (about 54/46). Yahoo! marks the Sharks as a -135 favourite (55/45). Even Sport Select, which has to build in some Red Team Bias to even out their action, has Calgary as only the most marginal of favourites (CGY $1.65 on $1, SJS $1.75 on $1).

The lesson here is that the people who are essentially disinterested in the outcome, but have real money riding on the results, do not think the Sharks' 14-point edge on the Flames thru 82 games was a "fraud", nor are they terribly impressed by the Flames' momentum, or the physical edge they have demonstrated. They think the Sharks are the better team.

And the lesson from that is this: Calgary really needs to win tonight's game to have a good (or even better-than-50/50) chance to take this series. And they certainly can win tonight's game, although anyone who thinks it can be accomplished relatively smoothly (no fuss, no muss) is frickin' dreaming.

Calgary 2 (Huselius, Iginla from Tanguay in OT)
San Jose 1 (Michalek from A-Rod)

Go Flames.

UPDATE: Surely you jest, Coach! What did I just say about succumbing to the tempatation to do something?

Monday, April 14, 2008


Let's Get Physics, All

Dave Berry drops some science on Thor's Hammer.


McElhinney to start Game 3

Ah, just one of the nuggets to come out of an extremely jovial press conference this morning(? ...maybe last night) with Coach Keenan.

And rightly jovial, for sure. Not only is he obviously happier on account of being up 2-1 rather than down, but that improbable comeback saved him from having to face some difficult and very fair questions about his roster twiddling yesterday.

Duncan was on this before the game, but I had many of the same questions. Put briefly, it's, "You had a pretty good couple of games -- why all the jacking around before the puck even drops?"

Scratching Moss is baffling. He's a better player than Primeau, Godard, Nystrom, and Nilson. His presence in the lineup in San Jose actually created a 4th line that didn't look overmatched (or rather, two-thirds of one: for most of G1 and some of G2, Keenan was going with 4 C/LW combos and rotating Iginla, Nolan, and Moss through as the RW). It was Moss who set up Sarich to be robbed blind by Nabokov in the 1st period of G2. Etcetera.

Duncan is also right (here also) to note that Keenan has done well with in-game adjustments. Which leads to: why muck around with all the line combos at the morning skate, rather than adjusting on the fly? Can the players take any message from this, preparing for the game, besides, "we're going to play this differently now that we're at home"? And given that they were basically solid in those first two games, why would Keenan want to impart this message?

I don't want to make too much of this... the Flames played about ~55 minutes of pretty good hockey, with the coach's carefully-picked lineup. If Phaneuf, Vandermeer, and Tanguay don't come out with all the jump of three potted ferns, it's probably only 1-0 thru 5 minutes. And pulling Kipper for Joseph -- and then leaving Joseph in as the Flames clawed back on the scoreboard -- was unimpeachable.

Still, I'm not sure how many more games the Flames can start with the clear reality that their 12th (and 11th, and even 10th) forward won't be playing more than 3-5 shifts unless the game gets out of hand. It reduces, or eliminates, the ability to bury someone from the top 3 lines if they're not going well.

I don't personally believe that Keenan has an ego issue. He just wants to win, and he wears his affection for his players on his sleeve (witness the smile when Jarome scored his 50th, or his comments on CuJo last night). But it looks to me like, somewhere between Thursday night and yesterday afternoon, he succumbed to the temptation to "do something", where doing nothing was probably the more sensible course of action.

**Enjoyable game recap from Sharks guy Mike Chen here. Also, PJ Swenson at Sharkspage had this:
If the NHL is serious about the saftey of its players, and serious about the dangers of allowing an entire team multiple unfettered opportunities to take shots at a player's head, then there needs to be a serious review of the Calgary Flames actions in Game 3 and a possible suspension.

Dear Mr. Swenson,

They're not.


Matt Fenwick

P.S. Go Flames.


Grebeshkov Signed

"The Edmonton Oilers have signed defenceman Denis Grebeshkov to a one year contract, financial terms of the deal were not made available." --TSN

Oilers press release here. Glove tap to Mirtle the Turtle for the heads up.


A non-hockey note to the Expats

Last night, on Hockey Night in Canada, Ron MacLean referenced this great little post by Sacamano on THAT DAY. As Sac stated, THAT DAY is "that Magical Day when it seems that the whole city collectively recognizes that Winter has ended." Edmontonians all know that day. In fact, as MacLean noted, Albertans all know that day. Why do I bring this up, you may ask? Well, Edmonton got some blessedly warm weather this weekend, with temperatures reaching 25° celsius yesterday afternoon. The parks were full (Hawrelak was bumpin', yo), and people were out jogging and riding their bikes. Short shorts were everywhere, along with empty Mac's Froster cups. Today? Snow, and 3°. Thats how it is in the City of Champs. We get THAT DAY, but we also get THAT DAY.


Reporter challenges Le GG

This made me chuckle. Via Mirtle, Don Brennan of the Ottawa Sun advocates intentionally injuring Sidney Crosby, and then openly challenges Georges Laraque to call him stupid to his face. Le GG happily obliges (although playfully). I have to say, between Brennan and Bruce Garrioch, the Ottawa Sun is setting new standards in journalistic excellence these days. One guy advocates intentionally injuring people; the other throws out 8,000 trade rumours a week in the hopes that a couple will stick. Are we sure these two ain't just some of those crazy bloggin' types on teh intarweb???

Oh, and don't worry, Neate. You are still aces in our book. For now.

Sunday, April 13, 2008



Oh, baby. Was that ever spectacular. I'm absolutely revving, so I'm going to pretend I'm subdued, and bring up two reasons to simmer down (to be clear, there is >>>2 reasons to be psyched right now). One is superstitious, one is -- wrong word maybe -- serious.

1) By my count, the last 6 playoff series the Flames have been in were tied 2-2 after Game 4.

2) Joe Thornton is not a gutless, soft wuss who turns into a pumpkin come playoff time. (As for Brian Campbell, he might be; I'm really not familiar with his play and he certainly hasn't impressed thus far.)

This isn't a phony reverse jinx, or preventative karma, or what have you. I absolutely do not believe that there is something about Joe Thornton or his game that means he'll never be successful in the playoffs. As damning as the clip of the GWG was to Campbell (Hrudey: "He needs to be a lot more serious about preventing goals"), there's a clip from the final minute that I thought looked good on Thornton.

It's the same play where Lombardi got down and blocked the pass from the corner out to the slot. You know why this was an important block? Because Joe Thornton had just gotten position on Robyn Regehr by winning a physical confrontation. Sorry, but no one who approaches a battle with Regehr half-assedly, or without really wanting to win it, ever wins it. Thornton got open in the slot with maybe a minute left down one.

Anyway, WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yes, Go Flames.


Sean Avery screens Martin Brodeur

Penalty? Acceptable? I'm still undecided, but leaning more towards thinking it should be a penalty. It's the glove and stick waving that bothers me. Turning your back to the puck is stupid, but I don't think it should be illegal. The Devils were down two men at that point, which explains why someone didn't just push Avery out of the way (or worse). If you are Martin Brodeur or a Devils fan, the worst part is that Avery scored moments afterwards. The TSN panel discuss here. They also discussed it on Hockey Night in Canada--with Ron MacLean saying it had no place in hockey. Thoughts?


Flames Game Day

Game 3, Flames vs. Sharks, 8PM MT (CBC) in the C of Red

I have to admit -- as I hinted in last gameday post -- I really thought the Flames were going to win Game 2. But here we are, with the series tied 1-1, and from where I sit, there hasn't been any surprises. Or, put another way, I don't think I've learned anything from the first two games that change how I looked at the series from the get-go.

The teams are very evenly matched at 5v5, perhaps even with a slight edge to Calgary. San Jose's 2nd/3rd/4th lines do a nice job with puck possession and zone pressure, but have trouble creating and/or converting quality scoring chances. Both goaltenders are excellent with no obvious edge either way. Calgary is some combination of "less disciplined" and "slower"; they are liable to take more penalties than San Jose (and are more liable to cause a penalty-filled game), which not only kills their ability to push things 5v5 but allows San Jose to exploit their edge on special teams.

Accordingly, I have a tough time looking at tonight's game, or the remainder of the series, with any particular perspective besides Let's play and see what happens. "It could go either way" is a cliche, and a boring one at that, but it really could.

There is but one X-factor left, something for Flames fans to latch onto beyond crossing their fingers and hoping for that one extra accurate shot or lucky bounce or impossible-looking save. Home games! Even stipulating that San Jose is absolutely as good on the road as their league-best record would indicate, Calgary, like most (or all, depending on how you're counting) teams, is better at home than on the road.

Calgary's strange 1-9 home record in 4v4 OT and the shootout this season made it look worse than it was. They allow a lot fewer goals at home; their PP% was worse, but counteracted by drawing more penalties; etc. Ask any bookie: the home-ice advantage, whatever that actually is, is real.

So we got that going for us, which is nice.

Calgary 3 (Iginla, Phaneuf, Tanguay with TMEPiH)
San Jose 1 (Thornton)

Go Flames.

Friday, April 11, 2008



"He's going to the hospital to get an ultrasound done on his testicles. It's bad enough they may have to remove one," Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said. "Right now, we're not sure how serious it is, but there's a chance he may need surgery."

Our best wishes to Patrick Thoresen, who took a shot to the groin tonight in the Flyers/Caps game. I was watching the game, and it was pretty obvious Thoresen was badly hurt. I didn't realize it was this bad, though. To make matters worse (if that is possible), the play wasn't even blown dead when he went down, and Mike Green, who'd taken the initial shot that dropped Thoresen, scored to make it 4-4. The Caps went on to win the game 5-4.

Glove-tap to Mike W. and Heed for the bad news.


The Enemies List

Cosh takes a look at who Oilers fans like least.


Oilers Sign Nilsson

Busy day for Kevin Lowe. In addition to signing Tom Gilbert, the Oilers have signed Robert Nilsson for three years, $5.5 million dollars. That's $1,833,333 per. Here are the Oilers current cap hit numbers, and significant free agents, using NHLSCAP and NHL Numbers. The salary cap is expected to be around $56.3 million next year, with a floor of $40 million.

Oilers 2008-2009 Payroll Commitments

Player2008-2009 Salary (US$)
Sheldon Souray
$5.4 million
Dustin Penner
$4.25 million
Ales Hemsky
$4.1 million
Tom Gilbert
$4 million
Shawn Horcoff
$3.6 million
Dwayne Roloson
Steve Staios
$2.7 million
Fernando Pisani
$2.5 million
Raffi Torres
$2.25 million
Ethan Moreau
$2 million
Robert Nilsson
Sam Gagner
$1.625 million
Matt Greene
$1.15 million
Andrew Cogliano
$1.13 million
Mathieu Garon
$1.1 million
Ladislav Smid
Kyle Brodziak

Oilers Free Agents As Of July 1, 2008

PlayerTypeAge2007-2008 Salary (US$)
Joni Pitkanen
$2.4 million
Jarret Stoll
$2.2 million
Geoff Sanderson
$1.5 million
Denis Grebeshkov
Marty Reasoner
Marc-Antoine Pouliot
Zach Stortini
Curtis Glencross
Allan Rourke
*arbitration eligible

So there's around $14 million to play with after these two signings, and Pitkanen, Stoll, Grebeshkov, Reasoner, Pouliot, Stortini and odds and ends left to sign. Doable? We'll see, but Pitkanen could be gone.


Oilers Sign Gilbert Gilbert

"The Edmonton Oilers have signed defenceman Tom Gilbert to a six-year, $24-million US contract. The deal puts him in elite company. In 2006, Ales Hemsky signed a contract that will take him through to the 2011-12 campaign, the club's longest contract since Wayne Gretzky was an Oiler."
--Joanne Ireland, Edmonton Journal

I'm late to the party on this one, but what an interesting signing. Quite the pay raise. $4 million per seems a bit much, doesn't it? The first thing that popped into my mind when I saw this was, "what will Pitkanen want now?" Does this signing mean Lowe will be moving Pitkanen before the draft, as Robin Brownlee has suggested? I'll have to take a look at the cap numbers again now, too, see how much this eats up. Is this deal actually $4 million per, or is that just the average? Anyone know?

I guess we can also mark April 11th, 2008 down as the beginning of the Daryl Katz era. Seems to me Lowe would have had to get the nod from Mr. Katz to do this deal.

Other Takes
Covered in Oil
Black Dog Hates Skunks
Punjabi Oil
The Cult of Hockey
Robin Brownlee

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Flames Game Day

Game 2, in San Jose, 8PM MT, CBC.

2005/06 wasn't a very good season for Jarome Iginla. He only had 67 points, and his EV Pts/60 was something like 1.80, which tied him with Radek Dvorak. He had too many games where he didn't make an impact, couldn't create anything, and simply did not stand out like he should.

In Games 2 and 4 of the first-round series vs. Anaheim, though -- where the team had series leads of 1-0 and 2-1 -- he was by far the Flames' best player. By far. Like he was the only guy who really understood the opportunity represented by a W, and the risks represented by an L.

Which is a long way of saying that I'm pretty sure the captain will be doing everything he can think of to impart to the team, by word and by deed, that tonight's game is critical to their chances of winning the series; demands a hellacious effort; and that anything less is suicidal.

Calgary 4 (Iginla, Aucoin, Tanguay, Nolan)
San Jose 2 (Michalek x2)

Go Flames.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


Flames Game Day

Ah, the playoffs, when everything that frustrates you about the hockey media gets that much worse...

There is a LOT of consensus, amongst the pros and bloggers alike, on who will be advancing out of this first round. That probably means that there'll be a ton of upsets, but then again, I said this exact same thing last year.

In the East, I see there being four "tiers" of quality:

1st: Pittsburgh
2nd: Montreal, Washington, New Jersey, Rangers
3rd: Philadelphia, Boston
4th: Ottawa

Pittsburgh finished 2nd overall without Crosby for 29 games and without Hossa for 70 games. Philadelphia and Boston get put below the other four because they lose the EV scoring chance battle too often. And Ottawa is last because, if you disregard the first 20 games of the season, they're the worst team in the playoffs.

So yeah, I think the Pens will handle Ottawa pretty easily. I also think the Caps will win comfortably: they look likely to outchance and outshoot the Flyers every game, they have a good goalie, and they have a good coach, whereas I think Philly's coach is a dipshit.

I actually give the Bruins a chance at beating the Habs, though not enough to predict it; basically, I'm reluctant to pick any team whose outscoring relies so heavily on special teams. And I have no idea who will win Devils/Rags, though whoever does will have a good shot at beating Montreal in the 2nd round (if the Habs get there) or Pittsburgh, who ought to win the East but might be harmed by the fact that they have a coach who I wouldn't trust to get my garbage bags to the end of the driveway, let alone navigate 3 playoff rounds.

My Detroit-love has been well-logged on this site, they shouldn't have much trouble with Nashville even though I think the Preds are a pretty good team. I'd love to pick the Stars to beat the Ducks, but I can't think of a single rational reason to do so, so no.

On Avs/Wild, the PP/PK difference this season was so slanted towards the Wild, I'd almost pick them on the basis of that and the extra home game, even though Colorado was the better 5v5 team. And injuries don't account for all of it, either: the Avs PP was brutal even before Sakic, Smyth and Stastny went down.

However: adding Forsberg to the Avs side (only one of the best PP players of the past 10+ years) and deleting Schultz from the Wild side may well entire neutralize this advantage that Minnesota ought to have. I think the Avs D kinda sucks even with Foote, but I'll pick them anyway. And of course, we have Flames in 6.

It begins! at 8PM MT in San Jose. CBC is the network, Coach Simpson and our friend Mark Lee are the broadcast team. Things I'd like to see, but don't expect to:
Things I do expect to see:
Calgary 2 (Langkow, Moss)
San Jose 1 (Cheechoo)

Go Flames.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


An Optimist's Guide to Picking the Flames

So I'm sitting at the kitchen table on Sunday night, doing a bit of work, and Mrs. Matt walks in and says, "You know what my gut tells me?"

I say, "No?" (I think, "Uh-oh, is this the continuation of some important conversation that I have totally forgotten?")

And she says, "I think the Flames are going to win the first round in 6, and then get swept in the next round."

That scenario falls well short of appealing, but seems pretty plausible to me.


1. The Sharks are not 18-0-2 good -- no team is. Or 18-2-2 good, for that matter. Lousy teams cannot run off a stretch like that, nor can mediocre teams, nor teams that are merely solid. There is no doubt the Sharks are very good. However, going 18-0-2 requires luck.

The Flames' W-L record in the 2004 playoffs, where they lost in Game 7 of the SCF, was 15-11. I bring this up because for the Flames to win this series, they don't have to be capable of dominating the Sharks for a week (which is good, 'cause they aren't). They have to be capable of giving the Sharks a good game most nights, and dominating them for brief stretches. Which they are.

2. Brian Campbell is not Nicklas Lidstrom. Clearly he was a terrific pick-up for the Sharks, but he's not God(strom). The big difference he made for the Sharks, based on results, was on the powerplay. According to my figures, the Sharks PP was clicking at 16.8% prior to his arrival; afterwards, it was 26.3%.

EV scoring stayed about the same; the PK stayed about the same. Their EV Goal prevention got better, though shot prevention stayed about the same; all close enough that, even if I were inclined to do so, I wouldn't want to say "Brian Campbell has improved the Sharks' team defense".

3. The Flames are at least as good a 5v5 team as the Sharks. Flames: +145/-135; Sharks: +131/-122. Worth noting: an average of about 75% of the game is played 5v5.

I heard Pierre McGuire talking to the XM Radio guys this morning, and had a line like, "if the Flames don't get their powerplay going they're going to be in big trouble, 'cause I think they'll have a lot of trouble scoring 5-on-5." Why? Why would he say such a thing, that is exactly opposite of what these teams' records tell us? The special teams look like a horrid mismatch, but 5-on-5, they're extremely similar.

4. The Flames' forward depth might not be outmatched. I never thought that would be the case with any playoff opponent, but I think it's true. It's nice that the Sharks can roll 4 lines and not have guys that look out of place, but the Sharks 5v5 scoring when Joe Thornton isn't on the ice (1.63GF/60) is even worse than the Flames' when Jarome Iginla isn't on the ice (1.81GF/60).

If Keenan made a bold move, the Flames might even have a distinct advantage here. And that bold move would be (wait for it): in the face of everyone talking about what a physical battle this series will be, and how the Sharks are now built to mix it up with anybody... scratch Eric Godard and dress a hockey player instead.

5. Matthew Lombardi has made a leap. Here's one that the sports radio chit-chatters have right, I think. He's not only using his speed effectively, he's using his body effectively: shielding the puck, and separating opponents from the puck. I have no trouble pronouncing that I'd rather have him on my team than Patrick Marleau, and that's before looking at their salaries.

6. Joe Thornton. This is a definite Your Mileage May Vary item. My present way of thinking is that he's Peyton Manning c. 2005: undeniable talent, but looks awful in losing (i.e. facial expression, body language, a couple crappy plays that really stand out). He will win a Stanley Cup some day, and at that point, anyone who has argued that he lacks a certain je ne sais quoi will feel a bit sheepish.

But on the other hand, he has had some playoff moments that are not merely undistinguished, but actually anti-distinguished.

7. So the Sharks are running on all cylinders heading into the playoffs, have found the perfect pieces to complement their already-sound roster, and have to be considered a favourite to win the whole shebang. Wait a second -- what year is this? 2006? 2004?

This is the 4th consecutive season that This time they're for real has been the story on the Sharks in early April. They may well show me, but this time, they're going to have to.


Takes from Sharks bloggers here and here. The pick is Calgary in 6. Let's have fun out there. Go Flames.

Sunday, April 06, 2008


Handicapping - West Edition

This is the record of each of the eight Western Conference playoff teams against each other only. Naturally, because the idea here is to use the information to handicap the playoffs, all Shootout and 4v4OT results are shown as Ties. Note that DET and NSH have fewer GP; if you can't figure out why that is, this post is definitely too complicated for you. Otherwise, it's pretty straightforward.

I did this for the first time last season, because I thought it might be useful... you may recall, there was a huuugge gap between the rich and poor in the WC; 9th-place Colorado finished 22 points ahead of 11th-place Columbus. I had this idea that whether a team took 95% of all possible points vs. the crap teams, or merely 75% of them, was a lousy indicator of how they would perform against other good teams in the playoffs.

That may or may not be true, but last season, when you isolated the "Head-to-head against good teams" data, it said Anaheim was an 800-pound gorilla, and that's pretty much how things worked out. Things to note from the first table (above):
Next, some special teams stuff:

Now, the juicy stuff: goals, shots, etc.. I think there's a lot of surprising stuff here, although if you were paying attention above to which team is good!, then slightly less.

Goals For, Goals Against, and Goal Difference (between the two), plus all three expressed in per-game. Plus events (all goals except PP (and shootout) goals), Minus events (all goals allowed except while on the PK), and +/-, i.e. the difference between the two. And finally, shots for & against, the difference, and per game.
We'll get to predictions, and a bit closer look at Sharks/Flames, later in the week, but Comments lurkers were demanding this info. Go Flames.



These are standings with the first 20 games excluded (and also Games 81/82). For explanations & logic, see last year and the year before.

I can't defend it as especially illustrative, or as providing a terribly unique insight, but what it does do, at the worst I think, is exclude some irrelevant data (where "relevant" means "useful in predicting how good Team X will be in the playoffs"). The best argument supporting this is the relative merits of the Senators and Sabres the two seasons before this one.

Related: Go Wild, Boo Avs.


Quality of Linemates

Time permitting, I have a whack of things I want to look at prior to the start of the playoffs. Here's one...
I have enough regard for Vic's round world to concede that Richards, especially regarding the +/-, might still be a victim of a long run of crappy bounces. But I think it is reasonable -- hell, obvious -- to say that his impact as a player is nowhere near where it ought to be for a guy on his contract.

Saturday, April 05, 2008


Flames Game Night

So I gotta admit... I honestly thought that the hockey gods would punish the Capitals tonight for Matt Cooke. Thursday's takeout of Vinny Lecavalier was, by my count, the fifth time Cooke has injured an opponent this season (injured = missing the rest of the game and at least one more). That's really remarkable. The good news for the rest of the players on Eastern playoff teams is this: Cooke was fined $2500 for the incident, so you know that probably made him reconsider his playing 'style'.

The team that formerly employed Mr. Cooke for many years is hosting the Flames tonight (8PM MT, HNiC). They paid the price for this and many other sins on Thursday, losing to the Oilers and missing the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.

Yelle and Conroy will sit out tonight, and Kipper will back up Joseph. I'll be watching and caring; the Flames really need to do what they can to finish 6th. Not-so-fun stat: the two games Calgary played in San Jose this season -- both of which they won in OT, and which were before the Sharks' recent super-hot streak -- they were outshot by a total of 41.

Prediction: plenty of airtime for Trevor Linden's joyless countenance, and a 3-1 Calgary win (Langkow, Phaneuf, Lombardi, and the irrepressible Sami Salo). Go Flames.


Momentum Watch 2008

(Fixed the EC goal diff. table)


"4th 20" is the results for Games 61-80 for each team. Goal differentials are derived from the standings pages, i.e. they include the shootout goal.

I've been tracking quarterly results since the lockout, and the best any team has previously done in one of these 20-game segments is 35 points. For San Jose -- you know, the Flames' presumptive 1st-round playoff opponent -- to earn 38/40 points is a spectacular achievement.

Also, the results say that Ottawa is way past the point of if they could just find their mojo again... the results say that Ottawa is a bad team.

Friday, April 04, 2008


Friday Baseball Standings

Jean Lefebvre has the breakdown on what needs to happen for the Flames to face Detroit, San Jose, or Minnesota. For a few good reasons besides the obvious ones (that I may or may not get to in the next couple of days), the Wild are the team you want to be facing. And it's still quite possible: the last time the Avs played a game that was important to them but meaningless for the other team (like Sunday's game vs. Minnesota will be (if the Flames can win tomorrow night)), they lost to the Predators. And that one was at home as well.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


Schadenfreude, 101




Northwest Division Game Day

Flames @ Wild, 6PM MT; Oilers @ Canucks, 830PM MT; both RSN West.

Ohhh, the possibilities. The Wild could clinch their first title of any kind, and have a banner to hang up there next to the one proclaiming their fans "#1" [retch]. The Canucks could be eliminated with a loss and a Predators win. A Flames win would keep the NW title within reach, as well as go a long way towards avoiding the Wings or Sharks in Round 1.

Roloson gets the start for the Oil. Whether he's a superior option to Deslauriers at this point is a rather open question, but it's nevertheless a signal from MacT that he expects results from the team tonight, not just a spirited effort. Hemsky and Brodziak are both out, so Mathieu Roy will dress as a 7th Dman and Geoff Sanderson will play what is likely his final career NHL game.

As for the Flames... not too much to say here, it's simply time to watch and see what happens. Call it reverse jinx, but I don't expect Iginla to get his 50th tonight or Saturday. (That's good news for the Ovechkin-for-Hart crowd; I think whatever small chance Iginla has of edging him out for that trophy rests on #50 and passing the Wild for the NW crown.)

Further to my Tuesday meanderings on Eric Godard... Vic at IOF had a post last week about difference makers. It got me ruminating... surely if there are players (Crosby, Thornton, etc.) who drive positive results nearly regardless of circumstance, there must also be players who drive negative results. Most of them will never have an NHL career (or it will be awfully short), but some will continue to be played for whatever reasons. One of these reasons is that somewhere between one and two-thirds of the NHL hockey world feel that it's important to have a heavyweight fighter in the lineup, regardless of what else that player has to offer.

[Sidebar: I want to be clear about something -- just because I don't agree with it, understand it, or know of any good evidence bolstering it does not mean I think every coach who still dresses a heavyweight is a moron. The fact that so many veteran coaches with long records of success do just that is strong evidence that I'm missing something.]

At any rate... I checked the Flames' Corsi numbers with Godard in (72 games) and out (8 games) of the lineup, and noted them in Vic's comments.


Calgary 2 (Langkow, Tanguay) Minnesota 1 (Koivu)
Edmonton 2 (Pisani, Fatty) Vancouver 0 (Roli!)
Nashville 5 (Arnott x3, Bonk x2) St. Louise 0 (The absolute funniest NHL highlight of the year, bar none, was the camera on John Davidson when McKee's go-ahead goal got bogusly waved off for goaltender interference. I had no idea an essentially bald man could comb his hair so furiously.)

Go Flames.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


Arena Stories

Here's some recent stories/editorials on the arena issue. I'm still mourning the Oilers elimination, so I don't have much to add in terms of comment. I just wanted to throw these up before they became dated. I will say that the Diotte April 1st story is pretty damn funny, and the Libin article is pretty damn damning. If anyone has seen/read other stories, pro or con, that I might have missed over the past week, feel free to drop a link into the comments.

"Edmontonians being sold a vision" --Kerry Diotte, Edmonton Sun

"Put arena to referendum" --Andrew Hanon, Edmonton Sun

"April 2nd Letters Section" --Edmonton Journal

"River valley sites touted for new arena" -- Kerry Diotte, Edmonton Sun

"Detractors of new Edmonton arena wasting their breath" --Kevin Libin, National Post



It's a great -- daaayyy -- to be alive

Here's a slightly tweaked version of the baseball standings, showing the highest and lowest possible final seedings for each team. The Flames can finish 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, or 9th. Break it down:
All clear as mud, shurely. Strictly with respect to tomorrow night's game in Minnesota:
Stock up on beer for Thursday night, Flames fans. The Flames and Oilers games are back-to-back on Sportsnet West (600 & 830 MT), so if [shudder] Calgary gets beaten in 60 minutes by the Wild, you'll want to hang around and root for the Oilers to take care of the Canucks.

Go Flames. (Go Blues and Coyotes, Goilers.)

UPDATE: Two more things...

1) Really nice play by Phaneuf on the winner. That's not an easy shot to execute: any lower, it's blocked by Reasoner; much higher, it's harmless and gloved easily. And he got it there with some mustard.

2) Ferraro isn't perfect, but he is a darn sight better than almost everyone else who does his job. I just loved that moment in the middle of the 2nd when he broke the silence with, "This is a man's game -- there is no free ice out there." As a colour commentator, well, that's a colourful phrase. As an analyst, that was a bit of analysis that was brief, clear, on-point, and accurate.

If the south crew was doing the game, I can pretty much tell you exactly what Charlie Simmer would have said at that moment: "Again Roger, the Flames are really going to have to be committed to keeping their intensity level consistent if they want to have success here."

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


Tough Call

Who had the worst night in the Northwest Division?
  1. Edmonton Oilers (mathematically eliminated from the playoffs)
  2. Vancouver Canucks (lost in regulation while the two teams they could most easily surpass to earn a playoff spot both won)
  3. Minnesota Wild (NW Title drama not resolved or reduced, with wins by both their pursuers)
I think the right answer is probably 2, because too much had to go right for the Oil anyway, and too much still has to go wrong for the Wild to relinquish the title.

And hey: hats off to Kipper tonight. I don't think he "stood on his head" or made any quote-unquote heroic saves, but good grief was he alert and sound. The nature of the Oilers scoring chances were such that if he were having a bad night, or a much lesser goalie was in his place, it would have been an Oiler win, it wouldn't have been close, and it would have been assured by about the 5 minute mark of the 3rd period.

Go Flames. And on Thursday, GOILERZZZZZZZZZZ!!!!!!;lkashf (style credit: Mike W)


Battle of Alberta Game Day

Here we are, upon the biggest Battle of Alberta since the lockout (7PM MT, RSN West; Quinn, Ferraro, & Gene). The Flames and Oilers played two April Firsts ago, but because of the Olympic break, there were still 8 games left thereafter. (Also: Happy 2nd Birthday, Little Miss Sacamano!) Last year, you may recall, late season Oiler games were not too suspenseful.

This year, as noted yesterday, there's a lot at stake for both teams. The Oilers care about nothing but getting in; that's Job One for the Flames, too, but they're also hoping to avoid Detroit and probably San Jose in the 1st Round, preferring to get the playoff legs going before facing a team of that high asuperior calibre.

Lineup. 79 games into the season, here's how I see it: the Flames have 10 forwards who should be dressed every game (Huselius, Langkow, Iginla, Tanguay, Conroy, Nolan, Yelle, Lombardi, Moss, and Nilson). I think this is pretty uncontroversial. Huselius, even in a 7:00-per-game PP specialist role, is a better option than the alternatives. Nilson is a very good defensive forward who can hold his own against any opposition; and Moss has a bit of touch and does his part keeping the puck going in the right direction.

After that you have Primeau, Godard, Boyd, Nystrom, and Smith. I don't think Nystrom and Smith bring anything to the table; neither does any one thing particularly well (except possibly Nystrom on the PK, but he's far from irreplaceable). This means two of the others need to dress, and one needs to sit.

The by-the-book answer here is that Godard needs to sit. In 71 GP this season, he has 13 shots on goal, and the 4th line (aka the Godard line, use those interchangeably) can be counted on to get pinned in their own end for what seems like an eternity -- and then usually ice the puck -- several times a game. But! He has played 71 games, which means that Keenan sees clear value in having him dressed, even if I can't see it and/or this value does not exist.

Barring a Godard scratch, then it's hard to say which of Primeau/Boyd you want in. It depends a bit on the roles the coach has for everyone else. Right now, I'd be inclined to leave the Primeau-Lombo-Yelle line intact. They have held their own over the past 10 games or so, and in fact, Primeau has beaten a D-man wide in consecutive games! This could be a sign that he's on the mend from whatever condition was afflicting him most of the season (you know, the one that always caused him to assume a concrete-legged defensive zone stance in the manner of a very passive penalty kill, even at 5-on-5).

So no Boyd. But wait a second: why wouldn't you want Boyd in the lineup instead of Godard, again? He's been on for more frequent Goals Against than Godard, but part of that is playing against better players at times, whereas Godard is always on the Godard line playing the other guy's 4th line. And besides, most of this is mitigated by being on the ice for Goals For twice as frequently as Godard (and the rest could be mitigated, if desired, by managing Boyd's TOI as carefully as Godard's).

Plus, if the Flames are trailing in the game, clearly Boyd is a better option. And as a bonus, he can take Conroy's place on the 2nd PP unit, where his skill probably represents an upgrade.

Jeez, I'm pretty sure I've convinced myself here. I don't think Godard adds anything to the Flames' desired identity as a physical team: he doesn't play enough; most of the defensive corps are better bodycheckers than he is anyway; and clearly his presence has not magically meant that guys like Iginla and Phaneuf have to fight, or otherwise respond to challenges, less frequently. [SEE ALSO: Metrognome. ("HE DOESN'T ABLY DETER PESTS.")]

Tonight's Game. I hate this prediction as a rule (should be a great game!), but I have a tough time imagining that either team will have much of a edge in play. The Oilers have been doing a nice job creating scoring chances lately, but then again, there's no way on earth that Regehr & Sarich will have as ugly a game tonight as they did Sunday, and I don't foresee any goals off of cutesy passes through the slot.

Fun game day quote:
"I think he’s gotten away with a lot," said MacTavish of Regehr. "A lot of real dangerous hits and dirty hits in a lot of ways, where clearly he’s trying to hurt him. It’s really puzzling for me to see a player of Hemsky’s ability have to be subjected to that type of punishment."

Naturally, Regehr was asked for a response, and the big defenceman suggested Hemsky was responsible for much of the contact because he's so aggressive on the forecheck. As to why Hemsky usually comes out second best in the collisions, Regehr slyly said: "It’s usually the guy who’s stronger winning those battles."

I'm going to go with Calgary 3, Edmonton 2. Huselius rises from the dead with 3 points, including an assist on Iginla's 50th. Go Flames.

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