Thursday, April 30, 2009

 

My thoughts, not yours

There will surely be fallout in Calgary, and Keenan’s head is probably on the block. If he is fired it will be the first time he didn’t deserve it. - Tom Benjamin

I endorse this statement. My vote is for a one-year contract extension (so through 2010-11). In evaluating the Flames' achievements this season, whether they are headed in the right direction, and why they suffered a 4th straight Round 1 defeat, I'd say there's several more obvious answers than "wrong head coach".

The GM. My take on Sutter (this week, at least) is that he deserves to keep his job for another season. Starting in 2005/06, the annual consenus has been that the Flames have a better chance at winning this season than next. And yet, next season the team is always pretty good, and they've made the playoffs for 5 consecutive seasons.

He made some nice acquisitions/signings this past offseason of guys who provided above-average play for below-average wages. I've been mostly impressed with the play of the AHL call-ups -- these are sub-cherry prospects, so I think it speaks well of player development, and Sutter is owed credit for that.

That said, I wish there was some way for him to get a clear and unmistakeable rebuke for a couple of things, and that's setting aside the specific issue of the Jokinen for Lombardi + 1st round pick, which looks worse than awful heading into the summer.

One: the cap fiasco at the end of the season. Injuries (substantial, but not unforeseeable) do not in any way excuse the lack of a buffer that forced them to dress a short bench -- which contributed to, if not caused, the loss of the NW Division. Quick primer if you need it: the amount of salary you can carry today and tomorrow is increased by how far below the cap you were yesterday. If through 3/4 of the season you are "on pace" to be $1M below the cap, you can increase your salary by $4M over the last 1/4 of the season.

Now consider that in a late season game, it was reported that Warren Peters was called up for a game instead of Dustin Boyd because of the difference in their salaries (which I believe, because there's no other 'good' reason). Boyd made $742k; Peters made $487k: a difference of $255k.

1/82nd of that difference is $3,000. The salary cap was $56.7M, and the Flames had to make a roster decision for a game based on three thousand dollars of cap space. That's outrageous.

Two (and this is related to One): his absolutely insufferable attitude in front of the media. His deadline day answer to a reporter asking about the Flames' cap situation -- ~"You guys have no idea" -- is all the more shameful in hindsight. We should have learned, from guys like Sean Avery, that working your ass off on the ice does not equate to character, so I have no idea why that label is affixed to Darryl Sutter (and his kin, to a lesser extent).

Like I said, I'm not sure the Flames could do better in the GM department, and I know they could do worse, but when Sutter eventually takes a bullet, I won't shed a tear, because at least that jerk won't be the face of my franchise any more.

The Goaltending. I realize it comes off as picking on one player, which is not my desire, but facts are facts. The numbers say that, over four seasons, the Flames have gone from having way above-average goaltending, to above-average, to around-average, to below-average. The most plausible primary explanation for this is that Miikka Kiprusoff is getting progressively worse at his job.

There's really no evidence that overwork in a given season is the reason -- his finest stretch this year was in February -- and even if it is, it brings up the question: "If your goalie is both a slow starter and suffers when overworked, doesn't that represent a somewhat intractable problem in itself?" Also, I'll hear no talk of Mike Keenan being personally responsible for Kipper being less able to stop pucks. Keenan didn't jerk the goalies around mid-game, deployed them in the exact manner of his two predecessors, and by all accounts doesn't really talk to them.

The numbers strongly suggest that #34 is declining, and precipitously. The other explanation is that year-by-year, though their Shots Against have stayed relatively stable, the Flames are allowing better and better quality scoring chances. Oh, and that it isn't reflected in any of the several current methods of tracking shot quality around the Web. If that's the case, surely a lot of the blame falls on

The Assistant Coaches. Jim Playfair's rep as a great defensive teacher is suffering by the season, even if a good chunk of the blame belongs to the one defender wearing the mask. I have absolutely no idea what Rich Preston brings to the table. What would you point at to advance the argument that David Marcoux is a good goalie coach? Etc.

I don't want Mike Keenan within ten steps of a trading phone or a Standard Player's Contract, but I still don't understand why he has never been able (allowed?) to bring in at least one or two ACs of his choosing.

If it were up to me: I'd give Playfair one more season, but dismiss the rest of them. The org can choose a new goalie coach, and Keenan can choose another bench coach (w/ JP) and a video/pressbox guy.

Injuries. Of course injuries are an excuse. No one likes to do that, because "excuse" in our vernacular doesn't mean "reason", it means "bad reason". "Good excuse" is essentially an oxymoron.

The Flames are a better team with Robyn Regehr and Mark Giordano in the lineup, and they're a better team when Conroy, Bourque, Langkow, Sarich etc. are healthy than when they're injured. Having lots of injuries makes them much less apt to beat another good team in a seven-game series. How can this even be controversial?

The Flames were a pretty good team this year -- 5th in a tough 15-team conference -- despite some lackluster goaltending. A lot of Mike Keenan's sins are imaginary (he's in Kipper's head!), or are the sins of basically every other current and prospective coach (he juggles his lines too much! he dresses the goon even though he sucks! all else being equal, he favours veterans!). I'm considerably more impressed with the guy than I thought I'd be the day he was hired, and I hope he's back next season.

Go Flames.

UNRELATED POSTSCRIPT, 807PM MT, VAN up 1-0: Continuing on with my thus-far unimpressive system of picking playoff winners, I'm going with the Wings, Hawks. Bruins, and Caps, and have more confidence in the WC picks than the EC picks.

Comments:

You have a way with words, Matt. You practically have me leading the (re)hire-Keenan charge.

All hyperbole aside, I mostly agree with you. There are aspects of Keenan's coaching that really lead you to believe that he "gets it" - i.e. Tanguay on the checking line that took on the toughs last year, using Sarich to target primarily Havlat (as opposed to Kane and Toews) in game 4 this year, etc. But then he throws Bertuzzi out there for 20 minutes a game. Guy's stubborn sometimes.

Sutter's cap mismanagement was definitely a mistake. However I'm not too hung up over his media interaction. Some of the MSM is downright asinine (not Howard-Gerber-level, but just plain old Eric-Francis level). But he could stand to tone it down a bit. He seems nice enough to the Fan960 crew (when I've heard him on there).
 


You know, I've always found Sutter's attitude with the media a little bizarre. I've met him personally a few times and although you might not describe him as friendly, he was polite and down to earth.

The best story I have about Sutter is this. I grew up in Camrose, Alberta, home of the Viking Cup. Lots of good players came through that tourny, so the scout presence is pretty high. Anyway, one summer Darryl Sutter comes into the lumber yard I worked in. This was, I think, 2002. He was renovating his house, I guess. He was in a few times over the course of a month or so getting stuff. Always helped us load his truck up, joked around with the staff a bit. We didn't badger him about hockey or anything, but he seemed like a good guy. Fast forward to the Viking Cup tournament that Christmas. One of my coworkers is at a game when he hears someone yelling his name. He looks up and there's Darryl Sutter waving him over. Darryl introduces him to a bunch of scouts and asks him to sit down and watch the game with them. He declined, but the offer was pretty nice.

Anyway, I guess my point here is that he is a good guy personally, even if his professional dealings with the media don't really reflect it. My guess is he gets the character label because of the way he treats people when they don't have their microphones in his face.
 


That's what irks the most, frankly. By ALL accounts, Sutter is a good guy in person, and indeed, he's friendly with Peter Maher (and to a somewhat lesser extent Rob Kerr) on the radio.

But he's a complete jackass at televised press conferences. And that's where the majority of us get our impressions of him.

If you're allowing yourself to behave like a boor because Eric Francis asks rude questions and Jermain Franklin asks stupid one... sorry, that's not a good enough reason.

As most of us know, it doesn't matter how crappy your waitress is: if you're rude to her, the customer at the next table assumes you're a jerk.
 


If they want to let Keenan run out his contract, fine. He can sing for his supper next year, because that might be the last best chance for the current player group, given the decent possibility of a lower cap in 10/11 and the impact it may have on the roster. I really don't think an extension is warranted. I do agree that he could use at least one new assistant, and if that guy was someone who had some different ideas about how to organize the PP, that would be a bonus. That stand-around PP looked and performed like a mediocrity most of the year, and it was a disaster the few weeks.

Sutter? He could stand to unload some deadwood (Primeau and Vandermeer) and add more useful depth to the roster. He did a good job of targeting Bourque and Glencross last summer. They could use a couple of more guys of that ilk, and a depth defenceman that doesn't cost 3 million bucks. I wouldn't object to him resigning Leopold at 2 million or so for 2 years, but I might be in the minority on that one.

There isn't any easy solution for the goaltending issue. Kiprusoff's ticket likely means a trade can't happen, so the Flames have 2 options for the back up situation. They can have one of their internal guys (McE or Irving) stick around and actually play him with the intent of easing out Kiprusoff at a financially more suitable time. Otherwise, they can go get someone at the Jaroslav Halak level and give that guy 25-30 games to see what he's got.
 


It's not that I totally disagree with you or anything because in a lot of ways I do agree with you, but I don't think 'it could be worse' is a good enough reason to keep a coach or GM on board. If there's somebody out there who management believes can do a better job they should go for it, no ifs and or buts.
 


It's not that I totally disagree with you or anything because in a lot of ways I do agree with you, but I don't think 'it could be worse' is a good enough reason to keep a coach or GM on board. If there's somebody out there who management believes can do a better job they should go for it, no ifs and or buts.But there's also the "not sure if there is someone better" part.
 


Completely agree on Keenan and Sutter. I'm rather shocked at how much I've been impressed by Keenan in Calgary, since I laughed with glee the day he was hired.
 


Officiating in this Vancouver game is horrendous. Five consecutive Ps for Vancouver while missing two missed too-many-mens.
 


Well summarized Matt. I do not think Keenan should be back because I maintain this team doesn't look like they're well coached, don't look like they play well together, and are very poor on the particularly coachable aspects such as the powerplay. That may be as much on the assistants as Keenan, but I think they should all go. However, if Keenan ends up coming back, and assistants don't (as you suggest), I could probably live with it.

I think Sutter has done well, quite honestly, in 90% of his job. He messed up the salary cap and was arrogant about it, admittedly. But again as noted by others, I generally don't trust the filter we see him through (the MSM) and so I'd rather view him by performance than reputation.

Maimster
 


That's what irks the most, frankly. By ALL accounts, Sutter is a good guy in person, and indeed, he's friendly with Peter Maher (and to a somewhat lesser extent Rob Kerr) on the radio.

But he's a complete jackass at televised press conferences. And that's where the majority of us get our impressions of him.

If you're allowing yourself to behave like a boor because Eric Francis asks rude questions and Jermain Franklin asks stupid one... sorry, that's not a good enough reason.

As most of us know, it doesn't matter how crappy your waitress is: if you're rude to her, the customer at the next table assumes you're a jerk.
I don't know man, to me that seems more like a guy that is in need of a course in PR rather than an unabashed jerk.

Although I suppose one could make the point that he (probably) refuses to improve his PR skills, which would be an indication of arragonce. I could get behind that point.
 


But there's also the "not sure if there is someone better" part.I got news for ya; there are no guarantees in life, and if youre going to run by the philosophy of 'it could get worse' you're always going to be mediocre.
 


there are no guarantees in life, and if youre going to run by the philosophy of 'it could get worse' you're always going to be mediocre.So which person within the organization is ready to step up and take Sutter's job? Failing that, which person outside the organization is available, ready and willing?
 


You think that there's any chance that they put a bullet into the Kipper years and move him? Holding onto him is such a massive risk, given that he'll probably be untradeable shortly, there are some interesting commodities on the market and Doug MacLean is in the running for a job, which means that replacement level for GM's can't be THAT high and you might actually get him.

You look at this team and have to wonder a little bit what they could do with a .920 goalie. A point of save percentage for Kipper was 2.2 goals last year and he was at .903...do the math and you see that a goalie who stopped more pucks would give them a serious boost.
 


Quick primer if you need it: the amount of salary you can carry today and tomorrow is increased by how far below the cap you were yesterday. If through 3/4 of the season you are "on pace" to be $1M below the cap, you can increase your salary by $4M over the last 1/4 of the season.

this i don't understand at all and i won't lie and say i am a cba/cap genius... i also did some maths over at htp, and found sutter to be grossly negligent with dollars, ESPECIALLY factoring in the jokinen trade...

cause, yeah. we only needed another $40K to ice a full lineup in the last week, and i would argue this led to losing the division and meeting a superior team in the first round (without home ice). while i think keenan has issues (roy over boyd in game 1, no PP practice etc.etc.etc.), i think sutter handicapped his squad into a first round exit.
 


I saw today where #1 Nationally syndicated Flames fan Eric Duhatschek floated the idea of trading Ugly and replacing him on the blueline with a Red Wings themed signing of Boumeester.

Thoughts?
 


So which person within the organization is ready to step up and take Sutter's job? Failing that, which person outside the organization is available, ready and willing?No idea.
 


I saw today where #1 Nationally syndicated Flames fan Eric Duhatschek floated the idea of trading Ugly and replacing him on the blueline with a Red Wings themed signing of Boumeester.

Thoughts?
I would make that tradeoff if I thought it was available to me.

If I'm Steve Tambellini or Darryl Sutter I'm going to try find a way to fit Bouwmeester into my roster. If they don't try they should be fired.
 


You think that there's any chance that they put a bullet into the Kipper years and move him? Holding onto him is such a massive risk, given that he'll probably be untradeable shortlyHe'll soon be untradeable? Are you saying he's not already?
 


Man, the falloff of Kiprusoff is just spectacular. Granted I'm just going by highlight reels and games vs the Oilers, but it wasn't that long ago the Kiprusoff just seemed to fill the whole net. I remember in 05/06 Bergeron scoring a rare soft goal on him and the Oilers still failed to win the game, just seemed like a missed ship.

Now it seems like he leads the league in soft goals. Based on nothing but observation, and probably skewed by the bias that you and Kent have transferred to me.

Still, has any goalie ever dropped so much so fast in terms of EV save%. A lot of guys have one good year, but Kipper had two terrific years, playing a whack of minutes and including a long playoff run. And a fairly solid year after that I think, one you could chalk up as ("okay, but an off year by his standards") ... then the freefall.

In fairness to Sutter, I don't think that there is a lot of precedent for that.
 


I think the precedent is called "Tommy Salo" Vic.
 


Yeah, but I think the perception was greater than the numbers there. Salo never did manage to put up much more than average EVsave% numbers even in his prime.

And Salo's many backups over his Oiler years, collectively they put up the same EVsave% as Oilers as they did, collectively, elsewhere in the rest of their careers (awful in both cases by the way, the Oilers ade several terrible choices for backup goalie during the Salo era). So I don't think there are a lot of reasons to blame it on the Oiler D.

Without looking at the numbers, I think the same can be said for Potvin, Carey and Cloutier. The fall fro grace seemed spectacular at the time, but when you look at the numbers ... they really weren't falling from that high of a place to begin with.
 

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