Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Flames Preview: the Defense

1. Robyn Regehr

Though you wouldn't know it to read or listen to most hockey media, RR is still the #1 D-man around here. Coaches in the past have relied on him to play against the most dangerous forwards, and there's little doubt that will continue to be the case with Keenan.

Last year was a bit of a mixed bag for Regehr. Leading the team in +/- (+27) in the role he played is clearly terrific; also, considering he plays a pretty physical game in that role, he does an excellent job of staying out of the penalty box (75 PIM, taking a non-coincidental minor roughly only every 4th game).

The biggest downside was probably the PK. It's extremely difficult to assess just who the difference-makers are on the PK -- i.e. how much is his fault -- but the fact remains that the Flames' PK was pretty lousy last year (22nd in NHL), and Regehr had over 50% more PK ice time than anyone else on the team.

That said, his statistical effectiveness did improve a bunch over the 2nd half of the season. (Mini-fact: the Flames allowed 19 5-on-4 goals after Brad Stuart joined the team. Regehr and Stuart were on together for 8 of them; Stuart was on w/o Regehr for 7 of them; Regehr was on w/o Stuart for 0 of them.)

For as long as Regehr stays healthy, and maintains the mobility he has, he'll continue to be the anchor of the Flames' D, and is a player that every team would love to have. Outlook very positive.

2. Dion Phaneuf

If Phaneuf is really going to become the perennial Norris candidate that Pierre McGuire and everyone else believe he will be, then this is the year when he needs to make another leap.

There's a lot to love about Phaneuf. He has a hard shot that he can get off. He hits hard. He infuriates opposing players, and Oiler fans. He makes plays -- right from his rookie debut, he was one of the best defensemen I've ever seen at keeping the puck in at the blueline. He's extremely fit: he led the Flames in ice time last year, playing tons of PP minutes, plenty of EV minutes, and even 1:58/gm on the PK.

It's almost unfair. He set the bar very, very high from Day One; he's already a nice NHL defenseman. And there is progress: in Year 2, he went from 21:43/gm to 25:39/Gm, all due to a big increase in EV icetime (14:12 to 18:05). Though the toughest assignments will continue to go to Regehr, the remainder of Dion's Handle With Care label will be pretty much removed this year.

All that said, if he's going to make the move from gifted to dominant, it's gotta start happening now. While middle-tier, stay-at-home type Dmen tend to slowly improve over the years, the elite #1 types who can do it all get there in Years 3 & 4. I'd like to see his PP production progress some more; I'd like to see him headhunt a bit less; and I'd like to see him get beat less often. Outlook optimistic.

3. Cory Sarich

I'd love to know more about this guy. From his career stats, we basically know (A) he has very little offensive element to his game (10 goals in 536GP), and (B) he never gets hurt. More encouraging: playing with Vic's awesome tool (that's what *she* said), Tortorella was pretty consistent about using him and Pratt against the other team's #1 line.

Sidebar: CanWest did one of those fluffy Q&A's with Sarich that, unlike the typical boxers-or-briefs, do you own an iPod? snorefests, was actually creative and thus interesting:
CanWest: What's the most ridiculous money you've seen a pro athlete spend?

Sarich: I've seen some guys buy $25,000 or $50,000 Versace beds. There's got to be better things you can do with 50,000 bucks...

Everyone's assumption is that he'll start the season playing RD with Regehr on the LD, as the #1 shutdown pairing. This is reasonable enough, though a lot depends on how Aucoin fares early... Outlook: most likely player on the team to exactly meet expectations.

4. Adrian Aucoin

Aucoin is a much more well-known entity, but probably more misunderstood. Most of the early buzz in Calgary about him -- apart from whether he can stay healthy -- seems to be whether he can mesh with Phaneuf at the point on the PP. My early thought is that this is very secondary.

What the Flames most need from Aucoin is to eat minutes in a reliable fashion. Yes, he had 18 PP goals one year with Mike Keenan's Canucks. 2nd best season of his career? 7 PP goals. 3rd best? 5 PP goals. Excluding his one monster season on the PP, he has 29 career PP goals in 612 games. Dion Phaneuf has 29 career PP goals in 161 games.

The Flames need Aucoin to be Steve Staios: nothing more, and preferably nothing less. What they don't need is a poor man's Rob Blake. I think the ideal top two EV pairings, if Aucoin can perform, are Regehr/Aucoin and Phaneuf/Sarich. This is theoretically more balanced than Regehr/Sarich and Aucoin/Phaneuf, which seems to be the reasonable assumption as we creep up on the season. Outlook cautiously optimistic.

5. Rhett Warrener

Promising news in the Sun yesterday: it would appear that after reflecting on a pretty injury-riddled career and perhaps a logey '06/07, Warrener has decided to go lighter. This suits me just fine. If the price of not getting beat one-on-one by Mike Grier is inflicting less punishing bodychecks (and maybe, just maybe, playing 75+ games), I'm all for it.

Staying healthy -- not just able-to-dress, free-from-debilitating-injury, but healthy -- is indeed the key for Warrener. He's 31 years old, and has played 683 career games. He should have some good years left. Outlook cautiously optimistic.

6. Anders Eriksson

Two words: fingers crossed. Mike Rogers had a pretty glowing assessment of him in last night's 1st intermission, which unfortunately I found more amusing (and baffling) than heartening. This is what happens when you're supposed to have an opinion on everything (I paraphrase):

"He was good, because I didn't notice him. [OK, fair enough. You're going to move on to something else now, right?] ...He sees everything so well, he's always got an eye on what's happening up ice. Great job of swinging the puck on the powerplay. He's just so solid back there." [Whaaa???]

If he can avoid making boneheaded mistakes and hold his own for 15 minutes a night, I'll be 100% satisfied. There will be times that he has to move up the depth chart due to injuries; the idea of hiring a 32-year-old veteran for the #6 spot is that he can do this effectively for brief stretches. Here's hoping. Outlook: resigned!

7. David Hale

Speaking of here's hoping: here's hoping that the Flames D-men are very healthy this season. It's not just Hale: the Flames organizational depth on defense from #7 down is weak. Giordano is gone, at least for now. Richie Regehr, who filled in capably on occasion and has an offensive upside, is gone. I've lost count, but this is not the first or second training camp where Tim Ramholt was expected to come in and impress, and failed to do so.

Hale seems a bit young to look at and say, "Nope, I don't see any Unrealized Potential there", but there you have it. He's a barely-NHL-calibre defenseman who I suppose could always keep cutting down on his mistake rate, but there is zero to be excited about here. Outlook somewhat unsettling.


I'm very bullish on the front four, but a lot of things can happen. If Warrener and Eriksson are ineffective, then more responsibility will be heaped on the other pairings, which is no good: Regehr has never been (and as such probably never will be) a guy who can consistently play more than about 24 minutes a night, and while Phaneuf can probably play 35 minutes a night, he loses effectiveness in the mid-to-high 20s.

Besides injuries, the other wildcard is the effect of having Playfair back as the guardian of the D. He got a lot of credit prior to last year for both the development and success of the defensemen. Was it deserved? And if so, can it be replicated? (???)


the elite #1 types who can do it all get there in Years 3 & 4.

Not trying to be snarky at all here, I'm just curious: is there evidence of this? Pronger is the first guy I thought of when I read this line, but my recollection is that he took four or five years to make the leap. He was nothing but a headache in Hartford, that's for sure. I hate Phaneuf, but I wonder if the expectations are too high for a kid who is still only 22.

No prob. Re: the Norris Trophy:

- Denis Potvin won it in his 3rd year.
- Paul Coffey won it in this 5th, was robbed blind of it in his 4th
- Larry Robinson won it in his 5th year (4th full year)
- Randy Carlyle won it in his 5th year (3rd full year)
- Doug Wilson won it in his 5th year
- Chelios, 5th year
- Brian Leetch, 4th year
- Guys like Bourque (8th), Pronger (7th, Hart too), Niedermayer (11th), Lidstrom (10th) didn't win until later, but were all nominated long previous to that, and made postseason all-star teams (i.e. Top 4 in NHL). Most of the Norris winners above were nominated in previous years as well. Even Al Macinnis, who took forever to win a Norris, was a postseason allstar in his 4th year.

He was good, because I didn't notice him.

Also known as the Andrei Zyuzin standard.

And if so, can it be replicated? (???)

Only at home.

I'd like to see him headhunt a bit less

Coming a little close to the awful truth about Dirty Dion here, aren't we?

Great analysis... I'm interested in seeing this group play. I think on "paper" they are less talented than the group last year. But... I think that this group can perform better than any group we've seen in the past few years. The group as a whole is physical and take care of their own end... what we needed more of last season.

One point that Darryl kept hammering home during the off-season was the right handed shot comments about Sarich and Aucoin. Looking back, was constantly having two lefties out on the ice at the same time a cause of those ridiculous stretches of what seemed to be 10 minutes in our end? My backhand sucks, so I can see it as a problem. Plus the way Darryl pounded home the right handed shot comments, maybe he believed it to be a cause?? I guess time will tell..

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