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.


//You need good hockey players -- regardless of age, speed, style, whatever -- and to be really good, you need guys who will outplay their contracts.//

Wow. You'll never make it as an MSM commentator if you can't look at all the complications in an 82-game season, plus playoffs, and all of the individual personalities/skillsets involved and boil it down to one factor. Ray Emery, age, fatigue, undisciplined play, whatever.

I think Ken Holland agrees with you. The demise of the Red Wings has been predicted for ages (hell, they were an old team when they won their first cup) based solely on age, and when you pick one factor like that you're doing a disservice to everyone.

Nice post.

re: age
eriksson and warrener (arguably the two worst players in red this year).... (scratch that. they were the worst, and by a longshot) are both YOUNGER than aucoin and nolan ---who were both contributing. ie: the suck factor, not the age factor.

re: energy
the guys you've used as examples of future energy players also fit the age profile (nystrom, prust). lombardi's 26. let's get more guys like him.

it's the middle of april and our team(s) are done. everybody's a GM. but, yeah... sutter needs to answer the question "why did almost 50% of your team suck ?" and, further, "why are SO MANY sucky players signed into '09 ??!?!"

Its Craig Button's fault.

Its Craig Button's fault.

He was on the Q107 morning show this morning. He's afraid of snakes. That's all I need.

I assume you'll permit a disinterested third party opinion from your provincial capital. This may have been discussed to death on the Calgary blogs but not that I've read.

I always find it interesting to compare teams with themselves when they were more (or less) successful. What has changed?

Well with Calgary of course, there remains a solid 7th or 8th place club, and simply making the playoffs is one level of success. But to find success in the playoffs we have to look way back to before the lockout, when the Flames came within a game of the Cup. Some of the major pieces remain, of course: Iginla is one of the most complete and accomplished players in the game; Regehr remains a defensive anchor (and skates about as fast) with a mean streak; Kiprusoff is a solid netminder, if not the Conn Smythe candidate he was that crazy spring. Lombardi is older and better; Conroy, Yelle, Nilson and Warrener are older and, well, older.

Some people thought that Calgary was just that little bit of skill away from achieving the ultimate success that spring. (We heard the exact same thing about the '06 Oilers, btw.) But now I see guys like Tanguay and Huselius where Gelinas and Clark used to be, and it seems like a club of maybe a little more skill but of a little less character. The trade of Ference and Kobasew for the long-gone Brad Stuart and the should-be-gone-real-soon Wayne Primeau was nothing short of disastrous, and outside of Langkow and maybe Nolan I see no reasonable replacements on the current roster for the likes of Donovan, McAmmond, Saprykin, Niemenen or Simon. That Calgary team was four lines deep and they came at a team hard for 60 minutes, and for 7 games.

The current team may be more skilled at the top end, but it has nowhere near the depth up front to outlast anybody in the playoffs. It may be that with so much cap hit tied up on the front rank players, finding sufficient depth and character players to return to that successful four-line grind style is going to be a grind for Flames' management. But I'm frankly a little surprised that Darryl Sutter of all people kind of got away from that.

But let's face it, on the record Calgary is a completely average team; based on results one would be hard pressed to find a more middle-of-the-pack club than the Falmes*. In 2007-08 they won 42 of 82 regular season games and 3 of 7 playoff games. The average team in the league scored and allowed 228 goals this season; the Flames had 229 GF and 227 GA in the season. In the playoffs that was 17 GF and 19 GA. In the season they took 2316 shots and allowed 2335; were slightly subpar on special teams, slightly above water at evens. But documentably "mediocre" in the original, non-disparaging sense of the word.

(* - note: I tried to type "Flames" throughout and this was an honest typo; but having made it this far I simply can't deny it. I think muscle memory is having its say)

Looking ahead, do Calgary fans see another year or three of running in place? Or will there be a serious reevaluation of what exactly the current approach is, and is not, delivering?

Is it time for a purge at the top?

I'm not quite on board with the "it doesn't matter if you're slow" P.O.V. The Flames D as a collective look like they have trouble keeping up, and their penalty killing is sub-par by any measure. Slow guys don't win races to pucks, particularly when they have more ice to cover.

This next bit can be chalked up to boredom waiting for my flight home. I decided to look at minor penalties by defencemen for the Western conference playoff teams, and then see what the rate of minutes played per minor was.

Ana 65 min/minor
Col 66
Dal 69
Det 66
Min 76
Nsh 66
S.J 73

Those are rates of about .8-.9/hr
Calgary? 48 minutes per minor, about 1.25/hr. Not a total surprise, since the Flames were shorthanded the second-most times in the whole league, behind Anaheim. With that in mind, if your team's defensive core takes minor penalties at a rate of about 30-40% higher than other good teams, it might suggest they are struggling to keep up, but YMMV. Phanuef took 60 minors, BTW. Not good.

The caveats are, I did this with the Calculator on my computer, and I didn't split player numbers by team if they had been part of a trade, like Vandermeer, as an example. That said, he was 30 minors/1472 min played, so he fit the profile, so to speak.

Not to excuse Dion, but IMO most of his minor penalties were on those ridiculous stretches when the other team would keep the puck in our end of minutes at a time. These periods were usually due to Erikson's inability to not get dominated on the boards. I hope Darryl sucks it up and simply sends him to the minors to eat the salary.

Maybe I had blinders on, but I have no problem with Aucoin coming back next year. Maybe his salary is 1 mil higher than the value you get, but I would argue that you couldn't replace him for much less than what you pay him. I thought he played well in the playoffs.

I like a top four of Phaneuf, Regehr, Sarich and Aucoin. Now if you could somehow bring back Gio and a Hale-type d-man (lets face it, enough money is already being spent on the d-men), I'm ok with it.

What I've been going back to is its not skill, speed, size, level of compete.. none of that is why they lost to SJ. The series could've went either way. I go back to the start of the season. You play 500 hockey at the start of the season, you don't play SJ in the first round. You probably play Minny, a better matchup. Kipper and the rest of the boys need to come prepared to play from day 1.

That's it, I'm out!

I agree with Brent: Aucoin should be back next year. There is a limit to the number of changes we can make for next year, and I don't think a complete purge is necessary. I think a big part of our weakness at the beginning of the season was the huge turnover on defense. If we lose Ericsson and Warrener, pick up Giordano (I hope he gets a chance to play, and plays well, at the WC), I'll be happy with our defense.

If we're going to improve our defense, we need to improve our offense. We saw, briefly, what a decent fourth line could be like in the playoffs. Having three guys who can come on, give the top forwards a rest, and not exhaust a pair of dmen and the goalie would be a huge change to the team.

The only way this is going to happen is if Sutter gives young players a chance, and if Keenan can coach them through the inevitable. I hate to say this, but we need to model the Oilers from this past season. We can't continue to act as if players will learn to play NHL quality hockey in the minors. It's not going to happen. Instead, we need to look at next year as a sort of rebuilding year. For most teams, that means writing off the playoffs in favour of drafting and developing. But for us, with Iginla, Phaneuf, Regehr, Kipper, and maybe Langkow, we've got a shot at the playoffs, even if those five don't have much backing them up. I think we can afford to play young players, even if they are players in the mold of Boyd, Nystrom, or Moss, and keep playing them even if they're in the middle of a rough patch. There's no reason to pull them out in favour of Nilson or Godard or Smith. We know exactly what they contribute now (little) and exactly what they'll contribute in the future (nothing). But with a young player, who knows? Brodziak is a good example. Were he playing for the Flames, he would have been down to the minors sometime in December or January. (1g5a over 2 months.) And he would never have scored 3g5a over the last 10 games of the season.

When Iginla broke a bunch of team records this year, the most common comment I heard was that he would hold them for a long time, since there was no one in the picture who would ever break them. If we want to be successful in the future, we need to find another Iginla. Someone who is good enough that we want him to play for us, and someone who we've treated well enough that he wants to play for the Flames.

Whoever this player is, I guarantee you that he is not a UFA this year.

Brent, the 4 guys you mentioned are likely good enough for Calgary to survive, although Aucoin is more a of third pair type who can help on the PP. Giordano might be a good match for him. The more pressing problem is finding someone who can play with Phaneuf, IMO. When I looked at those penalty numbers, one thing that I did consider was that he was asked to do too much covering for an incompetent partner. His penalty numbers in 06-07 with Hamrlik were 34 minors in only about 150 minutes less TOI. I think ngthagg's point re: giving the three young guys mentioned some run is also valid, and goes to another point as well. It seems Conroy's day as a top six forward has passed. In retrospect, Keenan should have handed Lombardi the keys to one of the top two lines once it was established that there was no new centre coming by the deadline. The Flames could use a guy or two more in the bottom six as well. Bruce's point about the Flames going from balanced to top-heavy isn't far wrong. Can Sutter find at least 2 bottom sixers, a second pair Dman, replace Huselius, and resign or replace Giordano? If they want to make the playoffs and get past round 1, that seems like the minimum.

If we lose Ericsson and Warrener

Somebody would have to want them in order to "lose" them. I don't imagine there are a lot of takers for two guys who suck and have crappy contracts. The scenario of the Flames sticking one or both of them in the minors to save the salary cap strikes me as highly highly unlikely.

A bit late in the day, but I think, Matt, that you're getting a little overboard in this "if somebody in the media says it it's wrong" stuff. :P

Saying that the Flames lost because they need more good players is so self-evident that it hardly needs saying (I picture draft coverage at BoA: "the Oilers should look to draft a good player with Anaheim's first, and if they can get good players in the later rounds they'll be in a good position to trade for players that provide elusive 'being good' skills"). Why they aren't very good is the question.

Yes, there are players like Robyn Regehr who succeed in spite of being outrun by plate tectonics, or veterans like Craig Conroy who look good on every shift in spite of their age. But these guys are the exception, not the norm. Robyn Regehr has enough skill to make up for his deficiencies, while, say, Anders Eriksson doesn't. Similarly, for every Craig Conroy there's an awful lot of Owen Nolans.

Saying "the Flames aren't too old; Iginla only turns 30 in July, Kiprusoff is only 30 as well, Tanguay has lots of good years left, and Lombardi and Phaneuf haven't even hit their primes yet" is one thing. Saying "the Flames aren't too old; to prove it, here's one player who succeeds in spite of being ancient" is another.

Old Guys Who Don't Suck are out there, but Stephane Yelle and Adrian Aucoin weren't always horsemeat. They suck today because they've gotten old and it's robbed them of what made them special. So yes, "age" can be a problem on its own.

Or did I completely misinterpret your point? I got, like, ten minutes of sleep last night.

Robert, thanks for looking up the penalty data for Phaneuf. Its nice to see a stat next to it, not just a gut feeling. To me, your data suggests what I was expecting. Dion carried an incompetent partner for huge stretches of the season. Its vital that a replacement is found.

Phanuef took 60 minors, BTW. Not good.

That IS ugly. :) Most minors in the league, in fact, a distinction held the previous two seasons by one Sean Avery.

Interesting angle on the penalty-prone Flames defence, Robert. Sarich ranked fifth in the NHL with 48 minors, so with two defenders in the top (bottom) five in the whole league, it stands to reason the Flames defence as a hole -- couldn't resist, sorry! -- would have a poor record in this respect.

Interesting theory to put it all on Eriksson, Brent. Did he play with Phaneuf and Sarich both?




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