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.

Monday, April 20, 2009


Do it To it

Now I wish I hadn't, but I decided to look up the Flames' record since the lockout with Robyn Regehr out of the lineup; the horrifying results are at left. (Amazing but true: Games 2 thru 6 of that playoff annihilation by the Red Wings is the most successful stretch of games the Flames have had with the Brazilian in the basement.)

That noted though, I'm not any more down on their chances than circumstances dictate. On balance of play, this series could easily be tied. The Hawks have looked better than I hoped, but the Flames have a lot of good hockey players and (IMO) a pretty good coach, and now they get a chance to come back at home.

Calgary 4 Chicago 2. Iginla in the first, Langkow and Moss in the second, and Conroy blows the lid off with The Most Exciting Play in Hockey late in the third. Go Flames.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Playoff Arrows

How do you pick playoff series? I get pulled in eighteen different directions by various factors. This time I'm doing it systematically (with one notable exception).

I wouldn't say that the system I've chosen is the right one; not at all. But at least there's a method to it, as opposed to (for example), deciding that Rangers will beat the Caps because you (correctly) believe that Lundqvist is a better goalie than Theodore, without accounting for why the Caps finished 13 points ahead of the Rags despite that truth. Call it an experiment.
So to sum up, I'm going to look at Shots For minus Shots Against at EV with the score tied since Feb1, and use that as (what I am positing is) the best available predictor of who will have the biggest advantage (and disadvantage) in scoring chances in the playoffs. Throw in a bit of goaltending factor after that, and ta-da: you have an empirical basis for predicting who will be best (and worst) at outscoring the other team, and thus who will be most and least likely to win. Take it or, as I would assume and possibly recommend, leave it.

So in the East:
Tiebreaker: I'll use the American TV conspiracy theory, where Ovechkin is gold, but New York is platinum. Rangers. Good thing I took so many Caps in my playoff pool. In the West:
So over at the Calgary Herald's site (which naturally, like most sites, I can't get to load right now), they had a bunch of their staff and contributors post their Flames/Hawks predictions with a few notes, one of which was "Key Flame". About half of them identified Miikka Kiprusoff as said Key, and to them I say, Bravo.

At right is the same info as above, but with the 16 teams ranked by their EVSV% (score tied since Feb1 etc.). Anyone else notice a slight gap there between 15th and 16th? I'll listen to arguments that Calgary gives up higher quality scoring chances than any other playoff team, but: that's not a slight gap, it's a giant chasm, and a lot of it has got to be on #34.

Now, having had 76 regular season starts in which to warm up, Kipper needs to be better in the playoffs. He just does. If he (or his replacement, haha) isn't, the team isn't going far.

On the bright side though (seriously), they're in the playoffs, and when you're in, you have a chance. It sure beats the hell out of the alternative.

Go Flames.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Seen at Game 82

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


Flames Game Day

Flames @ Canucks, 8PM MT, RSN West

I guess this is a huge game tonight, but I find myself not caring all that much. I get more convinced by the week that, notwithstanding the impact of injuries, the Blue Jackets are at least as tough an opponent as the Blackhawks. I'd like Game 7 in Round 1, if it comes to that, to be at home, but I'm not losing sleep over it.

And the other thing is, a big part of the fun of the regular season is not just seeing where your team finishes so much as finding out what kind of team you have -- and nothing in the final three games is going to affect my opinion of that one way or the other. The Flames:
And most importantly, aren't going on a deep run unless they get significantly better goaltending in the playoffs than they've gotten in the regular season. On January 29th, I posted about Kipper's steadily declining EV SV%, .907 on the season at that point. Then on February 27th, I noted triumphantly that in the intervening 29 days, his EV SV% was .931 -- huzzah! I mean, harrumph, because in the 38 days since then, it's .892 [runs to office washroom to yack, sob quietly].

Since the evidence points so clearly towards Kipper needing lots of work to stay sharp, I'm sure the lads will lose tonight, and #34 will start both ends of the B2B against the Oilers too -- it'll work out for the best!

Calgary 2 (Langkow, Moss), Vancouver 3 (Sundin, Sedin, Salo in the OT). But, Go Flames.

Friday, April 03, 2009


Friday Baseball Standings

Well, the Oilers made a fine hash of what was a promising situation only eight days ago, didn't they. The good news is, with the playoffs now out of reach, the org can devote its full energy to the important issues -- like the need for a new arena, and what their radio broadcasters are talking about on the pre-game show.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


Who's Fooling Who

So I had a marginally clever April Fool's post set for today. I was going to announce that, having moved to Edmonton, and been treated so well, and just enjoying it so damn much, that I got swept up in things and found myself to be an Oilers fan ("I never expected this to happen at all, let alone so soon...").

But seeing as how not even Oilers fans want to be Oilers fans today, the whole thing seemed kinda... limp. So I scrapped it.

Carry on.

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