Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Calgary Flames - Masters of the First-Round Exit

When playing a video game, repeating the same part usually gives the player some proficiency - he or she should be able to master and defeat it with enough tries and effort. Hockey isn't like that, unfortunately. The Calgary Flames have made it to the postseason all four years post-lockout and have lost in the first round every time. They are the only team to accomplish this feat, something which deserves very light praise. In previous years, it was lack of skill that really torpedoed the season, but this time around, injuries were the downfall - the backline was horribly beat up. They should have some room with which to improve the team, and the best news is that their weakness is everyone else's strength - Calgary is weak on the wing past Iginla, but that is a problem easily remedied in today's NHL.

A glance at their salary cap situation:

There's some money to play around with there - even more if Wayne Primeau is left in the AHL, which he almost certainly will (should) be. If the salary cap is still around 56 million, the Flames have plenty of money to sign a wing and a defender. If it's at 52 or 53, there's less space, but if Calgary is really committed to improving, Jim Vandermeer can find a home in Abbotsford. LW Mike Cammalleri deserves mentioning, but he is almost certainly not returning, the money is not there for him.

Actually Talking About Goaltending For Once: This blog has really avoided talking about goaltending so far - most teams have a guy they are paying a lot of money to over a lot of years to tend goal, so it's all pretty uninteresting. Miikka Kiprusoff is one of those men. His save percentage has gone down 5 straight years, and his goals against average has gone up in 5 straight years. The Flames have spent so much money on him that they have never provided an adequate backup - this has to change if the Flames are going to compete. The Sutters' 'Boxer from Animal Farm' mentality that it's really NOT playing that hurts a player is going to have to change, but don't count on that - expect Kiprusoff to once again receive 70+ games if he stays healthy.

Projected 2009-10 Lines




What About Younger Players? 2007 1st round pick Mikael Backlund is intriguing, but the longest season he's played is 47 games with the Kelowna Rockets - prudence would suggest him getting a full season in the minor leagues before getting the call to the NHL. The salary cap concerns might override prudence. Rookie Flames LW Warren Peters and D Adam Pardy are Type VI UFAs - both are late bloomers who spent significant time in the ECHL, but they may both return to add depth. Defenseman John Negrin may be ready for NHL duty as well, but he has not spent any time in the minor leagues. So, assuming that Backlund and Negrin aren't ready (one is likely to make the team), here's a look at what else the Flames might want:

Free Agent Discussion

Right Wings That Might Work For The Second Line

Brian Gionta (4/13) - He would be the most audacious signing - playing with a big-time center like Jokinen or Langkow may bring back his scoring touch.
Erik Cole (2/6) - Cole did not score a goal in this year's playoffs - after his supposedly invigorating return to Carolina, he was largely a non-factor in the postseason. Carolina may simply look elsewhere - Cole is much like Bertuzzi only with less dumb penalties.
Todd Bertuzzi (2/4) - Bertuzzi has played for five teams since the lockout, posting unremarkable numbers at all stops, but he may just be a solid low-cost option. Sometimes in free agency, it simply pays to go with what you know, even if what you know kinda sucks, tends to get injured, and takes too many penalties.
Steve Sullivan (1/2) - Sullivan missed all of 2007-08 but returned this season to post somewhat impressive numbers - 32 points in 41 games. A worthwhile risk.
Petr Sykora (1/2) - Sykora is currently wearing a suit each night while his team plays in the Stanley Cup Finals, but he also scored 25 goals this season - someone will give him an NHL job somewhere, and with Jokinen or Langkow he could post 25 again.

Right Wings For the Third Line:

Chad Larose (3/7) - Might be too expensive after his post-season heroics. Larose is a gritty winger with some upside, but someone will likely mistake him for a 2nd line RW.
Mike Grier (2/3) - A veteran of 900+ NHL games, you know what you get with Grier - a solid PKer with straight-ahead speed and an ability to punish opposing defensemen.
Joel Ward (2/4) - An unknown quantity, Ward emerged from nowhere to score 17 goals for Nashville this season. He's not likely to repeat that, but he's certainly likely to play in the NHL next season.
Chris Neil (3/4.5) - Neil, like all the Senators, is coming off a down year, but he was once thought of as a Randy McKay type who can hit, fight, and chip in some goals.

Right Wings For the Fourth Line:

Jamie Lundmark (2/1.8) - Lundmark has had an up and down career, but with 8 goals in 27 games for Calgary last season he has earned himself another shot to stick in this league.
Craig Adams (2/1.4) - Feisty RW is still playing in the Stanley Cup Finals, he kills penalties.
Colton Orr (2/1.2) - Winnipeg native and New York fan favorite is always willing to fight when it is called for.


The Flames are desperate for someone who can move the puck - they've got the market on big guys who can hit all sewn up. Adrian Aucoin is unlikely to return. Jordan Leopold just might though - he is the sort of player this team needs on defense, and there's not a lot of money available to pay that kind of player.

Jordan Leopold (3/6) - Leopold has struggled with injuries but looked to be a promising top 4 defender. It's possible that with the odd way this year's free agency market is going to go that he might be a very in-demand commodity - somewhat low cost, somewhat large upside.
Dennis Seidenberg (2/4.5) - Same principle as above. Seidenberg can skate a bit, he's got much better numbers than Leopold, and he might come cheaper despite his better numbers. He's a little weak on the back end, but he can work a power play.
Marc-Andre Bergeron (2/3) - Same principle as above, except that one would imagine that Darryl Sutter has learned his lesson with this kind of player. Marc-Andre Bergeron has an awesome slapshot and not very much more.
Dmitri Kalinin (2/2) - Darryl Sutter did not watch his buddies die face down in the muck so this scrub could earn a million f'ing dollars, but Kalinin's another low risk, possibly (and in the very loosest sense of possibly) medium reward player. He compares unfavorably with Andrei Zyuzin. And he probably goes back to Russia anyway.

Backup Goalies

This blog refuses to go in depth into backup goalies for the Calgary Flames. It suffices to say that there are many available, and almost all of them are better than Curtis McElhinney, and that hopefully for Flames fans Sutter picks a good one.

Conclusions: The Flames do not have any young players who are crying out for raises - this makes their salary cap situation somewhat favorable, despite the giant load that is Cory Sarich and Jim Vandermeer and Miikka Kiprusoff. They have room for at least one luxury signing, and with some creative cap managment can get away with another decent one. Once again they should be battling in the overrated Northwest Division for the division title - if Sutter can pull the strings right, it could be a team that goes far.


  1. Definitely enjoying this blog, Tri. Keep up the good work. As a here-and-there poster on the NJDevs board, I've always found your opinions to be rational, non-reactionary, and more probable/realistic than most others. You keep writing, I'll keep reading. -bekim

  2. hey, thanks, hope you keep reading.


  3. Why do you say the Northwest is overrated?