Going into the season I would never had guessed that I would have to be writing the Flames season wrap up until at least after the 1st round of the playoffs, unless there had been horrible injuries to a few key players on this team. Amazingly Calgary was healthy this year for the most part and could not use injuries as an excuse to what was supposed to be a team that would fight tooth and nail with the Canucks for the division title and at worst finish in the top six. So what went wrong? I’ve tried to break it down into digestible chunks to get a view of the season as a whole.
Lets start with the only mostly bright spot for the Calgary Flames and that was goaltending. I’ll be the first to admit I was on the trade Miikka bandwagon at the start of the year, especially after what I considered to be him bailing on a save in game 1 in OT against the Hawks last year. Boy was I wrong! Miikka Kiprusoff was the Flames MVP without any question. Without his spectacular goaltending this year the Flames would likely have been a bottom 5 team in the league! The only downside was the lack of backup goaltending that Curtis Mcelhinney provided. He may be a wonderful practice goaltender but Calgary just couldn’t rely on him to win games and ended up trading him to Anaheim getting Vesa Toskala to fill the void for the remainder of the season, and to his credit Vesa gave the Flames some confidence in their backup goaltender.
Overall grade for the goaltenders: A – Miikka Kiprusoff was the only high salary player that truly earned his money all year. 35 wins a 2.31 GAA and .920 sv% is actually Vezina worthy on a team that made the payoffs.
Taking a look at the Flames defense core this year you actually have to say for the most part they delivered. Lets go by salary, after all this is a cap league! Jay Bouwmeester came to Calgary with the thought he would be the final piece to the Flames big 4 on the blue line. I’m mixed on Bouwmeester myself. He is a better defender than I thought he was and he makes an excellent 1st pass. He was clearly hurt by the system in Calgary that really did not allow the defense to jump into the rush. Even with that said 3 goals and 26 assists with a -4 is not good enough for a $6.7M cap hit.
The player that was benefited the most by the Dion Phaneuf trade was none other than Robyn Regher. Robyn was stuck without a reliable partner in the first half of the season while being matched up against every teams first line. With that said Robyn did the job he is paid to do. 2 goals and 15 assists is fine but he was +2 and that is with a lot of help from Ian White. Robyn makes $4M per year which is acceptable for a top shut down defenseman and my choice for the captain of the Flames. More on that later.
Which brings me to Ian White. Otherwise known as the only reason Darryl Sutter was not lynched for the Dion Phaneuf trade! Ian White had a very good first half of the year in Toronto, but there were questions about how good he truly was. And let me say he stepped up and filled a big pair of shoes replacing Dion Phaneuf and found instant chemistry with Robyn Regher. Ian White’s cap hit was $850K this year and is a RFA and will get a good raise from the Flames. He totaled 13 goals and 25 assists and ended the year at +8. He also solidified Robyn Regher and that can not be overstated!
The other extremely bright spot on the Flames blue line was none other than Mark Giordano. $900K cap hit and just chipped in 11 goals and 19 assists on the year, and you can add that with a +17! He also adds excellent play in his own zone and plays with a physical edge. If you have your head down near Giordano he is going to blow you up! I can’t speak highly enough of what he brings to the rink, and in my opinion was the Flames best player other than Miikka Kiprusoff this year.
Now it gets ugly. Cory Sarich and Steve Staios combine for a $6.3M cap hit, to provide “defensive stability” Sarich was a +4 on year but has no offensive upside, despite the grit he truly does have. He is a victim of his cap number of $3.6M which adds up to $600,000 per point! Steve Staios was brought in at the trade deadline because the coaching staff had lost faith in Adam Pardy. Steve’s -27 is a little deceiving as he did play on a terrible Oilers team most of the year, however he is very similar to Cory Sarich in that while he is a gritty defender his $2.7M cap hit can not be justified in today’s NHL. I think Staios played as well as he could in his time in Calgary but doesn’t provide anything that is not already in the system. That takes us to Adam Pardy who found himself on the outside looking in after the trade deadline. At $700K his 7 points on the 3rd defense pair is acceptable. But I do not know what his future holds in Calgary.
Overall grade for the defense core: B – Offensively the group could have been a top group in the league has Bouwmeester lived up to his traditional stats. Defensively this is still a very good group that I feel confident in moving ahead. The biggest problem is there is too much cap space invested in the lower end defenders.
Now to talk about the offense and here is where it gets ugly. The Calgary Flames scored 204 goals this season. Would you care to guess where that ranked the team? DEAD LAST! If you were to tell me the Flames would have finished last in the NHL in scoring going into this season I would have said you were nuts. Now I didn’t think they would finish much higher than middle of the pack, but better than this. Point blank the Flames score 30 more goals this year they would have been fighting the Canucks for the division. 46 times this season Calgary failed to score more than 2 goals in a game. You just can’t win like that. It is nothing short of a miracle that they were in the playoff race to the end of the season.
Again I’m going to start with the positives which to be honest weren’t that many but there were a few bright spots. Lets start with the 4th line of the Flames or the guys that spent most of their time on the 4th unit. Curtis Glencross, Eric Nystrom, Jamal Mayers, Brian McGrattan, Nigel Dawes, and Brett Sutter all did a fine job and gave the Flames the ability to roll four lines. I don’t suspect that Mayers or McGrattan will be back next season, and they deserve a ton of credit for the time they put in here!
Mikael Backlund showed that he is ready to play in the NHL. I do see him having a future as a 30 goal scorer and potentially a 70 point player. But I was most impressed with his hustle and commitment to playing at both ends of the ice. The other bright spot was Rene Bourque who has proven himself as a player that can get you 25-30 goals and was rewarded with a 6 year $20M contract which is a reasonable cap hit for his production. Bourque also plays with an edge and have tried to lead by example.
I honestly believe it is too early to pass judgment on Matt Stajan and Niklas Hagman. Matt Stajan was put in a tough spot as the next center to be sucked into the black hole of mediocrity that is having to center Jarome Iginla. Stajan still managed to put up 57 points this season and is signed for the next four years at $3.5M a season which in all honesty is not an unreasonable cap hit for a 2nd line center that can get you 60 points. Niklas Hagman has shown me he has the ability to get to the areas he needs to to score in the NHL. He did end up with 25 goals this year and has shown through his career that he can be relied on for 20-25 goals with an upside of 30 goals. His $3M cap hit is reasonable for a LW with those numbers, but both Stajan and Hagman need to show that they can put those numbers up in Calgary.
The two other new faces that came in up front were Christopher Higgins, and Ales Kotalik. They were dealt for Olli Jokinen, and Brandon Prust. Higgins came in and really showed that he could fit in a third line roll on this team before getting injured for the remainder of the season. However his $2.25M cap hit is too much for a third line role player. I wonder where he signs this off season as he is a UFA and I wonder for how much. At $1.5M he could play on my team any day. Bringing us to Ales Kotalik and I will say this. He has a ton of talent. If you watch him play you can see it, however talent does not lead to production in the NHL. His game is missing something and I think it could just be confidence around the net. He has two more years at $3M to figure it out as I don’t see him as being easily tradable as my only thought for him in Calgary would be to play on the left side of Jarome Iginla and Mikael Backlund. Leaving you a Stajan-Hagman-Bourque second line.
Lets get to the meat of the issue with the Flames forwards. Jarome Iginla no longer moves his feet and does not drive the net anymore. He still has a frightening shot and did pot 32 goals this year, but his leadership has come into question in the locker room, and the ugly fact that he is not worth a $7M cap hit tells me he needs to be moved while he still has value. Daymond Langkow was an unmitigated disaster this year putting up 37 points in 72 games this year. With Matt Stajan and the emergence of Mikael Backlund I don’t see any way that you can justify Langkow’s $4.5M cap hit. With two years left on that deal I don’t know if he can be moved.
Finally we have David Moss and Craig Conroy and insert 4th line player here. The Flames third line really was a disaster as well. 8 goals from David Moss was nothing short of an epic failure for someone expected to chip in 20+ goals. Craig Conroy has hit the end of the road in his career and I will not say anything bad about Connie and I hope he has a long career in the broadcast booth where he should be next year! While Craig Conroy did a good job in the face off circle his 3 goals was obviously not where it needed to be.
Overall grade for the offense: F – How can it be anything else when you finish last in the league in scoring?
Moving on to the coaching of this team. Brent Sutter and his staff of course have to take their share of responsibility for the results of this team but I don’t see them as the people to blame for the teams failures. The defensive system brought in did work for keeping the puck out of their net however my biggest complaint was the lack of willingness to activate the defense core to join the rush until late in the season. Four coaches in five years tell me that this team’s problems are deeper than a coach.
Overall grade for the coaching staff: C+ – Had it not been for an uninspired effort in the final game of the season the Flames would have finished in the top 5 in the NHL for defense. That can not be understated. Neither can 30th in the league in offense. I’d give the coaching staff one more year to adjust.
On to the most controversial position for the flames this year and that is the General Manager Darryl Sutter. The way I think you judge a GM is two fold. The players they bring in/send out and the cap management that comes with that. Let me also state that I do believe Olli Jokinen and more so Dion Phaneuf were causing problems in the Flames locker room. However The trade of Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust to the Rangers still makes no sense to me. Jokinen’s contract of $5.25M was about to come off the cap and could have been used in free agency. Instead Sutter saddled himself with Kotalik’s bad contract and unless Ales turns into a 25-30 goal man next year this trade is a complete disaster for the Flames.
Now Dion Phaneuf had to be moved. I do believe that he was a huge distraction for this team. Now was the return enough for Phaneuf, Sjostrom and, Aulie? Obviously most Flames fans question why at worst a 1st round pick did not come back in any trade for Phaneuf. But I look at this trade as Darryl Sutter showing his true colors as a real riverboat gambler. If Ian White can put up the same type of numbers as he did this year and perhaps get better, along with Stajan living up to his 60-70 point a season potential and Hagman finds a 30 goal form, then perhaps the Flames can end up looking good in this deal. If they don’t and Dion Phaneuf turns into a Norris trophy candidate in Toronto then he will look like a fool. I do however believe this was the best deal on the table, and if the Sutter’s believe that Phaneuf had to be moved then I can live with this deal. I don’t like it but I can understand and live with it.
Finally why bring in Steve Staios? You can’t tell me that you couldn’t find another defensman at the deadline who would be a UFA at years end. With Staios you gave up another draft pick and are stuck with his cap hit for another year. That is the most condemning part of the deal in my eyes.To me it shows that Darryl Sutter places too much value in experience, and does not accept the fact that the game is faster and team speed is crucial to winning.
Overall grade for the GM: D – I don’t for a second believe that Darryl Sutter is an idiot, however he has saddled the team with bad contracts and has traded away the teams draft picks while having very little to show for it in the team results, or prospects in the system. I do believe he has rolled the dice too much in his time in Calgary with high risk medium/high reward trades. The contracts to Langkow, Kotalik, Sarich, and Staios are almost unmovable and have crippled the teams ability to fix some problems in free agency.
This was a hard season for Flames fans, and the fans want their pound of flesh. Will they get it? I don’t know but I will have a look ahead to next season in the next couple weeks and what I would attempt to do if I were the GM of the Flames.
Take some time to enjoy the playoffs as a fan of the sport of hockey! I have a feeling I’ll be busy keeping you all up to date on the Flames during this off season.
Have a good one!
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About the Author
Written by Shane Hoopfer
Die hard Flames fan since 1980, and a closet baseball junkie. Also a big Dolphins, and Stampeders fan!