Sunday, May 02, 2010

Pool Outlook for Calgary

What happens when a team has such high expectations going into a season and sputters so bad from a lead in their division to falling out of the playoffs completely?  I'm not sure either, but I have a feeling that we'll find out this Summer.  If there was one indication early on in their post-season, it was that the management group of the Flames is accountable only to themselves, since their books are in pretty good shape and look promising for at least another year.  The winds of change may only be rumours for now, but maybe in looking at this club we'll see something interesting for 2011.

Starting with the team's best player in the year, Miikka Kiprusoff did have a dicey year as the number one guy for the Flames, having a team struggle to win games in front of him, while making some incredible stops all season long.  Kiprusoff finished the year with a 35-28-10 record with 4 shutouts for 78 points this year in the pool, which ranked him 28th in pool scoring and 10th among all goalies.   Kiprusoff is the kind of goalie that will pick up a lot of wins on the number of games he appears in for the Flames, not to mention the number of games he's able to steal in any given year. 

There was some significant scoring issues with the Flames, especially later on in the season and at home in general.  Jarome Iginla had himself an off-season, scoring only 32 goals and 37 assists in all 82 games, which is down in production and in the rankings.  Iginla was a top 10 forward in the last few years, but dropped down to 30th in the forward ranks in the league.  Next on the list of scoring forwards, it was Rene Bourque, who made an impact with 27 goals and 31 assists, moving himself up the ranks significantly.  The Flames did a lot of re-shaping to their forward ranks beyond Iginla, especially in that deal that saw Dion Phaneuf go to Toronto, the Flames picked up some emerging Maple Leafs.  Matt Stajan and Niklas Hagman for scoring purposes, both getting lots of minutes in Toronto and Calgary, which meant their numbers went up with them.  Curtis Glencross and Daymond Langkow both suffered losses in their production and have question marks about them going forward.

Also in that Phaneuf deal, the Flames picked up a new number one defenseman in Ian White, who led all Flames blueliners in points in the season.  White finished with 38 points in an NHL-best 83 games in the season.   The Flames had a plus season from Marc Giordano, who finished 30 points in 82 games, but a big minus season from Jay Bouwmeester, who only finished with 29 points in 82 games.  In 2009, Bouwmeester was ranked 22nd among all defensemen, but fell down to 54th in defense scoring in 2010.  It might not look like a massive drop, but the expectations I believe were for Bouwmeester to surpass 22nd and make good on his new deal worth $6.68 million per year against the cap.

Passed Kiprusoff in the Calgary net, there wasn't a great deal to chat about.  In the first half of the season, Curtis McElhinney kept his end of the bench warm, while the second half it belonged to Vesa Toskala, who was acquired from the Ducks for McElhinney around the trade deadline.  McElhinney won 3 games in 10 appearances for the Flames, while Toskala won 2 in 6 appearances.  There really isn't a lot to say about the back-up job in Calgary... unless your hockey pool has points for minutes spent watching the number one goalie.

2011 Season Outlook
For a non-playoff team going into the Summer, the Flames don't have a lot of room for change, having already locked up a few of their more key players in 2010 and having the bulk of their spots already taken up.  Unfortunately, if there isn't much change, there isn't any new hooks to hang some hope from for the playoffs in 2011, not to say it isn't possible, it just weighs down more as a burden than lift as a hope.  The Flames could just as easily take the players they have signed on at the moment and hope that chemistry comes together and all the current pieces work a little bit easier.

Jarome IginlaMarc GiordanoMiikka Kiprusoff
Rene BourqueJay Bouwmeester
Matt StajanRobyn Regehr
Niklas HagmanSteve Staios
Daymond LangkowAdam Pardy
Curtis GlencrossCory Sarich
Nigel Dawes
Ales Kotalik
David Moss
Mikael Backlund

Going into the silly season, the Flames already have 17 players on their list and they all have a cap value of approximately of $53.7 million, which only leaves about $4 million for six more players.  That's not pleasant math to work out, but in theory, the 23-man roster doesn't actually have to be full all year long.  The need for a seventh defenseman isn't really there, but look who is missing, and the Flames only really need a couple more depth forwards and a back-up goalie right now.

Unrestricted free agency will likely calm some nerves, because there is no absolute need to re-sign some of the players that are eligible for unrestricted free agency, especially if they are looking for over $1 million a piece and/or a raise from their last deal.  Among those heading for free agency in July include, Vesa Toskala, Eric Nystrom, Christopher Higgins, Craig Conroy, Jamal Mayers and Brian McGrattan.  I would have to think that Nystrom and Higgins might get some sort of offer, but I could just as easily see them all walk come July 1st.

Restricted free agency is a big benefit to the club in most instances, but with Ian White awaiting a new deal, he might be the straw that breaks the camel's back and starts blowing the winds of change on the blueline.  White proved to be a valuable member of the Flames after his arrival and should get some special consideration.  There will be a few other restricted free agents this year, but I'm not counting on any to be as big as White.

The former draft picks of the Flames are slowly making their way into the line-up, but the process may have to speed up if the team wants to use some entry-level deals to fill some gaps or add some offense.  I think that the most likely candidate for a long look at camp in the Flames system would have to be Greg Nemisz, who will be 20 at camp.  Nemisz is a big-bodied kid that has seen some good offensive flashes with the Windsor Spitfires and could find a way onto a solid line, especially as a centre.  The Flames are building some good depth on the blueline, but with six already signed on, I don't believe that there will be a need to look at any new faces, until more than enough are traded away or contracts expire. 

Another reason why the Flames will be in need of some faster help this coming year is that they do not have any picks in the 1st round of the Draft in June, which will likely leave a hole in their development cycle.  The Flames haven't been known as a good drafting team, but a hole in and around the lottery picks is a big one to fill these days.  The Phoenix Coyotes have their pick, thanks to the Olli Jokinen deal

What I said at this time last year: "The Flames are in a sort of limbo as to which direction they are going to take in the off-season. The core has a good chance of staying together, while supporting players like Cammalleri and Bertuzzi will likely depart. The rumour mill continues to churn about possible deals for the Entry Draft. Nevertheless, if you're looking for some solid pool picks, you can easily look to the Flames for a few forwards, a couple defensemen and a workhorse of a goalie. Keep a close eye on how they fill those extra holes, they might get some residual scoring."

Looking at last year's statement, I can see that I was right about Cammalleri and Bertuzzi leaving, but that one was really just common sense, especially with the salary cap issues the team had last season. A lot of the changes that were made in 2010 didn't come until it was too late and residual scoring really didn't make it's way into the pool until those players were not available for the Draft.  The limbo that the Flames were in at the beginning of the off-season, really transcended the remainder of the year and it was that sort of indifference that cost the playoffs for the Flames and now they have to sleep in the bed they've made now.

For the 2011 season, things are not necessarily looking up.  The team has some necessary holes to fill on this team, but they might not have the room to do it in efficiently or in a manner that band-aids some problems the team had at the end of the season.  Darryl Sutter signed on a couple players already during the year, which immediately takes away from cap flexibility in the Summer and may have a lasting impact on how the team is built going forward.  With the way that cap-onomics are playing out these days, Sutter may have a hard time dealing some of his current assets in order to be flexible for others.  Take what you know to be good in your hockey pool next season, but don't count on miracles just yet.

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