September 3rd, 2011 | Posted in Commentary
By: D'Arcy McGrath
After careful consideration of I have one part of the Flames roster completely figuered out; Miikka Kiprusoff will be the starting goaltender, and Henrik Karlsson will back him up. Put it down in ink!
Well that is unless Leland Irving really continues his development and makes a serious push this fall …. nevermind.
A careful look at the roster inherited by Jay Feaster officially (finally) early this off-season suggested the 2011-12 season was one of slowing the boat heading towards an iceberg rather than actually changing course all in one hard yank to the port.
The team has missed the playoffs two straight seasons, each of which featured a brilliant half and a dismal half season (that ads up to mediocrity by the way), but was saddled with far too many no trade contracts to do much about it.
The Flames were set to shed only one big contract; that of dependable blueliner Steve Staios, but still being saddled by the likes of underperformers like Nik Hagman and Ales Kotalik (really don’t want to talk about this guy anymore) and seriously injured but well paid Daymond Langkow.
The prospects for keeping more than one of Curtis Glencross, Alex Tanguay and Anton Babchuk seemed pretty slight.
So a good dose of credit has to be given to the man in how he managed to sign all three, plus bring back goaltender Karlsson and feel good story Brendan Morrison, all on the backs of finding homes for Kotalik and Langkow.
Were his moves all home runs? That’s up for debate. The Flames lost long time Flame Robyn Regehr in the process (plus a second round pick that Feaster swears was a side deal to get prospect Byron in the fold), but did manage a head scratcher in getting younger, healthier and cheaper in the Langkow for Lee Stepniak move.
Other less noticeable moves saw the Flames walk away from many a previous regime prospect (draft pick), completely reshaping the farm system. Additionally the Flames chose not to (or avoided given the contract he found in Dallas) not resign Adam Pardy and deadline acquisition bust Freddy Modin retired.
Feaster added the declining but serviceable veteran Scott Hannan on a very reasonable contract.
So how do these moves leave the Flames roster?
In a word; perplexing.
Last season when healthy the Flames rolled out two very good NHL units up front in Alex Tanguay, Brendan Morrison and Jarome Iginla, plus Olli Jokinen, Curtis Glencross and David Moss. All six are back but it seems doubtful either trio will be kept together. Morrison is coming to camp injured and unlikely to be game ready to center the first line, plus the Flames are justifiably hoping Mikael Backlund is ready to take the reigns and blossom into a true top six producer for the Flames. The other trio seems to be fractured due to the organization’s wish to move David Moss to the center ice position.
Those changes cause some serious trickle down issues that has this writer thinking the Flames aren’t done reshaping their roster.
With a Tanguay, Backlund, Iginla top line, and two thirds of a second line still in place, it seems likely Moss would be the third line center, but where do the wingers fill in? One of Rene Bourque or Lee Stepniak are likely to fill Moss’s place, with the runner up in this battle to fall in on the side of Moss on the third line. From there it gets pretty dicey.
A logical fourth line of Jackman, Kostopoulos and a rehabed Morrison makes some sense. Pugilist Letorneau-Leblond on a one way contract seems likely as the designated popcorn muncher, which leaves one spot on the Flames and a few players that we haven’t dealt with.
These players? Ex-Leafs Nik Hagman and Matt Stajan, both former top six players on this and other teams. It simply doesn’t work. If the Flames like David Moss up the middle they must be thinking of converting Matt Stajan to the wing. His presence in Gary Roberts high intensity training this summer is a good sign as you don’t show up for a beating like that in anything other than the best shape of your life. If he stays healthy and gets minutes he’s a likely player to bounce back into the 40-50 point area in my mind. If so the Flames have a solid top nine.
But what about Hagman? Do they move him before the season starts? Are they talking to teams still thinking cap floor? Do they think he can rebound and give them even more depth? Is he going to spend the season in the AHL?
And this says nothing of two other issues that have yet to be sorted out.
One, the Flames have a few prospects that showed they were ready to at very least have seasons split between the NHL and AHL in Greg Nemisz, Lance Bouma and recently acquired Paul Byron who they feel could crack the roster. There doesn’t appear to be any room. I hate to even say it because it’s such a long shot but a trio of junior players in blossoming Max Reinhart, first round pick Sven Baertchi, and goal scorer Ryan Howse could make noise as well.
Secondly, one can’t ignore the Brad Richards element this summer. It’s one thing to entertain the possibility of rumours like the Flames looking at Lecavalier one this week with intrigue, but in Richards there is little debate that the Flames were runner up in obtaining his services. That push came after the Flames had already signed their own player meaning he would have been an addition without subtraction forcing other deals.
That says they want a true number one center, and if they felt that on July 1st and 2nd it’s highly unlikely they just gave up the notion after coming up short.
Interesting to say the least.
The bluline is much easier to figuere out with a pretty clear cut top six in Jay Boumeester, Mark Giordano, Cory Sarich, Scott Hannan, Anton Babchuk and Chris Butler. None of these guys will be dislodged.
I think the Regehr move makes a heck of a lot of sense with the emergence of Giordano and the addition of Hannan. I was pleasantly surprised that they retained Babchuk and his powerplay presence for a reasonable rate. From everything I’ve read Butler is set to impress in a Flames jersey.
The battle for seven is likely to land to former Hitman Brett Carson (the good trade deadline addition), though he’ll see a push from Brendan Mikkelson, TJ Brodie and Chris Breen.
What does it mean?
I stopped saying “on paper” two seasons ago; I’m sick of it.
A paper conversation has the Flames looking very much like a home ice competitor in the West (top four), but the team just never seems to put it together for the majority of a 82 game schedule. There are just too many question marks to have any certainty for this season.
In my books it comes down to Miikka Kiprusoff (was his play strong or as bad as his stats?), Matt Stajan (can he bounce back to 50 point form?), Mikael Backlund (is he ready to bust out and help the captain?), Jay Bouwmeester (with Regehr gone is he ready to take on the shut down role? can he find his offence?) and Brent Sutter (does finally getting a staff that he picked get his message across? Is year three the charm to rid the team of inconsistency?)
Man I love September!