October 6th, 2011 | Posted in Commentary
By: D'Arcy McGrath
I can’t put it off any longer, it’s prediction time.
The puck is to be dropped in three locals tonight, two European locals tomorrow night and at the Saddledome on Saturday. Every major hockey or sports publication or online portal has ventured into the fray and put down their bullet list of playoff clubs in the NHL for the 2011-12 season.
It’s a frustrating time of year as a hockey fan is made to wade through a lot of “expert” opinions that honestly don’t pass the smell test of the average three Dome beer deep fan. They don’t do the leg work, they don’t understand individual team dynamics, and clearly their producers and/or editors suffer the same fate.
The fact that the Calgary Flames are picked to miss the playoffs by 95% of those offering opinions is hardly a surprising fact. They’ve missed the playoffs each of the past two seasons, and haven’t done any glitzy home renos this summer to suggest anything will be different.
Calling the Flames in 10th is fine. Fine and safe. They finished 10th last year afterall so it’s hardly a step out to say a team that hasn’t changed much will do much differently.
What gets under my skin though is when the pundit doesn’t have a clue why they finished last year. “The Flames will miss the playoffs because behind the ailing Jarome Iginla there is nobody else there to score goals”. Is that an actual quote? No it isn’t, but it’s pretty representative of many things I’ve seen and read in the past month and it’s annoying. They team can score, they can’t prevent. Make a case that losing Robyn Regehr will make that worse and I’ll listen in.
But get it right dammit.
I’ve never been a fan of picking and choosing stats that fit my argument and then completely ignoring the numbers that fly in the face of a theory.
With that said the Flames sucked in the first half and were great in the second half. They can’t escape either of those facts. I won’t pretend the second half means the team is great and all will be well this season, nor will I jump into the camp that their record against inferior teams in the second half means they can only beat cruddy teams and will get mopped up against the elite.
If the Flames played more of their games against the elite when they were playing much better hockey they may have had a better record against those clubs. Or perhaps not. We won’t and will never know.
It’s almost like that old argument … “the Flames wouldn’t win if Kiprusoff wasn’t in net”. Well he is in the net as he’s a member of the hockey team so the argument is silly. Just as October games count, games against Minnesota count, … they all count.
If pushed I’d say I don’t believe either version of the Flames. They’re not as bad as they started last year; nor are they as good as they finished. The club that started the season found a way to lose a statistically improbable number of one goal games, and was clearly still adjusting to the coaching of Brent Sutter. The second half of the season had that adjustment seemingly in the rear view window so the wins poured in, however likely against teams that were looking at Calgary as an easy touch.
Most Interesting Stat …
When the dust settled the Flames were +13 in goal differential in the NHL, by far the best of the non-playoff team group, and better than four playoff teams. That’s a fact that could also prove meaningless or perhaps it suggests that a more battle tested version of this team is set to take advantage of more of those close game points up for grabs and maybe be in the mix when the dust settles.
With all that said … here are some quick predictions and observations for the 2011-12 season.
- The Flames get career years from many players as 11 guys are set to go to unrestricted free agency.
- A minor injury to Miikka Kiprusoff in December results in 30 starts for Henrik Karlsson this season (ramp up in injury relief, and less spot duty when Kiprusoff returns) and a way better balance
- Missing the preseason is the perfect tonic for Jarome Iginla’s slow start-itis
- Niklas Hagman scores 18 goals playing 75 games in Calgary silks.
- Mark Giordano makes his first all star appearance
- Lee Stepniak signs a 3 year deal in June to stay in Calgary (guy keeps talking about the crowd at the Saddledome, he wants to be here)
- Mikael Backlund misses 16 games but still manages 20 goals and 45 points.
- Chris Butler proves to be the perfect foil for Jay Bouwmeester as the two become one of the better duo’s in the NHL, propelling the latter to his first double digit goal season in Calgary
- Craig Hartsburg is a god-send to the Flames penalty killing group
- Brent Sutter is given a three year contract extension in January.
- Matt Stajan doesn’t turn it around and is playing in a different city by February
- The new glass system at the Saddledome results in twice the prolonged intermissions for repairs this season.
- The Roman Horak experiment only lasts three inconsequential games before he finds himself in Abbotsford
- Cory Sarich continues his path through Sami Salo like injury woes missing 35 games but giving the Flames a good look at some of their young defenders.
- Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla find the chemistry they take for granted elusive as they are broken up in November and only see spot duty together the rest of the way.
- The enigma of Rene Bourque continues in 2011-12 as he scores 24 times, but 15 of them coming in just two months.
- Tim Jackman, Cory Sarich, Tom Kostopoulos and Lance Bouma all feel the wrath of Brendan Shanahan over the course of the season.
- Calgary inexplicably loses the season series to Edmonton but ekes out an edge over the Canucks.
- The World Junior Championships in Alberta result in a dismal 1-4-1 six game road trip that puts their season in peril.
- Former Flame Daymond Langkow lights up the Flames for 5 points in the four games against his former teammates.
The Big One … I’m going to go against the grain and pick them in, in fact they finish 7th and it’s not all that tense down the stretch. Why? Well primarily I like to get in the way of a dogpile, but honestly I do think the team has bought into Brent Sutter’s system; and more importantly he finally has a staff to reinforce what he’s doing instead of looking the other way.
Vegas Picks – Take PIttsburgh 9/1, Buffalo 18/1 to win it all