Looking Forward: Steps to Success
2002-03Recipe for Success
April 16th, 2002
The closer they get the more they seem to fall behind.
While the Flames improved their year over year point total this season, the bar to qualify for the playoffs in the NHL's Western Conference advanced even further beyond their outstretched grasp.
Last year it took 90 points to qualify for the playoffs and this season it would have taken 94. What's next, 100 points?
If so, the Flames will be hard pressed to make it no matter what they might do this summer.
But, as Lyle Lovett says, "you can only try. You have to try."
So here are some suggestions, without bothering with the most obvious of all - signing Jarome Iginla. Strangely, the five notations below could have just as easily been written last summer as well.
1) Improved defensive play
For the third summer running we will urge the Flames to cut down on their goals against, reasoning it is far cheaper to pull 40 goals off the defensive side of the equation than it is to find people to score the same number at the opposite end of the ice. This was amply demonstrated last winter when the Colorado Avalanche lost Peter Forsberg and others to injury, yet an even greater attention to defensive detail paved the way to another solid season. The classic comparable for the Flames would be the Edmonton Oilers. Prognostications of offensive gloom for the Oil last summer proved particularly prophetic, with their goals scored dropping a spectacular 38 in the absence of Doug Weight. But the Oil reinvented themselves and finished second to Colorado in goals against, giving up 40 fewer goals in the process and, finished 10 games over .500 as a result. In an age when scoring totals are at their lowest in decades, it is merely common sense that those teams faring well defensively are more likely to succeed than those which don't.
2) Improved PK
Normally, and quite logically, we would lay this at the feet of coaching but the Flames have been among the league bottom-feeders in PK under three different coaches. If the PK is only about hard work as many bench bosses claim and the Flames are polluted with hard working grinders it remains inexplicable how this team could be this awful for this many years under so many different coaches. So whatever the answer is for fixing the 27th ranked PK in the NHL, GM Craig Button and coach Greg Gilbert need to find it. More than any other factor last season, the inability to kill penalties in a timely fashion destroyed this team.
3) Take fewer penalties
As a recipe for group suicide you could probably think of no other strategy so complete as having one of the top three penalized teams in the league also being ranked 27th on the penalty kill. There's aggressive and then there is sheer idiocy. If you can't kill penalties, don't take them. Particularly the kind that are the result of laziness or retaliation. Are they tough or just stupid?
4) Build a second scoring line
No bulletin here since that was the same call to arms from last summer. Realistically, it figures the Flames will look at Chuck Kobasew/Oleg Saprykin as a potential combination on right wing while examining the acquisition of a winger via a trade or free agency (Geoff Sanderson?). It would also not be a huge surprise to see the Flames deal their number one draft pick in a combination with Marc Savard or a defenceman to get the help they need. Savard may still survive the purge since there is no one else quite like him talent wise to take his place within the organization. But his defensive liabilities make him a significant question mark.
5) Third and Fourth Line Accountability
At the risk of worshiping at the Oiler alter even further, it should be noted as well that the difference between Edmonton's third and fourth lines versus that of Calgary was a wide one. In short, Edmonton may not have scored a lot of goals this year but their third and fourth lines at least played their opponents even or better most of the time. Such cannot be said of the Flames where most of the lower tier guys were on the minus side of the equation. The Flames need to build more depth throughout the organization to pressure the people already here into not feeling particularly comfortable with their jobs. Or to push them lower in the organization altogether and replace them with players more capable of playing their roles