September 12th, 2002
2002 Flames Positional
Coming up "Large"
|Large! Few players hold more importance in Calgary than Roman Turek
August represents the dog days of the hockey year.
The playoffs have been completed.
The NHL draft has come and gone.
agents have largely been
signed, rosters set, and
each team begins to look
ahead to training camp
full of enthusiasm and
August also marks the
end of Calgarypuck.com's
and a kick start into a
new season with our
first major feature of
present the final of a five part series that
looks at the Calgary
Flames team this year
(as it stands) position
We'll look at the position's strengths and weaknesses, look at changes from this year to last, and provide an organizational depth chart.
focus? The goaltenders. Can the tandem of Roman Turek and Jamie McLennan lead the Calgary Flames back to the playoffs?
St. Louis North
St. Louis North?
The Calgary Flames have completed their perfect set, the two bookends that held down the goaltending fort for the St. Louis Blues during the 1998-99 season.
Now the hard part ... repeating their Jennings Trophy victory of that very same season.
With Roman Turek and Jamie McLennan in the nets the Flames likely have the most sound goaltending tandem we've seen in Calgary since Rick Wamsley backed Mike Vernon to a Stanley Cup.
No Rick Tabaracci -Trevor Kidd blood feud.
No Fred Brathwaite being tossed to the back of a line for an aging, broken down goaltender set to take his job.
No hurt feelings, no confusion of roles, no mismatching of personalities.
The two stoppers have worked well together in the past, and both are very pleased to be in Cow Town.
Goaltending should be the least of Calgary's worries this season.
The Big Club:
One of the laziest stories overheard at office water coolers last season was the pet theory that Roman Turek shut it down last season after getting his big contract.
A closer inspection showed the Flames team defence crumbled to dust leaving Mike Vernon and Roman Turek pretty much on their own.
A combination of key injuries and missed assignments led to far too many gift wrapped scoring chances, shoving the goaltending tandem firmly between a rock and a hard place.
Without a better and more consistent commitment to team defence this season, the same story could easily unfold.
The most critical factor surrounding goaltenders in Calgary this winter will likely fall at the feet of head coach, Greg Gilbert. Last season the plan called for Mike Vernon starts against weaker clubs whenever possible. The theory went that a back up has a better chance to secure points against league doormats. It back fired. In the end the team surrendered far too many points to teams they should have beaten, leaving Roman Turek against top opposition with a high level of pressure to win.
Getting Jamie McLennan off to a good start may go a long way towards a successful season.
Roman Turek - For the first half of last season, Roman Turek owned the city of Calgary. He single handedly beat the Oilers on night one, then went on to add another shut out in his second start in Flames' colours. He was NHL player of the week to kick things off. For the Flames to win they need Turek, Jarome Iginla and Derek Morris to be on top of their perspective games, if one should fall ... so do the Flames.
Jamie McLennan - Jamie McLennan is very, very happy to be here. The size of his contract led to a full year assignment in the AHL last year, a tough step to take for a guy that had played in the show for four straight seasons. The Alberta native knows his role, and has worked with starter Roman Turek before, both factors that should lead to cohesion in the goalie to goalie relationship this season. Off the ice McLennan has been known as somewhat of a card, and a great team guy.
Levente Szuper - Should injury or faulty play rear its nasty head, look no further than Levente Szuper for a pinch-hit goaltender. Last year, when Roman Turek went down the Flames recalled a veteran, Kay Whitmore, with disastrous results. Should Szuper be recalled, don't be surprised when the goaltender acrobatically steals one for the NHL Flames. His unorthadox style may scare plenty a goalie coach, but it worked for Dom Hasek, didn't it?
On the Farm:
The Saint John tandem will be made up of Levente Szuper and Danny Sabourin, though 20 year old Brent Krahn is a possibility.
Szuper will handle the majority of the starts, as Sabourin will be making the move from the ECHL for his first full season.
Organizational Grade: (B+) Goaltending is the only "complete" position within the Calgary Flames. The position doesn't lack the high-end depth of the forward group, nor the inconsistency and failure to live up to potential of the defenders. On paper, on the ice, goaltending will be the least of the Calgary Flames worries this season. Looking down the road it appears two of the team's top prospects; Andrei Medvedev and Brent Krahn, have a tough road ahead, but sleeper pick Levente Szuper is well on his way.
Diamond to Surprise?
One of the most interesting training camp developments of 2002 could be the battle between the crease that's expected to shake down.
As it appears right now, everything seems to be set in stone. Roman Turek is the number one goalie, followed by the newly acquired Jamie McLennan. Levente Szuper is expected to land the starter's role in Saint John with Dany Sabourin backing him up. Brent Krahn will play an overage year with the Hitmen and Medvedev is back in Russia. And then there's Peter Aubry.
Who is Peter Aubry, you ask? He played last season with Mercyhurst in NCAA Division III and was by far the league's best goaltender. He was named to the All-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Hockey League First Team for the second season in a row—the first goaltender in league history to claim that distinction. His goals-against average was 1.85 with a .938 save percentage. His win-loss record was also very impressive at 17-2-2. He also had three shutouts and was named MAAC goaltender-of-the-week six times throughout the season. Standing tall at 6-foot-4, he also covers a lot of the net.
In camp on a tryout basis, if given the opportunity he could turn out to be a diamond in the rough. Granted, the step up from Division III to professional hockey is a big one but he'll definitely be someone worth keeping an eye on as camp progresses.
The rest of the goaltenders will be trying exceptionally hard to ensure they don't slip down the depth chart. As Jamie McLennan experienced firsthand last year, nothing is ever really set in stone. He lost his job in training camp to perennial minor leaguer Dwayne Roloson and ended up spending the entire year in Houston of the American Hockey League. If Szuper has an outstanding camp he just might force the Flames' coaching staff to make some difficult decisions—especially if Brent Krahn also plays well and shows he's ready for Saint John. He'll have to play incredibly well, though, considering he didn't even allow a goal in the preseason last year and was demoted.
But all that aside, everyone knows the real key to the Flames' success in 2002-03 is Roman Turek. It likely wasn't a coincidence that the instant Turek fell back down to earth from the Vezina-calibre numbers he posted in the first 19 games of the season, the team fell back down with him. Turek doesn't have to be quite that good in order for the Flames to make the playoffs but he needs to be pretty darn close. From game 20 until about 70 Mike Vernon actually had better overall numbers than Turek—albeit while playing much fewer games. One theory for the drop-off in Turek's play was the added pressure he put on himself upon signing his contract. Another theory was that he suffered a nagging injury that hindered his ability. The reality is likely neither of those but simply that the team in front of him collapsed.
Provided the Flames play responsible defensively, Turek and McLennan should provide them with a strong goaltending tandem. If Calgary takes care of their own end, goaltending is good enough that it will in all likelihood take care of itself.
Organizational Grade: B- Roman Turek continues to give the Flames a legitimate number one goaltender but still falls below that elite class. Jamie McLennan should provide some stability to the position, provided the Flames give him ample support offensively.
Got My Back?
The key to Calgary's goaltending this year might not be the obvious 65 starts pulled down by capable and mature number one starter Roman Turek, but rather how newly acquired Jamie McLennan handles the backup role.
Generating more than two wins out of those other 17 starts would be all McLennan would need to do to raise the bar over the controversy filled season turned in by his predecessor, veteran Mike Vernon.
In short, he will be asked to be everything that Vernon wasn't.
Vernon's early season woes might have been traced to the distraction of serious illnesses impacting his son and mother, the human element colouring his game. But the NHL is a cruel, bottom line business at times and Vernon's poor play, whatever the source, would eventually play a role in Turek's season as well, forcing coach Greg Gilbert to go with the reliable hand until exhaustion became a factor.
And then there was the disruptive controversy of Vernon's trip to the minors in the middle of a critical road-trip late in the season, a trip the Flames ended up gassing and pretty much ensured the demise of their playoff hopes.
McLennan will be counted on to be happy in his role, to be consistent in his effort from game one to game 82, and should Turek go down, to give the team 15 or so quality starts they might need.
In Turek the Flames have probably their most capable number one netminder since . . . . . . well, since Vernon's previous stint in Calgary which ended almost a decade ago, after the 1993-94 season.
Turek is a classic NHL goaltender, stopping the shots he can see and a few more on top of that as a bonus, but also dependent on his defence to provide him with clear lanes of sight while helping him limit second and third opportunities.
His enormous size can only be construed as an added advantage in filling the net.
Turek had a phenomenal start last year but its also fair to say the team in front of him did as well. As the Flames overall game began to flounder in the middle days of November onward, the point blank opportunities coming Turek's way began to pile up. As a consequence, his save percentage came down from the lofty .930 level to .906 and his goals against average began to climb.
Turek is classic in that way as well. He's a high quality NHL starter but in the end, no better than the defence being played in front of him.
The success or failure of his season, therefore, will be closely tied to the necessary improvements needed from Calgary's young defence core.
You could probably count on one hand the number of poor games Turek had in his 69 appearances last year and it's a given he'll play three of every four games, if not more.
Its what happens in those other one in four starts handled by McLennan which might tilt the balance between a Calgary playoff appearance or a seventh consecutive post-season on the sidelines.
Levente Szuper has probably taken over the third spot on the depth chart, now the clear number one starter in Saint John. A fourth round pick in the 2000 draft, Szuper has been something of a surprise.
Brent Krahn is at a decisive moment in his still young career. Injury plagued for two seasons, Krahn will likely play as an over-ager in the WHL with the Hitmen, hoping to finally turn in a full season so he can move on to the professional level with some momentum behind him.
Few doubt that enigmatic Russian Andrei Medvedev has the potential to be a home run for the Flames. His oft-mentioned flaky personality needn't be a liability as many goaltenders share similar quirks between the ears. But his penchant for being overweight and indifferent could eventually be his downfall. He's a pure roll of the dice.
Dany Sabourin has already been passed by Szuper and will probably be passed by Krahn and/or Medvedev as well. A fairly prototypical minor league netminder.
Organizational Grade: B - The duo of Turek and McLennan should give the Flames consistent, quality netminding all year. It's up to the Flames, particularly their young defence core, to make the most of it through clearing rebounds in a timely manner, limiting second and third chances and generally providing all the help they didn't from mid-November onward last year.