March 8 News and Notes

 

With the Olympics put to bed, the NHL got back to business last week, and the round-up returns as well. This week, the Flames make a few moves, then manage a couple of wins, Abbotsford's husk of a lineup prepares for some national TV exposure, and Matt Cooke does what Matt Cooke does.

 

Flames:

First, overdue congratulations to Jarome Iginla for winning the second gold medal of his career. His nice board play and pass to Crosby for the winner will be on highlight reels for ever. As well, congrats to the two Finns, and good on Kipper for bouncing back after that dreadful exhibition versus the Americans. He and Niklas Hagman both had pretty good Games in the big scheme of things.

I've said my piece about the deals that the team made on Wednesday, so, like the team, I'm moving on. The Flames got back to NHL competition after the deadline had passed, and after an indifferent outing versus the Wild, the club managed a couple of wins in which actual multiples of goals occurred. The handiwork of the new additions to the roster has been rather mixed. Vesa Toskala's win yesterday had a whiff of the fortunate about it, and Steve Staios has been on the bad side of the numbers in his first two outings.

Nevertheless,  the Flames were likely due for a couple of wins where they didn't overrun a team. I suspect that tomorrow's match with the Red Wings might be a pretty good measure of the new forward alignments and whether the revamped D is good enough to hang with a solid team. The Flames haven't played a team above them in the Western Conference standings since the Phaneuf trade, and I still consider those clubs a truer test than the two decent Eastern teams they've faced.

Kipper 5 v 5: DAL 1-14, ANA 1-25, MIN 4-21, NJ 2-20. Season total 82-1201, SV .932. There were hints that Kiprusoff  had mentioned that he was feeling the effects of a difficult schedule, as Jean Lefebvre pointed out yesterday at Flames Nation. The goaltending situation is a tricky bit of business for Brent Sutter to manage. His instinct, as any sane person's would be, is very likely to ride Kipper until the post-season chances of the team are settled. That said, if his lead guy is running out of gas, that bodes ill for the team, so hopefully the club can get three or four more outings from Toskala where they get a decent result.  

 

Not-yet-Flames:

The Heat used their terrific Olympic road trip to vault themselves into a playoff spot, sitting third in the division after garnering three points over the weekend against the Worcester Sharks. The Heat have given David Shantz a look in net the last few weeks, as Leland Irving languishes on the Island. The Flames don't really need a number one goalie today, but Irving's step back this season must have the organization questioning the future after Kipper moves on, no matter how cheap goalies are to acquire at the moment.

One interesting bit of news involving the Flames' AHL affiliate was the announcement during the Olympics that they would feature in CBC's Salute the Troops coverage on March 21st. The Heat will face the Toronto Marlies at 11 AM MT on the national network. It's a shame that the team is as beat up as they are, with seven regulars injured, including Matt Pelech and John Negrin. Darryl Sutter noted in his post-deadline comments that Pelech was done for the year and Negrin was out until mid-April. Unfortunate, really. The two were progressing to the point where a roster spot next year was within reach, but injuries to young players can derail careers, even when they don't appear that serious on the face of it.

Derek Zona was kind enough to alert me last week of a Hockey's Futures review article on Finnish goalie prospects, with the Flames' Joni Ortio featuring. The piece notes that he may well spend next season in Speedy Creek, and unless he can vault into a full time job in the SM-Liiga, that's likely a good spot for him to continue his development. As a potential Flame, he might as well begin getting used to lengthy travel regimens as soon as possible.

It's also a good time for a brief note on how some of the club's junior prospects on this side of the pond are progressing. Ryan Howse is getting some love for his season's work in Chilliwack, as he's been a major contributor to the Bruins' capture of a play-off spot. Unless Chilliwack can spring a significant upset in the first round, his year might well finish with the nearby Heat. His fellow WHLer Mitch Wahl has moved into the league's upper echelon with an excellent second half, and with Spokane fighting for home ice in the opening round, his appearance in the AHL might be delayed until April or next September. Lance Bouma's Vancouver Giants are second in the Western Conference, which means his move down the Trans-Canada also might have to wait for a summer. Out east, Greg Nemisz and T.J. Brodie are also playing well at the OHL level, with Windsor likely to win their conference, and Barrie ending as runaway winners in the Eastern Conference, as well as finishing first overall. Barring significant upsets in the OHL playoffs, they'll also have to wait until September to make their pro debuts.

 

Elsewhere:

The furor over head shots got a bit of fresh fuel yesterday with Matt Cooke's hit on the Bruins' Marc Savard. The league's GMs are currently slumming it in Boca, with the head shot topic at the forefront of the agenda. Greg Wyshynski at Puck Daddy  suggests an incrementalist approach banning blind side hits to the head. If you've been about the Twitter-verse this afternoon, you'll know there's been a fair bit of back and forth on the matter. Tim Campbell of the Winnipeg Free Press also produced a series of articles on the subject over the last few days that are worth a look.

 

As for my take on the matter, I'll start with what I said after the Phaneuf hit on Kyle Okposo this fall;

 

When I see what happened Thursday, I'm always mindful of the effect that brain injuries, even of the "mild" variety, can have on someone. If that makes me insufficiently bloodthirsty, so be it. It's simply that a case of unfortunate life experience has made me unwilling to immediately join the hallelujah chorus.

 

 

I don't feel any differently today than I did when I wrote that last September. At some point the league and players will have to decide if they're genuinely interested in workplace safety. That means behavior modification from the players, along with rule, equipment and building changes, the lot of it. From a financial and competitive POV, if the Bruins miss the playoffs, Savard's absence may well have indirectly cost the team a few million dollars of potential revenue. I suspect that there's enough momentum at this point to cause some sort of modification of the rules, and we'll see if Wysh's idea is a reflection of the league's zeitgeist.

 

The afterglow of the Olympics has more than a few folks wondering why the league hasn't chosen to embrace a return trip to Sochi in 2014. The HNIC Hotstove covered this, and Stephen Brunt openly asks if the league needs a different commissioner to change the mindset of the owners. I understand the concept of the "great man" theory, having spent my twenties engaged in the leisurely pursuit of a B.A., but Gary Bettman is, at the core of it, an employee. When the league's owners decide the Olympics are an opportunity they want to pursue rather than a burden, Gary Bettman will be charged with making some sort of deal, and he'll do so. His "feelings" about the matter are nothing more than the carefully distilled opinions of his bosses, the end.

 

Actual Hockey-related activities:

One of the clubs chasing the Flames and Red Wings is Dallas, but the Stars seem to be falling off the pace. They're the only team in the West with a streak of more than two games, and it's a three gamer of the losing variety. As I type this, they're losing 1-0 in D.C., and despite Marc Crawford's calm tone, his team is in tough. Kari Lehtonen looked about as one might expect a rusty goalie to look over the weekend, surrending a six-spot to the Penguins, and there's beginning to be some separation between Dallas and the clubs they need to catch. I wonder if they might not be thinking overhaul this summer. They have a nice group of young forwards, but that D and goaltending group isn't nearly good enough.

 

The Coyotes were, IMO, the big winners at the deadline, with the addition of Wojtek Wolski a significant step taken in improving the club. He was the best player acquired by any team Wednesday, and beyond this season's improbable run will provide another good forward to add to players like Martin Hanzal for the future. Peter Mueller may well find his form in Colorado, but it seems to me like the Avalanche simply bailed out on a guy headed for RFA status instead of paying him. For Wolski's part, he seems quite content in the desert, and scoring late to beat his old club right after the deadline was a very nice way to ingratiate himself. As I said in comments when the first rumblings of this deal first came down, he, Paul Stastny and Craig Anderson were the only players on the Avalanche that didn't look like they were doing it with mirrors. 

 

That's all for this week. As always, if there's anything that's caught your eye, the comments are open.

 

 

 

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