With 40 games in the bag, it's time to assess what we have on our hands here. Favorite? Underdog? Underachievers? Lovers? Fighters?
Some of our earlier intuitions have been confirmed through the first half while others have proven false. The club as it operated through the final portion of 2009 was at times wholly dominant and at others cannon fodder. Here, Robert Cleave and I will discuss the issues that have caught our eye and how we see them affecting the club's drive to make it past the first round in April. As always, feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments.
1.) Rene Bourque was probably the Flames best all around forward in the first half of the season. Do you agree? If so, who would you slot behind him as a first half MVP type (outside of Kipper, that is)?
Robert: Outside of Kiprusoff, probably Bouwmeester, simply because of the minutes he's had to log with Sarich on the shelf. One other thing that occasionally gets lost in the whole debate over a defenceman's value is their work on the PK. That's a place where a coach's choice can tell you what he really thinks of a player's defensive skill, and that's where Jay Bouwmeester is clearly ahead of Phaneuf in terms of performance. Brent Sutter's utilization of the two on the PK would suggest to me that he agrees with that analysis.
Kent: I'm going to go with Curtis Glencross, despite the lackluster counting stats. His underlying numbers (corsi, scoring chances) are stellar and his importance to the success of the third line (that is Conroy and Moss) has been revealed recently with their struggles in the wake of his promotion.
I would also like to throw in mentions for Daymond Langkow and Mark Giordano who have been consistently good since puck drop in October.
2.) Alternatively, who has been the biggest disappointment on the club?
Robert: You should have phrased this like the first question, as in -"outside of Jokinen, that is". In that spirit, I'd say David Moss. He doesn't look the same to me, although I think he's been a victim of not having Glencross at his side every night. I don't expect third-liners to do it alone. Iginla's also been slightly less in terms of possession than we'd all like, but I think the boss' insistence on pairing him with Jokinen was at the root of things. If the new lines hold and Joker gets off the pot as well, he can get out of the doghouse, too. I think the D have been pretty decent all around. People, myself included, are hard on Dion, and his contract is a clear over-pay, but "clear over-pay" doesn't equal "bad".
Kent: Aside from Jokinen, I've been fairly disappointed with Jarome Iginla. His run in October was mainly percentages and he's been bottom of the barrel by the metrics and by my eye far too many nights for a guy with his reputation and size of contract. Some of that is no doubt circusmstances, given he was playing against the big boys with Olli Jokinen many nights, but the fact that he often couldn't even battle up to respectable levels makes me wonder if his days of being a truly elite ES player are past.
Since I can't go with just one guy, I'd like to add in Robyn Regehr, who has also had more off nights in the first half than I'm used to. There's been some evenings where the action has looked a tad too fast for Robyn and he's ended up making some curiously bad decisions. That said, Reggie has gone through periods like this in the past and come out fine on the other end, so we'll probably just have to wait it out.
3.) The Flames possession and out-shooting numbers are well behind the numbers of last year's edition. Is the cause coaching or personnel?
Robert: How's that go? A little from column A, a little from column B? They've missed Mike Cammalleri's output, no question, and being one proper forward short in the top nine means one line always is underperforming. With the recent moves, the third line has been sub-standard. Forwards drive possession, IMO, so having one line in three struggling will hurt your team's numbers. Of course, I'd rather have the third line a bit off than continue seeing the first line drown, because the likely consequences are more dire if your stars can't get it done.
The coaching aspect to this is in two parts. First, Sutter's bull-headedness regarding the Joker-Iggy pairing did the Flames no favours. Olli Jokinen needs to not play straight P v P to have a chance at being productive, and Jarome Iginla needs players more suited to him to be at his best. I think the possession numbers have been hurt by that stubbornness, so I'm hopeful that the current arrangement continues to hold.
The second part of coaching is style. The Flames have spent a lot of time using a 1-4 set-up, even in the early part of games, and it drives me a bit nuts. It's very hard to score if the puck is always in your end, right? That approach might be a product of Sutter not quite believing his players can force the issue for a full game, but it still seems not quite right, at least to me.
Kent: I agree that both at fault. The loss of Cammalleri was a significant one. In many ways, he was as good or superior to Iginla last year and Jokinen is nowhere close to an adequate replacement. Also, losing Lombardi up the middle has probably had some sort of impact; although he's not a legit top 6 forward, he was capable of moving the puck in the right direction against the weaker sisters. He was also one of the team's better face-off men, which has been a weak point for them this year.
On the coaching front, you touched on the ill-fated Iginla and Jokinen tandem, so I'll go with the organization's emphasis (perhaps over-emphasis?) on defensive play and goals against. It was roundly noted after Keenan's firing that the team's primary weakness was defense and that would be the focus of the new coaching staff coming into the new season. As such, there's a chance that the bench boss has focused the game plan around that goal to the potential exclusion of generating offense.
4.) What do you see as the club's primary weakness? As such, who would you target at the trade deadline and who do you see as trade bait?
Robert: I'd suspect the careful readers amongst you might suspect I'd like to see one more forward for the top nine ;-) In all seriousness, I love Curtis Glencross' game, but I'd love it a pile more on the third line.
The "how" part is where it gets tricky. According to CapGeek, if the Flames don't call any more players up for an extended period, on March 3rd they'll have just over 6 million in full season cap space. I don't imagine Daz will try to run things as tightly as last year, so if the Flames don't move a significant roster player in a trade, you're talking about players making in the 2-4 million dollar range, and I'd think it'll be straight rentals that they want.
So, who? The usual suspects will crop up, I'd guess. Alex Tanguay, Ray Whitney, Alexei Ponikarovsky, that type of player. Colby Armstrong, Alexander Frolov and Tomas Plekanec fit in terms of salary, but I'd guess that their teams will try fairly hard to resign them, or want more than the Flames can offer. No draft picks in the first two rounds make it hard for Calgary to take a run at some of these players.
The only player on the roster that I could see Calgary moving is Cory Sarich. I have no idea what his perceived value is, but it may not be enough to get what the Flames want, and the two extra years on his contract aren't necessarily a point in his favour. Beyond that, I'd guess one of the Flames' young D down in Abby might be on the move. I don't know that the Flames can keep them all, and T.J. Brodie and Tim Erixon will both need places to play in the next couple of years.
And no, I don't see the Flames moving Dion Phaneuf or Olli Jokinen. The only chance that Phaneuf goes is after another playoff failure, and even then, he may not be moved. Jokinen has no value at the moment, and the Flames simply have to hope that things turn for him a bit. They're married to him until June 30th, I'd wager.
Kent: Couldn't have said it better myself. Another target may be Paul Kariya, although one wonders how much he has left in the tank.