It’s been a while, but there’s a while to come

Clearly, I’ve continued to be preoccupied lately with work and life and, as a result, I feel more detached from this hockey team than I’ve been in years. And it’s strange because, when I have watched the Flames — and that’s five of the eight games since I last posted properly — I’ve been more optimistic about their approach and style of play than at any other point during the post-lockout era. Concerns about a lack of ability on the fourth line and third defence pair have been pushed to the back burner by positive signs — the signing of Miikka Kiprusoff to a long-term contract, early season excellence from Jarome Iginla and Dion Phaneuf and my beloved “in-game adjustments” that were so lacking in 2006-07.

And yet, here we sit with Calgary at just .500 with a 6-6-3 record and in the midst of a three-game losing streak and frustrating in ability to hold onto leads and play consistently.

When it comes to preoccupations about the Flames, the themes seem to be pretty consistent right now:

With a number of big contracts already in place, what will they do about the upcoming free agency of Daymond Langkow, Kristian Huselius and Dion Phaneuf?

Firstly, I don’t know. But after a few years of this, I tend to believe Ken “I love flags” King when he says Darryl Sutter never makes a move without thinking about the next few on the way. Is it hard to see how this team will stay together while it’s stuck with $2.5 million-or-more contracts on the books next season for Adrian Aucoin, Rhett Warrener and Cory Sarich? Absolutely. It’s hard to see how they’re going to be able to hang on to all three of the guys mentioned above, plus Alex Tanguay. Someone will be moved.

walkinvisible and I talked this through pretty thoroughly a few weeks ago, and she’s pretty convinced at least one of them is gone before the end of the season, and wants it to be Tanguay. I tend to agree that one will be moved for some cheaper talent, and probably way before the deadline, with another lame contract thrown in for good measure (Warrener?) Presuming the Phaneuf situation will be dealt with, that leaves one of Langkow, Huselius and Tanguay. I love them all, but who can they afford to lose most? The most likely scenario, all things considered, is Huselius. And if Conroy takes a way-low contract next year to stay as a third-line centre (he will), and Langkow looking like a proper No. 1 centre these days, that sets the up down the middle. So it’s down to Tanguay and Huselius.

I think the guy who goes will be the guy between the two who does the least between now and January, simple as that. And I think the return will be better than we expect.

Why the shit did they sign Anders Eriksson?

Again, I don’t know. But he clearly IS the new Andrei Zyuzin, with a little less ice time. And having him around just to use the term Zyuzinesque is losing its novelty value quickly.

Why is Craig Conroy still playing on the first line instead of the third?

It’s not, I think, because he’s a good guy or because Jarome likes him. I think Mike Keenan thinks that Matthew Lombardi just isn’t ready for first-line pressure and you can’t separate Langkow and Huselius with any sort of regularity because they’re too good together. Even if both of those things are true, there is going to be a point — and now is probably it — where they’re going to have to make Lombardi a permanent fixture on the first or second line, for better or for worse. The Flames’ biggest problem, still, is developing players. They’ve been lucky with Phaneuf. But after him, they’ve developed exactly zero elite players in the Sutter era. You can’t win the cup with that. Lombardi has the skills, and it’s time to tell him they’re ready to use them.

What’s going to happen next?

Well, aside from that trade I mentioned, I’m still convinced we’re going to see steady improvement this year. And after that trade, maybe a little more than that. There have been stretches of periods and the odd game this year where Calgary’s looked like a real contender — usually stretches where Lombardi’s been involved, Eriksson hasn’t played and the penalty kill hasn’t been piss-poor.

I’m not a fan of Calgary’s assistant coaches, and I’ve love to have anyone account for the accomplishments of Rich Preston, Jim Playfair and Wayne Fleming over the past three seasons. I think the adjustments this year have Keenan written all over them — and the PK, the realm of the assistants, has been a joke for two seasons now. Seeing as it’s not in the cards to have the assistant personnel behind the bench change any time soon, and I can’t believe I’m saying that, I’m hoping Keenan takes firmer control of things. He’s a smart enough coach to make it work — but I don’t know if he’s smart and committed enough at this point to do what’s necessary.

But hey, it’s only 15 games, and this is a team that’s currently destined for a playoff spot. Buffalo and New Jersey are 5-7-1 and 5-7-2 respectively. Anaheim is 6-8-2 and Columbus, somehow, is 8-3-2 and Pascal Leclaire has five shutouts. Nothing is certain at this point, but I am convinced this is a better team than last year. How much better remains to be seen.

***

For the record:

Game 8
Flames 4 Oilers 1
Record: 4-2-1-1

Game 9
Sharks 4 Flames 1
Record: 4-3-1-1

Game 10
Flames 5 Wild 3
Record: 5-3-1-1

Game 11
Avalanche 3 Flames 2 (OT)
Record: 5-3-2-1

Game 12
Flames 5 Predators 1
Record: 6-3-2-1

Game 13
Red Wings 4 Flames 1
Record: 6-4-2-1

Game 14
Wild 4 Flames 1
Record: 6-5-2-1

Game 15
Avalanche 4 Flames 1
Record: 6-6-2-1

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~ by duncan on November 7, 2007.

13 Responses to “It’s been a while, but there’s a while to come”

  1. Good stuff. I was coming by just to ask if you were still alive, but here I find a new post instead…

  2. funny, i was also lookin’ to see where you were at, and here you are (apparently).

    re: tanguay —apart from the fact that he has a no-trade clause (according to MG, who i trust implicitly), i think he is far more valuable as tradebait since he’s still under contract for another year. any team interested in a guy like huselius would only give up a player worth juice’s 60-or-so games (and presumeably less when the trade actually occurs) left this year. i just think the return for tanguay would thus be far better, and if it allows us to sign phaneuf or langkow for next year, dollar-wise, then i’d do it in a heartbeat….

  3. The other reason for not trading Huselius is the fact that he only makes 1.4M – no real cap-space is gotten by trading him meaning the return would probably be minimal. Also, he’s one of the few guys who can outperform him contract this year.

  4. Fair enough MG, but it’s their cap hit next year and going forward that’s going to be an issue for the Flames — the savings would be in future years on a young player who isn’t going to command $3-million plus in 2008-09.

    What I didn’t say in this entry, by the way, is that based on precedent, I wouldn’t be that amazed if Sutter found a way to get them all to take HTDs and stick around.

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