Depth Charts 2: Colorado Avalanche

•August 9, 2008 • 2 Comments

The series continues.

COLORADO AVALANCHE (44-31-7, 95 pts)
* For argument’s sake here, I’m going to say Joe Sakic comes back and Peter Forsberg doesn’t.
Forwards
1. Joe Sakic
2. Paul Stastny
3. Ryan Smyth
4. Milan Hejduk
5. Wojtek Wolski
6. Marek Svatos
7. Tyler Arnason
8. Darcy Tucker
9. Ian Laperriere
10. Ben Guite
11. Cody McCormick
12. Cody McLeod
13. Brian Willsie
DIVISION RANK: 3. Analysis: Really, two dudes named “Cody”? Seriously, losing Sakic would be a big loss of points and leadership, but the continued presence of Smyth (and potential return of Forsberg, along with some reliable third/fourth-liners, make this a nice, on-the-rise kind of group. Especially if Svatos stays healthy, love that guy.

Defencemen
1. John-Michael Liles
2. Scott Hannan
3. Adam Foote
4. Ruslan Salei
5. Jordan Leopold
6. Brett Clark
7. Daniel Tjarnqvist
DIVISION RANK: 3. Analysis: Liles only at No. 1 because of his potential. But if he and/or Leopold don’t have good years and put up some points, this group could easily drop to No. 5 fast.

Goaltenders
1. Peter Budaj
2. Andrew Raycroft
DIVISION RANK: 5. Analysis: Budaj has “potential,” meaning Raycroft was a bizarre choice to back him up considering.

Previous Charts
Minnesota Wild

Tomorrow
Calgary Flames

Depth Charts 1: Minnesota Wild

•August 8, 2008 • 6 Comments

For all of the distress we, the blog intelligentsia, endured last season, I must admit: It wasn’t ALL bad. The Flames made the playoffs in the seventh position, made a go of it in the first round, and offered the occasional entertaining couple of hours watching games. This despite Anders Eriksson, Mark Smith, Eric Godard, Anders Eriksson and Anders Eriksson. Oh, plus the hiring of Mike Keenan, signing of Curtis Joseph, denigration of Alex Tanguay (how you like THAT one, Terry — see comments on previous post for explanation) and any number of other items long complained about our tight little community of HOT blogs.

So, while acknowledging that we’re still a couple of months away from any actual action, I thought: Perhaps it’s not as bad as we think. So, why not put together a bunch of Duncan approved, Northwest Division “depth charts” to see where we stand. Here’s what I’m going to assemble: 13 forwards, seven defencemen and two goalies from each NW division teams, in the order of finish from last season. Good times.

I’ll do one a day for the next five days. Please disagree with me in the comments, or point out players I’m forgetting, or who you think will make any of these teams out of camp.

MINNESOTA WILD (07/08: 44-28-10, 98 pts)
Forwards
1. Marian Gaborik
2. Mikko Koivu
3. Pierre-Marc Bouchard
4. Andrew Brunette
5. Antti Miettinen
6. Stephane Veilleux
7. Owen Nolan
8. Eric Belanger
9. Benoit Pouliot
10. Craig Weller
11. Jesse Schultz
12. Derek Boogaard
13. James Sheppard
DIVISION RANK: 4. Analysis: I love that Top 4, but it’s injury-prone and that’s a steep dropoff that follows.

Defencemen
1. Brent Burns
2. Kim Johnsson
3. Nick Schultz
4. Marek Zidlicky
5. Martin Skoula
6. Kurtis Foster
7. Erik Reitz
DIVISION RANK: 2. Analysis: Quietly an extremely enviable group. Zidlicky should be a nice addition, Brent Burns became an elite guy last year, and the only question comes in the No. 6 spot, with Foster returning from that horrific injury at the end of last year.

Goaltenders
1. Nicklas Backstrom
2. Josh Harding
DIVISION RANK: 3. I have no complaints at all about Backstrom, and Harding’s probably the best backup in the division. Only No. 3 because they’re in a division with Luongo and Kiprusoff.

Tomorrow: Colorado Avalanche

Oh, crap: Get ready for a nightmare on opening night

•August 4, 2008 • 5 Comments

We all love doing this whole imaginary lineup thing. In fact, it’s my favourite summer pastime, and I execute a new list whenever the Flames make any sort of acquisition or transaction. And, of course, my imaginings never become reality.

As I grew perpetually unhappy with who dressed during Keenan Year One, and where they players who did dress, played, I began to realize that we are in a fantasy world dead zone that meant I’d have to have two lists this summer: One “What I Want”, the other “What’s Really Going to Happen.” And the latter was going to be ugly, creating a proper Dream/Nightmare combination.

Let’s start with the fun one, though. (Guys in parentheses can be in press box or minors, I don’t care which one.)

WHAT I WANT
Forwards:
Backlund – Langkow – Iginla
Bertuzzi – Cammalleri – Boyd
Bourque – Lombardi – Glencross
Moss – Conroy – Prust
(Roy, Nystrom, Primeau, Nilson, Greentree, Lundmark)

My explanation: 1. This team is not going to win the Stanley Cup this year. So, while the primary objective should remain “make playoffs,” the oft-ignored, close-second objective should be “develop players to help us win Stanley Cup next year, or the year after that.”

Hence: Backlund on the wing. Dude isn’t going to forget how to play centre and, as has been previously well explained, he’s gotta play on the top two lines to really develop. Take this precocious talent and let it sing, and let it sing where it’ll be protected: On a line with Jarome Iginla and Daymond Langkow.

Basically the same reason I have Boyd on the second line, though I also love the idea that his speed and Cammalleri’s speed might cancel out Bertuzzi’s plodding.

Line 3: I think Lombardi’s an amazing NHL third-line centre. He’s fast, has some offence, understands how to play in his own zone. Bourque and Glencross have similar resumes. As for the fourth line, I think Conroy and Moss are potential third-liners dropping down and, while the jury’s definitely out on Prust, there’s more upside there than with any of the other guys who might take the place, plus he can fight if he has to. And you can bury a 12th forward. Even if your rookies are way in over their heads in some games, you can elevate Moss and Conroy, and drop Backlund and Boyd down with Prust.

I just like this lineup.

Defence:
Phaneuf – Regehr
Pelech – Sarich
Giordano – Aucoin
(Eriksson, Vandermeer, Warrener, Pardy)

I love the argument that it’s time for Phaneuf to earn his dollars against the bset players, and you’re going to do that playing with Robyn Regehr. It’s two years since this was last tried, and Phaneuf is now a Norris finalist. He can play with Regehr.

Putting Pelech in the Top 4 is based entirely on walkinvisible’s glowing review of his development camp, and may be way foolish — but it’s in the whole “develop” spirit again. Frankly, this could be Pardy or Negrin, just as long as it’s a rookie in the lineup opening night. Giordano and Aucoin are better than the other four, which leaves $2.4 million Jim Vandermeer out of the Top 18. Oh, Darryl.

Goaltenders:
Kiprusoff
McElhinney

Care to argue?

WHAT’S REALLY GOING TO HAPPEN

Hey everyone, it’s the Mike Keenan-Darryl Sutter view of hockey that matters in Calgary, not mine. So here’s what you’re going to get:

Forwards:
Bertuzzi – Langkow – Iginla
Cammalleri – Conroy – Moss
Bourque – Lombardi – Glencross
Nystrom – Primeau – Roy

(Prust, Nilson, Boyd, Lundmark)

Well, they’re on the record saying that Iginla needs to be on the ice with Bertuzzi, and they can’t get over the idea that Craig Conroy was once this team’s No. 1 centre,and David Moss once scored three games in a row, so they both must still be some kind of offensive force. Cammalleri rounds out the Top 6 because you can’t get that guy and not play him in the Top 6 … in the same exact place that Alex Tanguay “floundered” last year.

Keenan does seem to agree with me on Lombardi and Darryl wants Bourque and Glencross both in the Top 9, so they’re there. That leaves the fourth line … and four old-time hockey guys, who play for old-time hockey guys in Darryl and Mike.

I’m starting to feel ill.

Defence:
Regehr-Sarich
Phaneuf – Vandermeer
Giordano-Aucoin
(Eriksson, Warrener)

This is what they liked last year, so why would they suddenly change their minds? Exception is Eriksson on outside, of course, but honestly I wouldn’t be surprised to see him, or even Warrener, in Giordano’s place by the end of camp.

Now I am ill.

Goaltenders:
Kiprusoff
Thibault

Why wait till midway through the year to abandon your backup goalie for no reason? Flames sign Thibault just as training camp is about to end. No, I haven’t checked to see whether he’s available. Darryl’l figure it out.

GOOD TIMES!

What’s wrong with Darryl? Ask Ken.

•July 29, 2008 • 4 Comments

A few weeks ago, I was wrapping up the portion of an East Coast vacation that took me around the Cabot Trail. It was lovely, beyond so in fact. Extra-lovely in that I was out of mobile range, and thus out of touch, for two whole days.

Anyway, so there I am on the road, and I suppose some godforsaken cell tower caught wind of my presence, and my text-message tone goes off. It reads:

“dude … bertuzzi?”

And, thanks to walkinvisible, my day was ruined.

OK, so maybe I don’t care THAT much. But I did care. And it did take me two whole days to get over the thing.

I’m really late to the party here (and have been away a while from this place, sorry), so I’m unlikely to say anything here that hasn’t already been said more eloquently or better argued. But this is my personal take on Bertuzzi: It’s a bad signing not because I don’t like his demeanour (which I don’t), or his face (which I don’t), or his past affiliations (which I don’t), but because for all his qualities (which he has), he’s JUST DUMB. He takes stupid minor penalties at the worst times, all the time. He will cost the Flames at least five games this year just with that.

I want smart hockey players on my favourite team. Bertuzzi is not smart. Period.

Now, I’m afraid this also prompts a take on Darryl Sutter, whose personal demeanor has irked me ever since he took the GM reigns, and whose moves have often done the same. I am willing to analyze the Bertuzzi signing, along with every other move this summer, from a hockey perspective alone. What I couldn’t possibly abide by was his comparison of Bertuzzi’s Moore attack to his running of a red light, saying that both happened a while ago and it’s time to move on.

Darryl: What a dick.

What we’ve got going on now, fully and clearly, is a general manager who’s allowed to operate with impugnity, say what he wants, do what he wants, with no oversight. He’s just arrogant.

Ken King gets a pretty free ride in Calgary. He’s been in senior management roles at both major papers and has friends in both places. The Flames drive the media (and circulation, and profits) in that town, and you’d better bet your ass they won’t risk access or relationship — so the Flames can operate without much criticism, since you know they’re never going to get it from the rights-holder, Sportsnet, or the fluffball reporters at the other broadcast outlets.

Let’s be honest here: Ken King is not a hockey man. He’s a hockey fan with a reasonable record as a business executive, and he’s running the Calgary Flames as a business. He’s gone on record time and time again about the “genius” of Darryl Sutter being the ticket to the promised land. He’s not going to change his mind.

That’s how Darryl’s allowed to hire his brothers, trade for his favourite guys, sign over-the-hill assholes and coaches and have absolutely no instructions to treat fans of the team, or the guys who cover it, with respect. It’s despicable.

Is Darryl Sutter a good hockey coach? Yes. Has he shown he can be a capable general manager under the right circumstances? Sometimes. Is he the ticket to the promised land?

No.

Again, from a hockey perspective alone, Darryl Sutter has been the best general manager since the glory-days, pre-Finger Cliff Fletcher — he’s developed, acquired and retained key players that have allowed the team to succeed after eight years of horrific failure. But he’s also failed to deliver, with a core of incredible players, anything past a surprise Stanley Cup berth followed by three seasons of diminishing returns.

Darryl is smart. But he’s not as smart as he, or Ken King, thinks he is.

I don’t want Darryl gone. I want Darryl watched.

And Ken King doesn’t watch him.

Still digesting, but had to get this in

•April 24, 2008 • 4 Comments

So, I’m still digesting my thoughts on the loss, the off-season and next year, and I’ve left a few of them in comment snippets here and here. Plenty to think about (and agree with) in those MG and WI entries, and the same can be said for RealDeal’s take here. I’m going to try to put it all together in the next couple of days, but in the meantime I thought I’d better get in my predictions for the second round. You know, “for the record,” and because it’s so bloody important that my NHL playoff predictions are online for all to see.

These were my calls before the first round:

Round 1
WEST: Detroit def. Nashville (5 games), San Jose def. Calgary (6), Colorado def. Minnesota (7), Anaheim def. Dallas (4).
EAST: Montreal def. Boston (4), Pittsburgh def. Ottawa (5), Washington def. Philadelphia (7), Rangers def. New Jersey (7).

Round 2
WEST: Detroit def. Colorado (5), Anaheim def. San Jose (6).
EAST: Montreal def. Rangers (6), Pittsburgh def. Washington (6)

Round 3
Anaheim def. Detroit (5), Pittsburgh def. Montreal (7)

Final
Anaheim def. Pittsburgh (4)

Anaheim out? Oops! Silver linings? Anaheim out! Plus, I still went 6-for-8, and it’s fun to pick a new cup champ, I guess.

So:

Round 2
WEST: Detroit def. Colorado (5), San Jose def. Dallas (5).
EAST: Montreal def. Philadelphia (6), Pittsburgh def. Rangers (7)

Round 3
Detroit def. San Jose (6), Pittsburgh def. Montreal (7)

Final
Pittsburgh def. Detroit (7)

That’s right, I’m taking the Penguins now. I thought they’d need another year of learning before taking that step, but I like their matchup against the Red Wings way better I did against Anaheim, especially after watching how Nashville managed to win their games: Explosiveness. Detroit is about efficient, consistent excellence, but not about enthusiasm and passion — which, in years that the Devils don’t win the Cup, never wins in the end.

As for San Jose over Dallas, I still can’t get over the idea that Dallas is essentially a lucky team that gets away with a lot of interference and opportunism — like the opportunity to play a Ducks team that clearly wasn’t interested in another Stanley Cup run. The Sharks are better than that, but not better than the Red Wings. In fact, they basically are the Red Wings, but with inferior coaching and more youth.

I like Montreal over Pittsburgh for goaltending and depth on the back end, and Pittsburgh over the Rangers for the opposite: Power play and depth on the forward lines.

Also for the record: I’m still in love with Game 7. I just HATE Game 7 Losses.

Different thing altogether.

I’m in love with Game 7

•April 22, 2008 • 3 Comments

I was at the Wade Flaherty game in 1995 that George Johnson wrote about in today’s Calgary Herald. Joel Otto remembered it like this:

Remember that Game 7 here against San Jose (in 1995)? Double overtime. We had over 60 shots on, (Wade) Flaherty, wasn’t it?

I mean, we threw everything at him. We hit posts, crossbars, missed open nets. And their winning goal pinballs off three guys and bounces in.

“That’s a Game 7.

“You can’t explain them or predict them.”

I remember it as simultaneously being absolute agony and absolute joy. Of course, Ray Whitney scores on Trevor Kidd eventually, and the Flames go out in the first round for the fifth straight year. In 1996 they lose to Chicago a lot less dramatically, and then we wait all the way till 2004 to even get back to the playoffs.

That time between ’96 and ’04 reduced all our expectations, and made 2004 the greatest surprise. And as the Flames face First Round Exit No. 3 in the aftermath of that, I sense we — we being the faithful, the knowledgeable, the obsessives — have all become a little pessimistic, expectors of the worst. And why shouldn’t we be that? We’re protecting our sorry asses from disappointment.

Collectively, we blogging types (outside of Matt) were pretty dismissive of the Flames coming into this series with the Sharks. It was a crappy end to the season, top players weren’t playing well, coaches were making questionable personnel decisions and the San Jose Sharks couldn’t have been on a better run to end the season, becoming a big-time popular pick to win the Stanley Cup.

We all know what’s happened since then: A series that has been as good as any in the first round, especially in the view of wide-eyed Eastern Conference watchers who are AMAZED that teams can play as fast and aggressive as this. And along the way, the Flames have played their best hockey of the season, right when they’re supposed to: the opposite of the 2007 Nervous Jimmy Flames, who played the most embarrassing six games of the post-Young Guns era all in a row.

Now, I think the Sharks are still crazy young and coming into their own, and they’re suffering from it. As maddening as the Flames’ inability to put together minutes and periods and games of quality effort in a row, the Sharks’ inability to do the same must be doubly so. With that record, that talent and that goaltender, I’d be expecting more if I was a Sharks fan.

But I’m not. I’m a Flames fan, who sucked it up and picked the Sharks to win this series before it started. Before tonight: I don’t know what to expect, it’s been so god damn close. I do know that I’ll be feeling the same emotions tonight that I did back in that 1995 game, that I’m happier with having Evgeni Nabokov and MIikka Kiprusoff at opposite ends of the ice tonight instead of Wade Flaherty and Trevor Kidd, and that there’s nothing better in the world of sports than your favourite team playing in Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

Good freaking times.

Go Flames!

Before Game 6: Playing the optimist

•April 20, 2008 • 11 Comments

As the Flames stand tonight, as they like to say, ON THE BRINK, I am heartened by a few things.

  • As much as I called “Sharks in six” for this series, the Flames have made these six games via a far different route than I had anticipated — in other words, not via the “let Kipper win two by himself” strategy. Better than anticipated contributions from the entire defence corps outside of Dion Phaneuf have allowed them to truly compete. And without a bizarre and frustrating lack of finish, they might have even won this series by now.
  • The Flames DID play their best game in Game 5, and were unlucky not to win. The same could be said for the Sharks earlier in the series, but that’s not the point; the point is the Flames show signs of improving as the series goes along.
  • Miikka Kiprusoff hasn’t stolen two games yet
  • Jarome Iginla doesn’t seem in favour of losing, and will BOTH speak and take action. A couple of weeks before the end of the season, I specifically requested that both he and Robyn Regehr speak up and ask their team what went wrong. That’s exactly what happened before Game 5. Bonus points for yelling at Rich Preston, who from what I can tell is the most useless, winless, pointless assistant coach in the National Hockey League.
  • Boston. That shit is crazy, and crazy shit can happen anywhere.

Lovin’ the 8 p.m. eastern start tonight, as I’ve been fighting off illness for two weeks now as I stay up till 1 a.m. every second night. ‘Course, I’ll happily be sick for two months if things end well.

I don’t often make predictions here, but I’m liking the pride this team is showing right now, and I’m believing there are a bunch of players on the Flames who are due for good games/goals — Kiprusoff and Phaneuf at the top of the list. Plus, Ryane “the extra E’s are for effort” Clowe is due for a bad game. The math looks good for a Flames win.

Here’s hoping.