Friday, March 30, 2007

The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated

Tuesday March 20 - Flames vs Red Wings
Across Calgary, chants of 'BRING OUT YOUR DEAD' ring out. The Flames have looked simply dismal over the past two weeks. They are given absolutely no chance to win this hockey game by most fans across Calgary, despite the fact they are still statistically dominant at home. Despite this, the Flames not only win - they win in Flames style. A 2-1 victory. Still, no one is planning the ticker-tape parade just yet.

Thursday March 22 - Flames vs. Predators
Calgary's kryptonite enters town. A chance to halt the momentum gained beating the current President's trophy leaders two days prior. Calgary goes down early and the city breathes a collective 'crap' before the Flames tie it up before the 1st frame is over. The Preds go ahead again in the third and things look bleak, but the Flames refuse to give up. They are soon (suprisingly) outchancing the Preds, including a great one by Jeff Friesen. The guy who everyone loves to hate is turning around his game however, as the Flames finally tie it up off a fluke bounce from an Iginla shot. In OT Yelle draws it to Tanguay who feeds it to Rhett Warrener in the slot for the tip in that gives the Flames their first win over Nashville in years. No one is convinced yet though, up next is 'THE ROAD.'

Sunday March 25 - Flames vs. Blackhawks
Huselius opens the scoring early against the hapless Hawks, but the Hawks storm back taking the lead after the first and keeping it safe by the end of the second. Every fan watching the game knows the Flames have a chance, but it looks like the Flames evil twins have showed up. You know them, you don't love them. They're the ones that find ways to lose. But that Jeff Friesen and his linemates, Stephane Yelle and Robert Nilson, the ones who have really hogtied the Hawks in their own end all game, score a goal early in the third. Hamrlik blasts one in from the point and the Flames get a rare road victory, even if it is against a terrible team.

Tuesday March 27 - Flames vs. Wild
November 11th is the date on everyone's mind. Thats the last time the Flames beat a playoff team on the road. Have the wins against Detroit and Nashville given the team a newfound confidence, or will the twins show up? The early results don't look good. Gaborik and linemates are tapdancing all over the Flames defence and the top line of Iginla-Tanguay-Conroy looks like Swiss cheese the way they're covering their defensive assignments. Cue Miikka Kipprusoff's heroics. He stops every shooter in regulation and OT. The Flames enter the shootout, an early-mid season disaster, but something to which they've recently had success on. Their success continues, as Tanguay scores and Kipprusoff stops both Wild shooters. Fans are officially allowed to stop quoting November 11th.

Thursday March 29 - Flames vs. Wild
Can the Flames make it two in a row? Is this win streak even possible, let alone probable? Just 10 days ago, the Flames looked like dead men walking, now they carry the Reaper's Scythe. Masterton trophy nominee Langkow opens the score early, and then Jarome Iginla follows him up scoring only 20 seconds later. Then he continues to score often, garnering his first hattrick in years.

Saturday March 31 - Flames vs. Canucks
If someone asked 'will the Flames beat the Canucks on March 31st' two weeks ago, I think most would have replied 'probably not.' The twins were far too likely to show up, the team looked mentally beaten, the coach looked unable to fortify the troops. But there are signs the times are changing. The past week has opened eyes across the league, and has shown Calgary, if on top of their game, are true contenders, just as their 'on-paper' lineup would indicate.

The addition of David Hale has given Calgary another option on the third pairing on nights when Rhettsky's arthritic body simply cannot go on anymore. Zyuzin's innefectiveness has been mostly hidden playing third pairing minutes and the far more competent Giordano should be able to suit up when Coach Playfair comes to his senses.

While Amonte continues to struggle, it is obvious that Friesen is starting to gel with linemates Nilson and Yelle, and that has given Calgary an additional effective 10 minutes a night, often against top level opponents. And while some have argued Iginla has struggled, his linemates have been consistently putting up respectable numbers.

Miikka Kipprusoff has been criticized for simply being 'not good enough' which in Calgary translates to 'you haven't been able to totally cover for your teammates' totally ineffective play.' The other night in Minnesota however, proves Kipper can still, at least occasionally, be 'good enough.'

The Canucks are having a record season, and while there is Kudos all around for Brodeur's closeness to breaking Parent's 47 win season, Luongo is just as close. The whole Canucks team looks really good, and make no mistake, they are true contenders for the Cup, if not the favorites at this point in the season.

So while the Flames have had a lot of tests this season, this is probably the last most important one of the season. Win this, turn a city of doubters into a city of believers. Win this, and you come back from the dead.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Team Canada World Championship 2007 - Defence

This list is taken from teams that will either miss the playoffs or are the borderline of making it, therefore, it is likely that some of these players will become ineligible for the first wave of selections. While the goalies will definitely be taken from non-playoff team, up to half the d (3-4) could be taken from teams making the playoffs who get knocked out first round. However, I expect about 5 defenseman will be taken from this list.

Bryan Allen - is not the typical team Canada defenceman, but sometimes in tournaments like this we get a surprising role player, and Allen fit’s the toughness bill. His mobility is a problem though so I wouldn’t consider him much more than a wildcard.

Cam Barker - the kid with mono has made a pretty decent jump to the majors, and was selected to two WJHC teams, so he’ll get a wildcard look.

Jay Bouwmeester - would be a bonified superstar if he played in a hockey city. Has played for Team Canada numerous times before in WJHC, WHC, World Cup, and the Olympics. Will be number 1 or 2 on the players asked to participate.

Eric Brewer - Has done nothing but win when with Team Canada (save the WJHC). An extremely steady presence that is totally underrated by the average hockey fan. Along with Bouwmeester is Canada’s first choice. Rift with Kevin Lowe could preclude participation.

Dan Boyle - what can you say, Tortorella has described Boyle as a Norris trophy candidate. He plays tons of minutes, is a great puck mover and can play the PP. Not a bad defensive guy either. If Tampa Bay misses the dance he’ll be asked. Was alternate on 2006 team.

Carlo Colaiacovo - Is battling with Jackman for most injury prone young defenceman in the NHL. However, he played simply sublime for Canada in the WJHCs a few years ago and is having a very good rookie season in Toronto. Will be a wildcard, not a key defenceman.

Mike Commodore - Three years ago Commodore was a nice story on the Flames, now he’s a regular and respected defenceman on the Hurricanes with a Cup win and two very well played playoff runs. His skating will hold him back but Team Canada loves winners.

Steve Eminger - played really well in the WJHC and is making a respectable transition to the majors. Is definitely a wildcard but I think he’s at least being looked at.

Andrew Ference - Ference isn’t exactly a team Canada regular, but he’s a smart hockey player, has good mobility, his size won’t be as big of an issue on the big ice, and I have a sneaking suspicion he has one of the most important qualities: He wants to go. (total speculation on my part of course).

Jamie Heward - made the jump to the NHL thanks to his standout performances as a bottom pairing D man who had very respectable performances in previous winning WHCs. He’s on the Team Canada map but he lost his previous advantage which was his familiarity with the big ice, as he is now used to NHL sized ice.

Barret Jackman - After winning the Calder Jackman has been on the Team Canada watch list (for instance, he was named to the infamous “Olympic long/short list”). Biggest downside to his game is the fact he seems to be chronically injured.

Bryan McCabe - LT referred to Souray (and his ilk) as chaos defenders, and no high profile defender plays more chaotic than Bryan McCabe. Despite that, he puts up a lot of points and will get a look. Was Canada’s worst defender in Torino 2006.

Brent Seabrook - Is almost a lock to be asked, if not play. Is of the Dion Phanuef/Shea Weber cloth and is one of the few bright spots for Chicago. Played for Canada in the WJHCs on the dream team.

Sheldon Souray - Souray has played for Canada at WHCs before but was not in top form. Looks great on the PP but can be simply terrible one on one. Will definitely get a look after his stellar season (points wise) in Montreal.

Best Guess:
Bouwmeester - Brewer
Seabrook - Ference

Bouwmeester - Brewer
Seabrook - Boyle

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Let's see SOME fight

If there was ever a kryptonite to the Calgary Flames' Superman (in the last 3-4 years anyway), it has to be the Nashville Predators. Whenever the two teams play, the Flames seem to let Nashville get the best of them. Outshot, outchanced, outscored.

But one fateful game three years ago (one day off of three years EXACTLY) today, the Flames won in one aspect of the game. After conceding to being outscored, (and outshot) the Flames decided they would not be outmuscled and they decided to send a message for the coming game. Not the coming game against the Preds specifically mind you, but the coming game against every team in the NHL.

On that game against the Preds, three years ago, with three seconds left in the game, then Coach Darryl Sutter sent out a foursome (the Flames already had one man in the back) of Robyn Regehr (to take the draw of course), Rhett Warrener and Mike Commodore on defence, and Krzysztof Oliwa on LW. That is, until his man tried to line up on RW, so Oliwa moved over.

A brawl ensued that included goaltenders Tomas Vokoun and Miikka Kiprusoff.

Sutter was suspended for two games and Oliwa for three.

By the time the league returned to play in September 2005, a rule was instated to prevent this from happening again. Automatic suspension for fighting with under 5 minutes left. I call it the Sutter Clause.

The Flames may not win tonight. They may be outchanced, outshot, outscored and outplayed. But let's not be outmuscled. Like three years ago, let's see some fight.

What was said three years ago is still relevant today.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Conroy on the Flames Road Woes:

Q: The Flames have the league's best home record, but no team in the NHL has won fewer road games. How do you explain the difference in play for this team?

A: It's unbelievable. I wish I could explain it, but there's really nothing to put your finger on. I think part of the problem is it has snowballed. Now, we put so much pressure on winning on the road, it just consumes us all day. That's all we talk about, and then, when we get out there, we play tight. We need to relax, but guys are scared to make a mistake. We just need to relax and play and let things happen. (Source)

Actually the whole article is really good, and I would highly recommend reading it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Mckenzie weighs in on Team Canada coaching staff

It would be safe to say that Hockey Canada's first choice to coach this year's world championship team is Wayne Gretzky, but The Great One has indicated to Hockey Canada that he needs to focus on the Phoenix Coyotes' rebuilding efforts in the offseason...

It's a list that includes Blues head coach Andy Murray, Panther general manager and head coach Jacques Martin, Oilers coach Craig MacTavish, Ken Hitchcock of Columbus, Los Angeles Kings head coach Marc Crawford and his assistant Mike Johnson. (Source)

You'll notice that it sounds like Gretzky WAS a lock until he turned the position down, and also that Mckenzie's list includes most of the same guys mine does (minus the guys still in a playoff hunt ie. Quenneville, Nolan, Renney). Of interesting (and suprising) note is the inclusion of Crawford, a coach that hasn't really been employed by Hockey Canada since the disaster that was Nagano '98. Also, Crow's assistant coach, whom I really know nothing about. We shall see if these two get any serious consideration for the job or if they're just throwaways.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Team Canada World Championship 2007- Coaches - or In Defense of Craig MacTavish

Before I get to speculating on the coaching staff of this year's Team Canada WC edition, I feel compelled to respond to the various discussions regarding Craig MacTavish's competence that were inspired by LT's contemplation of trading Hemsky because he's not the typical MacT player. Pleasure Motors argued that trading Hemsky was a ludicrous idea (I agree with this in principle) because MacT has proven himself to be something of an average coach.

Now there are I guess two debates to address here; a) should Hemsky be traded b)Is MacT only a mediocre coach?

Now, LT has speculated about which parts of the broken car that is the Oilers should be salvaged and which parts should be traded or sold off for new parts, and he argued that Hemsky might be one of those parts which is best traded off because he doesn't fit the driving style of MacTavish. He argues (correctly I think) that MacT tends to be able to turn your average V4 defensive guys into sleek inline 6s or really smooth V8 two way players, in the vein of Horcoff, Pisani, (and in my opinion Jarret Stoll), and that MacT has been less successful with the one way offensive guys like Lupul (lemon?) and Hemsky.

Pleasure Motors agrees with LT's point about MacT's coaching style, adding that only Weight has ended up top 30 in scoring during MacT's reign, but that, because of the prospect depth chart (Shremp, Nilsson) we might as well get rid of MacT, as he isn't successful with his own 'type' of player, so we should expect him to be even less successful under a different type of player. Which I think is a fair enough argument as well.

To put it simply though, I think both Pleasure Motors and LT are off the mark a bit.

b) I will agree that Hemsky isn't a typical MacT type of guy, but I would argue that MacT has developed him into a more complete hockey player that is going to be better off helping the Oilers in the future. Despite this, Hemsky was still only 2 points out of that Top 30 group that Motors alluded to. I would also like people to take into account Hemsky's reasonable point production pace since the lockout, which is 126 pts in 138 games. That number is even more impressive when you consider the players Hemsky has been paired with. In his 'breakout' season last year, he played the majority of the year with Smyth and Horcoff, one of whom (Horcoff) coincidently had a breakout season and one of whom coincidently had his second highest total ever. I couldn't possibly prove that Hemsky was the lone reason, partially because that's not true, but I do have evidence that he was at least a key factor. Take the beginning of this season when Hemsky was paired with Sykora, who, all of a sudden, started at a near career (and certainly of late) pace in terms of points, and then massively slumped as soon as Hemsky went out with his first shoulder injury. When Hemsky returned, he was paired back with Horcoff, who, despite slumping earlier in the season playing with Smyth and Lupul, sprang back to life.

So I think it's a little crazy to think that MacT is really holding Hemsky back, as his impact with the team has been in general nothing but positive for the players around him. Only in Edmonton can a player who is 22 years old and refuses to shoot the puck get 77 points and people still blame his coach for 'not being able to coach that type of player.'

In fact, Pleasure Motors mentions a couple other one way players (Comrie, Carter) who had very productive seasons with MacT, despite both of them experienced a litany of offensive production failures once they left the team. Not only that, but these two guys played TOGETHER on the TOP LINE. Neither of them has seen top line production since. And this is something I can't prove, but the year of the Carter-Comrie-Smyth line, TSN (or CBC, but I'm pretty sure TSN) evaluated the total point productions of all the 'all-Canadian' lines in the NHL, and guess who was at the top? Now thats a little tidbit that's impossible for me to prove, but I swear that was the deal, and quite frankly, I think if you told the average person about that today, they would call you an outright liar, and for good reason.

So are skill guys MacT's 'weak point?' I hardly think so. A lot of MacT's failings have been due to being totally undermanned in terms of players, and once he received a bounty of talent, he took it to the Stanley Cup Finals. His rosters were never littered with talent like Detroit or Colorado, and defence wins games. So MacT did what any good coach would do, and he developed a strong sense of team defence within his teams, and he expected it from everyone. MacT has never coached anyone that was so good they didn't need to worry about defence, and this is still true today.

Obviously MacT isn't perfect, but considering he's a 'details' type of coach (look at the PK, faceoff success), and the biggest critisim most people lay at his feet is that he can't coach skill guys, I think he has to be considered an above average coach.

a) Should the Oilers trade Hemsky? Anyone is tradable at the right price, we know that, but lets look at this long term. But barring a Tavares type deal (which can't and won't happen), it only makes sense to keep Hemsky around. I think I've done at least something to dispell the notion that MacT can't coach Hemsky type players, so I think that reason for trading Hemsky is out the window. Look, the guy is 23 and is putting up near point a game numbers, he's signed long term for a reasonable rate and will be, what, 28-29 when his contract comes up? So the Oilers finally fall upon a contract windfall, with a player whose value is only going to go up barring some catastophic injury and trade him for more prospects? Despite the fact in general a good team core (of approximately the same age) exists?

There's only one good reason to trade Hemsky, and that is you think his value is at its highest right now. If you (like me) believe Hemsky is going to be better in time, then it only makes sense to keep him around.

Alright, now for Team Canada coaching speculation. There are lots of guys around, so this will be a big list.

Wayne Gretzky - Despite coaching the Coyotes to a second straight abysmal season, Gretz is a front runner for head coach. Hockey Canada wants Wayne involved and I think there is a long term conspiracy to have him coach in 2010. This is the testing grounds and Gretzky is the experiment.

Ken Hitchcock - Has the Team Canada pedigree with Olympic and World Cup victories as an assistant. Is a very defensive minded coach which can be very advantageous in a tournament where the group needs to gel quickly. No chemistry needed for the leftwing lock.

Craig MacTavish - was an assistant in 2004 and I think (despite this season) his stock has grown. As I said earlier, I consider him a 'details' coach with a focus on things like shotblocking and faceoffs, but coaches a pretty good two way game. I think he is a front runner for at least an assistant position. Is there a rule as to how many former Oilers can be coaching one team at one time?

Andy Murray - Andy has proven himself multiple times overseas coaching WC teams, and he has always really impressed me. Is making multiple teams look like fools for not making him their head coach. Was held back in LA only because of the hand of God.

Joel Quenneville - I believe Quenneville was asked to coach the year Babcock did it, and although he went overseas, he fell ill, Babcock took over, and the rest is history. Will be considered again as he has gotten a lot out of a thin Colorado roster. May make the playoffs yet anyway.

Jacque Martin - Like Hitchcock, he has the pedigree, having coached an Olympic and World Cup victory. The fact that his teams either don't make the playoffs or choke once they're in will hurt his chances.

Ted Nolan - Is borderline on the playoff front right now, but Nolan is a very good coach. He won coach of the year and was promptly fired for his efforts, and in his first trip back to the big's he gets signed by the nutcases in charge of the Islanders. Has taken a team captained by Alexi Yashin and made them competitive. Has a true fire for the game that he is able to pass onto his players.

Tom Renney - was on the 2004 staff with MacT. Took the pitiful Rangers and turned them into a half decent team last year, and is on the verge of doing it again this year. A hurt goalie and Jagr hurt his team's last playoff drive, but is getting a lot of production from soft guys. Also involved in coaching the Men's National Team and guided Team Canada to a silver medal in 1994 Olympics in Lilehammer. If he misses the playoffs, he will get a good long look.

Dave Lewis - Yzerman is key in picking the staff and he was coached by Lewis, however, Lewis' record is not amazing, particularily in the playoffs. Has an outside chance of making the team.

Pat Quinn - the old warhorse couldn't get them going in 06', but had Olympic and World Cup success, and Team Canada hired him back on to coach the most recent edition of Canada's Spengler Cup team, which he guided to a silver.

Paul Maurice - a) he coaches in Toronto b) he's known for developing young players.


Wayne Gretzky

Craig MacTavish

Andy Murray


Andy Murray

Craig MacTavish

Ted Nolan

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Team Canada World Championship 2007- Goalies

Since we're only weeks away from the end of the NHL regular season and the start of the IIHF World Championships, I'm sure Stevie Y and his crew have already began scouting and talking about possible roster combinations for said tournament. And I figure if he can speculate, so can I.

First up, the most important member of the team. Least season's entry aside, Team Canada has been recently blessed with a string of not just good goaltenders, but great goaltenders. The elder statesman, Sean Burke, was around for Canada first victory of the 00s, in 2003, but was replaced by Roberto Luongo in the final game due to injury. If you can believe it, way back then, Roberto was the backup to Sean Burke. Roberto returned again in 2004 where Canada won it a second straight time. Thanks to the lockout season in 2005, Canada was able to recruit the greatest goaltender of my time, Martin Brodeur who manged to garner a silver medal.

Unfortunately for Team Canada (and fans) the goaltending depth has dried up, or at least, dried up in teams not advancing to the playoffs. Here is the shortlist of goalies sure to be considered for a spot on Team Canada.

Sean Burke - He's about 80 years old, and hasn't played that much, but he's available, and he's a Team Canada veteran. He won an Olympic silver medal in 92 (thanks to THE Forsberg goal), and played for Canada in the '88 Olympics as well. Add that to his considerable WC experience, and he will at least be considered.

Dwayne Roloson - if there's been one common theme among the last several WC's, its been the presence of multiple Oilers. This is the first time though, that the Oilers have had an elligible goalie to add to Team Canada's roster (Ty Conklin went one year, and believe it or not, was the star for team USA, leading them to a very unlikely bronze). Now Dwayne is coming off his busiest year ever, and he's hardly been a Team Canada regular, but he's both an Oiler and arguably the best goalie available.

Curtis Joseph - This potential entry leads me to my coach speculation, but I would be suprised if Gretzky wasn't involved some how. The important question is; does Gretzky think Joseph has had a good season? Cujo has been involved with Canada multiple times but has never been able to bring home the bacon (2nd place, 1996 World Cup, Loss vs. Sweden, 2002).

Patrick Lalime - plucked out of obscurity after unfairly being fingered as 'the problem' in Ottawa, Lalime went on to post some fairly respectable numbers this year playing for a terrible 'Hawks team. However, his lack of a winning history, Team Canada experience, and his age make him a true longshot.

Manny Legace - Legace got outgoaltended by Roloson in last year's playoffs and his prohpetic conclusion came true - he was let go by his Redwings team. However, Manny's had a respectable year playing for a less than respectable club, and has a history with Team Canada, bringing home a Gold Medal for the U-20 team in 1993 (and being named top goalie of the tournament) and won a Olympic Silver in 1994.

Alex Auld - Started last year's WC team as the number one goalie before coaches let Marc Denis take over. Hasn't had a great year and is hurt so is a very long shot to make the team.

Ed Belfour - Despite being almost 42 years old, the Eagle has managed to post an above .500 season (thus far) on a very marginal hockey team. He isn't the Eddie of old but I think he's still capable of winning. That said, I think Eddie is the most likely goaltender to turn down an invitation owing both to his necessary extra recovery time and his strange personality.

Andrew Raycroft - Raycroft went from rookie wonder to sophmore slump to a question mark. But he has managed to post a pretty decent winning record this year despite being playing behind the likes of McCabe, Gill and Kubina, which is impressive in of itself. If he handles playing in T.O. this well this early, I think he's probably mentally ready (pressure wise) to play in a mid level tournament like the WC.

Cam Ward - Ward and his 'Canes could still end up in the playoffs, but if he doesn't, he's a lock to be asked to play for Team Canada. There's nothing more the Canadian scouts like more than winning, and Ward not only won the Cup last year, he won the Conn Smythe. Also likely to make the team because the WC's tend to be a testing ground for young players, and Ward is a possible Canadian goaltending heir apparent.

1a. Cam Ward
1b. Dwayne Roloson
2. Manny Legace

Best Guess:
1. Dwayne Roloson
2. Manny Legace
3. Alex Auld

next up: Coaching Staff

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Road Tie

If you watched the Calgary Flames during the Darryl Sutter coaching era you will undoubtedly noticed a certain necktie that Darryl wore on a fairly regular basis. I called it 'the road tie' because you'll notice it's obvious resemblance to a highway with a dotted line. I'm pretty sure Darryl almost never wore it at home games as well. I think he considered it his road tie as well.

To me, the road tie symbolized everything that was great about the Flames. The road tie was hard work. The road tie was perseverance. The road tie was smarts. The road tie was preperation. The road tie...was winning.

The Sutter clan has never been known for clever game strategy, (although Brent is starting to turn that around), but Darryl coached this team very well for his first season and a half. The 2004 playoff run was a stroke of genius in fact. The game was changing, although many coaches refused to acknowledge it. But Darryl figured it out. He knew he had a team that was a bit short on talent but heavy on speed and try. The Flames used a two man forecheck system. There was constant puck pressure on the opposing team's defenceman (or whatever poor soul happened to be trying to break the puck out) and the Flames both scored a lot of goals on that forecheck, and killed off a lot of time defensively. I called our forecheck system 'The Swarm.'

Remember the tandem of Nieminen, Nilson and Donovan? Probably one of the most effective 3rd line groups I have ever seen, which is especially impressive considering the career status of every single individual player from that line has plummeted since that time.

Back in those days, Darryl Sutter was probably the best coach in the NHL. The road tie was a symbol of his prowess.

That was then.

Now, Jim Playfair patrols the Flame's bench. We no longer see perserverence. We no longer see smarts. We certainly no longer see preperation.

I used to take pleasure in a road tie. Now what I'd really like to see is a road win. And I'm no longer just accepting road wins. I will only accept road wins against playoff teams.

Unfortunately, this team, or perhaps this coach, seems unwilling to deliver to my expectations.

The Flames no longer have a system, or at least one that works. This team has enough pure talent to beat any team, which would imply that we should choose a system and use it against every team. Force them to play our game. It's a philosophy that many successful teams abide by. Its a philosophy that took this team (this jersey at least) to the Stanley Cup Finals only a couple of seasons ago.

If we are forcing other teams to play to our strengths, then we're not doing a very good job of it. Firstly, we obviously cannot identify our strengths. Early in the season, Playfair talked about 'building an identity,' or 'playing to our identity.' In fact, he identified the Flames lack of success due to their not playing to their identity. When we went to the finals, our identity, our strength was speed, try, and defence. Now...
Is it:

a) Defence? Despite our abundance of defenceman drafted in the first round, our abundance of defenceman with well known names, our abundance of defenceman with a physical edge, our defenceman with defensive defenceman, our top 5 goaltender...quite simply put, team defence is often a week point in our game. Many of this team's defenders either have major mental lapses in terms of defending, in terms of distributing, or in terms of penalty taking. Therefore, I would say, defence is not our strongpoint. (Despite being ranked 9th in the league in GA).

b) Offense? Iginla, Tanguay, Langkow, Huselius, Lombardi, Moss, Conroy, Phaneuf, Hamrlik, Stuart. This is the offensive core of this team. Pretty big isn't it? Our Goals per Game ranking supports the idea of offense as being this team's strength.

This would imply that the Flames would want to get into high scoring games often (ala the Penguins or Sabres). Instead though, the Flames (or perhaps Playfair) seem to insist on pretending to be a defensively minded team, and instead of playing run and gun hockey (although the Flames occasionally fall back on that strategy). Its a strategy that has in fact succeeded more than it has failed, however, I would argue that this is because of the team's immense talent, rather than the actual efficacy of the strategy.

I have news for Playfair - the Flames identity is offence, and your strategy is playing counter to that.

Even assuming the Flames identity is not offense, Playfair has mangled the job of managing the team. I would postulate the hardest part of coaching is creating offence, that is something thats done mostly through talent. Systems are more likely to ruin offence than create it. Now that Playfair has the talent for offence, that would imply the Flames simply need to take care of their own end of the ice, and the rest of it will take care of itself. However, the coaching staff has refused to make adjustments to improve overall team defence.

Now it's probably a bit unfair to take the offensive credit away from Playfair and put the defensive blame on him. Perhaps I've overly complicated the issue.

But the fact is the Flames are (as many fellow Flames bloggers have pointed out) underachieving to a great degree. Its up to the coaching staff to get the most out of each and every player, and to get the most out of the group as a single unit. That's what Darryl Sutter was so great at in the days of the road tie. Thats what Jim Playfair and crew have failed to do this season.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Rematch (in pictures)

Kipper makes a diving save in the 1st.

Tampa strikes first
Good timing too!

St. Louis dominates the PK forecheck. Seriously, this guy is a machine.

Brad Stuart continues to struggle, firing a phantom shot in the second. This is just a picture of him pretending to play defence though.

Holy shit! Zyuzin, Rhettsky and Friesen hook up for a goal? Luckily they didn't panic like the fan beside me who screamed at Zyuzin to 'DO SOMETHING' as he set up the play behind the net.

Did Dion Do Good? No, his stick just exploded into the net.

It looked like Conroy put one in here, but Tampa players politely disagreed.

God damn right.

"So did you guys see 300 yet?"

Tampa's luck runs out.

Gratuitous Shane O'Brien shot for Finny.

The game has been so entertaining, why not 5 more minutes?
Oh for god sakes. I'm not sure Hamrlik deserved a 4 minute for this one, but I guess thems the breaks.
We at least show some fight on the 5-3.
An all too familiar result.

That about sums up my feelings at the end.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Blame Game

Sure, its easy to sit back and criticize after the fact. Thats exactly why I'm going to do it!


Alex Tanguay - totally invisible. Although several times I could've sworn you were playing with

Tony Amonte - Hmm...-2, good one Grandpamonte. Honestly, this guy HAS to have pictures...

Jeff Friesen - Just because

Daymond Langkow - not your finest game

Defence: Everybody, but in particular:

Roman Hamrlik - beauty game there. What, like 7 penalties and 1000 giveaways? Nice job.

Brad Stuart - Way to fire the puck out on the PK. Out of the field of play that is. Nice job 1-1 against Tootoo as well. I think you may be the best 1-1 defender in the NHL!

Dion Phaneuf - Wasn't the best time to pinch there buddy.

Andrei Zyuzin - lets say this, the high point of your game was when I thought you might be too hurt to continue.

Mark Giordano - I would say your biggest mistake of the game was the suicide pass to Amonte. Why couldn't you have placed it a bit more out of his reach so he REALLY got hammered?

Robyn Regehr - sadly, you were probably our best tonight, but can we cut down the number of breakaways against while you're on the ice to two a game or so?

Goalie: None. Kipper played average but wasn't the difference.

Good players:

Jarome Iginla - accounted for 2/3 of our offense.

David Moss - nice screen on the other 1/3 of our offense

Craig Conroy - Close but no cigar. Still, I thought your game was on.

Stephane Yelle - you won the important defensive zone draw at the end of the second, too bad you won it back to Harmlik.

Kristian Huselius - one of the few + players, set up Jarome for a goal

That's about it.

Does anyone notice that one list is shorter than the other? Oh, that reminds me, how do you think the golf courses are going to look in April?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Danny Syvret likes math. If there's no other single thing I will ever remember about Danny Syvret, its that he likes math. I know this because TSN does a feature on a lot of Canadian players at the World Juniors, and Syvret was one of them. TSN then runs these features about 100 times during the course of the tournament, so you get to know the players pretty well. Anyway, Syvret's feature starts off and the first words out of his mouth are 'I like math,' which, coming from a hockey player is relatively shocking. As I recall the basic point was that Syvret liked trigonomics and was a bit of a nerd, but despite that was the Captain of the London Knights, which at the time were about the hottest thing in Major Junior, arguably in all of hockey, since the NHL was 'on a break' that year. (Hockeygirl: Dion's feature was about how he liked woodworking).

Anyway, Danny had a real good tournament. He's the kind of defenceman you never really notice - there's nothing fancy about his game, but his positional play is very strong, and he's got good on ice sense. Of course he was on an awesome team, maybe the greatest ever seen at the World Juniors, but he managed to score Canada's gold medal winning goal, and then helped lead his Knight's team to a Memorial Cup victory. (Oh, and Pierre just mentioned he was Canadian Major Junior Defenceman of the Year.)

So it was with a little suprise from me that Syvret wasn't drafted until the 3rd round in his second year of eligibility. That's just the way it is I guess with small defenceman, but I still feel that if I was a drafting team I would have chanced it on Syvret a little earlier than 81st overall.

He didn't crack the Oiler's lineup at the beginning of the season, but did play for Canada in a silver medal effort at the Spengler Cup in December. But thanks to MA Bergeron being traded, and injuries to Tjarnqvist, Gilbert, Roy, Syvret is finally playing in the bigs.

And I have to say, I'm impressesd.

He hasn't delivered any thunderous body checks yet, but he's been playing a regular 3rd pairing shift, and he has been the better half of said pair. He's bailed out Greene several times in the past few games (which I guess is a pre-requisite for the position). Syvret has virtually never been out of position defensively, and has had several nifty plays.

One that comes to mind came against Calgary last Saturday night. With the puck dumped in to about the hash marks in the Edmonton zone, there was a race between Syvret and Lombardi for the puck. Now, obviously Syvret started out closer, but I've seen many defenceman beat by Lombardi for long end loose pucks this year, and if there's one type of player I would expect Lombardi to beat, it'd be a 3rd pairing defenceman in about his third NHL game. However, Syvret calmly identified his threat, and with his back turned, played a little interference, effectively blocking any chance Lombardi had to take the puck. I think thats a pretty good illustration of Syvret hockey.

If that's the kind of defensive effort the Oilers can look forward to in the future, then the future looks good.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Creating Controversy

I'm gonna take half a post to leave my Albertacentric world and wade into the new debate du jour of the NHL: Should players be able to resign with their former teams after being traded away as a rental?

A lot of personalities/talking heads have taken the position that it is very unfair that players can be traded on deadline day, and then during the summer resign with the former team, after their 'rental team' has given up a bunch of picks/prospects. I assume (mainly because this particular argument has been articulated so poorly by its advocates) this situation is unfair because the former team can make some sort of under the table deal and therefore has an advantage in signing the player, and perhaps it's an unethical advantage.

Another point the talking heads seem to be trying to make is that the 'rental team' gave up A LOT of assets for the rented player, and as such, they deserve some sort of value in return.

I suppose that one could argue whether the 'against' side is really two arguments or one poorly constructed argument, but I will approach it as a two assumption argument and rebute it in that sense.

Firstly, it is possible that the player's long time team (the rentee) could make a behind closed doors, under the table deal, such as; we will trade you to a Stanley Cup contender as a favour to you, then we will get assets in return, and we will resign you in the offseason and you will return to a stronger franchise, no hurt feelings. But there are two problems with that idea:

1) First of all, it is not as if under the table/on my word deals are as strong as those written on paper. Don't believe me? Ask Andrew Ference about his 'on my word' no trade clause. Ask Ryan Smyth about the on my word deal he/Meehan made with Kevin Lowe about not talking contract until the summer, lest it be a distraction to the team. As we have been told over the past week, the NHL is a business, and if you want something in business, get it in writing.

However, one cannot make that deal in writing due to CBA tampering rules. Look, I am not a CBA expert, you are probably not a CBA expert, read Kevin Lowe's (paraphrased) words:

HNIC After Hours: Are you going to try to reaquire Ryan in the summer?
Lowe: Well, I'm not allowed to talk about that...

2) OK, lets assume these types of 'on my word' deals are being made. If that's the case, well, then that's tough luck. The renting teams know that the players could potentially have relationships that go far deeper with the rentee teams, and as such, may have allegiances to them. But if the renters know they're renting a player. If they haven't yet figured out these types of players are refferred to as 'rentals' due to their short duration with the rentee teams, then the renter's GM should be fired on the spot.

Secondly, the entire reason this player became available in the first place, is that the rentees understood there wasn't a garuntee the player would resign with them. The entire inspiration for the trade itself is that the rentees weren't willing to assume the risk associated with losing an asset for nothing. If you're willing to trade for a rental, you are automatically assuming that risk, assumedly because you believe the risk is worth the reward, that being the rental player is the missing peice to either a) making the playoffs or b) winning The Cup.

Of course, usually only one single team ever makes the right decision with their rentals every year (the Stanley Cup winning team), so if a team is giving up a lot of assets, rentals are pretty much always a bad plan. Regardless, the risk is one that is inherent in all business, and if GM's insist on making risky deals, they should live with the high cost.

The second part of the argument against rentals is that the rentees are giving up way too much for a player that will only be with them for 20 or so game. To anyone who argues that, I argue: its a free market economy, and when traded, players are worth whatever someone pays for them. Sometimes teams are gonna get skunked, and some teams will skunk others. Deal with it.


An interesting development has occured in Edmonton, which is that Petr Nedved, the near useless centre, has been put on the injured reserve, allowing Edmonton to recall Kyle Brodziak from the AHL to fill in. I use the term 'allow' because Edmonton has reached the limit of players allowed to be recalled from the 'A,' unless an injury occurs, in which case an 'emergency recall' can occur.

Now, you may notice that I wrote that Petr Nedved was put on the injured reserve, not that Petr Nedved was injured, because I don't know if he's injured. Given the state of his decrepid body, it wouldn't suprise me.

However, given the state of Edmonton's season, and given the tenuous state of Kevin Lowe, and given Kevin Lowe's pleading of patience, and that 'fans haven't even seen guys like Kyle Brodziak' on HNIC, I have to think the timing of Petr's injury is particularly conveinient. The Oilers want to test some of their young guys at this point (actually, I think they want to test all of their young guys by looking at the average age of this roster) and Petr Nedved no longer serves any purpose for this team.

I suspect something similar may have taken place with Darren McCarty earlier this season, as he was just about as effective as Petr Nedved.

Corrections: In one of my recent posts, I stated that Don Meehan was responsible for Theo Fleury's departure from Calgary. In fact, Theo's agent was Don Baizley, and I sincerely apologize for the confusion. First name right, rest of it wrong.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Opposite Directions

While the initial two games this season were tight, competitive affairs, the latter half of the Battle of Alberta has been anything but. As the Oilers' season have progressed through the 82 game shedule, they have regressed in just about everything else. Injuries have decimated this team throughout the season, starting with Ethan Moreau and including (but not limited to): Smyth, Stoll, Staois (ending an impressive ironman like streak), Hemsky, Tjarnqvist, Pisani etc. etc. And while injuries piled up, so did the underwhelming offensive performances of many key players.

The Oilers gave up the one continuous shining light over the past 12 seasons on deadline day as Ryan Smyth went to the New York Islanders for prospects, ensuring that the fork was officially in the Oilers' cooked season. Since that trade, the Oilers have been outscored 8-0 to one mediocre team, and another team that should have been tired, but looked anything but against this hapless Oiler squad. And while one hometown hero diverges into another path in his life, another hometown boy becomes a better and better example of everything thats wrong with the Oilers' club. Joffrey Lupul's play has morphed from interesting (1st game of season) to quizical, (what does this guy do exactly), to hopeful (he's getting better...I think...) to put his head on a steak bad (for example, Lupul makes a breakaway pass to Gaborik). Unforunately, Lowe seems unable (unlikely) or unwilling (likely) to deal with Lupul's ineptitude, so it seems we are all stuck with him for another season at least.

The Flames season though, seems to be garnering momentum over the past couple games, with a 7-4 run and gun show on HNIC last week, a convincing 5-1 victory over the Coyotes, and an impressive 2-1 comeback victory over the notoriously stingy Minnesota Wild. However, as mentioned by Duncan a while back, when the Flames are playing at home, everything seems ok, as if this team doesn't have glaring issues. But as anyone who is not living on Mars knows, the Flames have big problems.

A stellar home record, an undeniably disasterous road record.

In my opinion, the Flames don't even look that different on the road, but their mentality clearly is. Whether they're giving up late game leads (Buffalo) or simply getting blown out of the water (Detroit), this team simply TRIES to find ways to lose.

However, the Flames most recent victory over The Wild was not only a sublime defensive effort, it was also capped off in the shootout, a new feat for the season. Can this give the Flames a mental boost to get that road monkey off their backs?


But if The Flames don't trounce this inept Oilers group tonight, I think it would be a stining indictment against this team's ability to win in the playoffs. As a group Calgary has dominated Edmonton over the last two games, neither of which were close.

Will this put a bee in the Flames bonnet and inspire them to win more on the road? I'm afraid (for more reasons than you know) that I'll have to agree with Bill Watters; if youthink one road victory against the Oilers is going to turn this ship around, you're taking crazy pills. I can't think it will hurt though...

Keep an eye on:
Marc-Antoine Pouliot - has shown some playmaking ability and looks like a half decent shot.
Ales Hemsky - usually in some way responsible for 90% of all Oiler's chances
Raffi Torres - Has been very feisty of late, by which I mean he seems to get in a lot of fights.

Dion Phaneuf - has been a thorn in Edmonton's side all season series long
Jarome Iginla - loves to light up the Oilers
Miikka Kipprusoff - has had some of his best games all year against the Oilers

for more takes check out:

Steal Thunder

Walking Invisible


Andy Grabia


The Oilers are pulling out all the stops, as Mark Messier suited up for the morning skate!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Acceptance & Denial

Obviously I'm not the only one having trouble accepting Smytty is not an Oiler anymore. Also, the headline is both true, embarrassing, and depressing.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The World Has Gone Crazy

Over the last couple of days I've just been trying to consolidate all of my thougths about Smytty leaving Edmonton. The press conference yesterday, which I listened to live, was absolutely heartbreaking, especially when Ryan said he wanted to bring the Cup back to Edmonton because 'that's where my heart is.' I know that this was a money deal (on both sides) pure and simple, but it doesn't make it any easier. I'm 23 years old, and although Gretzky inspired me to take up hockey at an early age, Smytty has been my main inspiration for a long portion of my life. I keep thinking back to this hilarious advertisement in the early 2000s (I think) where Ryan Smyth worked at a car dealership (Chevy I'm pretty sure) and it showed him in his various exploits, including stickhandling a ball around the showroom where the manager showed up and told him 'No hockey in the showroom Ryan!!' This is the same guy that was crowded around his family on Olympic decision day in 2001, when Lowe phoned him and asked 'are you nervous?' to which Ryan tried to remain cool by replying 'should I be?' If memory serves he cried tears of joy that day too. If anyone can think of a man who has been there for his country in international competitions more than Smytty be sure to let me know. The only name that comes to my mind is Gretzky.

But as Smytty said, he has to move on and start a new chapter and so do I.

How wierd does that look? About as wierd as this.

No, not Iggy high fiving his teammates...THIS!
Not only was it the first shoot-out win of the season, but a 2-1 victory? When is the last time we saw one of those? Of course, against the Wild, always think low, but still.

I actually thought the team played pretty well except for a couple of guffaws. The Yelle penalty was kinda BS, I thought there should have actually been a Wild one on the play (against Radavoyahaslamalamadingdong?). Brad Stuart managed to get beat on a 1-2 play, so the soon to be California-ite is still managing to look average at best (and what about the play in OT where he lost it right at the line? Protect the puck Brad!). He and Regehr still don't look comfortable with one another.

In my opinion, no player that wasn't on the roster last year will be more of a help in the playoffs than David Moss. Seriously, this guy plays a really simple style that has 'playoffs' written all over it. Its depth guys like him that play consistently and are willing to play in the dirty areas of the ice that make the difference. I especially like having a rookie, and I'm dead serious about this. New players have less bad memories and self doubt to infringe upon their current decisions. Think about Kipper's first playoff run, think about him now. Not that my point is proven, but its a theory that has credence.

Anyway, sorry for the disjointedness of this post, but I've been a little disjointed over the past couple of days. My friend and I are debating whether Smytty would rather we slit our wrists or drive a truck into a lightpole in his honour. A little post-Smytty-era humour there (or is it?)