Sunday, March 30, 2008

Battle of Alberta Postgame - The Solid Time of Change

Down at the end, round by the corner.
Close to the edge, just by a river.
Seasons will pass you by.
I get up, I get down.

Once again I'm stealing a page off of Lowetide by introducing my topic with lyrics from a song, but I think that passage from Yes' album 'Close to the Edge' gives a little insight into both last night's game and this season in general for both the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers.

If there's one thing this season has done, it has brought the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and yes, I get up, I get down.

For the Flames, I think this season has represented a step backwards. I don't think anyone can really argue this edition of the Flames is significantly better in any way than last year. I totally missed the boat when I predicted the end of the season for Edmonton, but I think I hit the nail right on the head when I predicted the end of the season for Calgary. They've been incredibly inconsistent, marking great games followed by brutal games, and brutal periods followed by absolutely fantastic periods (last Tuesday's game versus the Canucks in particular). Dion Phaneuf, Jarome Iginla, Robyn Regehr, Miikka Kipprusoff and Owen Nolan have played great over this final stretch. Phaneuf and Nolan in particular have been great in my eyes.

But this team just can't seem to be consistent. I've come to the same conclusion as Duncan, and MG; the Flames just aren't that good.

At the beginning of the season, a lot of fingers were pointed at Miikka Kipprusoff, and probably for good reason. But if you follow MG's blog at all, you can see his tracking of Miikka's SV%, and it has steadily improved, so I don't think you can point to that and claim that's why the Flames have been so average. I'm not sure you can even point to the top heavy leanings of this team, as Keenan barely even plays the 4th line most nights.

I don't know the reason, but the Flames just aren't that good.

Now, at the beginning of the year, if you'd have told me the Flames and Oilers would have an equal number of wins with only a handful of games remaining at the end of the year, I'd have called you an asshole and an idiot. (Why an asshole? Because I'm just that sort of person...). If you'd have told me they have done it while Stoll took two step backwards, Horcoff missed almost the entire second half of the season and Souray and Greene were replaced by Smid and Grebeshkov, well, I would've really thought you were stupid.

But here we are, and the unthinkable has happened. Watching the game last night, I couldn't help but think that these two teams are far closer in ability than most Calgary Flames fans are willing to admit. There were of course stretches w (especially in the second) where the Flames dominated, and that post at the end was pretty unlucky, but when you think about it, if Dwayne Roloson doesn't catch a pick in the ice, the game is even more out of hand. The one goal Calgary scored happened at least partly, and I would say mainly because Dwayne Roloson fell. Ouch.

And while the Oilers' have Souray's bloated contract to deal with, the vast majority of the team right now is young and cheap. Watching Fernando Pisani compete night after night I am convinced he is not overpaid, and I expect a lot of players for the Oilers will continue to get better; As an Oiler fan friend of mine said to me yesterday, there are some fun times ahead.

I think a lot of the difference between these two team's philosophies has to do with draft procurement. When you look down Calgary's roster, there aren't a lot of guys the Flames drafted. Dustin Boyd was drafted by the Calgary Flames in the 3rd round (98th overall) in 2004, Matthew Lombardi was drafted by the Calgary Flames in the 3rd round (90th overall) in 2002, Eric Nystrom was drafted by the Calgary Flames in the 1st round (10th overall) in 2002, finally, Dion Phaneuf was drafted by the Calgary Flames in the 1st round (9th overall) in 2003. David Moss was drafted by Calgary in 2001.

Take a look then at Edmonton's roster:
Kyle Brodziak - Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 7th round (214th overall) in 2003.
Andrew Cogliano - Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 1st round (25th overall) in 2005.
Sam Gagner - Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 1st round (6th overall) in 2007.
Ales Hemsky - Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 1st round (13th overall) in 2001.
Fernando Pisani - Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 8th round (195th overall) in 1996.
Marc Pouliot - Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 1st round (22nd overall) in 2003.
Jarret Stoll - Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2nd round (36th overall) in 2002.
Zach Stortini - Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 3rd round (94th overall) in 2003.
Shawn Horcoff - Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 4th round (99th overall) in 1998.
Matt Greene - Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2nd round (44th overall) in 2002.

To be fair, the Flames have identified a couple of other teams' draft picks early on; Jarome Iginla and Robyn Regehr were acquired before they had played a single NHL game. And part of the reason the Oilers have so many home grown picks playing on the roster is out of necessity.

When you look at home runs, Calgary arguably has the biggest, but Edmonton has scored a lot of triples (Hemsky, Horcoff), doubles (Pisani, Stoll), singles (Greene, Stortini) and a few guys that were lead offs and are still rounding the bases (Cogliano, Gagner, Brodziak). Calgary on the other hand has a one double who's near a triple (Lombardi), a single (Moss) and a couple guys who are still rounding the bases but are looking to be about a single (Moss) and hopefully a double (Boyd).

This is not to say that I don't appreciate what the Flames draft picks bring to the table, but I just think the Oilers have done an overall better job.

The playoffs are nigh, and I think we can pretty much count the Oilers out and the Flames in. However, I can't help but feel this season has passed the Flames by, while the Oilers have exceeded expectations.

I get up, I get down...


MetroGnome said...

The Flames and Oilers are polar opposites of each other in terms of strengths and weaknesses. The Flames have invested better money in difference makers, but have a bad supporting crew. The Oilers have big dollars tied up in dubious "difference makers" (Souray, Penner, Roloson) but have assembled full-value support staff. Which is why the Flames are better (better to have good big guns), but only marginally so. This is a team game, after all.

MetroGnome said...

I came back to quibble...a bit...on Owen Nolan. I think he's another Amonte type mistake, albeit not to the same degree.

If Owen wasn't being paid 2M and wasn't playing in a scoring role, I'd have absolutely no problems with him.

But he is. He's had the benefit of decent ice time with good linemates most of the year. He's not going to top 40 pints, even with 4 EN goals to his credit. He's also gone huge patches of the season without doing anything (currently on a 21 game goalless drought) and some nights he looks as slow and old as the grey in his beard suggests.

I do like what he brings overall and think he's certainly better player than Tony was last year. But he's not a 2nd line, PP player anymore and the fact that Sutter brought Nolan in to play that role is another reason the Flames are battling to just make the play-offs rather than win the division.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you about Nolan, he's not a 2nd line guy. However, that's Sutter's error, not Nolan's. I think he's been probably a very strong 3rd line player, meanwhile, a guy who should be a great 2nd line guy (Juice) is getting scratched.

Owen Nolan in terms of a pickup for dollars I don't think was a large error, the error is Sutter and Keenan haven't used him very effectively.

I guess the real question is, who got fooled into believing Nolan was 2nd line material? Nolan, or Sutter? Or both?


MetroGnome said...

Well, when it comes down to it, they're all Sutter's errors. It's not Eriksson's fault he's a lousy player and Sutter decided to sign him for 2 years @ 1.4 per. And it's not Warrener's fault Sutter hasn't cut him lose is some manner. But they are still poor value contracts for roles they're filling.

Nolan is probably the best of the bad lot and if he was the only issue, then I wouldn't mention him at all. It's just sort of cumulative effect for me and my grousing with this team I guess.

therealdeal said...

To tell you the truth, that's actually how I tend to look at signings in general in the NHL. Instead of getting mad at Eriksson for making 32 errors a night I ask myself, who signed him, and why are we playing him this much? We already know what the results are going to be, so to expect anything else is insane.

But when you compare Nolan to:

I think Nolan is easily the best of the worst. And as I stated in an earlier post, he's keeping his head above water as far as I'm concerned.