On Wednesday, April 6th, wins by the Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks cemented their fate – for the second straight NHL season, the Calgary Flames have missed the playoffs. Now that the horn has gone off for the final time at the Scotiabank Saddledome, the inevitable questions can be asked.
Why did the Flames miss the playoffs?
To be surgically precise, they missed the playoffs because they didn’t get enough points. Depending on what Anaheim and Chicago do with their 82nd games of the year, the Flames will finish between three and five points out of the playoffs. That amounts to the Flames winning two or three more close games over the season. Looked at that way, the Flames were almost frustratingly close to the post-season. The Flames were 19-9-12 in one goal games, but that means they left 21 points on the table that one goal could have earned them.
What’s up with Miikka Kiprusoff?
Miikka Kiprusoff is the Flames starting goalie. He holds the franchise records in most goaltending categories, and is approaching the one or two records he doesn’t already hold. But he’s also 34 years old and signed for another three seasons, at which point he’ll be 37.
Kiprusoff also has been among the league leaders in minutes and games played every season since the lock-out.
- 2010-11: 3rd (4,155, or 71 games)
- 2009-10: 4th (4,235, or 73 games)
- 2008-09: 1st (4,417, or 76 games)
- 2007-08: 4th (4,398, or 76 games)
- 2006-07: 3rd (4,419, or 74 games)
- 2005-06: 1st (4,379, or 74 games)
Kiprusoff also was among the league leaders in wins every year. But compare Kiprusoff’s placement among the minutes played leaders against that of the goalie that won the Stanley Cup that season:
- 2009-10: Chicago’s Cristobel Huet played 2,190 minutes (34 fewer games)
- 2008-09: Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury played 3,640 minutes (14 fewer games)
- 2007-08: Detroit’s Chris Osgood played 2,408 minutes (33 fewer games)
- 2006-07: Anaheim’s J.S. Giguere played 3,244 minutes (18 fewer games)
- 2005-06: Carolina’s Cam Ward played 1,484 minutes (48 fewer games, although Martin Gerber was the Canes’ starter throughout the season, and he played 14 fewer games than Kiprusoff)
Stanley Cup winning goaltenders all played a lot less than Kiprusoff did in every season since the lockout. Not surprisingly, Kiprusoff hit a rough patch in November and December – winning 10 games over 21 starts, putting the Flames in a hole that they’d be digging themselves out of all season long.
This isn’t to say that Kiprusoff was the only reason the Flames missed the playoffs, or the only reason for the 10 wins in his 21 starts. But the Kiprusoff of old, who stole games that the Flames had no business winning, didn’t show up until mid-January. By then, it was too late.
Would the team have been better off had Darryl Sutter been let go in the off-season?
There is no easy answer. Sutter brought in a few players that ended up making a big difference – Tim Jackman, Anton Babchuk, Tom Kostopoulos, the returning Alex Tanguay and Olli Jokinen. Heck, bringing in back-up goalie Henrik Karlsson somewhat stabilized the nets, as Karlsson came in and bailed out Kiprusoff in a handful of games down the stretch. Axe Sutter and perhaps none of those players join the team.
That said, since Darryl Sutter’s dismissal on December 28th, the Flames posted a 24-11-9 record. Continuing that trend over a full 82-game season, the team goes 45-20-17 for 107 points. The night and day change in the team’s demeanor and on-ice performance once the general manager left the club cannot be denied. But it’s also unlikely that the team could have continued their torrid pace for a full season, as seen in the team’s mid-March slump that left them just outside the playoff picture.
These are just a few of the questions floating around following the final game of the 2010-11 season. Examination of the Flames fortunes will undoubtedly continue well into the off-season, including an examination of the team’s impending free agents and an analysis of which farm team players could possibly make the jump to become full-time NHLers in 2011-12.