The 2011 calendar year was one of ups and downs for the Calgary Flames. The year began with the team on the outside of the playoff spot looking in and, despite a bevy of changes throughout the organization, they ended things in much the same position.
HALF OF ALL GOAL-SCORING FROM FOUR PLAYERS
The Calgary Flames scored 241 goals during 2011. Not surprisingly, Jarome Iginla remained the engine of Calgary’s offense throughout 2011, despite being nestled snugly into his mid-30s, in part due to a tremendous exercise regiment and a continuous upgrade of his line-mates. Considering that Iginla is undoubtedly the Flames’ best player, it isn’t surprising that Brent Sutter has done what he can do put the team’s best performing players with the captain.
As a result? The players that play on Iginla’s line have tended to score all the goals. Iginla and frequent line-mates Curtis Glencross, Rene Bourque and Olli Jokinen account for the lion’s share of the team’s offense. If you factor in assists, Alex Tanguay creeps into the mix, as well. While it’s indisputable that the five (or so) players providing the team’s offense are the team’s best players, it’s a bit scary that so few players are contributing…and may be the reason why the team’s so frequently on the outside of close games. Key in on the main offensive threats, and you can beat the Flames.
2011 for the Calgary Flames was defined by the team’s incredible run through the latter part of the 2010-11 season. The club began the calendar year with a 17-18-3 record and were considerably outside the playoff picture. General manager Darryl Sutter had just resigned. The team, all of sudden, behaved as if a weight had been lifted – or a long-awaited shoe had finally dropped. The team started to get on a roll.
- January 7-17: 2-0-3
- January 21-February 11: 8-0-2
- February 14-20: 3-0-0
- February 25-March 1: 2-0-1
- March 4-9: 3-0-0
- March 17-21: 1-0-2
- April 1-9: 3-0-1
These streaks put the Flames on a 24-11-9 clip in the 2011 portion of the season, but the NINE three-point games? Those were probably the reason the Flames missed the playoffs by three points. [For the record, the nine games were against Vancouver, Los Angeles (2), Anaheim (2), San Jose, Montreal, Carolina and Detroit.]
THE SOFT RE-BUILD
While interim general manager Jay Feaster began his summer by being named the team’s permanent architect and promptly announced that no major rebuild would occur – he wanted to give the group that had such a great January-to-April run a chance to do it over a full season – the GM did make a few deals that betrayed this edict.
Alternate captain Robyn Regehr, forward Ales Kotalik and a draft pick were traded at the NHL Draft to Buffalo for young blueliner Chris Butler and prospect Paul Byron. Both have factored into the Flames line-up throughout the 2011-12 season. Free agent Scott Hannan was signed in the off-season to replace Regehr’s physical presence on the ice and his veteran presence in the locker room. Also shipped out was centre Daymond Langkow, sent to Phoenix for winger Lee Stempniak.
In addition to losing some vets, the team has shown considerable patience for younger players. The club’s opening day roster contained 20-year-old Roman Horak and relative NHL newcomer Derek Smith. They’ve also included T.J. Brodie, Paul Byron, Greg Nemisz, Joe Piskula and Leland Irving in their roster at various times due to injury call-ups.
Granted, there has not been a full-scale “blow it up!” mentality displayed by the Flames braintrust, but the presence of so many new and young faces is a sign that the team’s at least taking stock of their prospects and perhaps sketching out a transition plan for the future.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
For a team that’s been criticized for [a] not having any prospects and [b] not giving these non-existent prospects any chances, the shift in philosophy displayed by Jay Feaster has taken a bit of getting used to.
As of this writing, the Flames have their 2006 (Leland Irving), 2007 (Mikael Backlund) and 2008 (Greg Nemisz) first round picks on their roster. Feaster also managed to turn a 2009 first rounder that didn’t want to be signed (Tim Erixon) into Roman Horak, who’s become a full-time roster player for Calgary in his first pro season.
Feaster’s insistence on his scouting staff “working their list” and drafting the best players available resulted in the club obtaining Swiss WHL standout Sven Baertschi, hot-shot NCAA rookie Johnny Gaudreau, Finnish forward Markus Granlund and impressive WHL goalie prospect Laurent Brossoit. The previous regime’s approach would likely have seen picks used primarily for large, physical, Western Canadian players.
So far so good for Feaster, at least on the drafting front.
A ROCKY START TO 2011-12
The current season has not continued the Flames’ terrific end to the 2010-11 campaign. First of all, the team has been radically inconsistent, even with a fully healthy roster. Second of all, the club has been besieged by injuries. Back-up goalie Henrik Karlsson, defenders Derek Smith, Mark Giordano, Brett Carson, Anton Babchuk and forwards Brendan Morrison, Matt Stajan, David Moss and Alex Tanguay have all missed time, often all at once. In addition, captain Jarome Iginla began training camp with back spasms and didn’t really get back to 100% until a chunk of the schedule had ticked away.
As a result, the Flames hung around near the bottom of the NHL standings for much of the first couple months of the 2011-12 season, only recently surging back towards the playoff pack.
BY THE NUMBERS
42-27-14 record for the club as a whole
120 goals combined for Jarome Iginla (41), Curtis Glencross (32), Rene Bourque (26) and Olli Jokinen (21)
39-20-7 record for Miikka Kiprusoff
+21 rating for Anton Babchuk, tops on the team (just ahead of +12 Brendan Morrison)
-13 rating for Olli Jokinen, bottom on the team (just behind -10 Mark Giordano and -9 Jay Bouwmeester, Rene Bourque and Tom Kostopoulos)