Monday, December 22, 2014

Last Minute Shopping: What Some Calgary Flames Players Need for Christmas

As you race around the malls doing your last-minute Christmas shopping today, here are some gift ideas for some members of the Calgary Flames.

Keep your eyes open for sales and if you spot something on the list, pick it up and drop it off at the Saddledome.


Lance Bouma Bubble Wrap

In many ways, Lance Bouma is like those bumper cars at the Stampede that we've all driven or attempted to drive. They don't steer very well and you find yourself constantly ramming into things, often on purpose, but sometimes by accident.

Several times this year, I've been covering a game at the Saddledome when I hear a loud noise and a "oooh" reaction from the crowd. When I look up from my laptop, I've come to pretty much expect it to be some sort of incident related to Bouma. Most recently, I looked down to find him trying to climb out of the Dallas Stars bench after an awkward landing. There are nights where he seems to miss just as many body checks as he connects on.

Long ago as a little kid when Bouma strapped on his first set of skates and he did what all of us did at that age, glide around and crash into the boards as a way of stopping, who knew that would end up being his exact NHL playing style two decades later.

Between the bouncing off the boards and his penchant for blocking shots -- finished second in the NHL last year among forwards and is eighth so far this year, a little extra protection from head to toe -- like some bubble-wrap, might be the perfect gift.


Paul Byron - Private lessons with Pavel Bure.

Paul Byron needs help on breakaways. Not in getting them -- he's got that mastered, but on how to succeed at them, as he currently has a failing grade.

When it comes to who in NHL history has been the most dangerous player on breakaways, Mario Lemieux would get my vote. He could make goalies look ridiculous. However, I'm not sure he would make the best tutor for Byron given they're built so differently. Where Lemieux at a thick 6-foot-4 was a fire truck, Byron at a slim 5-foot-7 is more like a fire hydrant.

Thus, Pavel Bure might be the better choice if he's open for accepting new students. During his time in the NHL and especially with the Vancouver Canucks as longtime Flames fans can attest, Bure was lethal on breakaways. There are some similar qualities between the Bure and Byron too -- beyond their matching initials. Their speed is pretty similar. As we know, Byron can flat-out fly. Bure was also undersized at 5-foot-10.

Byron has zero points in his last 14 games, a drought that would not exist if only he could have finished off half or even one-third of his dozen or so breakaways he's squandered this year. In lieu of a new set of hands, a few new tricks to do with his current hands is the most practical solution.


Mikael Backlund Good health

Last summer, I touted Mikael Backlund as potentially being a $5-million player when it comes time in the summer of 2015 to sign a new contract after his current two-year deal expires.

For all the reasons I explained, which included him being the Flames best forward over the final two-thirds of last season, he was very much on track to become the impact NHL player Calgary was hoping for when he was drafted in the first round in 2007.

Instead, he's been hampered this season by an abdominal injury that occurred prior to training camp when he was working out back in Sweden. It resulted in him being shut down after just 11 mildly effective games and ultimately resulted in minor surgery last month. Somewhat a forgotten man, Backlund's absence has left a massive void for this team, bigger than anyone can imagine. A solid two-way player with an offensive game that was just starting to come around, he is a possession-driving advanced stats darling on a team that advanced stats people have come to hate.

If this minor medical procedure ends up working as hoped and Backlund is able to return to the line-up for the final few months of the season, what a boost he would bring to the face-off dot, to the PK, and to the line-up overall. However, should such a return happen, will it come too late?


Joe Colborne Happy Management classes

At 6-foot-5 and tipping the scale at 225 pounds, Joe Colborne looks -- on paper -- like everything you'd want in a power forward. Except for one thing, he doesn't have a mean streak at all. Voted last year by Calgary's travelling media as the winner of the Mr. Nice Guy award for his friendly nature off the ice, he could very well be recognized for the same reasons on-the-ice if there was such an award for opposing players to vote on.

Forget controlling his temper, for him it's controlling his smile. It's not managing his anger, it's managing his happiness. Colborne is a playmaker stuck in an enforcer's body. If only he could play with a bit more edge, hit guys with some tenacity rather than apologetically, add a little snarl to his demeanor. If he could do that, the former Boston Bruins first round pick that the Flames acquired for a fourth round pick could be a real asset because power forwards or anything mildly resembling them are coveted in this league and especially on this team and management's desire for team toughness.


Deryk Engelland - Salary Secrecy

If Deryk Engelland was making $575,000 like he made last year with the Pittsburgh Penguins -- just a smidgen above the NHL's minimum salary, a majority of fans would probably be OK with what you're getting these days from the 32-year-old Edmonton native. For a nominal investment, you get a seasoned pro, who plays physical, can kill penalties and while he isn't mobile and is certainly prone to making mistakes, he won't hurt you -- when spotted correctly -- much more than other third pairing guys around the league (especially teams in the bottom half) hurt their respective NHL teams.

In an interesting note, during the Flames eight-game losing streak, Engelland is the only Calgary player, who has been a plus player at plus-1. Now plus-minus is a stat that has some flaws, for sure, but bottom line, if you can continue to go on the ice, shift after shift, game after game, and not get scored upon, that's the whole point of the game and that shows something.

Looking even closer at his recent play, Engelland has not been on the ice for a goal against in the last five games. Given the increased ice time he's been seeing lately, that adds up to 65:30 in total ice time -- 5:59 of that coming shorthanded. Imagine Engelland not leaving the ice for an entire game, including a five minute overtime, and Calgary not giving up a single goal.

If he was putting up those results at an annual salary of $800,000, $900,000 or even $1 million, most would be just fine with that. Engelland would be serving as a capable interim defenceman while other more highly touted prospects like Tyler WotherspoonPatrick Sieloff and Ryan Culkin continue their development in the minors.

However, here's the rub. Engelland is making $3 million in salary this season in the first of a three-year/$8.9 million contract he signed on July 1. His salary this year is over five times what he made last year and he is being judged on his new wage, which is hurting him and driving fans crazy.

No, he's not a better player than TJ Brodie, who is at $2.1 million or Kris Russell, who is making $2.6 million. No, he's not even remotely close to being three-quarters of the player Mark Giordano is at $4 million.

But ask yourself this. It is Engelland's fault that Calgary general manager Brad Treliving offered him that contract? If you don't like the salary, fans should judge the GM, not the player. All he die was sign on the dotted line. Engelland is the same player he was a year ago, only he's 32 now and one year older. Lower your expectations and your satisfaction will go up.


Michael Ferland An injury to a Calgary forward

When the Flames veterans returned to the line-up -- first Matt Stajan, then Mason Raymond, then Joe Colborne, it was inevitable that it was going to be Ferland, who would end up being that last guy demoted to the American Hockey League when Calgary simply ran out of roster spots.

Sure enough, that happened two weeks ago. More AHL experience won't hurt Ferland, who has played less than 50 AHL games in his pro career. It's a league where he can play more and continue to make up for the time he lost last season when he missed the final 4-5 months of the year with a knee injury in early December.

Bob Hartley is a big Ferland fan. You can tell just from the glow he gets whenever he talks about "Ferly". You just sense that Ferland is a kid that Hartley sees a lot of promise in and that he's a project that Hartley would love to be personally responsible for. If it was up to Hartley, Ferland would still be in the NHL where the club can more closely monitor his conditioning, his nutrition, and continue to groom his game and help him evolve into the impact NHLer he could turn out to be.

Instead, he must bide his time in upstate New York, waiting for someone to get dinged up or a personnel move to take place once the Christmas roster freeze ends. When there's an opening with the big club, I have no doubt Ferland will be the first player recalled and inserted straight into the line-up where he can resume playing the type of emotional, crash-and-bang style that the Flames are desperately in need of right now.


Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie Some Sleep-Ins

Calgary's stellar top blue-line pairing of captain Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie have been playing a lot -- averaging nearly 25 minutes per game each. That's coming on a team that has been playing a lot -- no club in the NHL has played more games at this point in the season than the Flames.

During the last couple weeks, we're starting to see a few tiny cracks in what's been one of the NHL's very best defensive pairings. And considering all the wear-and-tear on those two chassis's, should anyone be at all surprised?

Constantly carrying around the weight of the team on their shoulders, constantly fending off the opposition's best players, constantly joining the offensive rush at one end of the ice than racing back to break up a rush the other direction. These two guys must be absolutely exhausted.

A few days away from the rink where they can sleep in without a wake-up call, and just lie on the couch and rest and reset, that's surely in order and fully deserved.


Markus Granlund - Yanic Perreault instructional video

Granlund is a solid two-way player but we're seeing far more of his defensive game right now than his alluring offensive game simply because he rarely begins a shift with the puck. Granlund has taken 341 face-offs and has lost 216 of them while only winning 125. Of the 83 players, who have taken enough draws to be included among the NHL's leaders, Granlund ranks dead last and there's quite a gap to the next guy.

Here are the bottom five going into games on Dec. 22:

79. Mike Ribeiro Nsh, 42.8%
80. Zemgus Girgensons Buf, 42.7%
81. Evgeni Malkin Pit, 41.2%
82. Patrik Elias NJ, 40.2%
83. Markus Granlund CGY, 36.6%

As he showed last year in the AHL in putting up 25 goals in 52 games and also in the NHL this year where he has 12 points (4 goals, 8 assists) in 24 games, Granlund can be that offensive threat that is much needed these days but the Flames need to be in possession of the puck for that to happen.

Remember Yanic Perreault? He played a long time in the NHL starting in the 90s with his longest stops being with the Kings, Maple Leafs and Canadiens. Perreault's reputation was around his flat-out dominance at the face-off dot. How dominant? Wrap your head around this. Perreault led the NHL in face-off percentage for seven consecutive seasons from 1999-00 to 2006-07.

Even if Granlund could get his win-rate up 10 percent and closer to 46 or 47 percent, that would make a world of difference for both himself and the hockey club.


Brian McGrattan Clarity of Purpose

He has been healthy scratch 27 times in a season that's only 35 games old. Constantly, McGrattan has remained the extra forward as the Flames scrambled to bring up someone from Adirondack -- however many time zones away -- and insert them straight into the line-up instead.

McGrattan doesn't bring the quickness that the Flames have been deploying on the fourth line most of this year. No one will ever confuse McGrattan's game as high tempo. But he's also a popular figure in the dressing room and his class as a pro has been demonstrated in him not publicly voicing any unhappiness despite his diminishing role this year.

So what is the future for McGrattan? It seems like it's now or never if he's going to get in the line-up again. The Flames have gone eight games without a win and are badly in need of a spark, which is something McGrattan can very much provide.

A pending UFA at season's end, I would be surprised if he's brought back next year but right now, with the team reeling, why not try McGrattan, especially over someone like Brandon Bollig. You know he'll bring energy to the line-up, even if he only sees five or six minutes of ice time.

Going back to last year and including the playoffs, Bollig has gone 61 games since last scoring a goal back on March 6. McGrattan has scored three goals since then -- and in only 27 games. Goal scoring isn't what either player is on the team to provide, yet when the team is scuffling offensively like it is, even the occasional goal from Bollig might just have made a difference in some of these one-goal losses.

In many ways, McGrattan is the ideal scratch while players like Ferland and Sven Baertschi play every night in Adirondack. But at some point, there will surely be an enough-is-enough moment for McGrattan. He can't be happy with how it's going. No pro player wants to just sit and watch. Approaching the halfway point in the season, he's played just under 53 minutes this year, that's a cruel way to be used... or not used.


Karri Ramo - An appointment at Total Recall

It was less than four weeks ago when Ramo posted back-to-back road shutouts in San Jose and Arizona, becoming the first Flames goalie since Mike Vernon in December 1992 to string together consecutive blankings on the road.

But lately, Ramo has been brushing up against history of a far less-flattering kind. In losing 4-3 to Buffalo on Dec. 11, a game in which the Flames held a 45-19 edge in shots, Ramo was the first Calgary goalie to give up four or more goals on less than 20 shots in a start since Miikka Kiprusoff in November 2011.

But it got worse.

The 28-year-old pending UFA then went out and duplicated that dubious feat in his next start, surrendering four goals on 13 shots before getting yanked by coach Bob Hartley in the second period last Tuesday against the New York Rangers.

As a result of those two bad outings, Ramo's save percentage has tumbled down to .903, which ranks him 35th in the NHL out of 42 eligible goalies.

Ramo had been in a very good place. He had been playing well, looking poised and in control in net. And the team was winning. The Flames need to visit the Total Recall clinic from the science fiction movie of the same name, and erase these last few games from Ramo's memory bank and take him back to that happier place he was at just a month ago. If Calgary wants to get themselves back in the playoff hunt, they'll need both Hiller and Ramo, not one or the other.


Happy Holidays

Coming up immediately after Christmas is a six-game homestand that will be critical for Calgary. Included is two dates with the Edmonton Oilers -- Dec. 27 and Dec. 31, which certainly is four points they must have but won't be easy.

Can the Flames pick up 10 of 12 points in that crucial stretch of games, which will be pretty much a must in order to stay in the playoff race? It may just depend on how many of the Flames players listed above get what they want for Christmas.

We'll have to wait and see.


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Recent Related Flames Reading
  • Entertaining, Compelling, Unexpected: Enjoying the Flames Season For What It Is - Calgary's season has been a lot of things but boring hasn't been one of them. A hot start has been followed by a cold middle with what's next very much a mystery. Keep in mind that in 2004, the Flames nearly missed the playoffs yet went to the game seven of the Stanley Cup final. So you just never know.
  • Eight From 80 Feet: PK is Killin' It, Pre-Christmas Exam and More - A round-up of eight thoughts on the Flames from the past week, including a rubric for their eight-game pre-Christmas exam, Giordano's flirtation with NHL MVP, and a close-up look at Calgary's bizarre success with their goalie pulled.
  • Bennett Happy With How His Recovery is Going - The Saddledome has turned out to be a pretty exciting workout facility for injured prospect Sam Bennett, who is recovering from shoulder surgery. He spoke about how his rehab is going, what his timeline is and the excitement around how the Flames are playing and the club's bright future.
  • Eight From 80 Feet: Latest Random Musings About the Flames - Comprised of a blend of anecdotes -- sometimes quirky, recaps, statistics, analysis and with some opinions or predictions sprinkled in as well, it's a round-up of random thoughts on the current goings-on with the Calgary Flames. In this edition, you'll learn at least two things you didn't know before.
  • Wrong Side of the Tracks, Right Side of the Standings - If the 2014-15 NHL season was an 80s movie, the Flames with Byron, Bouma and Jooris would be cast as the poor kids, up against the rich kids in Eberle, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins. So far, the poor kids are dating the gorgeous cheerleader.

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