Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Best Flame Ever: Appreciating Iggy in 12 Words

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J - Jocose

While fans are most familiar with that steely intensity Jarome Iginla displayed on the ice, he was easy-going off the ice and always a willing participant in dressing room banter. Evidence of this playful side was on display on Monday — self-deprecating humour, trading chirps with longtime pal Craig Conroy, having a little fun at the expense of his three kids — one of whom was caught yawning during his speech. Asked what retirement looked like, Iginla said he looked forward to playing a few games of Fortnite with his kids, but “in moderation” he interjected with deadpan seriousness.

A - Accomplished

The list of achievements is ridiculously long: 20 NHL seasons, 1,554 games (13th all-time), 625 goals (15th all-time), 1,300 points (34th all-time), 101 game-winning goals (9th all-time), three-time Olympian while winning gold twice, two-time winner of the Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard Trophy, winner of the Art Ross, 12-time 30-goal scorer, four times notching 40, twice reaching 50. One of only eight players to score 30-or-more goals in 11 consecutive seasons. Six all-star game appearances. I could go on all day.

R - Robbed

Despite all the awards Iginla did win, you can’t help but agonize over the hardware he got oh-so-tantalizingly close to, only to be denied. Most notably, especially in these circles, would be the Stanley Cup in 2004. One could (and many do) argue Calgary was a coach's challenge away from defeating Tampa Bay in game 6. Going hand in hand with that might well have been the Conn Smythe for Iginla. But arguably the most egregious of all the injustices is Jose Theodore edging him out for the Hart Trophy in 2001-02, a year Iginla — a literal one-man show — led the league in scoring with 52 goals and 96 points, won the Lester B. Pearson Award as the players’ MVP, only to lose out on the big prize in a tie-breaker with the Montreal Canadiens' goaltender somehow garnering more first place votes.

O - Obliging

You hear the stories all the time and it’s because they’re true. Generous with his time, especially given the demands on him as one of the league’s true superstars, Iginla would frequently hang back to sign autographs for kids — regularly being the last player to get on the team bus. As captain, that role comes with expectations when it comes to dealing with the pesky media and he always fulfilled those duties with grace and without a hint of attitude, regardless if the team just suffered a heartbreaking and/or gut-wrenching loss.

M - Modest

You heard it on Monday. Iginla would have been content to just write out a couple paragraphs of thanks in a press release and step away from the game. The pomp and circumstance of what was an excellent retirement press conference — both necessary and deserved — was certainly not at his insistence. Meanwhile, in reflecting on his career, you heard about big moments in which he led you to believe he was merely along for the ride. Recounting the memorable 2004 Stanley Cup run, he talked more about the big goals scored by Martin Gelinas and there was zero mention of ‘The Shift’ and his epic involvement in Oleg Saprykin’s OT winner against the Lightning in game 5 that put Calgary ahead 3-2. He referenced the 2010 gold medal game, but talked more about the atmosphere in Vancouver and only in passing mentioned Sidney Crosby’s golden goal, not noting at all the fact that it doesn’t happen if not for his perfect pass.

E - Extraordinary

Making everything Iginla accomplished that much more improbable and remarkable is the reality that in 16 years in Calgary, he never had a true No. 1 centre alongside him. Conroy stumbled upon that gig, first getting elevated into that role (from merely being “another checker”) when Marc Savard got injured. While those two quickly became fast friends and enjoyed the most success of any of the C-RW combos, that No. 1 centre job was always a missing piece. Iginla did what he could playing with the likes of Daymond Langkow, Olli Jokinen, German Titov, Mike Cammalleri, Andrew Cassels... heck, even Jeff Shantz was his centre one season, but it does leave you wondering what might have been.



I - Intense

What a fiery competitor. Year after year, he put the team on his back and did all he could to will them to success. As we heard on Monday, game nights began with that towel draped over his head in the dressing room, the captain getting into game mode. When the puck dropped, the more pissed off he got, the better he played. Don’t poke the bear was the best advice for the opposition. Iginla finished with an astounding 76 NHL fights, 59 of them with Calgary. Derian Hatcher, Vincent LeCavalier, Jamie Benn, Denny Lambert (think 2001 Flames-Ducks brawl) and Francois Beauchemin were among the more memorable tussles. While a good fighter, Iginla didn’t always win, but he was always willing -- nobody had to fight his battles. And that trademark smile he’d flash afterwards, sometimes accompanied by blood running down his cheek, it was obvious he loved that aspect of the game.

G - Generous

Lost among the higher-profile hardware Iginla won, or nearly won, was the fact he was named the recipient of the NHL Foundation Award in 2004, awarded to the player who applies the core values of hockey — commitment, perseverance and teamwork — to enrich the lives of people in his community. Mark Giordano won that same award in 2016 and Travis Hamonic won it in 2017. We’re very familiar with both of their well-documented efforts in the community, but you forget how generous with his time Iginla was back in his heyday when there was less coverage of these things. Iginla also won the King Clancy Memorial Award for exemplifying leadership qualities on and off the ice. The Ted Lindsay Award for leadership is also on his mantel. Is there a better story than what unfolded at the Winter Olympics in 2002. At a restaurant with his family, Iginla was introduced to four young fans from Calgary, who had driven to Salt Lake City to cheer on Canada. When he learned they were staying in their car as they didn’t have a hotel room, he put them up at the Marriott where his own family was staying, and on his own dime, of course. Sensational.

I - Intimidating

Iginla was the consummate power forward. He could drop the gloves, he could lay a body check, he could make plays and he could shoot. Man, could he ever shoot. It’s why he lit the lamp 662 times including playoffs and will go down as one of the most prolific scorers in NHL history. That whole package made him as formidable of an opponent as you could find and he would cause other teams fits. How often did we see this play in his prime where like a paving truck, he would get the puck along the sideboards and curl out, bowling his way to the front of the net and through anyone standing in his way. An absolute force. There was no stopping him.

N - Natural

He may not have looked like a natural that first hockey tryout, when as he told the story on Monday, his grandpa brought him to the rink in St. Albert and he went out on the ice with all the other experienced kids — without a jersey and without socks. He did not realize he had to bring both. But the natural talent within him came out quickly. Dominant in the WHL in a prestigious career with the Kamloops Blazers. Had an impactful World Juniors in 1996 (5 goals and 12 points in 6 games) in leading Canada to a gold medal. He was a high first round pick that cost Calgary an all-star named Joe Nieuwendyk in order to pry him away from Dallas. Had an assist in his first NHL game after just flying into town after his WHL season ended. Then he scored his first goal in the next game. The rest is history.

L - Legend

There’s no better way to describe him. Known simply as ”Iggy”, what more can you say about his hall-of-fame career. He was the face of the Flames franchise for a decade and a half and is easily Calgary’s greatest player of all time. And his impact reached well beyond southern Alberta. One of the most iconic moments in Canadian hockey history involved Iginla in 2010 when he got the puck along the sideboards and to Crosby's plea heard around the world of “Iggy”, Iginla fed him the puck and Crosby fired a quick shot through Ryan Miller’s pads for the overtime winner that gave Canada Olympic gold over Team U.S.A. Next, it will be time for the No. 12 jersey to be raised to the rafters of the Saddledome, slotted between Lanny McDonald’s No. 9 and Mike Vernon’s No. 30. That's how you pay tribute to a legend.

A - Ageless

He played in the NHL until he was 40. In a league that keeps getting younger and younger, that is one heck of a run and if not for being slowed by a bad hip, he could still be going as he looks in great shape. Most impressively is his consistency. He scored an impressive 301 goals after his 30th birthday. That is insane. Strip out the 21 goals he scored at age 19 and that nearly matches the 303 goals Iginla scored in his 20s. Heck, if you only counted his goals scored in his 30s, Iginla would still rank in the top 200 NHL goal scorers of all-time.

Thanks for the memories.






By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues that I've enjoyed and I'll occasionally use that space to chime in on the news of the day.

-----------------------------------------------

Recent Flames Reading:

  • State of the 2018-19 Roster: Flames Tracking to Squeeze in Under the $79.5M Cap - With two players still unsigned, most notably Noah Hanifin, I take a comprehensive look at what the club's season-opening roster could look like to see if they can fit everybody in. (July 28, 2018)
  • Jankowski Agrees to Two-Year Deal That Works Great for Both Sides - Mark Jankowski has been a good soldier ever since Calgary drafted him in 2012 and the two-year deal he recently signed is yet another example. (July 26, 2018)
  • Enough: Treliving Finally Repairs Hole in Line-up that has Existed for Seven Years - Not since Craig Conroy have the Flames had a right-shot centre in their top nine and the lack of that cost them last season. Well, that won't be an issue any longer. (July 13, 2018)
  • Trying to Crack the A Team: Don't Pity the Foo - Since Spencer Foo signed with the Flames just a over a year ago, right wing has suddenly become a crowd scene. However, he remains unfazed, confident that he can make the team and be a difference maker. (July 10, 2018) 
  • Flames Get Younger and Different in Blockbuster Trade with Carolina - In a blockbuster deal at the draft, Calgary traded fan favourites Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and Adam Fox. While the return were names that are less familiar , they're both solid. (June 24, 2018)

Saturday, July 28, 2018

State of the 2018-19 Roster: Flames Tracking to Squeeze in Under the $79.5M Salary Cap

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As Flames GM Brad Treliving methodically works through his summer 'to do' list, signing players in need of new deals, a lot of questions have been swirling among fans.

In particular, there is angst around the roster and Calgary's proximity to the NHL salary cap of $79.5 million.

Do they have enough cap space to sign restricted free agent Noah Hanafin? The 21-year-old defenceman is coming off his entry level contract and it remains to be seen if the team opts to do a bridge deal with the player or do they commit long-term.

Will they need to buy somebody out? The name Troy Brouwer always comes up in these debates given the bottom-six forward has two years remaining on his deal that pays him an annual average value of $4.5 million.

Do they have to trade Michael Stone to clear space? The third pairing blueliner also has two years remaining on his deal that pays him an AAV of $3.5 million.

With only three unsigned players remaining -- Hanifin, Garnet Hathaway and Hunter Shinkaruk -- the state of the NHL roster is coming into focus, allowing us to get a much better grasp on where the club is at in respect to the salary cap and what do they still need to do.

I set out to construct what I think the Flames' NHL roster could look like when they open the regular season in Vancouver on Oct. 3. What I learned is despite all the consternation, the answer to the question of what do they still need to do could be nothing. Boring, I know, but it looks like they'll be just fine.


Background

The website Cap Friendly is a phenomenal tool and I use it all the time. That said, because of the presence of RFAs and players on that site listed in the minors when they could or should be listed on the NHL roster (and perhaps vice versa), I prefer to maintain my own ledger.

So here we go.

These are my projections, as of today, as to who will be on the team and who will not. For planning purposes, I've roughed in some tentative lines also, but please don't let that distract you (I repeat, do not let that distract you -- e.g. Sam Bennett at center, I'm just tinkering with different ideas should Bill Peters want both Mark Jankowski and Derek Ryan in his top nine). The theme with all the changes made this off-season is versatility in positions/roles so there could be and likely will be a myriad of different iterations of who slots where.

For now, I'm more concerned with the salary math as that's the key takeaway from this roster-building exercise.

Determined to attach a dollar figure to every player, highlighted in yellow are guys that are still unsigned and my guess at what their AAV may come in at for the 2018-19 season. I will adjust this as contracts are signed so check back later.

At the bottom, I've included some further position-by-position commentary to explain what I've done.

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NHL Salary Cap in 2018-19
$79.5 million

My Projected Flames Payroll 
$78.867 million
(23 players - 14 forwards, 7 defencemen, 2 goaltenders)

Available Cap Space
$0.633 million 

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Breakdown by Position

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Forwards
$48.455 million
(14 players)


Starting 12

Gaudreau (L) $6.75M - Monahan (L) $6.375M - Lindholm (R) $4.85M
Tkachuk (L) $925K - Backlund (L) $5.35M - Neal (L) $5.75M
Frolik (L) $4.3M - Jankowski (L) $1.675M - Ryan (R) $3.125M
Mangiapane (L) $705K - Bennett (L) $1.95M - Czarnik (R) $1.25M

Extras

C/RW Lazar (R) $950K
RW Brouwer (R) $4.5M 


Other Candidates
 (not factored into the payroll)

RW Hathaway (R) $800K?
C/LW Dube (L) $778K
RW Foo (R) $925K
C Quine (L) $700K
LW Klimchuk (L) $700K
RW Robinson (R) $700K
LW Shinkaruk (L) $650K?


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Defence
$24.458 million
(7 players)


Starting Six

Giordano (L) $6.75M - Brodie (L) $4.65M
Hanifin (L) $4M? - Hamonic (R) $3.858M
Kulak (L) $900K - Stone (R) $3.5M

Extra

Prout (R) $800K


Other Candidates
 (not factored into the payroll)

Andersson (R) $756K
Valimaki (L) $895K
Kylington (L) $731K
Hogstrom (L) $700K


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Goaltenders
$5.05 million
(2 players)


Tandem

Smith $4.25M
Rittich $800K


Other Candidates
 (not factored into the payroll)

Gillies $750K

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Other Expenses
$905K

Buyout Costs
$905K
(Bouma $767K, Murphy $138K)


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About the Forwards

One of the common misunderstandings is that the Flames have to fit in all the forwards on one-way deals into the team salary cap. This is inaccurate. You only need to fit in all the salaries of the players that end up on the NHL roster, with one exception that I will explain.
  
For example, on my ghost roster above, I have Hathaway as not on the team. 
              
When Hathaway signs — be it on his own or through an arbitration decision — his AAV is assured of being below the 2018-19 threshold documented in the CBA of $1.025 million (his ask in salary arbitration is $975,000 while the team has countered with $650,000). Because of that, even if he gets a one-way deal, he can still be sent to the minors with his entire salary coming off the books. While Flames ownership would still need to pay him the full amount, it won’t count from a salary cap perspective. He would have to be placed on waivers before being sent to the minors, but if that was the roster decision Calgary made, I don't think there would be any hesitation.

   
When burying players in the minors this season, it's only the AAV above $1.025 million that counts towards a team's payroll. So as I see it, Hathaway and Shinkaruk remaining unsigned has very little bearing on the team's overall payroll situation.

I say "very little" because if Hathaway makes the team instead and the team opts to send down Andrew Mangiapane instead (who does not need to clear waivers), the only impact on the team's total payroll would be the difference between Mangiapane's $705,000 AAV and whatever Hathaway signs for, so a difference of around $100,000.

Same thing applies if Spencer Foo or Alan Quine make the team instead of Curtis Lazar or whoever. You're adding in one AAV, but then you're also subtracting one, so they essentially cancel each other out.
   
Because the team isn't in absolute dire need of creating cap space for this season, I don't see them buying out Brouwer. While that would create cap space for this season and next, it also means they would have to carry a Brouwer buyout penalty of $1.5 million for the next four seasons and that is far from ideal.


About the Defence

The Hanifin situation is the one worth monitoring as it could be a game-changer in terms of forcing an additional significant roster move. 

As it stands, I'm anticipating a bridge deal. A two or three-year deal with a significant pay hike to around $4 million would give the Flames a chance to really see what they have in the American selected fifth overall in the 2015 NHL Draft. Yet, that would keep him an RFA at the end of that deal as he won't become an unrestricted free agent to the summer of 2022.

I'm just not sure Treliving is ready to commit quite yet to the type of number Hanifin would want over a long-term deal, nor do I think the player -- betting on his own upside -- would be willing to accept a reduced figure over the long term that would be palatable by the team.

That said, if Hanifin does end up inking a long-term deal, the AAV he'd command would likely be large enough to push Calgary over the salary cap. In that instance, you do need to seriously look at a couple options:

One is the aforementioned Brouwer buyout. A second buyout window opens for Calgary in the first week of August as a result of the Flames having salary arbitration cases. So this remains a path Calgary could go down.

The other option and one that arguably makes more sense is trading Stone given you have a natural replacement on that third pairing in right-shooting Rasmus AnderssonTurning 22 in October, the Swede looks ready to take his development to the NHL level after two seasons in the AHL. He got into 10 games with the Flames last year.

Stone does have a limited no-trade clause, which means the player submits a 15-team list of teams he can't be traded to without his permission. Is Ottawa on that list? Hard to imagine they would be given that's where his younger brother Mark Stone plays. With the Senators expected to move on from right-shooting defenceman Erik Karlsson, perhaps there could be a fit there with the right-shooting Stone, even if Calgary needs to retain some salary.


About the Goaltenders

There is no real drama here. While I've penciled in David Rittich in the back-up role given he's on a one-way deal and with the success he enjoyed early last season as Smith's caddy, should Jon Gillies win the back-up job instead, the salary difference between the two is minimal.

But because Gillies is on a two-way and is also waivers exempt while Rittich is now waiver-eligible, it does feel like it will be a Smith-Rittich tandem, at least to start the season.




By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues that I've enjoyed and I'll occasionally use that space to chime in on the news of the day.

-----------------------------------------------

Recent Flames Reading:

  • Jankowski Agrees to Two-Year Deal That Works Great for Both Sides - Mark Jankowski has been a good soldier for the Flames and his two-year deal is yet another example. (July 26, 2018)
  • Enough: Treliving Finally Repairs Hole in Line-up that has Existed for Seven Years - Not since Craig Conroy have the Flames had a right-shot centre in their top nine and the lack of that cost them last season. Well, that won't be an issue any longer. (July 13, 2018)
  • Trying to Crack the A Team: Don't Pity the Foo - Since Spencer Foo signed with the Flames just a over a year ago, right wing has suddenly become a crowd scene. However, he remains unfazed, confident that he can make the team and be a difference maker. (July 10, 2018) 
  • Flames Get Younger and Different in Blockbuster Trade with Carolina - In a blockbuster deal at the draft, Calgary traded fan favourites Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and Adam Fox. While the return were names that are less familiar , they're both solid. (June 24, 2018)


Thursday, July 26, 2018

Jankowski Agrees to Two-Year Deal that Works Great for Both Sides

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Mark Jankowski has avoided arbitration by signing a two-year contract for an AAV of $1.675 million. The Flames announced the new deal on Wednesday morning. The two sides had an arbitration hearing set for Friday. Now they won’t need it and that’s always best for both sides.

I view it as a great deal for the club especially, continuing a trend with this player, who has been a good soldier for Calgary throughout his career.

From shrugging off the relentless criticism for being drafted where he was — like it was his fault. For agreeing three years ago at the insistence of the Flames to return to Providence College for his senior season, despite really wanting to turn pro that summer. For forgoing the typical burning of the first year of his entry-level contract when he did sign his ELC in March 2016 — and the NHL pay that would have come with it — to instead agree to begin his contract in the fall instead. For still reporting to Stockton on an amateur tryout right after signing his ELC and getting in that invaluable first taste of pro hockey. Now this, signing a two-year deal that is great value for the team given his upside and where he slotted on the depth chart a year ago as the No. 3 centre.

Now sure, the money works for him too, that’s certainly decent salary for a guy coming off his first NHL season. Yet after putting up 17 goals, regardless of how he did it (e.g. Four goals in the season finale), it wouldn’t have surprised me to see him sign for an AAV around $2 million, especially on a contract that extended over two years. This is a league in which scoring goals gets you paid and 17 is a decent number for year 1 in the league for the soon-to-be 24-year-old, who plays a premium position.


Takes Some Pressure Off

What I like about both the dollar figure and the term for the club is it gives Jankowski some runway to establish himself as the No. 3 centre on the Flames behind Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund. He was that last year, but it could be argued he’s not that any longer after the signing earlier this off-season of free agent centre Derek Ryan.

But let’s not kid ourselves, Ryan is 31 and is not the long-term fit in that role. But what Ryan’s presence the next few years allows the team to do is pump the brakes a little on what they absolutely need out of Jankowski. He no longer needs to be fast-tracked and forced into that role.

Jankowski has all the tools you’d want if you could open up a catalog and select a centre for your franchise. He’s tall, he’s strong (and getting stronger), he is skilled, he is likable, he is receptive to coaching instruction, he works passionately at his craft (e.g. Taking face-offs), when he’s challenged, he responds the right way by not sulking, but instead pushing back with a determined ‘I’ll show you’ attitude, he’s got the awareness to be a shutdown centre — his understanding of the 200-foot game fostered under Nate Leaman, his head coach in college. He’s got all the attributes to be everything that Jay Feaster and John Weisbrod thought he would be when Calgary drafted the tall, skinny kid out of high school 21st overall in the 2012 NHL Draft.

Will Jankowski ever realize that potential? Maybe. But that’s not what today is about, that’s not what this contract is about. For now, his singular focus has to be narrowed to establishing himself first as a solid, dependable No. 3 centre that can kill penalties and contribute offensively. He was that for some of last year, but there were other times — especially over the latter half of the season — where he looked over his head. Start there and see how far he can take his game. If we’ve learned anything, it would be foolish to doubt him at this point.


Final Word

Will Ryan’s presence block Jankowski from establishing himself in that role? Not a chance. The multi-faceted Ryan is on this roster for many reasons, just one of them being to make Jankowski fight for that third line role and win it back. Ryan can play right wing too and the club would be more than delighted to be forced to shift Ryan into that spot to keep Jankowski in the top nine, or to later in the season do that to re-open that spot at 3C.

Now it’s on Jankowski to do what he’s done his entire career, to show that steely resolve to be what he knows in his own head that he can be, and not settle for being what skeptics think he might be. If he does that, in two years time, that next contract is going to be for a real hefty pay hike. If he does that, chances are he will have playoff experience to further beef up his next salary demand. Now that would certainly be a win-win for everyone.



By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues that I've enjoyed and I'll occasionally use that space to chime in on the news of the day.

-----------------------------------------------

Recent Flames Reading:

  • Enough: Treliving Finally Repairs Hole in Line-up that has Existed for Seven Years - Not since Craig Conroy have the Flames had a right-shot centre in their top nine and the lack of that cost them last season. Well, that won't be an issue any longer. (July 13, 2018)
  • Trying to Crack the A Team: Don't Pity the Foo - Since Spencer Foo signed with the Flames just a over a year ago, right wing has suddenly become a crowd scene. However, he remains unfazed, confident that he can make the team and be a difference maker. (July 10, 2018) 
  • Flames Get Younger and Different in Blockbuster Trade with Carolina - In a blockbuster deal at the draft, Calgary traded fan favourites Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and Adam Fox. While the return were names that are less familiar , they're both solid. (June 24, 2018)


Friday, July 13, 2018

Enough is Enough: Treliving Finally Repairs Hole in Line-up that has Existed for Seven Years

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Nearly six months later, it remains a sequence of events etched in the memory of Flames management.

Bad experiences do tend to linger that way.

The night was Monday, January 22, and the lowly Buffalo Sabres limped into the Saddledome tied with Arizona for the worst record in the league.

Calgary had been on a roll, taking a seven-game winning streak into its CBA-mandated bye week. But that was a week ago. In the first game back after the five-day layoff, the Flames lost 2-1 to the Winnipeg Jets in a shootout.

This was another close game. It was tied 1-1 late in the third when Mikael Backlund was sent off for holding the stick with 33 seconds remaining in regulation time.

With the team’s top penalty killing centre serving his two minutes, right winger Troy Brouwer was sent over the boards to handle face-off responsibilities. Brouwer would not leave the ice the rest of the game as four consecutive times he hunkered down and went helmet-to-helmet at the dot with Ryan O’Reilly. While he beat him the first time to help get the game to overtime, he would lose the next three, sealing Calgary's fate.

The last two draws came in the defensive zone to the right of goaltender Mike Smith. The first at 1:07, cleanly won by O'Reilly, led to a pair of Jack Eichel shots that were both blocked by Michael Stone. The lost face-off at 1:24 was the one that proved fatal. Winning it clean once again, O’Reilly pulled the puck back to Eichel who slid a pass to Rasmus Ristolainen, who promptly zipped it back and boom, his one-timer was in the back of the net. Just like that, game over.


Season Began to Slip Away

For Calgary, the losses kept piling up after that.

Next was a 4-3 overtime setback to Los Angeles, again on home ice. Following a 4-3 shootout loss in Edmonton, the Flames returned home where they lost two more times -- 4-2 to Vegas and 7-4 to Tampa Bay. By the time Calgary tasted victory again, snapping a stretch of six straight losses, the mortal wound had already been inflicted. The death spiral that would see the Flames eventually tumble well out of playoff contention had begun.

What went down in the closing stages of the game on that cold, wintery night against Buffalo highlighted a fundamental flaw in Calgary's roster construction -- not a single right-shot center.

O’Reilly is one of the league's best when it comes to face-offs -- he was 60.0 percent in 2017-18 -- and to oppose him in those critical moments, the only viable options were Sean Monahan, Mark Jankowski or Matt Stajan -- all of whom would be on their weak side -- or Brouwer, a winger by trade, who because he shoots right-handed, ends up taking face-offs more out of necessity.

"Oh, I remember it well. Lost it. Lost it. Lost it," recalls general manager Brad Treliving. "Ends of periods, ends of games, you look at all those game situations. That particular one, over my four years, I've got about seven of them.

"You want to be able to give the tools to your coach to say OK, what are all the different things that can happen in a game in all the different situations and do we have a weapon to be able to deal with those situations? That one right there is one that we've wanted."

While he acknowledges Brouwer, over his career, has done a "fairly decent job of being able to take faceoffs on his strong side", it's still not the same as having a natural center with a right shot.

This off-season, Treliving has clearly made remedying that situation a priority as he has brought in not one, not two, but three guys that shoot right and can play center in Derek Ryan, Elias Lindholm and Austin Czarnik.


Strong Side vs. Weak Side

How long has this void at centre existed? Consider this. The last right-shot center Calgary deployed in its top-nine was Craig Conroy, who retired in 2011. Now a Flames assistant GM, I asked Conroy to elaborate on the subtleties between strong side and weak side.

First thing he pointed out is it's the position of the official that matters most. Going back to those late-game face-offs against Buffalo, with the draw taking place to Smith's right in the defensive zone, the linesman dropping the puck is to the right of Brouwer. As a right shot, what makes Brouwer on his strong side is his ability to turn quickly (clockwise) as the puck is dropped and to be able to do so unimpeded by the official, who is standing on the opposite side of where he's turning. Of course, he's doing that while simultaneously trying to pull the puck back with his backhand.

“You feel so good on your strong side because the big thing is the ref isn't in your way. You can spin your body and you have more leverage,” explains Conroy. “If I go to push the other way, it doesn't give me as much strength and leverage. That's the thing that makes the difference."

Conroy was also in the building that night when Buffalo was in town and he also vividly recalls that fateful sequence.

“I remember sitting there, watching Brouw, and thinking to myself maybe slide your stick up a bit more, turn your body, but he knew he couldn't do anything,” said Conroy.

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The Art of Cheating

By saying he couldn't do anything, Conroy was alluding to Brouwer's inability to cheat in that particular game situation, given the only other two skaters on the ice were Stone and Mark Giordano.

Cheating is how you close the gap when you’re up against someone as good as O’Reilly. Conroy knows all about it as he and his old pal Jarome Iginla were often co-conspirators.

“Jarome was actually very good at taking faceoffs so he'd be like hey, you go for it, if you get kicked out, I can win it,” recalls Conroy. “So I would cheat a lot and sometimes you get kicked out, but it's different when you don't have that comfort level like Brouw.”

Already in a tough match-up as it is, if Brouwer gets tossed, now you have a defenceman taking the face-off against O'Reilly and Calgary is really in trouble.

The other thing that worked against Brouwer in those situations is he hadn’t been taking draws all night.

“By that time in the game, a big moment like that, when you're a centre and you've taken 15-20 draws a night, you get into a rhythm with the linesmen and you have a pretty good feel for how guys drop it," says Conroy. "When you're not a centre, it's not really fair."

In that particular game situation, Conroy says ideally you would have two right-shot centre options out there -- something that this year will finally be an option for the first time in a very long time.

“When you feel you don't have someone next to you who can win the draw, you're not cheating and you become a little more hesitant because your mindset is I can't get kicked out."

In a game comprised of split-second reactions, any hesitancy is a death sentence and it was on that night.

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It's Big Face-Offs that Matter

Face-offs are an interesting aspect of hockey. Many of them like neutral zone draws at five-on-five can be pretty nondescript events and can be fairly dismissed as having very little bearing on a game's outcome.

But why being a good face-off team matters is the better you are at face-offs in general, the more likely you will be able to win the important ones at those critical times in the game. As Treliving explains, sometimes those critical draws happen long before a goal actually goes in.

“Here's how it really works,” he says. “You get running around in your own end and you can't the puck out of your own end so what happens, you ice it. So now you're icing it and you've got your third or fourth line out there. They're dead tired, so who comes out? The other coach is throwing the big boys out there.

“Now you've got to win a faceoff to get out of the situation. You can't win the faceoff, you spend 40 seconds in your end and you take a penalty. So now you're on the penalty kill and you give up a power play goal. So then everybody says the penalty kill is no good, but six minutes ago, it was the initial icing, you couldn't win a draw and there's the chain of events that happened.

"So if you back the chain up and ask what's the root of the problem, some people see the end result, but when you really back it up and say what caused the problem, this is an area that seems to cause us some problems. So kill it at the source versus put a band-aid over it.”

The team's fortunes in the face-off circle certainly look substantially better now than a month ago. Ryan ranked ninth in the NHL last year at 56.5 percent. Lindholm was very good also, ranking 24th at 54.5 percent.

“We've been looking for a right-handed face-off guy," insists Conroy. "But when we try and trade for one, they're hard to find. They are really hard to find."

Not anymore. Bill Peters will just need to look down his bench to find options from both sides.


Makes Other Centers Better

Also worth noting is that with the addition of right-shot centers to shoulder more face-offs on their strong side, the face-off winning percentage for your left-shot centers is going to go up as they’ll be taking less face-offs on their weak side.

While he didn’t have the exact figures at his fingertips, Conroy suggests that if you take a guy like Monahan, who is typically between 48 and 50 percent, if you remove his weak-side draws, then he bumps up to around 58 percent.

It’s like a platoon in baseball, where left-handed batters see their batting average go up if they don't always have to bat against left-handed pitching.

“It gives you more options. I never really had a guy that took draws for me, but if you only had to take them on your strong side, you would have felt great. Sometimes on your weak side, the other guy just gets your number and it's tough,” says Conroy.

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Final Word

While the James Neal signing and the trade for Noah Hanifin and Lindholm are what has dominated the summer headlines, the Ryan signing as a free agent should not to be underestimated.

While Ryan's face-off prowess is an area in he will be relied upon heavily in 2018-19, there is a lot more to his overall game.

“One of the things we wanted to address this off-season was adding depth and versatility to our forward unit,” says Treliving. “At the end of the year I talked a little bit about us, as a team, relying on too few of guys to do too many things. To do too much of the heavy lifting. Derek provides us the ability to move up and down the line-up, able to play different positions. Touches both sides of special teams.”

Ryan is someone Calgary has liked and has been tracking for a year and a half and nearly had him at the trade deadline last year before the deal fell through when Carolina lost centre Jordan Staal.

“Steve Pleau, one of our scouts, who does Carolina. He said hey, this is a perfect fit for us. Can play anywhere in your line-up. Excellent on faceoffs, really good on the power play. Sees the ice well, makes plays cross-seam," Conroy says.

"There's flexibility with Derek too. He can play anywhere in your line-up because he's smart. He's not the fastest guy, but he's quick to pucks. He buys time with the puck, he finds guys, he creates and he's got a knack around the net."

Named MVP of the Swedish Hockey League in 2014-15, Ryan signed his first NHL deal the following summer at age 28.

Last year he set new career highs with 15 goals and 38 points.

While he's on the wrong side of 30, Treliving is confident that much like Giordano, another late bloomer, Ryan is a player whose career arc will be different than the norm, much like his path to the NHL that included four years at the University of Alberta and three years in Austria.
 
"There hasn't been a 31-year grind on him," says Treliving, who describes him as having low mileage. "The career path has been a long one, it's been a unique one, but there's been production and success everywhere. He's needed an opportunity and when he's gotten it, he's run with it."

It's earned him a three-year contract with Calgary in which he'll start earning his $3.125 million annual salary come that first defensive zone draw to Smith's right.

"He had a lot of interest, it wasn't just us, he had decisions, but thankfully he picked us to be the team," says Conroy. "With Lindholm too, now I'm looking forward to seeing how it all works. I'm hoping it works out like I think it will in my mind."

You and many others, Craig.



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About Flames From 80 Feet

You may have noticed that the volume of FF80F content has gone down significantly over the past nine months. For those that don't know, it's the result of my business model currently being broken. It's why the podcasts have stopped too. I used to have a site sponsor that was with me for 3-4 terrific years that provided the financial backing to be able to produce content on a regular basis. But that arrangement ended last October and the unfortunate reality in business is when the money stops coming in, the work stops going out.

For me, FF80F is strictly a side business and is operated as such. It's more of a labour of love than anything. I enjoy doing it, but it's not something I need to do. It is separate from the freelancing I do for The Canadian Press. If you're wondering what's next, that's a great question. I don't know. Ideally, I'd love an arrangement that will enable me to continue to maintain FF80F but perhaps on a smaller scale than in the past. A few stories and maybe a podcast each month? Just spitballing. The thing is for me personally, life outside of the rink has also gotten much busier over the last year and I need to be realistic when it comes to how much time I'll have to dabble here. That said, I'm open to listening to any and all ideas from full/partial/occasional site sponsorship (or even one offs, e.g. Top 20 prospects is coming...) to whatever other ideas you might have. If you want to chat, contact me and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.

Lastly, a huge and I mean massive shout-out and thank you to all of my loyal readers and listeners, who have always been fantastic. I truly appreciate your support over the years and somehow, some way, I hope Flames From 80 Feet can continue in some form for many years to come -- or at least until they build a new arena in Calgary with a press box that is 120 feet about the ice instead of 80, because then I'm screwed. I don't have a re-branding budget!  

Cheers,

Darren
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By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues that I've enjoyed and I'll occasionally use that space to chime in on the news of the day.

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Recent Flames Reading:

  • Trying to Crack the A Team: Don't Pity the Foo - Since Spencer Foo signed with the Flames just a over a year ago, right wing has suddenly become a crowd scene. However, he remains unfazed, confident that he can make the team and be a difference maker. (July 10, 2018) 
  • Flames Get Younger and Different in Blockbuster Trade with Carolina - In a blockbuster deal at the draft, Calgary traded fan favourites Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and Adam Fox. While the return were names that are less familiar , they're both solid. (June 24, 2018)



Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Trying to Crack the A Team: Don't Pity the Foo

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In June 2017 when highly-touted NCAA free agent Spencer Foo chose to sign with the Flames, he did so after evaluating several NHL teams and deciding Calgary was the best fit for him.

From the outside, it was a logical choice too. Here was a talented offensive player, 23 years old at the time, who shoots right and plays right wing. He was exactly what the organization badly needed. On the NHL roster, only Troy Brouwer, Curtis Lazar, Garnet Hathaway and Freddie Hamilton met that description and bottom-six forwards at best, they combined for just 17 goals in 2016-17.

Fast forward a year and the landscape has changed considerably.

Brouwer, Lazar and Hathaway are still around, plus Elias Lindholm, Derek Ryan and Austin Czarnik have all been added. Right-shooting forwards is no longer the barren wasteland it once was. Let’s not forget the July 2 signing of James Neal either, who shoots left, but plays right wing and is penciled into that spot on the No. 1 line.

So where does that leave Foo, who after spending most of his first pro season in the American Hockey League, scored twice in four games in a late-season call-up to the Flames?


Eyes on the Prize

To his credit, when asked about it after Sunday’s development camp scrimmage, he shrugs off the influx of forwards added to the depth chart with a steely-eyed resolve. Forget 13th or 14th forward, this guy remains fully focused on being a difference-maker.

"Really, nothing changes for me. It's all the same,” said the well-spoken Foo, who comes across confident, yet not cocky. “I don't want to be a bubble guy on this team, I don't want to be a guy who's up and down. I want to be able to establish myself as an NHL player, who can make an impact.”

In other words, if you’re constantly looking over your shoulder, you can lose track of what’s right in front of you.

“If you're worried about other guys coming in, your mindset isn't in the right place,” said the Edmonton native. “I'm worried about coming in and earning my spot over anybody else."

Foo says his late season call-up to Calgary will help him prepare for 2018-19 and what he hopes will be a breakthrough season.

“That was huge for me. Throughout the year when you're playing in the American League, and all throughout your life, you don't really know how it's going to be like when you finally make the jump to the NHL,” Foo explains.

“To be able to come in and be able to play with some great players and score a couple goals, it's pretty special for me and it gives me a lot of confidence."


Anxious to Get Going

When rookies report to camp in early September, Foo says he will be ready.

"It was great just to get experience and dip your foot in the water,” he said. “It feels good, gives you a lot of confidence going into the off-season. Now I really know what it takes."

Foo’s final stat line with Stockton was 20 goals and 39 points in 62 games in Stockton. That included 15 points (8 goals, 7 assists) over his final 18 games.

"It's a huge jump,” said Foo about his first season in Stockton after three years at Union College. “It's not always necessarily faster, but there are a lot of subtleties in the pro game that are different. Guys are just so experienced and know what to do with the puck. That makes a big difference. Then you make another jump to the NHL and it amplifies it even more."

Making the NHL roster for October 3 isn’t going to be easy. Foo will basically have to steal someone’s job. But don’t let the smile fool you, know that he’s fully prepared to do whatever it takes.



By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Do so now! It's another way to be alerted to new stories I've written, other articles from my colleagues that I've enjoyed and I'll occasionally use that space to chime in on the news of the day.

-----------------------------------------------

Recent Flames Reading:

  • Flames Get Younger and Different in Blockbuster Trade with Carolina - In a blockbuster deal at the draft, Calgary traded fan favourites Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and Adam Fox. While the return were names that are less familiar , they're both solid. (June 24, 2018)