Many flames fans are already giving up on the season. Some are even hoping for the team to tank this season which would spell the demise of Darryl Sutter. Is this approach towards the 2010-11 season justified? Lets look at the various reasons as to why this season is considered to be over before opening night faceoff by the fans
Last I looked at the Ales Kotalik Trade and the Steve Staios trade
Today I will look at the
3. Centre Ice Position
Following the trades last year and this off-season, the flames are stacked at centre. Signed on one way contracts with the flames are Olli Jokinen, Matt Stajan and Daymond Langkow. Other players on two way contracts who will get a good look are Backlund (who is considered to be a strong probability to wear a flames jersey on opening night) and Conroy. Armstrong seems to be making a strong case for himself as well so far this training camp and Sutter himself said that Armstrong will be given a long look to crack the roster.
Centre is a good position to have depth at. Going through the list we have 2 proven second line centres in Stajan and Langkow. One centre who was an all-star not so far back in Jokinen. One player who is considered to be the best prospect for the flames since Phaneuf in Backlund. One player who has played his heart out whenever he is played for the flames in Conroy.
Lets start with Jokinen
Many fans were glad when they saw the back of Olli Jokinen's head last year. 11 goals in 56 games for a 5million player just didn't cut it. The failed experiment of Jokinen being the number one centre was ended by Sutter when Jokinen was traded to the Rangers for Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins. Many fans were not happy with the return due to taking on salary for a longer term in the form of Kotalik, but seeing Jokinen off, did provide something to be merry about. One issue was the fact that in order to trade away 5 million of an expiring contract, the flames took on Kotalik for 2 years at 3 million each beyond the then current season. Therefore it came as huge shock when on July 1st, Sutter signed Jokinen for 2 years at 3 mill per. Fans were at an uproar and the media had the case of giggles. Mocking of Sutter commenced and many people believed he had lost his head. Why sign Jokinen who only had 50 points last season? There are many things to consider here. For starters he is only signed for 3 million per season, which is around the norm for a 50 point getter. Also considering the fact that this was statistically his worst season and he is still in his prime years, it is not that bad of a deal monetarily. Many fans see that, but can't seem to digest as to why return to a failed experiment. Iginla and Jokinen didn't click last year then why try it again? Adding Tanguay to the equation will reduce both players trying to be the passer on the line which will help both to return to their natural roles. Jokinen was a victim of post-itis (hitting too many posts) and if he had gotten a few lucky bounces, he would have had more goals. Jokinen was a good signing and can be one of the most underrated and abused FA signing this season.
Daymond Langkow, one of the top two-way forwards when at his best, has had an injury plagued last few seasons. During the play-offs in 2007-08 he played with two broken hands. Last season a freak incident sidlelined him for the season. He was hit by a White shot from the point in the back of his head. A very scary incident and it is good to know that he is recovering. He is missing the start of training camp and could potentially be missing part of the season too. If he happens to miss a few games enough to put him on the LTIR for part of the season, this might help the flames cap woes. Langkow had a terrible season offensively last year missing the 20 goal plateau for the first time since 2000-01 when he played for the flyers and had yet to hit 20 goals in his career. Langkow finished off with a measly 37 points and a healthy langkow should be good for atleast 20 goals and 40+ points. Being the highest paid centre on the team though, makes him the target for the flame having offensive woes and he will have to show up offensively in any case due to his hefty price tag. But looking at Langkow's history, other than the time when he centred Iginla, he is a 50/60 point getter with good two way skills and that is what should be expected off him.
Matt Stajan, one of the pieces that came back for the blockbuster Phaneuf trade last year was re-signed by Sutter for a 5 year extension worth 3.5 million per. A playmaking centre, he ended up second on the team in terms of scoring with 57 points (a career high). He played first line minutes on the maple leafs though. He will probably fall second or third on the chart behind Jokinen and Langkow. Stajan possesses good playmaking skills and has put up good numbers in the assists column, but a knock on him is his lack of consistency. He does have decent faceoff skills, having better stats than any other flames. He won 51.7% of his faceoffs. To put this into perspective Jokinen won 49.3% and Langkow won a measly 43.5%. An issue of concern for Stajan is the injury he sustained in the first pre-season game against the canucks. He is out indefinitely, with the flames not releasing information on either the severity of the injury or for how long he is supposed to sit off the roster.
This brings us to our next player, Mikael Backlund. The biggest prospect the flames have had after Dion Phaneuf. He lived up to his billing when he moved from the Swedish Elite league in 2008. He had 30 points in 28 games playing for Kelowna Rockets, and was a big part of their playoffs and run to the memorial cup. The following year, he made the jump to the pro league and debuted with the AHL. A successful first season also saw him play in the big league with the flames for 23 games getting 10 points playing mostly with bottom six players. This year, he is expected to push for a permanent jump to the big league. His chances are improved as it doesn't look like Langkow will be playing come opening night and with the huge question mark with Stajan. Backlund possesses some pretty good passing skills and will be a great asset to the scorers on the second line such as Bourque or Hagman.
David Moss. Some of you will be scratching your head on this one. Isn't this a list of centers? What is a winger doing on the list? David Moss has been playing as center though this training camp, centering a line of Glencross and Kotalik in the first pre-season game. A decent sized player, he played as a center for most of his university days. This might end up being a good move, since all of a sudden due to injuries, flames look to be weak at center for opening night. Which David Moss can we see? The 20 goal scorer we saw in 2008-09 who went to the dirty areas? Or the David Moss from last season who was playing on the top line on opening night but saw himself suffer an injury as well as a drop on the depth chart after an abysmal part-season wherein he only managed 5 goals in 49 games. With David Moss the main question to be asked is was he a one and done player?
Craig Conroy. Two years removed from a 40+ point season, Craig Conroy, is the oldest player on the roster at the age of 40. Once, a top 6 playmaker, Conroy accepted his reduced role. Age began to catch up to him, as he seemed slower and his once stellar face-off stats also dropped, though they still led the team for most of the season as he was winning 51.5% of the draws. Many flames fans were shocked when Sutter re-signed Connie to a 1 year 2 way deal. Now, though the deal seems like a good no loss situation since Conroy will have to earn his spot and his veteran leadership presence both on and off ice are invaluable. He can be a useful player if his minutes are kept low and can, if needed chip in a bit offensively as well.
The season starts in a bit more than a week and the flames seem to be strong down the middle on paper. Let us see if they can convert that to actual points.
GO FLAMES GO