Because it's the dregs of the off-season and the only Senators news we're hearing is stuff most of us are pretty sick of hearing about, the hockey blogs across SB Nation got together with each other to have discussions about the issues for the coming seasons. I posed a series of questions to Kent, the Calgary Flames blogger over on Matchsticks & Gasoline, and here's what he had to say about his team. Tomorrow I'll post his questions to me, regarding the Senators' off-season from hell. Here goes:
1. What's up with Dion Phaneuf? Are the Sutters on the brink of giving up on this guy, or do they believe he's about to turn his numbers back around?
It was revealed at the end of the year that Phaneuf was battling a variety injuries for a majority of the season. As such, I don't believe Darryl is close to shipping Phaneuf out of town, although if Dion doesn't take a step forward in terms of his defensive capabilities, his $6.5M cap hit is going to start looking mighty ugly pretty soon.
There's optimism in town that an (ostensibly) healthy Phaneuf will get back on track this season, especially under Brent Sutter who was his Junior coach in Red Deer. Phanuef ran wild under Keenan, who tended to play him 28 minutes a night whether he was lousy or not. Chances are, Sutter will be a lot more exacting with Phaneuf, especially since he has the personnel in Calgary to sit the kid if he isn't getting the job done in his own end.
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2. Even if Phaneuf isn't as offensive as he once was, he's still a good defenceman. How would you rate the Flames' defensive depth, which now includes him, Robyn Regehr, and Jay Bouwmeester?
The Flames defensive depth is outstanding at this point. In fact, there's concerns in town that the team may have too many NHL defenders, creating a developmental log jam at the bottom end of the rotation. Beyond the undisputed top 4 of Sarich, Phaneuf, Regehr and Bouwmeester, Calgary has Mark Giordano, Adam Pardy, Niklas Kronwall, Anton Stralman as well as former first rounder Matt Pelech all pressing for roster spots this season. The good news to all this is if the club discovers it needs to move salary in order to firm up the forward depth, they should be able to deal a high value defender without much issue.
3. Is Kiprusoff good anymore? How many games will he play, and how many should he play?
In my estimation: no. Kipprusoff has been ordinary (at best) the last two seasons and was actually a weakness for the club down the stretch and into the playoffs last year. There's still a large portion of fans that think (hope?) Kiprusoff remains an elite goaltender and will rebound under Brent Sutter but his downward trend in terms of SV% and advancing age fill me with anxiety.
I can't tell you how many games he should play because, to me, it's not an issue of fatigue...in fact, Kipper is notoriously terrible to start the season, even though that's when he should theoretically be the most rested. In terms of development opportunity for our young, hard-luck backup Curtis McElhinney, though...I'd prefer to see Kiprusoff play 60-65 games max.
4. Are Flames fans and brass happy with what Olli Jokinen's brought to the table? What do you expect from him with a full season on the squad?
Sutter et al. are notoroiously tight-lipped and, as such, haven't publically shared their evaluation of Jokinen. Personally, I wasn't overly impressed with him in Flames colors: he was ordinary in his own zone, he can't take a face-off and he doesn't seem to have very good vision in the offensive end of the ice. He's big and fast and has a laser beam of a shot, but I don't know if he can think the game well enough to justify his cap hit. The fact that two offensively starved teams have traded him away (despite his reputation as a goal scorer) in the last two years is a red flag to me.
My expectations for Jokinen are to get plenty of ice on the PP and on the second scoring unit and to put up something in the area of 30 goals and 65+ points. I'd really like to see him be amongst the team leaders in moving the puck the right way (corsi) given the fact that he's the second highest paid forward on the club.
5. What does it seem Brian McGrattan will be expected to bring to the team? Will he get a regular shift, or just be used to chuck his knuckles?
McGrattan is pure nuclear deterrent for the Flames. There are actually a host of capable forwards that will start the year in Abbotsford who are probably far better hockey playes than McGrattan (Jason Jaffray, David Van Der Gulik, Kyle Greentree, Jamie Lundmark), but Sutter never likes to be without a meathead on the roster, thus the one-way contract. I can imagine McGrattan playing only when the Flames see a club with a similar roster player (Minnesota with Derek Boogaard for example) and being limited to something like 4 minutes a night on those rare occassions he does suit up.