Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Off-season Musings: Another blog entry dedicated to boosting Alex Tanguay's ego

I've been perusing various Flames blogs around the World Wide Web recently and have come to the conclusion that despite the addition of Bouwmeester and the plethora of bargain-basement forwards Sutter has secured, Flames fanatics generally believe that the holes in the team's top six forward group are too big to overcome. Assuming that Sutter has finished tinkering with his lineup for the summer, there are definitely some question marks as far as the top six is concerned. While I have heard rumours that the Flames are interested in re-acquiring free agent Alex Tanguay and that the team has participated in trade talks with the Coyotes (perhaps the two are linked?), nothing more substantial has surfaced. 

Acquiring Tanguay seems unlikely for a multitude of reasons, the most prominent being that he is supposedly commanding up to $5 million, way out of the Flames' reach salary cap wise, unless Sutter is willing to trade a defenceman or put together a package which would no doubt include some of his newly acquired assets. As much as fans here would like to see the team shed Cory Sarich's upcoming $3.7 million salary (, he is not as expendable as some may think. Sarich is a dependable shutdown defenceman who knows how to deliver a game-changing hit, and the drop-off to Pardy, Giordano, Kronwall, etc. is significant, regardless of what his detractors would have you believe. As much as Tanguay's reputation has been dragged through the mud here in Calgary, there is no denying that he was and is an excellent playmaker and could fill the seemingly empty first-line winger slot in the Flames' current lineup quite nicely. 

An addition such as Tanguay could be just what this team needs to elevate them from "playoff darkhorse" to "cup contender." Even if promises of a Keenan-free zone were enough to lure Tanguay back to the confines of the Saddledome, he would have to take a more than significant pay cut, which would require some serious persuasion on Sutter's part. If Sutter is unable to land another bona-fide top six scorer, there will be a lot of pressure on both guys like Bourque and Moss to repeat the breakout seasons they enjoyed last year and on the new guys to prove their worth. While the Flames had a solid top six last season, Keenan's infamous line shuffling never ceased; imagine what it could be like this season without a distinguished group of top-tier players occupying those positions? 

It is always nice when career third and fourth liners exceed expectations and make a regular appearance on the first or second lines (a la Rene Bourque), but this is the exception, not the rule. It seems premature to write off the capabilities of these new additions in early August, remember nobody anticipated that Cammalleri would score 39 goals for this team last season and become such a valuable player, but it is important to realize the reality of the situation. Sutter DID address team defence as his primary concern at the beginning of the off season, and spent the majority of his funds accordingly. He has not yet addressed lack of scoring as an immediate concern, but that could change as training camp rolls around, the season begins, and (fingers crossed) the injury bug hits. I don't believe we know if Bourque will even be ready to start the season, as he was still using crutches at a speaking engagement a few weeks back. 

While team defence is expected to improve astronomically this coming season, I think most people, including Sutter himself, are expecting that improvement to cover for a drop-off in scoring. If this is the case, then we may have another 2005-06 on our hands, when the Flames won the division and had a spotless defensive record but could not consistently score enough goals to put away first round opponent Anaheim. In observing Brent Sutter's two years with the Devils, he seemed to fix that imbalance and turn his team into one that possessed both defensive prowess and the ability to strike offensively. Lack of structure defensively and on special teams has been a sore spot for the Flames ever since Darryl resigned as head coach, and while New Jersey's special teams record wasn't exactly sparkling last season (15th on the PP and 20th on PK), the Devils were third overall in team +/- and 4th in GA, while Calgary finished a distant 14th and 23rd, respectively. 

In GF, NJ finished 15th with 238 while the Flames came in 8th with 251, which is only a 13-goal difference. I know comparing these stats now proves nothing as we are between seasons and the teams and circumstances were and are very different, but it goes to show that it is possible for teams to excel at both ends of the ice without sacrificing GF/GA. It seems that this is the way the Flames will have to operate if they hope to be a contender come April 2010. 

NHL Countdown: 50 days 

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