Since Fantasy Hockey Scouts is based in Calgary, we've had plenty of opportunities to see the hometown team in action and we're surrounded by all the fans and experts who ask the question "Whats wrong with this team?" Well we dug a little bit more into the numbers and here's our take...
Bottom line, this team lives and dies with Kiprusoff, if he's on then they got a chance, if he's not then they're done. But beyond him there seems to be three key issues:
What you see is what you get for the next 5 years cause the core group of 5 players (Iginla, Langkow, Phaneuf, Regehr & Kipper) is signed to big contracts taking up $28M of a $56M cap. They are currently over the cap (by around $2M) so before the season starts, barring a trade, they'll have to send down a few of Rhett Warrener, Anders Eriksson and Marcus Nilson.
Their top 7 defencemen have a cap hit of $24M whereas their top 14 forwards have a cap hit of $27M. Does that make sense to anyone? Question: How many teams have 5th & 6th defencemen (Warrener & Vandermeer) making an average of $2.4M a season? Actually, its a rhetorical question... the answer is none, Calgary is the only one. For the amount of money that they spend on defencemen you'd think that they'd be better defensively. Instead, they're in the middle of the pack (15th in goals against and 13th in shots against last year) and that's taking into account that they have one of the better goalies in the league.
GM Darryl Sutter did well to trade Tanguay's contract since he wasn't worth $5.25M based on how Keenan used him and they signed Bertuzzi fairly cheap but this team is hamstrung by those big deals and so if they want to improve then they'll have to do it from within.
But they haven't had particularly strong drafts over the 6 years that Sutter has been in charge. The team has high hopes for 2007 1st rounder Mikael Backlund, but we're not convinced he is going to be the savior and they've had bad luck with other prospects defecting... Taratukhin went back to Russia, Puustinen went back to Finland and Dan Ryder just plain went home. Because of this they don't have the young guys on entry-level deals to insert into the lineup so they have to overpay for 3rd and 4th liners (only Boyd (21) and Phaneuf (23) are under 24).
People forget that prior to last year Keenan hadn't taken a team to the playoffs since 1996 so anyone that thought Mike was going to come in here and be the savior must have been in a coma since 1994. Keenan was no better than prior coach Jim Playfair, actually 2 points worse with the same result in the 1st round of the playoffs. They were a little better defensively under Keenan than they were under Playfair but Kipper was not as good last year. Neither coach's teams were anywhere close to the team's defense under Sutter. The offense was worse under Keenan than Playfair, the goals per game dropped from 3.07 to 2.73.
They were not aggressive offensively, they were in the bottom third of the league in terms of shots and they didn't create a lot of power play opportunities. But they were aggressively undisciplined and spent too much time in the box, this includes Phaneuf, Sarich, Vandermeer, Iginla and Lombardi, and only 3 teams gave up more PP goals. It also appeared at times that Kipper was wearing down, so Iron Mike will have to watch that they he doesn't overwork Kipper cause he's the moneymaker.
Due to the cap situation there's not a lot of room to bring in new faces. They will have essentially the same team as last year replacing Huselius, Tanguay, Nolan, Yelle and Hale with Cammalleri, Bertuzzi, Bourque, Glencross and Giordano. Sound like an upgrade to you?
So for a team that had trouble putting the puck in the net, where do the goals come from? They lost 59 goals from last years team between Huselius, Tanguay and Nolan and can't expect more out of Iginla (50 goals last year), Langkow (30), Phaneuf (17). So they're going to need help from Cammalleri, Bertuzzi, Lombardi and Boyd. They traded for Rene Bourque (10 goals last year) and signed Curtis Glencross (15 goals last year) but neither is going to play in the top 6.
They were incredibly fortunate with a lack of injuries last year but apparently they want to press their luck cause they brought in three guys who have a history of injuries... Bertuzzi (has a bad back and concussion problems and only played 68 games last year), Bourque (played 62 games last year and only 44 the season before) and Cammalleri (only played 63 games last year with a rib injury).
So unless Kipper has a Hart Trophy type year, we expect more of the same out of Calgary next year.