Recently we were able to corner Calgary Flames writer Kent Wilson in order to extract some excellent fantasy hockey knowledge out of him. If you are unfamiliar with his work, Kent runs The Nation Network and regularly contributes to Flames Nation. He is also a writer for the all-world, statistics-based website Hockey Prospectus. Below is the transcript of our conversation, a must read for any Flames owners.
As of right now, the Calgary Flames find themselves back in the playoff picture. Trading for Michael Cammalleri looked like a clear sign they would go for it as GM Jay Feaster continues his rebuild on the fly. What do you think the chances are these Flames make the postseason?
I’d say the Flames chances are 50/50 at best. Their recent run is almost all goaltending and bounces – they’ve been routinely outshot and outchanced for a couple of months now. If Kiprusoff continues his resurgence for the rest of the year and the team can get reasonably healthy, their chances are much better. If not, then they’ll probably fall short.
Jarome Iginla is on pace for his second season in three years where he produces less than a point-per-game. Is this officially the decline or is his slump a factor of his circumstances – line juggling, injuries, etc. Moreover, how many seasons do you think he has left in the tank?
I actually started writing about Iginla’s decline two years ago. He remains a very good trigger man and a guy who can do damage in and around the net. His value outside of that area continues to decline, however. He’s not very good in the defensive end and he has issues with puck possession in the neutral zone and the shallow end of the offensive zone. And although he remains one of the best conditioned athletes in the business, Iginla isn’t quite as good at winning puck battles along the boards as he was in his prime. He also cheats for offense whenever possible.
In short, he’s becoming more and more a one dimensional player. I think he has several seasons left as a guy who can ride shot-gun with a good center and put up 20-30 goals. He’s no longer a player the Flames should build around however.
Curtis Glencross started skating a few days ago and should get back in the lineup in a matter of weeks. Assuming the Flames stay healthy as currently comprised, do you think he bumps Alex Tanguay off the top line? If not, where does he fit in?
I think it’s possible, although not initially unless the unit of Jokinen, Iginla and Tanguay suddenly stop scoring. Otherwise, I can see him landing on a second scoring unit with Mike Cammalleri who was recently moved to center.
After an average season last year, Miikka Kiprusoff is having a vintage season. His backup Henrik Karlsson is an adequate spot-start while Leland Irving may have saved himself with a strong showing in the backup role. How do you see the starting goalie situation playing out over the next couple of seasons?
This is actually the best season Kipper has had since 2006-07, assuming he doesn’t fall off a cliff in the final quarter. At 35+ years old, I would personally be an advocate for dealing Kiprusoff this summer in order to leverage his unlikely revival. The Flames have Irving, Ramo and Karlsson in the fold and usually there’s more than few decent puck stoppers available as free agents.
If that doesn’t happen, I think the organization will play Kiprusoff until his performance begins to noticeable decline, at which point they will try to transition to one of the current assets (most likely Irving or Ramo).
You’ve been perhaps the biggest proponent of Mikael Backlund before the young center got hurt, preaching that the results will come. What do you think his upside can be?
I put Backlund’s ceiling at a 40-50 point second or third line center who excels at both ends of the ice. He’s likely never going to score a lot of goals in the NHL – he’s been a low percentage shooter pretty much his entire pro career – but he’s smart, mobile, has excellent vision and already boasts some of the best possession rates on the Flames in just his second full season.
I doubt Backlund will ever be that 60+ point center some fans may have been hoping for, but he can develop into a very useful middle rotation pivot for the team down the road.
Sven Bartschi is simply tearing apart the WHL in his second season in North America. What are his chances of making the team next season. Furthermore, what, in your opinion, is the optimal developmental path for the youngster?
If Baertschi continues to score two points-per-game in the WHL, I expect him to either make the team out of camp next season or make it as a call-up soon after.
As for development paths, it’s always hard to guess from a distance given that every kid is different. For teens I usually consider the NHL a bad idea, but Baertschi will turn 20 when the year starts next Ocotober and it looks like he’s already miles ahead of his peers. It wouldn’t overly worry me if he skipped the AHL altogether as result.
Outside of Bartschi, the Flames are devoid of prospects that are household names. Which youngsters in the system do you think have the chance to be a player?
At the pro level, Lance Bouma and Roman Horak will probably make the show permanently at some point. I’d say their ceilings are as third liners or lower though. Defender TJ Brodie also made the leap this year and has been by far the most impressive rookie for the Flames so far. He’s fast and excellent with the puck and will probably put up some points down the road.
At the minor level, Michael Ferland has come on this year and is actually in the top-10 in WHL scoring. He’s a tough, mean kid who can skate and is more than merely a grinder as evidenced by his output.
John Gaudreau, Bill Arnold and Markus Granlund are all having good years in their respective leagues as well. Gaudreau is particularly interesting – the smallest player ever drafted in the NHL (5’6”, 140lbs.) he is the leading freshman scorer for Boston College despite his size and recently won the MVP award at the Beanpot tournament. If he somehow manages to add some size to his pint-sized frame, he’s a dark horse to become one of the Flames most exciting prospects.