Calgary Flames expect to see less of Miikka Kiprusoff, more results from Niklas Hagman

Plenty of NHL general managers faced some tough off-season questions in the summer of 2011, but Jay Feaster ranks as one of the GMs in the most awkward position.

The Calgary Flames’ fortunes skyrocketed once Feaster took over for sourpuss predecessor Darryl Sutter midway through the 2010-11 season, even though Feaster didn’t exactly make wholesale changes to the roster he inherited. At the same time, the Flames ranked – and still rank – among the NHL’s most expensive teams even though they missed the 2011 playoffs and haven’t really added many new players.

This means that the Flames are going to have to improve from within. Head coach Brent Sutter will need to get more from a mostly unchanged group, which means that underachieving players must turn things around while breakout guys need to keep things going.

Here are two articles that provide hopeful outlooks for two different Flames players.

Expect less of goalie Miikka Kiprusoff

When I took a glance at the Flames’ chances of being a legitimate playoff contender next season, one of my biggest Calgary criticisms revolved around the excessive workload handed out to Miikka Kiprusoff. Kipper has played in at least 70 games for six straight seasons and has been decidedly average (in my opinion) in four of his last five.

The possibly good news is that Feaster claims that Kipper won’t make 70+ starts in 11-12, according to a Q & A session that the Calgary Sun covered. (H/T to Kukla’s Korner.)

When someone asked whether goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff would play more than 70 games again this season, Feaster wasn’t looking around for head coach Brent Sutter for an answer.

It was a resounding, “No.”

“The workload’s too great,” said Feaster of his all-star netminder. “In order for us to reduce Kipper’s workload, we have to have a backup goaltender the coach has confidence in there. We have to have a backup goaltender the players believe in the same way.

“I can tell you Sutter has all the confidence in the world in (Henrik) Karlsson.

In my mind, less playing time will give Kipper more time to rest up and should help him improve his numbers a bit next season. But less Kipper will only be a good thing for Calgary if Karlsson plays well. Since Henrik’s workload was so small last season, here’s a look at how Kipper’s stats have compared to his backup(s)’ since the lockout.

2010-11

Kipper: 71 GP; 37-24-6; .906 save percentage, 2.63 GAA and 6 shutouts
Karlsson: 17 GP; 4-5-6; .908 sv%, 2.58 GAA and 0 SOs

2009-10

Kipper: 73 GP; 35-28-10; .920 sv%; 2.31 GAA and 4 SOs
Curtis McElhinney: 10 GP; 3-4-0; .885 sv% and 0 SOs
Vesa Toskala: 6 GP; 2-0-0; .918 sv%, 2.26 GAA and 0 SOs

2008-09

Kipper: 76 GP; 45-24-5; .903 sv%, 2.84 GAA and 4 SOs
McElhinney: 14 GP; 1-6-1; .889 sv%, 3.59 GAA and 0 SOs

2007-08

Kipper: 76 GP; 39-26-10; .906 sv%, 2.69 GAA and 2 SOs
Curtis Joseph: 9 GP; 3-2-0; .906 sv%, 2.55 GAA and 0 SOs
McElhinney: 6 GP; 0-2-0; .902 sv%, 2 GAA and 0 SOs

2006-07

Kipper: 74 GP; 40-24-9; .917 sv%, 2.46 GAA and 7 SOs
Jamie McLennan: 9 GP; 3-5-1; .895 sv%, 3.60 GAA and 0 SOs

2005-06

Kipper: 74 GP; 42-20-11; .923 sv%, 2.07 GAA and 10 SOs
Philippe Sauve: 8 GP; 3-3-0; .891 sv%, 3.28 GAA and 0 SOs
Brian Boucher: 3 GP; 1-2-0; .854 sv%, 4.95 GAA and 0 SOs

Interestingly enough, Kipper is the only Flames goalie to earn a shutout since the lockout. Karlsson is the only backup to put up better individual stats than Kiprusoff since that time, as well. This study shows that leaning heavily upon Kiprusoff has obviously been the Flames best option over the years, but perhaps Karlsson will finally give the Flames the breathing room to give their overworked franchise goalie a little time off.

More results from Niklas Hagman?

When asked which player should have a breakout season, Feaster told fans that he expects more from winger Niklas Hagman. (H/T to Rotoworld.)

n Which player do you see having a breakout season?

Feaster: “Nik Hagman. He sat in the exit meeting and he, too, was very, very upset about the way his season went. He told me, ‘If I don’t have a bounce-back season, I may not get another NHL contract.’ He has worked out incredibly hard this summer.”

A contract year is one of the best motivators in all of sports, so that inspiration alone should give Hagman a strong chance of improving. If nothing else, he might just need some more bounces to go his way. Since being traded to Calgary, Hagman had a 7.4 shooting percentage in 27 games in 09-10 and a 7.9 percent mark in 71 games in 10-11, well below his 10.1 percent career average. Hagman has 20+ goal potential, but he only had 11 goals in 10-11 as you could see his lack of confidence in his low shooting percentage and amount of shots (140). Those numbers show that Feaster has good reason to tab Hagman for an upswing because he has nowhere to go but up.

***

I’ve criticized Feaster’s moves and the Flames’ direction before, but let’s give Calgary a full season under their new GM before we totally condemn his moves. If next season is another disappointment, it’s likely that Feaster will have a lot more work on his hands.

Duchene trade talks quiet, but Avs will ‘listen to offers’

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To little surprise, not much is going on in the trade market. Just ask Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic.

The Denver Post’s Mike Chambers did just that, and Sakic revealed that he would still consider trading the likes of Matt Duchene … although he didn’t mention him by name.

“I will be listening to offers. Right now it’s quiet on all fronts,” Sakic said. “But I’ll listen to offers on how we can get better. I’ll never name names but I’ll sit there and if something makes sense for the way we want to go, with our team, we’ll really look at that.”

Considering that it’s mid-August, it’s not too surprising that little is happening. One can imagine that several GMs are more interested in finding drinks with umbrellas in them than trying to land Duchene, at least since the Avalanche don’t seem interested in giving him up without some serious haggling.

(And, really, the Avs would be wise to pump up Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog‘s respective trade values, anyway.)

That Denver Post story features a semi-update on Nikita Zadorov. Sakic told Chambers that the two sides agreed that a two-year deal would be best, but the “numbers” aren’t there yet. He didn’t tip his hand about how big the gap was. For what it’s worth, Sakic didn’t sound too worried about the lure of the 2018 Winter Olympics swaying Zadorov to head overseas.

While a lot of the activity circles around what hasn’t happened, the Avalanche did realize that Will Butcher officially won’t sign with them, while Colorado added a college free agent (and former Maple Leafs prospect) Dominic Toninato to their own mix.

At the moment, it doesn’t seem like something big is brewing regarding Duchene and other prominent Avs, but at least Sakic isn’t slamming the door shut on such a possibility.

Logan Couture’s teeth are still sore from horrifying mouth injury

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Still jarring and gross: the image of Logan Couture‘s mouth after taking a puck to the mouth about five months ago.

Still sore: Couture’s mouth.

Yep, the San Jose Sharks star hasn’t totally gotten over that injury, which forced him to have false teeth up top and some painfully sore ones on his bottom row. NBC Sports California’s Kevin Kurz transcribed the unfortunate details Couture shared with NHL Network this week:

“There’s good days and bad days,” Couture said. “My bottom teeth are still my real teeth. They’ve tried to keep them so I don’t lose them. I don’t know if I’ll be able to, they’re still pretty sore. My top teeth are all fake now – my front six, I think. So, it’s different. It just feels different in my mouth.

“But everything else with my face and all that is healed. I’m lucky that it’s an injury that didn’t affect my training, and hopefully won’t affect me going forward.”

As someone who’s endured more than a few unpleasant trips to the dentist, stories like these always lead to queasiness. This classic PHT post about Keith Tkachuk’s agony always comes to mind in situations like these.

Speaking of queasy, this is footage of when things were really bad for Couture. That link is provided because some will inevitably want to look, but treat this like the other gross things on the Internet that you wish you never saw and just move on.

(Seriously, the healing process continues on this end.)

Anyway, about the only bit of good news is that Couture can still train more or less as usual. He endured that injury late in the regular season (March 25), and while he suited up for the Sharks’ first-round series, it sure seemed like both Couture and Joe Thornton were limited in those six games against the Edmonton Oilers.

As much as dental agony seems like a uniquely “hockey” problem, this situation sounds especially rough for Couture.

Sidney Crosby at 30

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This post is part of Penguins Day on PHT…

Much like with Lebron James, Sidney Crosby is at the point in his career where the question is no longer “Will he be one of the all-time greats?” After back-to-back Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe wins, the discussion is shifting to where he ranks among the best of all-time.

And, like, with Lebron, there are a number of factors – including era, which is probably an even tougher nut to crack in hockey – that can twist and turn the debate.

Mere moments after Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins repeated as champs, Mike Sullivan made the case for number 87’s greatness.

” … You know, he’s arguably the best player of his generation, and he’s a guy that just knows how to win,” Sullivan said. “And so he’s done it in all different venues, whether it be the NHL and Stanley Cups to the World Cup to the Olympics. And he’s a player that — and I believe this, what separates him from others is his work ethic and his willingness to do what it takes to be the very best.”

It’s mind-blowing to consider the very real possibility that Crosby will be viewed as the best player to skate for the Penguins, edging Evgeni Malkin, Jaromir Jagr, and even Mario Lemieux.

It’s also mind-blowing that he just turned 30 on Aug. 7.

When it comes to the Mario vs. Sid debate that may eventually pick up steam, Crosby has some advantages. He matched “The Magnificent One” by getting those back-to-back titles and playoff MVP nods, while he already has three Stanley Cup rings to Lemieux’s two (and four Stanley Cup Final appearances to two).

Crosby already has an iconic moment to his name. Along with Paul Henderson’s goal and “Gretzky to Lemieux,” Crosby’s golden goal in the 2010 Winter Olympics will endear him to Canadian hockey fans for ages.

This list of accolades is honestly dizzying:

But, again, things get tougher when you try to really drill down to Crosby vs. The Greats. Most obviously since he’s far from done right now.

Circling back to the debate that might divide Penguins fans in particular, Crosby might also edge Lemieux if you correct for our modern era, which is so tough on scoring. NHL.com’s Rob Vollman explains Crosby’s place among the most impressive runs before 30:

From this perspective, Crosby is no longer in a block of a dozen players but in more select company. He ranks third at age 30 with an era-adjusted 998 points (377 goals, 622 assists), well ahead of Lemieux, who is in fourth with 899 points (365 goals, 534 assists). Gretzky is in first with 1,479 points (495 goals, 984 assists) in 896 games, followed by Jagr with 1,018 points (414 goals, 604 assists) in 858 games. (Adding to the distinction of being in the top four with Gretzky, Jagr and Lemieux: Those are the only three players to win the Art Ross Trophy as the League’s top scorer in the 21 seasons from 1980-81 to 2000-01.)  

Interesting. (This quick document has a bit more to chew on.)

Vollman also makes the point that even the all-timers tend to stop locking down the biggest awards once they turn 30. There’s an obvious barrier in Connor McDavid (just check the Hart Trophy odds) and possibly some other bright young players, so for all we know, most of our peak memories of Crosby may already be in the past.

That said, much like Lemieux, injuries have limited some of the stats Crosby’s been able to put up.

Crosby’s concussion history could conceivably prompt him to retire agonizingly early, but what if he instead gets better luck? We’ve seen cases, such as Patrice Bergeron, in which such issues become less of a concern over time. For all we know, Crosby might defy expectations and actually play until he’s 40.

(Hey, he already emulates Jaromir Jagr in being an inanely good puck protector.)

It’s been a special run already for Crosby, who’s already a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame. At this point, it’s about padding that resume.

Though, to Crosby’s credit, it’s still probably all about winning.

Sabres sign Zemgus Girgensons: two years, $3.2M

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The Buffalo Sabres basically wrapped up their mandatory summer moves by signing RFA Zemgus Girgensons to a two-year, $3.2 million contract on Thursday.

That translates to a cap hit of $1.6M per year; the team confirmed those terms.

The 23-year-old was selected 14th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft by the Sabres. He went two picks after the Sabres selected Mikhail Grigorenko, whose claim to fame is being part of the package that helped them nab Ryan O'Reilly. (Feel free to cringe at who went next, though hindsight seems especially convenient considering how long it takes to get to some of the whoppers.)

In Girgensons’ case, it’s still been a work in progress. His best years actually came early, particularly a sophomore season where he posted career-highs in goals (15) and points (30) despite being limited to 61 games. He enjoyed significantly higher ice time (19:05 per game) during that 2014-15, then came right back down.

If nothing else, Girgensons already has ample NHL experience, as he’s already played in 277 regular-season games.

Buffalo has about $7 million in cap space left, according to Cap Friendly, so there’s theoretically room to make more moves. Girgensons was their last remaining loose end of note, however.