Miikka Kiprusoff

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.

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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.

San Jose Sharks’ defense looks very promising

SAN JOSE, CA - JANUARY 03:  Alexander Steen #20 of the St. Louis Blues and Brent Burns #88 and Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 of the San Jose Sharks go for the puck at SAP Center on January 3, 2015 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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In the long term, there are some questions about the San Jose Sharks’ defense.

For one thing, Brent Burns is due what could be a raise almost as big as his Burt’s Bees beard.

What’s even more troubling is, like the Sharks’ forwards, the defense’s upper ranks might see Father Time nipping at their heels. Burns is 31, Paul Martin is 35 and three defensemen are 29 in Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun and newly signed blueliner David Schlemko.

This isn’t to say that the Sharks will age as rapidly as Melisandre, but that group prompts more questions about how long San Jose’s window might be hope.

Quite a promising present

So, maybe it won’t be a strength forever … but wow, this group sure looks promising on paper heading into next season.

Burns gets the most attention thanks to his booming shot, strong all-around skills and bizarre presence, yet Team Canada isn’t oblivious to Vlasic’s subtler brilliance. Paul Martin might be slipping a bit, but he’s still a useful player.

The signing of Schlemko really ties the room together, though.

The point isn’t that Schlemko is a star or better than the likes of Jay Bouwmeester. The very different nature of their roles makes a comparison a little risky.

Instead, it argues that Schlemko is the sort of supporting cast player who can push the Sharks closer to having a quality defenseman on the ice during every shift.

Beyond those four blueliners, the Sharks have some interesting options. Braun enjoyed some nice playoff moments. Brenden Dillon has his flaws, but perhaps he’d flourish if used in more protected situations.

With Mirco Mueller and Dylan DeMelo among those waiting in the wings, it’s not as though the Sharks are totally devoid of young talent on defense.

In an age where it almost feels like teams would give up vital organs for difference-makers on defense, San Jose’s group looks primed to rank among the elite. After struggling when the likes of Roman Polak were caught in bad situations, the Sharks have a great chance to trot out a remarkably balanced group in 2016-17.

Let’s argue about EA Sports’ NHL 17 player ratings

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via EA Sports
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EA Sports released top player rankings for NHL 17 about a week ago, but it isn’t too late to needlessly argue about them.

The top 50 overall ratings is probably the best place to start, but EA also shared top 10 lists for centers, defensemen, goalies, left wings and right wings.

Now, it’s important not to take this stuff too seriously. There are plenty of things to cool down any diehards who feel like Their Guy was disrespected, but do note that ratings sometimes get tweaked.

Still, there are some fun observations and debates that can come from pouring through these rankings, especially if you’re … well, bored.

Shea Weber vs. P.K. Subban

Did Michel Therrien and Marc Bergevin chime in on the debate? /Scratches chin

Weber came in with a blazing 94 rating:

 

Weber wins the digital battle with Subban, who lags behind as a 91. To the naked eye, EA seems to disagree with the analytics-based argument that Subban is the better all-around player than Weber at this juncture:

Here’s the thing, though: if you break both down rating by rating, each guy looks pretty great in NHL 17. Perhaps the real debate comes down to whether Weber really is that great defensively or not.

Then again, maybe EA just has a blind spot for Nashville Predators past and/or present? Pekka Rinne‘s high rating is sure to ruffle some feathers:

91rinneea

To give you some context, that 91 rating ties Rinne with Cory Schneider and places him ahead of the likes of Ben Bishop, Corey Crawford and Tuukka Rask.

Some other debate-starters

Need some other fun ones to bicker about? Sure you do:

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Again, take it easy with this stuff. None of these choices are “Mike Richards being higher-rated than Anze Kopitar” bad.

You can have a lot of fun batting around different observations, as these player rankings often provide an interesting window into the way the hockey world sees things.

And, hey, at least Dustin Byfuglien‘s getting some much-deserved recognition.

NHL says it isn’t bothered by Coyotes’ salary cap methods

PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 02:  Dave Bolland #36 of the Chicago Blackhawks and Chris Pronger #20 of the Philadelphia Flyers skate after the loose puck in Game Three of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Wachovia Center on June 2, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Arizona Coyotes GM John Chayka is deftly playing the system when it comes to the salary cap to the point that some might accuse him of exploiting loopholes.

If the NHL bristles as such tactics, they’re at least not showing it in public.

In taking on the absolutely dead money of Chris Pronger and Pavel Datsyuk along with the possibly dead money of Dave Bolland, the Coyotes are getting to the cap floor while saving money in the actual cash they’re dishing out.

The Score’s Ian MacLaren succinctly explains the savings they’re enjoying thanks to these clever trades:

That’s how the league is viewing Arizona taking on the salaries of Chris Pronger, Pavel Datsyuk and Dave Bolland. The cap hits amount to almost $18 million but result in less than $2 million in actual salary paid out by the club, while simultaneously allowing it to reach the cap floor.

Honestly, it’s difficult to shake the image of Gary Bettman & Co. bristling at the tactics of a franchise they’ve defended year after year amid myriad arena issues.

Today’s Slapshot’s Craig Morgan caught up with Bill Daly, whose overall message is that the league is OK with what Arizona is doing.

“I would say that it’s a matter that we monitor, like all other areas of the CBA (collective bargaining agreement), and if we believe it starts to be abused in a way that is inconsistent with how the system is designed to work, at that point, we would try to correct it in collective bargaining with the union,” Daly said. “I would say we aren’t at that point on this issue — we do not view it as the loophole that‎ some describe it as.”

One key point from Daly is that he doesn’t view Bolland’s case as the same as that of Pronger or Datsyuk. The critical distinction is that Bolland at least hopes to become healthy enough to play again.

(Chakya’s update wasn’t particularly optimistic in that regard, but a return isn’t totally inconceivable since Bolland is just 30.)

Best of both worlds for Coyotes

Again, the Coyotes are really reaping the benefits of this gameplan. Not only are they saving real dollars by absorbing other teams’ dead money, they’re using those trades to acquire promising assets like Jakob Chychrun and Lawson Crouse.

These are the sort of moves that make the team look bright today and possibly terrifying for opponents in the future, even if the 2016-17 product may be a little hit-or-miss.

Time may tell how the NHL truly feels

To some extent, we probably won’t know how the NHL truly feels about this situation until the next CBA eventually gets hashed out.

Then again, the league did make a big stink about cap circumvention during the memorable days of Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract negotiations, so perhaps such maneuvering really doesn’t bother the NHL?

Maybe, but you’re free to picture Bettman grumbling about Chayka’s moves either way.

(H/T to the Score.)

Alex Ovechkin tweets about tying the knot with Nastya Shubskaya

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Alex Ovechkin shared the news via his official Twitter feed that he married Nastya Shubskaya.

His message includes a caption that translates to “This is happiness,” according to NHL.com.

Washington Capitals blog Russian Machine Never Breaks indicated that the two got married during a small, private ceremony, so it might have actually happened a week or so ago.

Here’s the Ovechkin tweet from Sunday:

This continues a run of big news for Capitals players, with a life-changing event for Ovechkin’s partner-in-crime Nicklas Backstrom as well:

There were some fun jokes on Twitter about the happy news, with this one possibly taking the cake:

This summer figures to be a busy one from a hockey standpoint for Ovie, as he’s been part of various activities and will represent Russia at the upcoming 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

In case you’re wondering, Ovechkin will soon turn 31.