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.

Sens win, but empty seats get the attention

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All the talk in Ottawa today should be about the Senators’ big win over the Rangers.

Instead, the city’s playoff excitement has been hijacked by a familiar topic — attendance woes.

A crowd of just 16,744 was announced at Canadian Tire Centre last night. Pictures of empty seats were all over social media. It had to be embarrassing for the home team, not to mention its combustible owner.

Read more: Plenty of tickets available for Game 1 in Ottawa

There are plenty of theories that attempt to explain the poor attendance. The suburban arena gets blamed a lot, and it’s true that the location is quite inconvenient. Some say the defensive style that coach Guy Boucher employs does not make for an entertaining enough product.

Here’s Sens reporter Ian Mendes with his take for TSN.ca:

The truth of the matter is that Ottawa simply doesn’t have a big enough season ticket base. Though the club never publicly discloses how many season tickets they have sold, it stands to reason that the number is well under 10,000. That means on a nightly basis, the Senators have to drum up enough walk-up sales to fill at least half their building – which is located well outside of the downtown core.

A better crowd is expected Saturday afternoon for Game 2.

But there are still tickets available.

Related: Poor attendance an early story in Ottawa

Preds proving preseason hype was warranted

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They were a trendy pick to win the Stanley Cup.

And then the season started.

The Nashville Predators never really got rolling during their 82-game schedule. They’d have some good stretches, followed by some bad stretches. They ended up as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. Most predicted they’d lose to Chicago in the first round.

Of course, most were wrong. The Preds swept the Blackhawks, and now they’re up 1-0 on the Blues in the second round.

“We come in, we’re supposed to be this awesome, amazing team and we didn’t start so hot,” d-man Ryan Ellis said, per NHL.com. “We started to get better, and then some injuries crept into our locker room. We battled the whole year, losing guys at various times in the year and some younger guys stepped up. But overall, it’s adversity that makes you stronger. This was one of those years we faced a lot of adversity.”

A quick glance at Nashville’s roster and it’s not hard to understand the preseason hype. The Predators have a No. 1 center in Ryan Johansen, a tremendous goal-scorer in Filip Forsberg, and one of the more underrated wingers in the league in Viktor Arvidsson.

But the real jewel is their blue line. Roman Josi is the No. 1 defenseman. He’s paired with Ellis, a former 11th overall draft pick. On the second pair is a former Norris Trophy winner, P.K. Subban, who skates with the dependable Mattias Ekholm.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better top four than that. And to think, the Preds also had Seth Jones, until they traded him to Columbus for Johansen.

The wild card heading into the playoffs was Pekka Rinne, the 34-year-old goalie who was spectacularly inconsistent during the regular season. He had a .949 save percentage in November, followed by an .875 in December. It was .933 in January, down to .888 in February, then back up to .923 in March.

So far this postseason, it’s .962.

Tonight in St. Louis, the Preds can make it six straight wins in the playoffs. More importantly, they can take a 2-0 lead over the Blues back to Nashville.

“Throughout the year, I think we’re a little bit inconsistent,” winger Colin Wilson told reporters. “But when we played our game, we were always unstoppable. We have a lot of talent, great D, great goaltending, all-around strong team with a lot of depth.”

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Rangers won’t let Drury interview for Sabres GM gig

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As a former player and well-regarded young executive, there was a fit for Chris Drury in Buffalo’s front office.

Of course, there’s the exact same fit with the Rangers.

That’s why today’s news can’t come as a huge surprise. Per Sportsnet and TSN, New York has turned down Buffalo’s request to interview Drury for its vacant general manager gig.

Drury, 40, has spent the last two years climbing the Rangers’ executive depth chart. He was brought aboard in 2015 as the club’s director of player development and, a year later, was promoted to assistant GM under Jeff Gorton.

The Rangers aren’t the only ones enamored by Drury’s front office skills. Recently, USA Hockey tabbed him — along with Bill Guerin — as the braintrust responsible for building Team USA’s entry in the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.

As mentioned above, it was easy to see why the Sabres were interested. Drury played three seasons in Buffalo, served as team captain, and the club appears primed to make a splash with its next hire after dismissing Tim Murray.

Drury, of course, spent four seasons with the Rangers and also wore the “C.”

Should Erik Karlsson’s game-winning goal have counted?

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We’re only one game into the Sens-Rangers series, and we already have a little bit of controversy.

Ottawa won Game 1, 2-1, thanks to Erik Karlsson‘s game-winning goal from a seemingly impossible angle (seriously, he scored from the corner).

But should it have counted?

There’s no issue with the Karlsson shot going off Henrik Lundqvist‘s mask and in, but the Rangers felt that the referees missed an icing call moments before the goal happened.

Karlsson is standing near his own blue line when he sends a pass in Jean-Gabriel Pageau‘s direction. Did Pageau get a piece of it? It’s hard to tell from the angles we have at our disposal, but Alain Vigneault seemed to have had a good look at the play.

“We felt on their game-winning goal it should have been icing,” Vigneault said, per Sportsnet. “When we look at it, and look at the angles we get, I think it should have been icing. But at the end of the game you gotta play and you gotta do more than we did tonight to win.”

Challenging icing calls isn’t permitted, so when the officials decided that Pageau touched the puck, there’s nothing more the Rangers could do to reverse the call (except get the puck out of the zone when they had the chance).