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.

***

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.

Laine makes Team Finland for World Cup, Puljujarvi doesn’t

Patrik Laine of Finland celebrates scoring against Russia during the 2016 IIHF World Junior Ice Hockey Championship final match between Finland and Russia in Helsinki, Finland, Tuesday Jan. 5, 2016. (Roni Rekomaa/Lehtikuva via AP) FINLAND OUT
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The Finns rounded out their 2016 World Cup of Hockey roster on Friday morning, and two of the country’s brightest young prospects received decidedly different news.

Patrik Laine, the reigning World Hockey Championship MVP and likely No. 2 overall pick at this year’s draft, was named to the squad. Jesse Puljujarvi, the 2016 World Juniors MVP and presumptive No. 3 pick, was left off.

Puljujarvi, 18, was edged out for a spot at forward by Laine, Minnesota’s Erik Haula and Sebastian Aho, a Carolina Hurricanes prospect that spent last season playing for Karpat of the SM-liiga.

Aho, another 18-year-old, played alongside Laine for Finland’s silver medal-winning squad at the Worlds and finished the tournament with seven points in 10 games.

On defense, Finland added three more skaters to the roster: Calgary’s Jyrki Jokipakka, Chicago farmhand Ville Pokka and Sami Lepisto, who plays in the KHL.

In goal, another KHLer — SKA Saint Petersburgh’s Mikko Koskinen — was selected, and will compete for minutes with Boston’s Tuukka Rask and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne.

The Finnish roster, in full:

G Mikko Koskinen, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL) *
G Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
G Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

D Jyrki Jokipakka, Calgary Flames *
D Sami Lepisto, Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL) *
D Esa Lindell, Dallas Stars
D Olli Maatta, Pittsburgh Penguins
D Ville Pokka, Rockford IceHogs (AHL) *
D Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo Sabres
D Sami Vatanen, Anaheim Ducks

F Sebastian Aho, Karpat Oulu (SM-liiga) *
F Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
F Joonas Donskoi, San Jose Sharks
F Valtteri Filppula, Tampa Bay Lightning
F Mikael Granlund, Minnesota Wild
F Erik Haula, Minnesota Wild *
F Jussi Jokinen, Florida Panthers
F Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild
F Leo Komarov, Toronto Maple Leafs
F Lauri Korpikoski, Edmonton Oilers
F Patrik Laine, Tappara Tempere (SM-liiga) *
F Jori Lehtera, St. Louis Blues
F Teuvo Teravainen, Chicago Blackhawks

* named to roster today

Among the notable “snubs” for Finland? Detroit’s Teemu Pulkkinen, Vancouver’s Markus Granlund (Mikael’s brother), Winnipeg’s Joel Armia, former Boston Bruin Joonas Kemppainen and Nashville’s Miikka Salomaki.

In addition to Puljujarvi, it’s also worth noting two of the country’s brightest young prospects failed to make it: Kasperi Kapanen, who made his NHL debut for the Leafs this year, and Mikko Rantanen, the promising Colorado forward taken 10th overall in ’15.

Pittsburgh’s run fueled by ‘Baby Pens’

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Thursday night was big for Pittsburgh.

But it was also big for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as well.

After the Penguins defeated Tampa Bay 2-1 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, head coach Mike Sullivan praised four key players that spent parts of this year with the club’s minor-league affiliate: Matt Murray, Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust and Tom Kuhnhackl.

Lest we forget, Sullivan is a WBS guy too. He was coaching in the AHL prior to replacing Mike Johnston midway through the year, and seemed to know his minor league guys — the ‘Baby Pens’ — could produce at the NHL level.

“Those guys were huge,” Sullivan said in his presser. “I told our players after the game that one of the things I really loved about this game was it
took every single man in the lineup to win, and everybody made a significant contribution to helping us win, regardless of how many minutes they played.”

The most obvious hero was Rust, a rookie that scored both goals in the Game 7 win. The Notre Dame product had five goals in 55 career regular season games, but now has five goals in 17 playoff games this year.

“I love what he brings to this team and couldn’t be  happier  for him for his effort and his contribution as far as how he’s helped this team win for four or five months now,” Sullivan said of Rust. “To see him get rewarded with a couple of goals is a thrill for all of us because he’s such a great kid and he plays so hard.”

Murray, who turned 22 earlier this week, was also a key factor. He was remarkably solid after regaining the starter’s net from Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 6, stopping 44 of 47 shots over the final two games of the series.

Sheary, the diminutive speedster, had two points through Games 5-7 and fired an impressive five shots on goal tonight. Kuhnhackl was a little quieter, but still chipped in with five points this postseason, and provided a physical presence.

Overall, the quartet provided something that Pittsburgh’s lacked in previous playoffs. The knock was always that if Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin weren’t producing, the Pens weren’t winning. They just didn’t have the depth at forward to compensate when their star players went quiet.

That’s not a problem anymore.

“Guys made key plays at key times, subtle plays — plays on the wall, blocked shots, won face-offs, decisions with the puck, a good save, a big hit,” Sullivan explained. “There was a lot of those subtle plays throughout the course of the game that, I think, makes us the team that we are.”

‘We love him’ — Bolts heap praise on Stamkos as uncertain future awaits

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 26:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning looks on against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the third period in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 26, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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This may have been Steve Stamkos‘ last game in a Tampa Bay uniform.

If it was, it didn’t go according to script.

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t special.

Stamkos stunned the hockey world on Thursday night by making his playoff debut in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, returning from a two-month absence due to a blood clotting issue.

After undergoing vascular surgery and spending weeks on blood thinners, the captain was cleared to return for his team’s most crucial game of the season — one the Bolts lost, 2-1, the narrowest of margins.

The outcome didn’t take away from how Tampa’s players and coaches felt about Stamkos’ return

“He’s an extremely important player on our team, and we weren’t quite sure when this was going to happen, but a decision was made that he could play for Game 7,” head coach Jon Cooper said. “It was an emotional boost for all of us. The guys were really excited to have him back, and I thought he did a great job.”

By the boxscore, Stamkos’ impact on the game was minimal. He received less than 12 minutes of ice time and finished minus-1. But he did have two shots on net — one of them showing just how dangerous, even in a limited capacity, No. 91 can be:

“I thought I beat him,” Stamkos told NHL.com. “It just went through him and out the other side.”

The focus for Stamkos and the Bolts now shifts to his contract situation. Slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, the former 60-goal scorer projects to be the biggest star to hit the market since Zach Parise and Ryan Suter became UFAs in 2012.

Those two, you may recall, cashed in quite nicely, signing identical 13-year, $98 million deals.

So you can see why Stamkos’ future is of great interest across the league.

Of course, nobody has officially ruled out the 26-year-old’s return to Tampa Bay, and tonight’s drama probably strengthened some pretty serious emotional ties. Remember, this is the only team he’s ever known. The Lightning made Stamkos the first overall pick in 2008 and, six years later, the 10th captain in franchise history. He won two Rocket Richard trophies with the Bolts, and played in a pair of Eastern Conference Finals and one Stanley Cup Final.

He’s the team’s leader and face of the franchise. That’s not small stuff.

But in the end, it might not matter. It’s important to remember the Lightning got to this point without Stamkos because they’ve got incredible depth and some really good young players. Those young players will need to be paid too, and there might not be enough money under the cap for GM Steve Yzerman to make Stamkos an offer he can’t refuse.

Which is why it was hard not to listen to comments the Bolts made tonight, and wonder if they’re aware of what the future probably holds.

“We hope we can stick together, but you just never know,” Boyle said, per the Tampa Bay Times. “Thought we were destined for some pretty special things.”

Here’s your Stanley Cup Final TV schedule

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 21: Patrick Marleau #12 of the San Jose Sharks skates on the ice against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on November 19, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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From the NHL:

The National Hockey League announced today the schedule for the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, which begins Monday, May 30, in Pittsburgh.

Based on their superior regular-season point total, the Eastern Conference champion Pittsburgh Penguins will host Games 1 and 2 of the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final, as well as Games 5 and 7, if necessary.

The Western Conference champion San Jose Sharks will host Games 3 and 4, as well as Game 6, if necessary.

In the U.S., NBC will televise Game 1 and, if necessary, Games 5-7. NBCSN will broadcast Game 2. Television information for Games 3 and 4 will be announced at a later date.

Game 1 Monday, May 30 8 p.m. San Jose at Pittsburgh NBC
Game 2 Wednesday, June 1 8 p.m. San Jose at Pittsburgh NBCSN
Game 3 Saturday, June 4 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at San Jose TBD
Game 4 Monday, June 6 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at San Jose TBD
Game 5* Thursday, June 9 8 p.m. San Jose at Pittsburgh NBC
Game 6* Sunday, June 12 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at San Jose NBC
Game 7* Wednesday, June 15 8 p.m. San Jose at Pittsburgh NBC

Media day will be on Sunday, May 29, time TBD. PHT will be on location for the entirety of the final, and a reminder that all games will also be broadcast on NBC Sports Radio.

PHT’s Mike Halford (that’s me) and Jason Brough will be providing analysis for both pre- and post-game shows.