Breaking It Down: The Flames on Defense

Calgary Flames defenseman Mark Giordano. Photo: Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE

As we’ve mentioned a few times in this space (and you may have read in a few different places on your preferred medium of reading if you follow hockey) the trade deadline is coming up soon- next Tuesday, February 27th. Though there’s always a flurry of trades both major and minor in the league on that day, the conclusion that we’ve come to is that the Flames are unlikely to make many moves, given their cap situation, and how many of them have no trade or no movement clauses.

With that in mind, we’ll take a look at the Calgary Flames‘ roster, and see if they’re good enough as currently compromised to make the postseason. Previously, we examined the forwards- Today, we’ll look at the Flames’ goaltending and defensemen.

Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff. Photo: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

Any analysis of the Flames in goal begins and ends with Miikka Kiprusoff, who’s been a staple in net for the Flames since his acquisition in 2003. After a white-hot run backstopping the Flames to the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals, Kiprusoff hasn’t been THAT good, but has settled in as a very good goaltender with the capability of shutting out a team on any given night. Though his statistics have fluctuated, Kipper has been a workhorse, never playing less than 71 games in a year. After a down year in 2010-11, Kiprusoff has posted excellent numbers this year- he has posted a .924 save percentage, and his 2.23 goals-against-average is good for 9th in the league.

With Kipper playing 71 games a year, the Flames haven’t done a lot in acquiring a solid backup, and there have been several players rotating through the position in the last several years. While it’s dangerous to evaluate any player on only a few games’ worth of information, Henrik Karlsson has done little to dispel the notion that he should be shown the door at the end of the year, having lost every game he’s started. Leland Irving has been better, even with a disaster against Boston factored in. He’s certainly shown enough to be given a legitimate chance at the backup job, and perhaps even succeed Kiprusoff if and when he starts to decline.

On defense, it’s a very vanilla group wearing red and white. With Dion Phaneuf now established with the Maple Leafs, the Flames don’t have much scoring on the back end, with coach Brent Sutter preferring defense to offense (as evidenced by Anton Babchuk often being a healthy scratch after a surprisingly effective 2010-11 campaign). None of the Flames defensemen have more than 4 goals, which is a surprising total given some of the names on the jerseys. Jay Bouwmeester and Mark Giordano are the big names, with Scott Hannan having essentially absorbed Robyn Regehr‘s “shutdown” role. Most statistical measures have the Flames as slightly above average defensively.

One nagging issue is that there are some (Bouwmeester and Sarich especially) who make too much money for the value they’re providing. Though he plays the most minutes, Bouwmeester is one of the most overrated defensemen in the league- he hasn’t been a plus player since 2006-07, and hasn’t brought much offense since joining the Flames. Watching him, it’s hard to tell what he does well, outside of being large. Which is something, granted, but still…

So, the final question: Are the Flames good enough on defense and in net to grab and hold onto a playoff spot? As they’re a veteran team, the answer is “yes, if…” with a long list of qualifiers. If Kipper keeps playing like Kipper can, if Bouwmeester decides he wants to earn his money, if Giordano stays healthy, if they can continue to be sound on defense and still contribute a goal here and there, then they certainly can. The names and numbers show the backend of a fringe playoff team, with the capability of being more if the breaks go their way.

Topics: Calgary Flames, Jay Bouwmeester, Miikka Kiprusoff

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