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Saturday night I was with a friend at his first ever National Hockey League game, between Vancouver and Calgary. Going in we sort of knew it was going to be a rout for the Canucks. It’s not that Vancouver is that good, but it’s that Calgary is that bad. First out Jarome Iginla, then Jay Bouwmeester. Even Blake Comeau was a piece the Flames sold at the deadline and they wound up with the sort of skeleton roster that ends up with not every player on the roster being listed on the game program.

There was a high-profile name that the Flames didn’t sell. If you’re going to tank, tank all the way. Invent a roster that includes Lee Stempniak on the first line with Dennis Wideman playing 27 minutes. It’s incredible what Jay Feaster has done in a few short years. Not only has he managed to completely eradicate the Flames roster of big-name talent, but he’s been able to do it without bringing in a single noteworthy NHL body under the age of 23.

It’s remarkable, really. For Jarome Iginla, Feaster got a couple of college seniors. For Bouwmeester, he got an undrafted third-year pro with seven goals in 56 games and a 26-year old Swiss goaltender. Interestingly, while the Flames hurled toward the natural conclusion of this roster that anybody could see, Feaster still went and signed multi-year deals to Curtis Glencross, Alex Tanguay, Jiri Hudler and the aforementioned Dennis Wideman.

Which brings us to the name that the Flames didn’t trade away. Again, this is me and a friend who has never been to an NHL game, and we’re sitting along the Flames goal-line. Midway through the first period he remarked “goalies don’t look as good in person.”

“Nah, man, that’s just Miikka Kiprusoff.”

Kiprusoff looked awful Saturday night, but to be in complete fairness, he played both legs of a back-to-back. He fumbled three rebounds in plain sight of us in the first period alone. He let in a goal in the second period against Alex Burrows by failing to cover a puck, and let in a slow point shot from Alex Edler through the five-hole. Age has not been Kiprusoff’s friend, but then again, what’s he declining from?

Kiprusoff had a great peak. Between 2004 and 2007, there was probably no better goaltender on the planet. But those were his 27-, 29- and 30-year-old seasons. Before being traded to Calgary and jumping on as the starter for that 2004 playoff run, Kiprusoff was a third string goaltender in San Jose behind Evgeny Nabokov and Vesa Toskala. Since then, he’s fluctuated between good and bad seasons, not quite good enough (even with a .928 even strength save percentage) to drag the Flames to the playoffs last year, but not quite bad enough (.907 EV SV%) to keep them out in 2009.

Still, he’s a goalie whose record stands in stark contrast to his reputation. The word “experience” is by law required to be used in the same sentence as Kiprusoff’s name upon first reference. Even Dave Nonis was drinking the kool-aid last week:

“The benefit of bringing Miikka Kiprusoff in would have been that we weren’t moving either one of our goalies out,” Nonis said. “We’ve always said that if we could get a veteran presence to help these guys along and give them some experience and some tips, that it would have been an ideal situation.”

Nonis added that he discussed that scenario with Kiprusoff directly.

“I think part of him was very excited with that and part of his apprehension was not having his heart in it 100 per cent and coming here and letting us down,” he said. “That was the direction we wanted to head.

Let’s clear something up about Kiprusoff. He’s not Patrick Roy or Dominik Hasek. He’s not even in the same class as Jean-Sebastien Giguere when it comes to the post-season. Kiprusoff was a key cog for the Flames in 2004, but since then, the Flames have yet to pass the first round.

Not to say that Kiprusoff is what’s holding them back, but there seems to be some mis-understanding over what a star, veteran goaltender can provide. Nonis seems to think that “some experience and some tips” is worth the slightly-south-of-$6-million contract for another season.

No goaltender who backed up Kiprusoff was able to benefit from the “experience and tips” Kiprusoff provided in order to become a fully-fledged starting goalie in the NHL. Active goalies under Kiprusoff’s tutelage are: Curtis McElhinney, Henrik Karlsson, Joey MacDonald, Leland Irving, Brian Boucher and Daniel Taylor. Out there exists the misconception that you can stick a young player around an experienced veteran and BAM! insta-clutch. It fits with my belief that you can’t “add” an intangible to a team, since an intangible is something that can’t be counted. At best, you can hope for a group to develop chemistry and trust organically by placing very talented hockey players with each other for a very long time.

This season indicates that Kiprusoff’s mind just really isn’t into it, or he’s just another data point in my theory that as a goaltender ages, his performance becomes more unpredictable.

In 20 starts this year, Kiprusoff has recorded a “quality start”—a game of a save percentage of .917 or higher, or a save percentage of .885 and higher while allowing 2 or fewer goals—just 8 times. Typically goaltenders will earn quality starts from 50-55% of their starts while stars are up in the 65% range. When Kiprusoff has lost, he’s lost bad. In fact, he has six starts on the season where he’s stopped fewer than 80% of the shots he’s faced. Even against Vancouver, probably the worst I’ve ever seen him play live, he at least managed a .810… his seventh worst outing on the season.

If it’s a sign of the team, well, he’s fourth on the Flames in save percentage at even strength. In fact without Kipper, who’s 6-12-2 on the year, the Flames are a somewhat reasonably 7-8-2. Not the stuff dreams are made of, obviously, but it’s not like Bob Hartley was working with a pathetically-decrepit group on the bench. Leland Irving, Danny Taylor and Joey MacDonald have combined for an EV SV% of .894, amazingly 15 points higher than Kiprusoff’s, and an overall SV% of .888, which is also 15 points higher than Kipper’s .873. Those three haven’t been stringing together quality starts or putting in memorable backup performances in relief of an old, injured, former star, but they haven’t been liabilities compared to Kiprusoff in his absence and they’re playing without a degree of pedigree.

You hate to see what this season has done to Kiprusoff, and hopefully he’ll get another year to bounce-back. As Iginla leaves, Kiprusoff is now the lone player holdover from that 2004 roster, and becomes synonymous with the Flames quest to tank and get Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon or Jonathan Drouin in June.

Maybe there is a bounce-back, but at a hefty salary cap hit, it’s a risky gamble for any team to take on when there are better bets to be made for cheaper league-wide.

Although come to think of it, here I am generating a narrative off a small sample size of 20 games…

Comments (9)

  1. Not certain why Boucher is mentioned at all in this article. At the time of his acquisition, he was an established starter (albeit a fairly mediocre one) who was rented as an insurance policy against a Kipper injury.

    What wisdom a veteran goalie is supposed to impart to another veteran goalie over the course of a whopping three starts is anybody’s guess.

    • should clarify

      “he was an established starter” better phrased as “had been an established starter for 3 years of his career to that point”

  2. My god, whoever wrote this is so painfully ignorant it’s bordering on the edge of hilarity. Stating that kipper isn’t even in the same class as J.S. Giguire? Bahahahah. Or ignoring the fact that iggy only waived to go to one team, thereby absolutely hamstringing feaster. The list goes on and on. Youd think that the writer would maybe take the time to learn what he is talking about before writing an article…

    • Feaster could’ve waited longer for Iggy. Demanded more from Pitt or told Iginla to wait in the press box until he waived to someone willing to make a better deal. A GM is supposed to make the hard decisions, Feaster just sent players out of town for nothing in return, well before the deadline, what was the point? One has to wonder why Feaster is still making the hockey decisions…

    • My god, whoever wrote this comment is so painfully illiterate that it’s bordering on the edge of hilarity.

      Not reading that the author stated: “He’s not even in the same class as Jean-Sebastien Giguere when it comes to the POST-SEASON.” Bahahahah

      Or ignoring the fact that the author framed trading Iginla in the same context as not knowing that his roster was on the downswing (while signing guys like Tanguay, Wideman, Hudler, etc… to multi year deals). In other words, he was limited because he waited way too long to trade Iginla and hamstrung himself in terms of being limited by Iginla’s NTC. The list goes on and on.

      You’d think that a commenter would read the article before spouting off in the comment section about things.

      • Does limiting the look at the playoffs equalize these players, though? In 4 playoff seasons, all during his prime, Giguere was once legendary, once excellent and twice trash.

        Kipper was excellent on 4 occasions, once decent and once trash, but the garbage season came when he was 32 (Jiggy never started a playoff game at that age or later).

        Giguere’s not as odd of a person to mention to make this argument as the Boucher reference was, but it’s still a very iffy guy to use as someone who’s “in another class.”

        Then again, we’re talking about the same writer who once described Frans Nielsen as “one of the most electrifying players in the league (or in wording very similar),” so it’s very likely he doesn’t know who anybody he mentions in the article even is.

      • You call him Illiterate and then you point out one “supposed” reading comprehension error. Which was NOT even an error as was proven by the other reply to your comment. There is no way in hell you can say JSG is in ANOTHER CLASS then Kipper, even in post season play (as was proven by that other poster). You obviously have no idea what your talking about.

        Wow, your as ignorant as the author of this article. Tanguay, Wideman, Hudler, etc… were ALL SIGNED BEFORE THIS SEASON. Evidently Feaster thought that with those additions, the Flames would take the step from ninth and become a playoff team. And who can argue with that? They were a couple points out of postseason play last season, and those additions, along with Sven Baertschi SHOULD have made the Flames good enough to make the playoffs. But they didn’t, and so Feaster was forced to rebuild. Yes he waited to long to trade Iggy (would have been hamstrung by his NTC no matter what, so idk what your point is there..), but everyone knows that and the poster who your replying too didn’t say anything about that, so again, i have no idea what your rambling about.

        Do you think it’s funny that you frame your insults in the same context as the authors? Cause thats really original… You’d think that the commentor would try not to be such a dumbass before posting.

    • Not to mention, Feaster’s the guy who offer-sheeted Ryan O’Reilly and would have had to place him on re-entry waivers if Colorado had not matched…. he would paid good draft choices for the privilege of losing O’Reilly in approximately 26.7 seconds.

  3. I’m no Kiprusoff fan and if I were the GM of a cap team I’d have had zero interest in acquiring him.

    BUT

    1. His actual salary is pretty low next year so he’d work for a small market team on a limited payroll. Heck, it could be beneficial for some cheap owners looking to hit the cap floor.

    2. He played 70 games a year every year since lockout #2. Until this year, obviously. The stats might not be great. But whose to say his performance wouldn’t have improved if he played less?

    Calgary is one of the few teams that believed in the 70 game starter for whatever reason. Nearly every other team has reduced the workload of their starter during a time when save percentages have been going up.

    All of this is to say he’d be fine as a one year guy for teams looking to break in a young starter as long as they are not cap teams. If he wasn’t about to retire…

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