We all know about Miikka Kiprusoff's rise to fame following his trade to Calgary from San Jose during the '03/'04 season. Not only did he bring the Flames to one win from hoisting the cup, he recorded a G.A.A. record of 1.70 (despite being through just 38 games). (Darryl) Sutter found a diamond in the rough in Miikka and the following season he did post a 2.07 G.A.A. with a save percentage of .923. All seemed well between the pipes for the Flames.
However, each subsequent season following the lockout, the Flames netminder has found himself with dismal starts each season. Which of course will find his G.A.A. rise and his save-percentage drop. Most have put this down to bad off-season conditioning, being over-played, slowing down with age, or the scouts from other clubs doing their jobs. I would like to add a couple more ideas to the pot, change in personnel and what I call "Jim Carey" syndrome.
Jim Carey (the goalie, not the actor) syndrome is a condition where a goalie rises to fame for a season or two, only to drop off the face of the planet within a couple seasons. Jim Carey is one such goalie where after a rather good rookie campaign with Washington, the second season found him winning the Vezina trophy. Yet three seasons later, the 25 year-old was no longer playing professional hockey.
Miikka Kiprusoff could be one candidate to do something similar. He has lasted more than a couple of seasons and is much older then 25, but he is following a similar path. Miikka is just four NHL seasons from his record-setting season and yet his G.A.A. is almost double from 1.70 to 3.01 at current standing. Plus a drop in save percentage from .933 to .895, stellar numbers to struggling to keep the starting role.
Another candidate for such a decline in change in personnel. The Flames have gone from Darryl Sutter to Jim Playfair to Mike Keenan since the team went to the finals in 2004. Three very different minds, three different playing styles, from a defensive minded coach in Sutter, to a more free wheeling Jim Playfair to an old regime in Mike Keenan. Most of the Flames wins in '03/04 were one goal games, they were defense first, offense second. It showed in their stats: 200 goals for and 176 against. As well, factor in defensive core changes, changes on offense, and the Flames are a completely different team now to just five years ago. Defense first, offense second has left for play-making offense.
Why Kiprusoff is not the same goalie as five years ago is anyone's guess. Scouts do have more intelligence on him, he is older (but wiser), he is playing almost twice as many games in one season as he used to. The team's mentality has changed from defense to a balance of offense and defense can take its toll.
There have been sprinkles of the Kiprusoff of old, but is it time to move on? My guess is not yet. The Flames will need to replace Kipper with someone who can bring in that elite level. There is definitely a lot of options out there for suitable replacements. There are teams looking for a change in net or looking to dump movable assets. However, in a cap system any player making $8.5 million this season is not an easy move.
I believe this could be the last season for many key figures on the Flames bench if it is another early-round exit in the playoffs. At $8.5 million, Kipper is not an easy move, but next year he is only slated to make $7 million, still not easy, but $1.5 million does make a big difference, especially if the cap ceiling rises again. It will most likely be Keenan that takes the pink slip, but if Kipper cannot turn his season around he might be trading the flaming "C" for a new logo.
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