It'll be tough for either the Leafs or Flames to make up enough ground for a playoff spot this season. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)Read up on the latest tidbits and trends as Hockey Night in Canada's play-by-play voice Jim Hughson takes you behind the scenes and into Saturday's featured game.
This week's work:
Calgary Flames at Toronto Maple Leafs (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7 p.m. ET) The Script
It's not the first-place battle we had last week. In fact, it's even a stretch to bill the Toronto-Calgary matchup as a desperate playoff struggle, because they're so far back in the standings.
What this tilt is, though, is an interesting contrast of two Canadian franchises in similar spots in the standings, but in very different stages of evolution.
Which team would you take?
First we have the Flames, a veteran roster snuggled up against the salary cap with expensive, established players who just aren't getting it done.
A team with 11 players locked in no-trade or no-movement contracts, and only $3 million US in cap space next season with 17 guys already signed up. A team with names like Kiprusoff, Iginla, and Regehr on a marquee where the bulbs might be burning out.
How about the Leafs? They have a young roster of some hopeful but unproven players, like Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf, who may or may not be legitimate stars which can help their team back to the playoffs.
A team with $3 million in cap space this year which could fetch some late-season help, and $23 million more to spend next year, but with no guarantees that the rebuild on the run is going to work.
The cap space and young players look more attractive, but are the Leafs really any better off than the Flames?
Toronto has the biggest marquee in the league and the best show they can come up with is "The Big Grabovski."
Both Calgary and Toronto are hoping for the miracle push to make the playoffs, but the fact is only one team since the lockout has been as far back as these two points-wise on Jan. 15th and still made it: the St Louis Blues of 2009, who went on a tear and passed nine teams to snatch sixth spot in the West at the end of the season.
It can be done, but it's highly unlikely, leaving fans of both groups wondering if that's a light at the end of the tunnel or a freight train coming the other way.
In the Spotlight
It's not supposed to be the top line, but it has been for some time and it's saved the Leafs from being buried deeper in the standings than they already are.
Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur and Nikolai Kulemin form the unlikely group who has scored consistently for Toronto, while Phil Kessel and his mates haven't.
To put in perspective how good the Grabovski line has been, let's compare them to some other top groups around the league.
The Grabovski-MacArthur-Kulemin line has more goals (47) than Vancouver's top trio of Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, and Alex Burrows (45), and Washington's top line consisting of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Knuble (44).
Toronto's "top line" also compares favourably in total points (47 goals, 55 assists, 102 points) to Pittsburgh's Crosby line (54 goals, 60 assists, 114 points).
All three are plus players on a team that gives up more goals than it scores, and they've been fairly consistent (12 goals, 13 assists, 25 points) in seven games in the new year.
The trio has been far more reliable than Calgary's Olli Jokinen-Jarome Iginla-Alex Tanguay line, and make almost $5.5 million less.On the hotstove
While the debate rages over whether the Flames should keep Iginla or trade him, the reality of this NHL is that he might not fetch even close to what fans would deem acceptable.
At 33, with two years and $14 million dollars still on the Calgary books after this season, Iginla isn't accessible to some teams, and the contract isn't attractive to others.
If he was coming up to free agency there would certainly be suitors, but any team taking this contract will want the Flames to take money back. And it's likely he'd only fetch marginal prospects and lower draft picks -- hardly a foundation for a rebuild.
It's not so much an indictment of Iginla's game as it is a snapshot of a league that's paralyzed by its salary cap.
Beyond that, new Flames GM Jay Feaster has said Iginla is staying put. Better to keep an established star and continue the search for that elusive centre than have to face a loyal fan base screaming "That's all you got for Iginla!?" Outtakes
Where have all the goals gone? In his four and a half seasons in Calgary, Dion Phaneuf scored 75 goals, including 20 in his rookie campaign. And until recently, the Leafs boasted in their game notes that he is the highest-scoring defender in the league since 2005-06.
But since his arrival in Toronto last January, Phaneuf has scored just three goals on 162 shots.
Leave it to Miikka Kiprusoff to take the pressure off his teammates. Usually he does it by stopping the puck, but this time he unwittingly drew the media flock away from Iginla and Co. by having a bad game in Carolina on Tuesday. He made only four saves and gave up four goals before he was yanked early in the second period in a 6-5 loss.
It followed a couple of other sub-par performances and has called his ability into question for one of the very few times since he arrived in Calgary.
Kiprusoff's biggest deficiency since Day 1 has been his "inability" to score the Flames' goals, and if his ability to stop pucks has started to slide, the Flames are in even bigger trouble than it appears.From the stat pack
Since the NHL lockout, 14 teams have been out of the playoff picture as late as Jan. 15 and still made the dance. Here are the top comebacks in each of those five seasons.
Year Team position on Jan 15 points
05-06 San Jose 11 45
06-07 Pittsburgh 12 45
07-08 Washington 13 43
08-09 St Louis 15 37
09-10 Philadelphia 9 49
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