January 17 2016 11:00AM
We’ve arrived at the Flames’ update at last. Our previous two, the Canucks and Oilers, reviewed the progress of the roster players, possession metrics, sv%’s and various other metrics used to track a team.
For those interested, here's the pre-season look at the Flames.
The Flames had a tough start to the season and I suppose I could save you reading through this article by just summarizing the first few months by saying they looked lost early and were sunk by atrocious goaltending but appear now to be rounding into something resembling an NHL team.
However, let’s see if we can’t do a little better than that.
The Flames’ record after 41 games was 19-20-2 for 40 pts and they sat 6th in the Pacific and 13th in the Western Conference.
The Flames’ power play and penalty kill at the halfway mark both sat 30th in the league, at 14.4% and 74%, respectively. Of all the things we’ll look at today, this surprised me more than anything else. The roster, for all its weaknesses and mis-deployments, boasts players like Gaudreau, Hudler, Hamilton, Frolik, Stajan, Backlund and Giordano whose strengths typically manifest on special teams.
I expect this area to improve in the second half of the season as the current standings are a reflection less of where the Flames are today so much as where they had been earlier in the season.
Below is the table of the player performances thus far with their paces in several categories.
I suggest Flames fans just forget the year and refer to this season as the Season of Gaudreau, because outside of a slight down turn from Monahan and Giordano gradually rounding back into form, this team has more or less been driven, at least offensively, by the young forward.
I’m overstating obviously, but Gaudreau has likely done as much as Ramo over the course of the season to help keep the Flames afloat while the rest of the roster found its feet.
I decided to look a little deeper into his season and found that Hartley is continuing to give Gaudreau and Monahan a strong push in the offensive zone, though less so than Hudler and Granlund, and of those four and Sam Bennett, Gaudreau and Monahan have faced the weakest competition, which is almost certainly by design.
The sv% started abysmally and has improved moving closer to the league average over the course of the season thus far. Despite carrying three goalies for a good stretch of the first half, Hartley seemed to commit early and often to Ramo. That Ortio was on the roster but not playing for so long suggests a difference of opinion between Treliving and Hartley. Nothing wrong with that, but if it causes Treliving to waive a useful player like Paul Byron while his coach mothballs a young goalie in the pressbox, while still not settling on a clear starter, then it needs to be addressed.
The trendline for the Flames in sv% and goal differential has been noticeably improving. A major part of that was due to their extended winning streak in early December. They have also played in 16 one-goal games thus far, winning 12 of them. This continues a trend we’ve seen extend over two and a half seasons now.
With regards to the sv% trendline, the black line represents league average, 0.916 at the time of this writing, and so individual games shouldn’t be weighted too strongly, rather if the Flames can get their trendline above the average more often than not then good things should happen.
(Data courtesy of War on Ice)
The possession numbers are perhaps the most encouraging of all the data gathered thus far. Or at least they likely are for those fans who look to sustainable winning trends as much as outright team performance.
The Flames, solidly subpar in that department now for several seasons, have begun to turn things around this season. Individual game numbers tend to be erratic, so I recommend looking at the trendline as it gives one the best measure of how a team is managing the puck possession aspect.
Ideally one aims for 50% or greater coupled with a low goal differential, so by those two measures the Flames are certainly trending well. Whether there remains enough time in the season for it to pay off though…?
The two goalie graphs are quite telling in contrasting the two seasons we have seen from Flames’ goalies. While neither started particularly well, Ramo appears to have steadily improved while Hiller is trending precipitously downwards, albeit within a much smaller sample size. We should be wary of drawing too-strong conclusions on goalie performances based on save percentages, doubly so on small sample sizes which I would argue is anything under a full season or perhaps even two.
That being said, if Ramo continues this way then the Flames would seem likely to try to extend him this year and shopping Hiller will become only a matter of time, organizational injuries notwithstanding.
Of the three teams we’ve reviewed, the Flames have the strongest lines trending upwards.
Based on current projections they have a reasonable chance to at least challenge for a playoff position this year. More on that later.
(Courtesy of mangameslost.com)
We must consider that outside of the early season injury to Brodie and a more recent injury to Frolik, the team has largely been blessed with a relatively healthy roster.
Above is a graph taken from Man Games Lost around the 41 games-played mark.
The higher the team the greater their share of points in the standings, the further to the right the greater the number of man games lost to injury, the larger the bubble the more significant the impact of those injuries to the team based on possession metrics. Red bubbles are those outside a playoff position, blue are those inside, yellow denotes division leaders.
That the division leaders all have among the fewest impact injury losses should be self-evident. Thus far no team has had a larger injury impact than Edmonton, followed closely by Buffalo, Detroit, Philadelphia and Vancouver. The fact that only one of those teams finds itself in a playoff position also serves to remind us of the oft-overlooked impact that injuries and depth can have on a season.
Calgary has largely escaped the season to-date unscathed, with about the same level of injury impact loss as Carolina, Colorado, Arizona, Ottawa, Minnesota and Nashville. Four of those teams have playoff positions, three do not.
The Flames currently find themselves in a race with Vancouver, Edmonton, Arizona and San Jose for a Pacific Division playoff spot and among those they have the second fewest man games lost to injury with the second lowest injury impact rating.
This will be something to keep in mind as the second half of the season progresses luck has been on their side thus far.
(Courtesy of MicahBlakeMcCurdy@Ineffectivemath)
Initially I had estimated the Flames would end up with 90+ points and perhaps just miss out on a playoff spot. Micah Blake McCurdy over at Ineffective Math has a running projection algorithm that has the Flames estimated to finish with between 85 and 87 points. His system works off of current performance while I had based mine off of simple projections of player production leading to GF/GA and then using that to ballpark a place based on the previous season’s standings.
We’ll revisit all three teams at the end of the season to see how the estimates worked, who played above or below expectations and what areas were the most or least successful.
Brian Burke has said that he doesn’t believe that last year was a peak moment for the Flames, nor does he believe that their rebuild is finished. It will be intriguing to see once the season has concluded, once we can look back and examine this year in detail, whether the Flames took a step forward, maintained, or slipped back. For the time being every one of the items measured above is trending up with the exception of Jonas Hiller’s save percentage.
One last point. Recall all that discussion last year about
the Flames regressing towards a more sustainable shooting or save percentage?
Well their PDO as of Jan 14th was 99.2, or just below the standard
mean, with a team shooting percentage of 8.3% and a team save percentage of
90.9%. In other words, if we take out the specifics of the wins and losses (6-0
win here, 4-2 loss there), what you are seeing from this team is pretty close
to what you should expect.
Story of the Season So Far?
Heeeeerrrrreeee's Johnny! (see above)
It isn't all just about Gaudreau, but if you want to single out one storyline from the season, I think averaging just over 1.0ppg in his sophomore season is as good a place to start as any.
The team had holes all over and looked some nights like they couldn't tie their skate laces properly and he kept producing.
Now the team seems to have it's head screwed on straight and are moving forward and there's Gaudreau, way on up the path just waiting for the rest of his team to catch the hell up.
Why the song?
I’d picked Elvis for the Flames back in the initial season overview.
The first part of the year did not go as well as many had planned. In fact, it was probably pretty awful for both fans and players.
But gradually, as the games went on, things began to improve
and then with a prolonged winning streak in December the Flames seemed to come
around until the point now where they are a relevant team in their division,
weakened though it is.
By many measures the Flames are not having a good season, and yet I get the impression that there is nothing but good feeling surrounding the team right now as they have been playing well since early December and fans are confident in the management group and the young core developing before their eyes.
The playoffs are still a long way off but the general feeling around the team seems to be positive (arena press conferences notwithstanding).
I left my home in Norfolk Virginia
California on my mind
I straddled that Greyhound
And rode into Raleigh and on across Caroline
We had motor trouble that turn into a struggle
Halfway across Alabama
And that hound broke down and left us all stranded
In downtown Birmingham
Sure as you're born brought me a silk suit
Put luggage in my hand
And I woke up high over Alberquerque
On a jet to the promised land
The Flames haven't won the Stanley Cup, and they may not even make it to the post-season dance this year, but I get the feeling that regardless, fans are singing with the top down as this ride rumbles on down the highway.