January 09 2017 08:00AM
Just over a week into the new year and the Flames have crested an important threshold: they're a break even shot attempt team.
As of today according to Corsica Hockey, the Flames' corsi ratio is 50.39, good for 13th in the league. This is a big step forward from the Hartley era, a fact our own Ryan Pike illustrated recently on Twitter:
The image shows the Flames' cumulative shot attempt differential over the course of each of the last three seasons (including this one). As you can see, the new Glen Gulutzan era has managed to keep things more of less even (despite a terrible start to the year), which is encouraging for both fans and management.
Which isn't to say the Flames still don't have real issues and gaps to explore. However, Getting back to treading water possession-wise was a primary goal for the club. If they can keep this up for the rest of the season, I think Brad Treliving and the rest of the management group can consider this year a real step forward, even if the roster is still far from perfect.
In the mailbag today we talk about trade targets, the trade deadline and why the PP is suddenly so much better.
It will depend on the market in terms of asking price and who is available.
That said, I've gone on record before saying I'd almost always be a "seller" at the trade deadline as a GM, regardless of my team's position. Because of the escalated demand for players, there are usually opportunities to sell high on lesser assets.
For example, years ago the San Jose Sharks were in a solid playoff position heading into the deadline, but they traded a doddering Doug Murray to the Penguins for a couple of second round picks. If that kind of deal crops up for Dreyk Engelland, Dennis Wideman or Lance Bouma, for instance, Treliving should take the money and run.
On the other side, Calgary has some very clear needs, so if they can potentially fill them for cheap (or with a long-term acquisition), then it's worth looking at. For instance, the Sabres may sell off Cody Franson for cheap, which would give the Flames a chance to audition him before considering him as a UFA signing in the summer.
What I would absolutely not do is pay a premium for a rental player. Calgary is still a ways away from being a true contender, so giving up worthwhile assets for a short term solution should be a non-starter.
I'd say at least two players - another capable top four defender and another above average possession forward.
Right now, the Flames are making hay with a handful of players. The Backlund line up front is the only one in the black at even strength. On the backend, it's Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton and T.J. Brodie dragging Dennis Wideman around.
The Flames could be an above average possession/even strength team if they could get at least one more unit pushing play. Right now, Sam Bennett, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Troy Brouwer, Kris Versteeg, etc. are underwater despite mostly favourable circumstances. This makes the Flames vulnerable to injury (what if Backlund gets injured?) and it means on any given night at least one of their top three forward units is yielding a lot of shots and chances against.
If a team wants to be elite, that has to change. The Flames can wait to see if Monahan or Bennett will eventually become worthwhile two-way pivots, or they can try to acquire someone to help them out.
Last week we explored what it might take to get either guy. The rumour is Matt Duchene would be more expensive than Gabriel Landeskog, but for now we'll go with what we looked at previously: some combination of Flames' quality young defenders/defensive prospects. Think Brodie and/or Adam Fox, Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington. And maybe a pick on top of that.
It's tough to pick a favourite. Landeskog is slightly less gifted offensively but a better possession player. He's also a LW, whereas the Flames really need another possession C or RW (maybe he can switch sides?).
Duchene is an excellent scorer, good at generating shots, but lousy at preventing them. A slightly better version of Monahan if you will. Here's how they compare:
So if Landeskog can play the RW as well as he does the LW, he's actually my preference.
It's a bit of a fool's errand to try to predict this kind of stuff. All sorts of things can happen over the next three years which we can't possibly guess at now.
All I can say is I think the Flames will have at least two of the Brodie, Hamilton, Giordano trio still around and I'm hoping at least one of Andersson, Kylington, Hickey or Fox are capable regulars (or at least promising rookies/sophomores) by that time. Beyond that? Who knows.
It's been quite a rollercoaster this year for the Flames special teams.
The Flames' PP bottomed out sometime in November, when their five-game rolling average for shots for at 5on4 was at just 26.42. At the time, the club looked completely disorganized on the ice: they couldn't gain the zone and when they did, the play consisted of a lot of perimeter passing and point shots.
By the end of November, start of December things had begun to swing the other way. The club's shots for/60 with the man advantage had climbed up to 53.4. This seems to be a combination of the Flames players and coaches starting to figure out what works and what doesn't.
Recently, the team has had its best shot generation run for the year (aided by that big game against the Canucks in Vancouver). Their five-game running average crested at 66.07 SF/60, almost triple the shots rate they were managing at the start of November. Something else that might be helping this is the Backlund line getting more time as the Flames' second PP unit.
Finally, the Flames also saw their luck swing from negative to positive. I mentioned in a mailbag just over a month ago that pucks were just not going in for Calgary for whatever reason on the man advantage. At the time, their shooting percentage was just over 8% on the PP. It has since climbed to over 13%.
Short version: they started to gain the zone more, get more shots and the puck started going in more to boot.
This year, it's much more important for the Flames to sneak into the playoffs I'd say. It would be a huge blow to the viability of the rebuild to see the club back in the draft lottery.
Also, if Calgary can maintain their current level of even strength and special teams play for the rest of the year, they are certainly deserving of at least a shot at the postseason.