I continue to gather and organize my thoughts on the Flames, the future and rebuilding. For now, though, I’ll present some other things that are kicking around my head.
– Gabriel Desjardins has added an interesting feature at behind the net – shot and goal charts by team (at 5on5). Here’s Calgary so far so this season:
– As you can see, things are heading in the wrong direction. Flames have been sub-50% in terms of shot and goal generation at 5on5 since about game 20. Around game 25, they really started to fall off the map with no recovery in sight.
There’s a number of explanations for Calgary continued (and growing) power outage at even strength: long-term injuries to David Moss, Curtis Glencross, Derek Smith, Mark Giordano (now better) and recently Lee Stempniak really harmed the Flames depth.
As we’ve discussed in the summer, Calgary’s support players were primarily the ones driving the play in the right direction the last few years. In addition, Brent Sutter decided to start playing Iginla in a straight power vs power type role sometime in December. As noted here, the captain has mostly been crushed in that role and only shy high save percentages has him treading water.
A couple of things need to change if the Flames want to halt the downward slope you at left – Brent Sutter has to find a way to get Jarome the high ground a bit more often (stop me if you’ve heard that before) and Jay Feaster has to find a way to cover the losses of Moss/Glencross and Stempniak up front. And, no, Krys Kolanos and Blair Jones aren’t going to do it.
– Related: the Flames can be both buyers and sellers at the deadline. Looking to add a useful piece here and there doesn’t mean they can’t also aggressively shop guys like Sarich and Babchuk. If the Flames do pursue a forward or two, Feaster needs to focus on Calgary’s explicit needs at this point – strong possession forwards. Preferably centers.
There might be a ew of those guys available. My favorite underrated Selke candidate Frans Nielsen is a pending free agent and the Islanders won’t be making the post-season. If he doesn’t want to re-sign there (and why would he) it’s entirely possible NYI will look to deal him. Nielsen isn’t a mythical #1 center who can come in, play PvP and score 80+ points, but he’s the next best thing – a center who plays in all situations and makes life easier for every other forward on the team. As a bonus, he’s also the best shoot-out player in the entire league.
– If he wasn’t a Leaf, I would also advocate the Flames go after Mikhail Grabovski. There’s a sense in Toronto that Grabs may not re-sign there in the off-season so it’s possible he’ll be available at the deadline. A lot of attention has gone to Lupul and Kessel this year thanks to the pair shooting lights out for the first few months, but for my money Grabovski is the best overall forward on the club, full stop.
Of course, we all know what happens when the Flames trade with Toronto. Perhaps Feaster should wait to try to sign Grabs in the off-season…
– Most relevant to this buying and selling talk is the Flames playoff chances. The Wild have won a couple of games recently and stretched the distance between themselves and Calgary to five points. Sports Club Stats has the Flames post-season probability down to about 14% as a result. Even if we assume a simple coin-flip model – that is, Flames have a 50/50 chance of winning every game – they make the playoffs only 19% of the time. Not good odds.
– With the injuries piling up and the 5on5 play faltering, one hopes the club doesn’t do something stupid and go whale hunting at the deadline. As noted above, I’m not against the team trying to add useful pieces, but my hope is the focus isn’t some big, splashy move that costs a bundle and makes for interesting headlines, but doesn’t do a lot in terms of actually moving the club forward. I could also do without needless deck chair shifting like dealing a 7th round pick for Freddy Modin.
Late draft picks in isolation aren’t worth a whole lot, but a dime is better than a dog turd if you catch my drift.
– Finally, the hatred towards Chris Butler has grown a little out of proportion in some quarters. I’ll admit Butler has nights where he looks rather overwhlemed. As he should – he’s a $1.25M defender playing some of the toughest minutes in the entire league. That he isn’t scored on in spectacular fashion every night is a minor miracle given his age and prior experience.
Jay Bouwmeester helps in that regard, but I’d have to say the Flames top pairing is better this year absent Robyn Regehr. Butler is probably better suited as a steady second pairing guy, but we should temper current expectations and future groans of frustration with the knowledge that he’s punching way above his weight class.