Flames 2013 – Noting the Positives

 

 

We discussed some of the silver linings of the Flames collapse this season on Saturday, but today I wanted highlight and clarify some of the more noteworthy positives for the team moving forward. Let’s start with the fact that the Flames probably aren’t as bad as they seem…

Curse of the Puckstopper

Calgary’s near league worst record can be blamed on a number of factors, but the primary one is the goaltending. No collection of puckstoppers has managed a worse save rate than Calgary’s sad bunch this year. Heck, none of them are even replacement level. Kipper has played the most games (20) and hovers around .881 at even strength. To put that number in perspective, it is several ticks below league average and well behind his SV% last year (.928). Hell, he hasn’t stopped pucks at league average rate in any game state, ES, PK (8.13) or PP (.857).

Some of this you can put down as the culmination of poor management/planning around the goaltender position, some you can put down to Kipper aging and the team playing poorly in their own zone on a few nights, but a lot of it is a huge heaping of bad fortune. It was fair to expect Kipper to regress somewhat from his performance last season, but not to crater to this degree (or to get injured for nearly half the season to boot).

The effect average goaltending would have on the current iteration of the Flames is prfound. Even if we just apply it to Kipper’s 20 games played, the difference between his actual save rate and the league mean at even strength alone would save the Flames 17 goals (53 vs 36 goals). If we apply league average to all the puckstoppers for the entire year, the difference is (100-71) about 29 goals, which would theoretically be worth almost five wins or 10 standings points (and take their goal differential form -34 to -5). That wouldn’t make them a contender or anything, but it pulls the Flames out of the basement and thrusts them into the playoff race.

Finding average goaltending should be relatively easy in the next year or two. Even if Kipper decides to play out his final season in a platoon with Kari Ramo, there’s little chance the netminding will be this terrible again in 2013-14.

In a way, the cursed goaltending has been something of a blessing for the organization. It broke the spell of the Iginla/Kiprusoff era and prvoided an impetus for the decision makers to move forward. It will also likely deliver the team a lottery pick and perhaps the sort of talent the club can start building around.

TJ Brodie and Mikael Backlund

Usually when teams run aground like this, there is almost nothing in the organization worth talking about. That’s not quite true with the Flames given how their only pair of notable NHL youngsters have performed this year. Of Calgary’s regular skaters, Mikael Backlund leads everyone in terms of relative corsi (+10.6/60), while Brodie is second on the blueline (+6.9/60) to Dennis Wideman (remember that the kid played on the top pairing with Jay Bouwmeester before the latter left town).

Both players have performed well in terms of possession in the past, so this isn’t an aberration based on easy minutes or sample size. Neither guy is starting more often in the offensive zone nor seeing muffins, so their outshooting is real.

Starting out a rebuild with a couple of kids who can effectively drive possession already and who aren’t going to cost an arm and a leg to re-sign is good news. Backlund’s SH% has rebounded to 12.2% in 22 games this year, so there’s also some indication the kid isn’t destined to shoot pucks into crests the rest of his career.

There are other prospects to be excited about in the system: Sven Baertschi, Johnny Gaudreau, Jon Gillies and Laurent Brossoit, for example, but for now Backlund and Brodie are the skaters who have established that they can not only hang with the big boys, but move the puck in the right direction as well.

Lots o’ Cap Space

This is a topic we will tackle in far more detail in the off-season, but with the sale of Iginla, Bouwmeester and (probable) retirement of Kipper, the Flames will enter free agency with as much as $26M in cap space.

One of the key differences between this rebuild and the horror of the Young Guns era is the Flames now have the financial wherewithal to pursue and pay for quality plater. Probably no other club in the NHL will have the combination of cap space plus the ability/willingness to spend dollars like the Flames this coming July, which puts them in the catbird seat thanks to a dropping cap ceiling.

There are traps here if Feaster is foolish or imprudent, of course. The impulse to overpay marginal UFA’s with recognizable names might prove to be overwhleming (see; Ville Leino). Also, a lot of clubs will line-up to dump their junk on Calgary in an effort to clear budget room (see: Gomez to Montreal). 

Still, all things being equal, it’s better to have cap space than to not. If the Flames void the obvious landmines they should be able to leverage their position both in the UFA pool and/or the trade market to add a few meaningful pieces.

The Stajan Resurgence

Because he was the "centerpiece" of the disastrous Phaneuf deal and because he was miscast as "Jarome’s next center" when he came to town, Matt Stajan descended into a punchline under Brent Sutter.

We were talking about Stajan as the Flames probable compliance buyout candidate as late as January of this year, but under Hartley the former Maple Leaf has proven he is still a viable NHLer. Stajan has faced the toughest competition on the team this year (!), but still has a marginally positive corsi which is all you can ask of him in such circumstances. I suspect to some degree it is Glencross and Stempniak (his frequent linemates) driving thw bus, but nevertheless Stajan certainly hasn’t been an anchor.

Matt Stajan has one more year left on his contract. If he can carry this performance forward into next year, the Flames won’t have to worry about paying him to go away. Instead, they’ll either have another viable asset to move at the deadline or the option to keep him around for cheap as a roster veteran to help the kids find their legs.

Three First Round Picks

The St. Louis Blues are all but guaranteed to make the playoffs now, so the Flames should have three first round picks in the upcoming entry draft.

Calgary has never picked higher than 6th overall in the draft and have never had more than two choices in the first round, so 2013 will be an unprecedented event on a number of fronts for the franchise. In addition, this year’s crop of prospects is rumored to be one of the strongest in recent memory, at least when it comes to the first round. Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin and Alexsandr Barkov would all be candidates for first overall in other years, while high-end kids like Max Domi, Hunter Shinkaruk, Curtis Lazar, Ryan Pulock, Adam Erne, Kerby Rychel and Nicolas Petan (to name a few) will be available a bit later in the rotation.

With some savvy drafting and a bit of luck, Calgary can vastly improved their organizational skill level and depth in one fell swoop.

Remaining Vets

The one thing Jay Feaster did well at the recent deadline was avoid the compuslion to simply host a yard sale. I’m sure guys like Mark Giordano, Curtis Glencross and Lee Stempniak could have fetched a pick or two in return, but the truth is they are guys who are affordable, capable and will be able to provide structure and shelter for any youngsters who make their way onto the roster in the coming years.

To circle back to the first note on goaltending, the Flames aren’t nearly as terrible as they seem this year. Their fenwick close (possession rate corrected for score effects) this season is 19th overall (48.53), which admittedly isn’t good, but also isn’t awful. Clearly improvement is needed to make the club a contender, but things could be a lot worse as well. There is a foundation to begin building on if the team has the sense to keep all of the current good bits together.

Conclusion

All hope is not lost. The Flames won’t be challenging the Kings or battling for cup next year, to be sure, but they don’t have to be languishing at the bottom of the league for five seasons either. The difference between the 9th placed Flames of 2011-12 and the 14th placed Flames of 2013 is more or less luck and goaltending.

If management can successfully leverage their enviable cap position and collection of futures in this upcoming draft as well as fix the goalie situation, Calgary can be relevant again sooner rather than later.

  • Parallex

    I think that a lot of it will depend upon where we finish. Colorado picks first and they take Jones. Florida picks second and takes Drouin. Flames pick third – choices are MacKinnon or Barkov.

    Is MacKinnon or Barkov better than say Monahan, Mantha, and Gauthier?

    I guess that it would come down to going back in time and making the following deal.

    Galchenyuk for Forsberg, Teravainen, and Gaunce

    Huberdeau for Couturier, Armia, and Philips

    Johansen for Granlund, Terasenko, and Coyle

    Duchene for Paajarvi, Kreider, and Palmieri

    Assuming you could pick really well how do you not take two extra high end prospects?

    Especially if there are concerns that MacKinnon is overrated or that Barkov will not be able to translate his offense and will be a 2nd or 3rd line center. But it depends upon how “deep” this first round actually is.

    MacKinnon for Shinkaruk, Gauthier, and Lazar

    Add them to the other two picks Mantha and Mueller and that is a pretty good group of prospects that will need another year or two but should be able to be a solid nucleus.

  • I like how everyone thinks that the Flames will keep their first rounders.

    Despite their retractions, Feaster & Co. are still in “go for it” mode and will try to squeak into the playoffs next year on the wildcard. This means trading the picks for help now. I fully expect someone like Jason Spezza to be a Flame come June. Post-apex veteran C in exchange for 2 1sts.

    Jay even said they were probably going to be trading the picks, then reversed on those statements. Intellectual dishonesty abounds with these sh*theads. They’ve already been lying for 3 straight years, why stop now?

    • My biggest fear as well, but I’ve decided that all I can do is wait and see what Feaster does and be positive.

      Of course, if our fears come true and he screws up, the usual contingent will change “wait for the draft” to “wait until next year’s deadline.” Of course, prior to that, it was “wait until he’s not A/GM,” followed by “give him a year,” followed by “give him 2 years.”

      In other words, it’s all still Sutter’s fault.

      • RexLibris

        Doesn’t it feel nice to have moved on from the “It’s all Button’s fault” era!

        😉

        Enjoy the draft, guys. I’m really looking forward to this one. Part of me wants Feaster to trade some picks just for the sheer drama of the whole thing.

        I wonder if he wouldn’t trade the Pittsburgh one to get a couple of 2nd round selections.

    • piscera.infada

      hopefully by draft day fkyin j and his gang of snakeoil salesman are post-apex. personally i would trade the st louie and pitts picks as a package for an earlier pick or as gravy to move scramellari and alice tangay out of town for a mid 20’s established key component.

      mind you this gang of alledged hockey management would probably think they are makin a run next year for the cup.

  • beloch

    The Flames are at 49 contracts currently. I’m happy to say it, but I don’t think there’s going to be enough room to accommodate the influx of talent this summer! Hopefully Feaster calls up some of the borderline cases and gives them a good look. e.g. If Breen gets called up, I’d expect him to either put on a show or be shown the door.

    I’m looking forward to the draft, like everyone else here. However, I’m sort of dreading free agency. I have a feeling that Feaster isn’t going to pursue a smart rebuild and is instead going to spend every last penny of cap-space signing overrated veterans to long, expensive contracts with NTC’s so the team can “go for it” again next season.

    Yes, the Flames + league average goal-tending would have been a bubble team this year, so we can reasonably project them to be in the bubble next season. Could some good vets guide the team into the playoffs? Absolutely. Then their overlong contracts and NTC’s will anchor the Flames in mediocrity even as the rookie talent pours in. The real test for Feaster is going to be finding players that are both good and *young*, and then signing them to sane contracts. I honestly doubt Feaster will manage to fill the team up to the cap with good contracts, so hopefully he at least makes the bad contracts short-term.

    • loudogYYC

      Flames are at 47 contracts so they can sign a few NCAA free agents and put them in Abbotsford immediately if they want. The Wotherspoon and Brossoit contracts kick in next season, so they don’t count towards the 50 limit this year.

      Sustr, DeKeyser and Schwarz are already signed so I hope Feaster & Weisbrod are going after C Ryan Walters. He’s probably already better than Paul Byron and I wouldn’t be surprised if Horak makes the team next season. The minor team is gonna need some centre depth too.

  • beloch

    Re: TJ Brodie

    I’ve liked how he’s played this season, but he’s been paired with Bouwmeester a lot, and we all saw how Bo made Butler look like a top-4 defender last season. Brodie might be the real thing, but I want to see a larger sample with Bo gone.

    • Brodie with and without Bowmeester:

      With: 47.6% (corsi)
      Without: 52.5%

      Bowmeester with and without Brodie:

      With: 47.6%
      Without: 45.1%

      Small sample (they played 173 minutes together), but Brodie comes out well.

    • piscera.infada

      I would argue JBouw didn’t make Butler look any better. In fact, his weak play in the corners often left Butler on an island.

      In terms of Brodie, I thought he played his best hockey when he was paired with Wideman to start the season (granted, he wasn’t playing the big minutes then). The other part of Brodie’s game that I really like is how he rushes the puck, especially on the powerplay. Again, Bouwmeester didn’t ‘make’ him look good in this regard.

      I guess it’s no real surprise I wasn’t a fan of Bouwmeester. For the record, I loved him when we brought him here, but his 25 to 30 minutes a night is largely unrepresentative of how he played. For a big guy, he plays a tentative, weak man’s game.

  • TheoForever

    The guys on Fan960 were talking about Mackinnon and someone told them that they see Mackinnon as a winger and not center at NHL level. In that case taking Drouin is a no brainer way more talent than Mackinnon.

    Also, Fan960 mentioned that if Tampa finishes 4th there could be a chance Flames could grab that pick, a possible trade could involve Glencross, Giordano and a pick.

    If everything went perfect and Flames got 1st here is what I would do: pick Seth trade him for 2nd pick and 2nd rounder to Colorado, pick Droulin with 2nd pick and take Barkov with 4th pick via Tampa. Of course that’s just a lot of speculation. 🙂

  • piscera.infada

    Maybe I am just traumatized by a decade or two of not having a #1C, but I think we need that waaay more than a elite D man.

    I am not sure if there is any way to trade up in the draft for another top 5, but if it is going to go Jones, McKinnon, Drouin, Barkov as top four I would be super excited if we managed two centres from that bunch. (McKinnon and Barkov)

    I am not sure about potential partners, or how willing to take back ugly contracts will play into it, but it seems worth it for Feaster to pursue. Maybe taking Lecavalier’s dreadful contact in exchange for Tampa’s top 4 or 5 pick? Some permutation of him and picks perhaps? I just took a quick look at Capgeek for Tampa Bay and they don’t have many high priced players coming off the books as FAs, so maybe they are a partner for some maneuvering since they are going to be up against the cap next year. Maybe the Lecavalier contract is a tough pill to swallow, but if we get Barkov and MacKinnon somehow I would be over the moon. We have cap space AND low expectations for the near and medium term. If a chunk of it is blown on overpriced Lecavalier, but nets us a couple of top 5’s I would consider it.

    • T&A4Flames

      I would hope there are better options than Lecavalier. It’s not his $ but the length of the contract that sucks. I heard a suggestion of us taking Timmonen and PHI 1st for Butler and PIT 1st. Not a bad idea if PHI finishes in the top 10.

      • loudogYYC

        Where did you hear that suggestion? I’d take that one in a heartbeat. The Flyers, like the Canucks, are in big cap trouble next year. They have Briere for 2 more years at $6.5M and Timmonen for l at $6M. I’d take whoever gets us their top 10 pick.

        • T&A4Flames

          I guess it wasn’t here at FN but I thought it was a great idea and it made some sense. The added bonus for us would be that Timmonen could bring back at least a 2nd at next years deadline.

          It’s an all around win; PHI gets cap relief and retain a 1st, we get an asset that will help this year but will garner another asset (pick) at the end of the year and we get (potentially) another top 10 pick.

          That’s the kind of thinking that I pray Feaster and his group are doing; outside the box. Use our cap freedom wisely to quicken the rebuild.

  • RexLibris

    With regards to trading up, the whole idea rests on finding a partner who values the immediate return more than the prospect.

    That is going to be very hard to do this year, as most GMs are now placing a premium on ELCs and impact rookies. You might be able to convince Philadelphia to part with their pick, but the only deal I could see happening is if Holmgren and his scouts are in love with Jones to the extent that they would trade their pick and Brayden Schenn for the Flames pick and perhaps a prospect like Brossoit or Gillies.

    There is a lot of risk for both teams, and the Flames then wouldn’t be able to draft more than one prospect, but they would have an NHL ready centre and a pick to use on another like Monahan.

    It would be a very Paul Holmgren kind of thing to trade for Seth Jones with one of Couturier or Schenn and a pick, and then move the remaining center in a package to Nashville for Shea Weber a few weeks later. He’d get Jones and Weber as a defensive pairing.

  • loudogYYC

    The arguement that I make against drafting Seth Jones is that Defense is not a need on the Flames, between Giordano, Brodie and Wideman we have a good top 3 and in free agency we could probably get a good fourth, if not, we have some other kids in Wotherspoon, Ramage or Seiloff and others that look very much look like that could be NHLers. Defense isn’t exactly what I would call a position of need.

    Our weekest area on the team is Forwards, we need forwards. I use the example of the Oilers, ALL they have used the first overall for is forwards, they took the BPA and look how well that is working for them.

    Unless the difference in skill between Jones and the rest, is like the difference between Crosby and Bobby Ryan, than you HAVE to take Jones, but if Jones is as good or just slightly better, I think you take a player that has better chance to make an impact in an area of need.

    And the biggest area of need for the Flames is top six young skilled wingers/centers.

    • beloch

      Giordano is 29 and Wideman is 30. Realistically, the new rookie talent isn’t going to be mature enough for the Flames to contend for a cup before these two decline. Feaster should probably be on the *patient* lookout for trades that bring back *good* value in the form of younger players. Also, none of Wotherspoon, Ramage or Seiloff are projected to become top-pairing defenders. Obviously the Flames should not shy away from drafting elite defenders if they’re the best players available, because they *will* be needed in 4-5 years when they mature!

      Remember, drafting with present need in mind is a part of what got the Flames into so much trouble! Look a few years down the road.

      • T&A4Flames

        Neither was TJ. I would argue that he is making a strong case that he ‘could’ become a top pairing guy.

        I do agree, though, drafting with immediate needs in mind makes no sense. Even if we draft Jones, at best, he will start out on the 3rd pairing and not be inpactful for a couple of years. And no draftee should be expected to do anything more than that. I don’t like how EDM immediatly moved their 1st overalls into key spots and they struggled to stay afloat. To much expectation to quick can kill a prospect. Look at Sven this year, so much expection and pressure and he lost confidence when he couldn’t live up to it. There are even fans calling for us to trade him. Just ridiculous.

        • beloch

          It’s nice when a player like Brodie surprises, but I wouldn’t count on that happening too often. Flames fans, of all people, should know such surprises are just as likely to be of the unpleasant kind!

          It will definitely be interesting to see how Baertschi performs tonight. Hopefully he’s recovered mentally from being sent down and gotten some swagger back. We all saw the results Backlund got from playing in an easier league for a while! Now that the pressure to win is lower, hopefully Hartley gives him more than 5 minutes of ice time!

          Re: EDM

          It’s impressive how well Taylor Hall responded to being plunked down on the scoring line fresh from the draft, but this may be why he’s learned to play “kamikaze” hockey. I suspect his career may prove to be shortened as a result.

          I do like to see rookies brought up before they’re strictly *ready*, just so they can see what they need to learn, but it’s good to get them back down to a level where they can actually learn. We may have gotten lucky with Backlund, since I don’t think they would have sent him down to the AHL earlier this season had there been NHL hockey. The lockout was probably crucial for his development.

      • loudogYYC

        I don’t think you can find a single person who would have said that TJ Brodie was going to be a top pairing defender and do well at it this time last year, with defencemen it can be all over the map.

        What I’m mainly getting at is that forward is a position of need that NEEDS to be addressed. Unless, as I said before, the gap from Jones to McKinnion is so big as the one from Crobsy to B. Ryan, you don’t HAVE to take Jones, you can start to fill areas of need. Unless we start drafting young skilled forwards that is always going to be a position of need. And yes, we have some later round picks, but the chances of getting a legit impact top 6 forward down there vs in the top 5 is HUGE. Those later round picks IMO are much better suited to draft defenders with, When you can get a Brodie in the 4th or just sign a Giordano, I’d rather use our two late firsts to get D and use the high first for an impact forward.

        If we don’t start addressing our forward issues starting with this draft when do we? We will soon be the opposite of Shelbyville up there, but instead of collecting the best forwards we’ll have the best D.

        Unless of course the Flames have a trade for Gio in the near future, than drafting Jones makes all the sense in the world.

  • Rockmorton65

    I dont think the Flames are going to have an issue with the 50 contracts. According to capgeek, they have 24 players becoming FA’s this year. With smart management, it wont be an issue. I see Feaster using this as an opportunity to “clean house” and start fresh.

  • Captain Ron

    We don’t want anything to do with Vinnie LeCavalier at any price. We are getting rid of all the overpriced old guys who perennially underachieve. Time now for a new young group to take over. Solid players like Timonen with one year left can be the exception so long as the deals include picks and prospects that benefit us down the road.

    OK so a first round pick for every year left on his contract might get me thinking about it.

    • Oyo

      I don’t WANT him, but if we can offer our St. Louis or Pittsburgh pick to another of the top 5, AND eat an ugly contract in return, the perhaps it could yield two top 5s. I simply mentioned TB and Lecavalier because he has an ugly contract, and they have no cap room next year. Their #1C is also set for more than a decade with Stamkos, and likely they still hope Hedman fulfills the promise of being #1.

      His (Lecavalier’s) contract is terrible, but we could throw him to the wolves for 4-5 years while MacKinnon and Barkov grow into great centres. We have cap room, and if it gets us two centres of the future, I have no problem. We will probably make some idiotic overpay anyway to some marginal talent, so lets make the best of it.

  • Jeff Lebowski

    Do yourselves a favour and youtube: NHL scouts amazed by Drouin Assist.

    For that matter watch the clip with MacTavish describing his stick skills. Hell just watch all his highlights.

    Drouin is the KING of the draft. Calgary should do everything in their power to get this kid.

  • Oyo

    I am loving all the ideas on this post! Lots to think about for this organization!
    I for one am completely torn as to who to pick if we get 1st overall. Of course that’s completely conditional. Mackinnon / Drouin / Barkov are going to be studs lets not try to deny that but can this org really afford to Miss out on the CLEAR number 1 talent this draft has to offer in Jones? Agreed the compelling nature of that true #1 center is tough to ignore but I’d make the argument that a true #1 D like jones will be, will have an equal impact in the game. Chara, weber, pronger (in his prime)…. These boys can alter the pace of a game just as much if not more then a forward.

    Tough call!
    For the record I like the skating of MacKinnon but barkov has put up ridiculous numbers playin against men and that tells me a lot about where he is as a player.

    • loudogYYC

      I hear your point, but remember that Weber was drafted in the 2nd round well after Suter, Coburn and Phaneuf, who were all expected to be stud #1 Dmen. The only position more difficult to draft has to be goalies, so why take that risk when the alternatives are so sweet!

      Another reason why I wouldn’t draft Jones in the top 3 is because he’ll burn through his ELC before he becomes an impact D. I’d draft McKinnon and let him play 1 more year in the Q before even considering turning him pro.

      • T&A4Flames

        Yes to this. Please CGY develop these vuys properly. Whoever we draft, give them a cup o coffee to see how they do, then send them back to there junior club.

      • Oyo

        That’s actually a great point. Although I’d argue both Suter and Phanuef are number 1s. Even tho I hate Dion haha but I don’t think fear of ELC expiring to early should be a priority thought when drafting. Flames have an abundance of cash and it’ll probably be better for the flames if he isn’t a super star by the time that “second” contract rolls around. I could see a 5 mill / year for 2 years type deal. lots of time to utilize and develop other players.

        I’d also like whoever we draft to play another year in junior or with abbotsford. ( not sure the age restriction off the top of my head).

  • Franko J

    @ Piscera.infada

    “I guess it’s no real surprise I wasn’t a fan of Bouwmeester. For the record, I loved him when we brought him here, but his 25 to 30 minutes a night is largely unrepresentative of how he played. For a big guy, he plays a tentative, weak man’s game.”

    Make that two. I never had a problem with the contract, I had a problem with the fact he never played with the tenacity and his positioning on opposing players was abysmal. For a player with his size and reach he never utilized those traits enough game in game out.

    The bright spot for me is that he is gone and more playing time for Brodie.

    Secondly having 3 first round picks makes it very exciting trying to figure out what will Flames do.

  • stretch14

    Yes, the flames ARE that terrible. Last time I checked goaltending was part of a team and not just a scapegoat to be used as to why you suck. I also don’t see any reason to be optimistic that it will be any better next season. Kari Ramo? Haha, please. This is the kind of outlook that will have you back in the race for 9th-12th for the next decade in no time!