The Flames loss and Avs win last night means Calgary is still very much in the race for a top-3 pick come June despite some pretty good hockey from the Flames in the last few games. Their goaltending/luck is still mostly rotten, but that’s good news in the current environment. I know there is something undignified about celebrating failure, but with the team actually playing pretty well it’s hard to get upset since the ultimate goal is drafting an elite talent and changing the club’s fortunes in the long-run.
I know folks are clamouring for draft and prospect analysis, but we’re going to save the bulk of that for the off-season, which again is going to be very long for Flames fans. It will be a bit more meaningful when we know how the standings shake out as well. For now, we’ll continue to watch the kids find their legs and hope the games are played well but ultimately end in defeat. For now.
ITEM! As I mentioned on twitter last night after looking at the Coyotes/Oilers score, David Moss now has five goals and 20 points on the season. Jarome Iginla has 10 goals and 24 points.
There’s no particular significance there, aside from the contrast between how each guy left town and each player’s assumed effect on winning. It goes to show how small the gap can be between players in the NHL, though, especially in relatively small samples like 40 games.
ITEM! Sean Leahy of Puck Daddy talked to new Flame prospect Ben Hanowski about the frozen four and the Iginla trade recently. Check it out.
ITEM! About when Jay Bouwmeester and Jarome Iginla left town, the Flames had the 11th worst fenwick close (possession rate) in the NHL. Since that time, they have moved up two spots to 13th and are closing in on 50% (49.16). Edmonton, by the way, despite having 7 more points than the Flames, is way back of Calgary by this metric (44.46 – second worst in the league).
We can’t say anything definitive about what that means for the departed stars since we’re talking a very small sample of non-representative games (none of their opponents are taking the Flames seriously at this point). Still, it shouldn’t surprise manyone if dropping Jarome helps the Flames move the puck forward more efficiently. As I demonstrated more than once over the last few years, Iginla was still dangerous in certain circumstances but was nevertheless a drag on possession.
ITEM! Mikhail Grabovski played just 11 minutes in the Leafs game last night and started the evening out centering Toronto’s 4th line. Randy Carlyle has absolutely buried the Leafs best possession centerman all season and then condemned him for not scoring. He could very well be a target for the Flames to acquire for peanuts in the off-season if Carlyle continues to give him the stink-eye. Not even the Maple Leafs are comfortable paying a "4th line center" more than five bills a year.
ITEM! Related: Carl Hagelin played more than 15 minutes last night for the first time in 5 games for the Rangers (17:01) and scored a goal and a an assist. He is the Rags top possession forward (and has been since he turned pro) but might be crowded out a bit by New York’s sudden in flux of depth (Clowe, Brassard, Zuccarello). He’s also only 24 years old.
Neither Hagelin nor Grabvoski would turn the Flames around completely, but they are the type of acquisitions that would help right the ship in small but meaningful increments. I’d call both Sather and Nonis every day about each guy if I was Feaster in the off-season.
ITEM! Randy Carlyle seems to have descended into some sort of Cherry-esque dementia. His roster decisions are just bizarre – aside from burying and denouncing his most capable two way pivot in Grabbo, he also insists on sitting sophomore Jake Gardiner; a kid with some of the best underlying numbers on the Leafs and who demonstrated ably last season he can compete in the NHL. This is the same guy who rolled out Kolbinian Holzer for 22 games despite the fact he was getting his head beat in.
To top it all off, he gave this absurdly obtuse quote in the post game presser last night when asked about his team going over 24 minutes without a shot on net:
"I didn’t even know that stat," Carlyle said. "Stats are for you guys. I’m not going to worry about it. We got a point and we’re going to move on. We got three out of four points and we’re going to build on that."
Add in his profoundly ignorant take on concussions and it seems like Carlyle has gone a bit off the deep end. I had a lot of time for the guy in his early days with the Anaheim Ducks, but right now he seems to embody all the worst aspects of the "old school" conventional mindset in the NHL.
ITEM! I know they are likely to make the playoffs for the first time in recent memory and that’s good for the team and the fans, but what is happening in Toronto right now would have been an even greater disaster for the Flames had fortune decided to favor Calgary rather than the Leafs this year.
Toronto’s underlying numbers absolutely suck. They are in a position to make the dance because of above average goaltending and guys like Nazem Kadri running hot. The fact that the season is only 48 games long helps a bunch too. I’d put money down on a team like Toronto missing the playoffs over a full 82-game schedule.
So despite boasting the worst possession and shot differentials of any team in playoff position and their coach making increasingly odd decisions behind the bench, the Leafs are getting contradictory success signals from their record which will probably lead them down a few blind paths come the off-season. As painful as Calgary’s season has been, including the abrupt end to the Iginla/Kipper era, the truth is roster renewal was required here and Calgary’s league worst luck proved the catalyst for the creative destruction to begin. I can’t imagine the nonsense that would have ensued had we enjoyed 30+ games off percentage driven success.
ITEM! If you’re wondering why I’m always talking about possession, take a look at this graphic:
From creator Chris Boyle:
The rings of the graph represent each round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The further the logo is away from the ring represents the distance from a playoff berth. I have also charted the percentage from .400 to .600. The further away from the .400 represents a stronger possession team. The ultimate on this index would be the 2008 Red Wings with a score of 59.39 located on the top portion of the Stanley Cup in the +.550 section. The 2008 Thrashers scrape the bottom of this index with a 41.23 and 28th position during the same season.
You can see the magic number of success is +.500. If you manage to crack this number you have a greater than 75% chance to qualify for the playoffs. If you break the +.550 mark you have a 25% probability of winning the Cup.
If you are an NHL GM and your goal is to build an elite team capable of contending for the cup, then your true objective should be to build a team that controls 55%+ of the shots at even strength. Full stop.
The reason teams like this are elite is they can ride out bad percentage lulls without sinking utterly but will crush just about anybody during percentage spikes. Because SV% and SH% can wobble around randomly and somewhat independently of true talent levels over small samples, building a high-end possession club means you have a robust roster that isn’t dependent on the fickle kiss of lady luck for success.
A team that controls play at ES is a house made of bricks rather than straw.
ITEM! Related to the earlier point about the Leafs season – I wouldn’t say this is the happiest I’ve been as a Flames fan in the last four years, but it’s fair to say this is th most hopeful I’ve been at least, which is perhaps why I’ve suddenly turned into a cautious optimist after playing the dour pessimist for so long.
I don’t know if the management in place is competent enough to guide the team out of the desert to be honest, but we’re finally clear of the restrictive, ossified, path dependent thinking that had gripped this organization like a straight jacket for so long. Things could still go horribly wrong and the Flames may be in the same position some five years down the road just like the Oilers in their perpetual bumbling, but at least there’s a chance for the club to take a real step forward now.
ITEM! We’ll get into this in far more depth in a few weeks, but right now my personal preference for the Flames is to target one of MacKinnon or Barkov with their first pick in June. I’m certainly not confident in that stance and I could change with my mind with research or if the Flames actually end up with the first overall pick, but for now…I’m leaning towards taking which ever high impact center is available when their turn rolls around.