Flames Fan Ask – August 22, 2013



In the second installation of FlamesNation’s new "Fan Ask" feature, I took to twitter yesterday and asked people to forward me some questions to mull over. I replied to some glibly yesterday, but here are the more in-depth responses.

Topics include what I would add to the Flames front office, whether the team should tank for McDavid and who I would choose to coach Calgary this upcoming season…

Q. How did you start at Flamesnation and what kind of writing background did you have? (if any)

I actually didn’t start FlamesNation. The wbesite was created by the principles behind OilersNation afer they began to build an audience up there. At the time I was freelancing for a few sites and writing on my own blig "fiveholefanatics". The same summer I was approached by FN, I was also recruited by SBNation to head their Flames site, which I named, staffed, etc. Eventually I moved over because FN offered a more interesting opportunity – and money.

My writing background was mostly academic. I was an AP student in English in HS and finished my college degree in psychology and a minor in English. I didn’t have any formal training in terms of sports writing or journalism though. I learned on the fly and from superior writers who began popping up around the blogosphere when I started.

More here.

Q. If you were to bring in some non-player resources to help the Flames over the course of the rebuild, who would it be and what would they be doing?

Naturally I skew to the quantitative side of things, mostly since that’s my own focus when writing and because there still appears to be glaring market inefficiencies in the NHL. As such, I would probably hire a hockey familiar code monkey (‘comp science’) guy who could build data scraping and data visualization applications.

I would also spend some money on one or two highly capable stats guys, like Eric T of Broadstreet Hockey or Gabriel Desjardins of behind the net. I would get the comp science and stats guys to work closely together and then marry them with the PUCKS system/Chris Snow’s video analysis so that scouting and data analysis could inform and augment each other.

Q. What reporter/blogger/hack gives you the most frustration in terms of their complete disregard to advanced stats.

That’s hard to say, because so many of them dismiss new stats out of hand. If I had to choose someone in Calgary, it used to be FAN960’s Andrew Walker because he almost never bothered to honestly engage or understand the ideas in question. He also tended to implicitly lean on the "jocks vs nerds" canard that tends to spuriously invalidate the insights quantitative analysis can bring.

Q. If you could ask the Flames to focus on one statistic for player evaluation, which would it be?

There really isn’t one stat anyone can rely on, but if you mean what is "one more" stat I wish the Flames would focus on in addition to the usual suspects, I’d say PDO or the sum of even strength SH% and SV%. More to the point, I would like them to understand (if they don’t) the tendency of players percentages to regress towards the league mean and primarily to dismiss the oscillations of percentages in small samples.

This realization would help a lot of teams, including the Flames, avoid unnecessary mistakes.

Q. Do you think there is any evidence the Flames are doing an adequate job of using advanced statistics to analyze their team and players?

My default is to say "no". They certainly weren’t under Darryl Sutter. Maybe things are changing now with new management, but I haven’t seen any obvious vein of stats-informed moved from Feaster either. The re-signings of guys like Babchuk and Morrison flew in the face of most advanced metrics while the club’s continued ambivalence towards Mikael Backlund suggests they aren’t really looking at corsi or PDO.

QA. At what point should the flames move glenny and giord to get some high picks or prospects back? Load up for Mcdavid draft? QB. Do you think that it is wise for the Flames to tank a full year before the McDavid draft?

I put both of those questions together because they are more or less the same.

I’d say McDavid is probably the sort of talent who could almost singlehandedly turn a franchise around, so if the Flames are still terrible come next off-season, they should maybe, probably consider not improving the club too much in hopes of getting him in 2015.

That said, there is definitely some risk in gutting the club to chase McDavid. Under the new draft rules, even the last placed team in the league only has a 25% chance of picking first overall. So there’s at least a 75% chance of dynamiting the roster and then missing the chance to pick him anyways.

Of course, a lot also depends on how Giordano and Glencross perform in the next season or two and if they want to remain in Calgary. Neither of them is signed beyond 2016, so if they start to falter a bit or if the organization senses one or both won’t return once their contract is over, then it would make sense to move them.

Q. Thoughts/expectations/projections on Mark Cundari for this season and beyond?

I liked what I saw from Cundari in his cup of coffee last year, so I expect him to press for a depth position on the blueline. Past that, it’s impossible to know since we have so little information on him in an NHL setting. If he makes the team and plays a few games, we can start to guage what kind of ceiling he has.

Q. Do you think the #flames rebuild takes as long as the #oilers?

I certainly hope not. The Oilers rebuild was begun and aborted more than once and unnecessarily extended by perhaps the most inept GM in the league (before he was recently fired) in Tambo. If the rebuild limps on in perpetuity like that despite the club’s financial resources, everyone in the front office should be liquidated, including Ken King.

So let’s say "no". Calgary’s a long way from being a contender, but a good goalie, some development from Backlund/Brodie and a few homeruns in the draft could get them closer to competing well inside of the 5+ year window.

Q. Is Hartley known to be a good coach for developing players/prospects like Monahan, Knight, Baertschi et al…. Who would you pick to be the Flames coach this year?

I honestly don’t think the coaching matters too much this year, beyond having a guy who isn’t totally incompetent and/or aggressively hostile to prospects. I also am not familiar enough with the various NHL coaches to know who is better or worse with kids. Meaning "not randy Carlyle" would be my choice.

Q. What’s one positive thing about the Flames organization?

How about a few things? The Flames as an organization tend to do a lot of good in the community. From a hockey perspective, although there have been a lot of less than flattering rumors about the management and ownership over the last few years, there’s no question the guys in charge are willing to spend money to try to ice a winner.

On the ice, TJ Brodie, Mikael Backlund, Sven Baertschi and (eventually) Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are exciting talents.

Recently around the Nation Network

The player who might have been this summer’s most controversial free agent seems to have finally found a new home. According to multiple reports, Mikhail Grabovski has agreed to a new contract with the Washington Capitals. From Leafs Nation:

I would suspect… that Grabovski took a while to sign because he was looking for the right situation, and he wouldn’t be happy playing in a third line role again. Grabovski will probably have a chance to prove himself offensively, a tall task for a 30-year-old that is probably through with his scoring prime.

Click the link above to read more, or check out some of my Jonathan Willis’ recent stuff:

  • SmellOfVictory

    Regarding “If you could ask the Flames to focus on one statistic for player evaluation, which would it be?” the answer is, and always was, Neilson Numbers.


    David Staples

    • beloch

      If money was no limit, I’d hire a team.

      1. A data scientist, not just a CPSC guy, or, failing that, a CPSC guy strongly interested in the field and willing to cram like mad. This is the infrastructure guy who knows how to acquire, process and store existing data.
      2. A computer vision guy. The sort of guy that makes systems like MS’s kinnect work. Imagine the raw data you could get by putting the equivalent of a rink-sized kinnect over your arena!
      3. A physicist with some complexity science background. This is the guy who figures out how to use your data to tell you something useful.
      4. A hardcore statistician.

      There’s some overlap between these guys, but they all bring something unique to the table. It’d be fun team to be on and I’d bet they would produce something truly novel! The goal should be to get away from the sitting around making a few subjective calls about a small number of plays in a video room and automate the processing of *everything* that’s going on out on the entire ice so you can look for trends you wouldn’t otherwise see.

      • beloch

        Thinking about it some more I’d also want a kinesiology/human performance guy, another CPSC guy with project lead dev experience, a sysadmin…

        Yeah, it would take a whole bloody team to do what I’m thinking of.

        Imagine the Flames are playing game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals. The series is even. The Flames need an edge. The motion data on opposing star defender Bigolfugly, isn’t quite matching up with what it was in the regular season or even game 1. Yup, at the end of game 3 he took an awkward stumble getting onto the bench. Lower body injury, but he’s playing through it. Mobility is down 10%. The data guys call the bench and recommend matching a pure speed guy against Bigolfugly. Out goes Sven, and in comes Gaudreau. Next play, Johnny rockets past on the outside and gets a breakaway.

  • beloch

    I missed the call for questions, but here’s one:

    This site is putting up new articles nearly every day and people appear to be actually reading them! It’s the deadest part of the off-season and people are still commenting strongly. Compare this to the Herald’s hockey page or the Flames blogs that were around even just a couple of years ago. I don’t think the Flames are the only team experiencing this either!

    Is this hockey madness a real thing? Is the sport in general starting to really draw in hardcore fans? What’s causing it? Let’s face it, Flames fans should be tuned out after a lockout-shortened and lack-luster season!

    • In general, I’ve found that the news cycle for hockey is close to 12 months a year. Ten at the shortest. That may be due to sites like ours that concentrate exclusively on a single subject.

      Also, entertainment for fans is frequently drawn from peripheral aspects of the sports outside of actual gameplay: signings, trades, the draft, the business side, etc. This is no doubt due to the proliferation of internet, social media and the resultant fact that hockey fans are more educated and interested in all aspects of the sport than probably ever before.

    • In addition to Kent’s comments, it’s an Olympic year so interest is probably up across the board, and the curiosity surrounding the 2013-14 Flames is likely fueled by the notion that nobody has any idea what to make of the team this season. It’s quite a fascinating time.

  • RKD

    The Flames will be sellers at the trade deadline, GMs will be in hot pursuit of guys like Gio and GlenX. No way GlenX takes another hometown discount. I expect GlenX to have another strong season and Gio to rebound from last season. If Cammy plays well, he will have some value too.

    I’m pretty sure like Sutter, Hartley won’t be brought back once his three year tenure ends, only two more left. Once the kids are a few years older and Feaster or the new GM starts supplementing the team around the new core, Troy Ward will probably be named the head coach.

    I don’t think Feaster is here in a couple more years, I think the organization will finally find a hockey guy, Ken King will change roles and the new guy will probably supplant Feaster.

    I didn’t ask a question, just adding my two cents.

    • BurningSensation

      “I don’t think Feaster is here in a couple more years, I think the organization will finally find a hockey guy, Ken King will change roles and the new guy will probably supplant Feaster.”

      I take a contrary view, I think that so long as the rebuild proceeds to take shape without flying off the rails, Feaster is fine. Once the order comes down from above that they must make the playoffs, only then will it be put-up-shut-up for Feaster with his job at risk.

      The only other scenario that might make his job insecure is if Ken King finds a hockey-man replacement for himself, a Jim Nill or John Davidson type. If he can land one of those high end type guys to take his role, then the new Prez will likely give Feaster a season or two of rope before pulling the trigger on him.

      • BurningSensation

        Oh, I think Feaster would be gone a lot faster than that if Davidson took over (see: Howson, Scott).

        Of course, Feaster isn’t quite at the same level of suck as Howson, but Davidson strikes me as the kind of fellow who likes to have “his guy” in place (see Kekalainen, Jarmo)

      • RKD

        I don’t have as big of a problem with Feaster as other Flames fans. I’m saying it based on past history. A lot GMs that do the rebuilding don’t get to see and enjoy the fruits of their labour. Yes, once he’s given the orders to make the playoffs in a few years and they don’t then all the pressure is on him.

        We’ve seen Burke and Tambellini taken the fall in two other Canadian markets when they didn’t make the playoffs when it was time to do so.

  • RKD

    There isn’t a lot of straight-ahead speed in the Flames’ system. If you’re looking for a blazing straight-line skater, that’s pretty much Roman Horak. The guy can fly when he wants to.

  • SmellOfVictory

    Just wanted to comment on if the rebuild will take as long here in Calgary as in Edmonton. I agree that don’t think so and here are my reasons: 1. the Flames veterans are better than the Oilers were at the beginning of rebuild and will act as better mentors, 2. Hartley et all will do a better job with the kids than Quinn and team did, 3. The Sven draft year was better than the draft of the Oilers before the official start of the Oil change,4. I believe this years three picks will be better than the Oilers 3 first rounders was(only time will tell)… now if we could be as lucky as to get 3 number 1 picks in row I think we would be well ahead of where the Oilers rebuild is today ( I would even be happy with a number 2, this year and number 1 next year)