We’ve passed the 20-game mark of the 2013-14 Calgary Flames season, so roughly 25% of the games have been played. Thus, as per tradition, we’ve assembled the FN crew to discuss how the team is doing thus far. Join myself, Kent Wilson, Christian Roatis, Justin Azevedo and the Book of Loob as we attempt to make sense of the first quarter of the season. Then let us know what you think of the team’s season thus far in the comments.
The Flames are in the first season of a self-admitted rebuild. Have the results in the standings and on the ice been what you expected them to be? Better? Worse?
Justin Azevedo: Pretty much exactly what I expected, actually. They’re not a good team, but they’re not a garbage one either. I think they’d be picking 5th overall as I write this so they’re right where they should be. As league-wide PDO evens out, I think they move up one or two more spots.
Kent Wilson: Worse in terms of results (I figured them to be about an 80-point club), but better in terms of overall performance (less goaltending). When the Flames were healthy and skating an optimum line-up, they were competitive on most nights. Recent injuries plus a very tough schedule and some less than good luck has sunk their record, but I think they are some bright spots nonetheless.
Christian Roatis: They’ve been exactly what I expected. Starting strong and surprising some teams followed by a "coming back to Earth" of sorts. The work ethic and attention to the detail for the most part has been better than expected and the good ol’ defensive zone breakdowns that lead to goals against are still alive and well.
Ryan Pike: They’re about where I thought they would be. When fully healthy, the team has remarkable work ethic and just enough talent to grind out wins against most teams. When they’re not, as we’re seeing lately, they’re taking it in the teeth a bit.
Book of Loob: I suppose I wouldn’t have been surprised either way if they were doing better or worse than what they are, because I believe this team is both better and worse than how we would classify them. It`s odd to think that there have been stretched where the Flames are just dominating the other team and still ends up losing (usually due to goaltending) They are not a good team, nor are they a bad team, they`re just stuck somewhere just a little below the middle, so I guess I`m not shocked to see them where they are. But hey, this season is a free pass, so their spot in the standings is not really of any concern to me.
How would you grade the team’s new faces since the summer?
JA: Galiardi and O’Brien have been pretty bad thus far. Like replacement level bad. Not very good for like 3 million dollars in salary. D. Jones is slower than advertised. He does have a good shot but he really struggles to get around the ice. C+. Monahan got the benefit of the bounces early on and his boxcars have fallen off. His underlying numbers have marginally improved, though, and he’s 19. A-. Russell has been really good but he’s getting the high ground with Wideman. He’s been better than I expected and with this usage is a legit top-4 guy. The reason he’s not getting an A is because I’m not sure Hartley can continue this type of usage indefinitely. B+. Colborne has been playing way over his head, so it’s not totally his fault that he’s looked so bad. He’s a fourth liner right now, and there is no legit reason why he’s getting top-6 minutes over Backlund. C. Smid gets an incomplete because I haven’t seen much of him but he looks like your typical 4/5 guy.
KW: Monahan looks like an NHL center already, which is a huge predictor of future success when we’re talking about a teenager. Kris Russell has also been a pleasant surprise. Although Hartley has put him in a position to succeed (high O-zone start and such), Russell has nevertheless managed to excel. I’m ambivalent at best about the rest except O’Brien. He’s probably not an everyday NHLer.
CR: Monahan has been a great surprise, of course and already at 19 years of age he’s selling tickets. A potential elite center in the making and an excellent choice at sixth overall. I’ve liked Jones a lot and Galiardi at times, while Russell has been a pleasant surprise. I’ve personally liked Joe Colborne (unlike everybody else) but I think he’d best suited as a third line player rather than the Top 6 or goon line assignments he seen so far this year. O’Brien has been okay, nothing good but nothing too bad, either.
RP: I’ve really enjoyed Kris Russell, who’s criminally underrated, and Sean Monahan, who does a lot of little things really well. O’Brien’s had a few rough patches in his own zone, and has really bad Corsi for somebody as shielded as he is on this team. Colborne, Galiardi and Jones have had their ups and downs. Smid’s too early to tell.
BoL: Colborne is the meh-iest player in Flames history since Jeff Friesen. He seems like he should have the tools to be a success in this league and on this team, and I believe those tools exist, he just doesn’t use them. It’s frustrating to watch. Monahan, well, he’s been good this whole time (mostly), and once he played ten games I was all on board for the Monarail. I still think it was a mistake to keep him up this season, but based on merit alone he deserves to be on the big club. I love watching Russell and Wideman together assuming they’re in the offensive zone and not their own. Those two read each other very well offensively and I think it’s paid some dividends for the team. Kris Russell may have finally found himself a home in this league. I’ve seen Smid play three games. I think it was a good trade, but it’s too early to score his performance on this team. Shane O’Brien is bad, but I expected him to be worse. This doesn’t say a lot. I can’t tell the difference between Galiardi and Jones on most nights. I hate Reto Berra so hard.
What’s your assessment of the team’s goaltending this year? Do you feel there’s a plan for the position going forward?
JA: Oh man, the goaltending. I thought that Calgary couldn’t get less than they did last year – hell, last years was the worst there’s been in like a decade. Berra and MacDonald have been brutal: both have an EVSV% that’s sub-.890, which is about 25 points less than replacement-level. Rämö is still right around replacement level but the amount of opportunities he’s gotten compared to the other two are miniscule. I feel as though Rämö will finish above .915, establishing himself as the only legit guy of the three. Going forward, the plan is "Jon Gillies". The other guys in the system don’t have starter potential: all are backups at best.
KW: It has been below average as could be expected, although each guys has played so few games we can’t really be sure of their true talent level. Demoting Joey MacDonald was the right move because there is no upside there. At some point, Hartley should start playing Ramo more because I consider him the better bet to at least be average in this league. It’s entirely possible, though, that neither Ramo or Berra can hang at this level. If both sport .900 or worse save rates by the end of the year, the team should keep looking for an answer in the off-season.
CR: Awful. Yes, there have been some big saves here and there but outside of Berra’s anomaly win in Chicago, it hasn’t won them a game. Weak goals and juicy rebounds seem to be the group’s trademark this year. Flames should have beat the Oilers but they didn’t solely because of Berra. Jon Gillies and Jon(i) Ortio both look quite promising at this point with Ortio possibly seeing some NHL action this year. Those two are the only foreseeable hope the Flames have between the pipes at this point.
RP: The goaltending hasn’t stolen any games – outside of the Chicago game that Berra won – and has actually given a few away. Keeping Berra and Ramo up is probably the best bet in terms of evaluation, but I can’t help but feel that (a) we’ll see Joni Ortio before the Olympic break and (b) the team’s waiting for Jon Gillies to be ready for prime time.
BoL: Heinous. Flagrantly bad. Scandalous. Shocking. Kidd-esque. I knew goaltending was going to be a challenge going into the season, but I didn’t think it could ever be as bad as it has been. This team could look like a decent squad out there if they could get a save or two along the way. I don’t get why they’re so scared to start Ramo, why they’re so in love with Berra to keep starting him, and well at least they got Joey MacDonald right.
How would you grade head coach Bob Hartley so far this season?
JA: Depends where some of his ideas are coming from. There’s three big issues: the treatment of Backlund and Baertschi, the treatment of Colborne and the love of Berra. I feel as though the first two are coming from the top, but that that last one is owned by him alone. Thus, C+.
KW: Average. His tough love routine with Backlund and Baertschi didn’t much sense on the face of it and he has far too much interest in dressing an enforcer (or two) every night. That said, he’s putting T.J. Brodie through the wringer (in a good way) and he’s deploying guys like Wideman, Russell, Monahan and Hudler in a way that maximizes their chances of success.
CR: Average. Other than a few odd starting goaltending choices, he hasn’t done anything wacky. The double benching of Baertschi was an odd choice for me but I’m sure he had his reasons.
RP: Bob’s done a decent job. If I were given the 23 guys he’s been given, I probably wouldn’t do too many things differently. In terms of results, he got more juice out of the players in October than anyone expected and perhaps expectations for November were too high as a result. And I can’t help but feel that the Baertschi and Backlund scratches were more about them working hard on off-days than their on-ice results.
BoL: I think most people know I’m not exactly a fan. I like the system he seems to have his place, but it’s dependent on having the right players on the ice at the right time with the right teammates, and Hartley just doesn’t know what any of that is. Burying Backlund with the Thug Squad, the tough love for Sven, the seemingly rosy circumstances for anyone else in a slump, well it’s all pretty baffling. When I see that it’s late in the third period, in a tie game, and Hartley has opted to throw the fourth line and Chris Butler’s pairing on the ice to defend the tie, I want to be able to harness the power from all this delusion and use it to vanquish my enemies.
And how about general manager Jay Feaster?
JA: He hasn’t really done much since the start of the season, but the team is competitive enough. B+.
KW: Nothing much to grade in terms of GM moves so far. Demoting MacDonald was good and the Colborne acquisition was a worthwhile gamble given the price. Smid was also a decent add, though I consider him a middling player at best. We’ll see what he chooses to do once the trade deadline approaches and he has to make decisions on guys like Stajan, Cammalleri and Stempniak.
CR: Fantastic. We still have picks in the first three rounds of this draft and we haven’t made any stupid trades. That’s an A+ in my book.
RP: The Smid move was actually pretty crafty – giving up what are basically depth prospects in Calgary’s system for a useful piece moving forward. None of the signings or off-season acquisitions are particularly bad for what they’re being asked to do, and the Hudler signing has turned out to be pretty strong in retrospect.
BoL: Not a whole lot to go on so far this year. His moves in the offseason were middling at best, and I think the jury is still out on most of them. I understood the reasoning for the Colborne trade, so I don’t hate it on principle, and I do think the Smid trade will end up looking like a steal, but it’s too early to tell for any of this so far.
Biggest surprise of the first 20 games?
JA: Jiri Hudler’s PPG pace is likely the biggest surprise, in my eyes. He’s generating shots so he’s gonna keep scoring. Probably not at the same pace, but he’ll crest 50 points this year for sure.
KW: Sean Monahan’s offensive prowess. His output has a lot to do with the percentages, but he’s been better than I expected in terms of execution in the offensive end so far. Also, TJ Galiardi’s above average possession rate. The erstwhile Sharks forward has had a lot of trouble lighting the lamp and he struggled a lot versus the Stars, but otherwise the puck has been travelling in the right direction when he has been on the ice.
CR: Sean Monahan. He’s been excellent through 20, better than I think anyone expected. Cammalleri gets an honourable mention for not sulking and playing his heart out and Hudler too for stacking up points.
RP: I didn’t expect Jiri Hudler to be such an offensive threat, nor did I expect Kris Russell or Sean Monahan to be as good as they have been.
BoL: For me it’s Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman. Kris Russell could prove to be a steal considering it cost what, a 5th rounder to get him. Just fun to watch when those guys have the puck at the attacking zone blueline. Also the performance of the Abbotsford Heat so far this season. That looks like a team that is poised to serve the Flames with solid depth in the coming years.
Biggest disappointment of the first 20 games?
JA: Other than Sean Monahan being kept up, the biggest disappointment for me is Mark Giordano being hurt for an extended amount of time.
KW: Aside from Glencross’ first 10 games (yeesh), it has to be the goaltending. Although it’s not wholly unexpected that Calgary’s collection of unknown commodities would struggle, it’s nevertheless still disappointing to see the team struggling with near-league worst puckstopping again.
CR: Karri Ramo. I thought he’d be waaaaaay better than he’s been so far. He still has time to turn it around, albeit it’s unlikely.
RP: I’ll go with Curtis Glencross, but it’s two parts: first, because he was so inconsistent to begin the year, and second, because he got hurt right when he had seemed to find his game.
BoL: I guess I would say the roles of Backlund, McGrattan, and Jackman, specifically when they’re intertwined. I think it’s dumb to have even one of the facepunchers in your lineup, let alone two, but when Backlund gets buried and has to carry those two with him, wasting his abilities as a possession centerman, that’s when I really get mad. That should really be Joe Colborne’s center spot, and it would look better if Lance Bouma and maybe, I don’t know, David Jones when Curtis Glencross returns were manning the wings.
What does this team need to do to move along in their rebuild?
JA: Simple – keep giving prime ice time to UFAs, sell them at the deadline and wait till the draft. In the meantime, give minutes to the young players too. Lastly, for Christ’s sake, stop scratching Sven and Mickis.
KW: It needs to patiently develop their young assets and make as many good bets moving forward as possible. There’s no magic bullet here – the Flames currently have zero elite talent at any position at the NHL level. It’s really difficult to compete without one or two high level guys in the show. After that, they need to retain quality middle tier guys for when the kids start to get their legs and, eventually, they’ll need to have goaltending when they are ready to climb out of the basement.
CR: A few more first round picks and patience. Flames need to try and cultivate a star or two in order to find success in a few years. Monahan looks to be tracking that way and drafting another stud or two to join Klimchuck, Gaudreau, Poirier, Granlund and company certainly won’t hurt.
RP: Draft picks and patience. I figure as the Flames drift down in the standings, Feaster figures out which pending UFAs he can keep and jettisons the rest for future assets.
BoL: Stick to the script. You’ve identified you’re rebuilding, you don’t need to sell that to the fanbase, they’re largely on board with the plan. Just give your young players the opportunity to learn the game at their own speed and hopefully this all rounds out into something competitive in a couple of years. I don’t mean tanking, either. I hate tanking. I want to see this team put it’s best foot forward every game, and to see the young kids be professionals about this, that they show some compassion and a desire to win, even if reality has other plans in mind. Part of growing a successful team is not surrounding them with a culture of losing. Tanking is one way this culture gets instilled.
What’s your prediction for how the team fares in the remaining 62 games?
JA: Much like they’ve looked over the last 20, methinks. Hopefully a combo of Giordano coming back and Rämö playing more will make the games a little more bearable to watch.
KW: Not much will change. The current losing streak will and at some point they’ll go on a winning streak or two, but it will even out to a playoff-less 2013-14. I still think they are a 78-82 point club over 82 games.
CR: They’ll win a game here and there, maybe even hit a streak, but in the end finish bottom five and win the draft lottery, drafting Aaron Ekblad 1st overall and playing him with TJ Brodie forming an unstoppable duo of unstoppablness on the backend. Exciting times.
RP: I fear that the latest stretch is more an indication of where this team lies than the October one – in terms of talent-level, not work ethic. My guess is the reality is somewhere in the middle, but this is probably a bottom-five team in the league, even with a lot of hard work.
BoL: If Reto Berra keeps getting all these starts foisted upon him, the team may never win a game again.