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.

  • Craig

    I really hope that Berra was a part of the J-BO trade because the flames aren’t looking at a goaltender in the draft. If we draft a goalie in the first round I will be furious, there are way too many good forwards and defencemen. Looking at some of the mock drafts we could pick two forwards with the first two picks and a D-man with the third. If 2/3 turn out then we’re on our way to a good erbuild. I

    live in Halifax and I love Fucale but please feaster. Leave the goalies alone!

  • Sanintarious

    I think the biggest thing you hit on the head was the cap space, we have lots. The problem is that in the past and with teams with lots of cap space teams tend to make even bigger mistakes than the cap space they have, like you said, Leino is an obvious, but there are many more examples.

    And I don’t know if you’ve seen this years UFA crop, but quite honestly there is a person there you want to blow that much cap space on either.

  • Parallex

    To be honest I’m not sure how much value the Cap space will have…

    http://www.capgeek.com/free-agents/

    … Don’t see a whole lot to spend money on in that group. There will almost certainly be some compliance buyouts floating around (but they’ll be buyouts for a reason). I really hope that Feaster steers clear of any longterm deals for question mark guys

    Furthermore here are the Flames…

    http://www.capgeek.com/flames/

    … We appear to have some capacity for openings on the Blueline (and in Goal pending Ramo) but for top 9 forwards, if we automatically include Sven, 8 of 9 slots are already filled (and there stands a not zero chance that the top draft pick… MacKinnon Please… will fill the last of those).

    I’m just having a hard time seeing where we would slot in all the money that we have available to spend without first jettisoning some other players (who will then add to the amount of $$ we have to spend). I could see us doing a bunch trades like Komisarek+ for Sarich/Smith but Free Agency looks to be a difficult road for the Flames to travel not for lack of cap but for lack of space/talent.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    I don’t understand the dislike towards Jones. He’s a great D and yes there is always the worry that he will turn out into a Hedman or Johnson, but I think you have to draft the best player available. I think you’ve also forgotten that Jones is Wotherspoon’s defense partner I think. I think Feaster and Co. Will have their guy by the time draft day comes, and if they can trade down to 2nd and still get MacKinnon, they should do it. By trading down I think you should at least be able to garner multiple picks later in the draft. Either way I’m fine as long as we get Jones or MacKinnon. I think it’s more likely that you see the Flames randomnly put together a string of wins however unfortunate that may be. That being said I am so excited for this draft.

    • piscera.infada

      No one’s saying they dislike Jones. The argument is how to build the future of the franchise.

      After trading away the best offensive player our franchise has ever known, I think it is extremely important to try and re-coup that loss. Thus, MacKinnon or Barkov.

      As such I think we still have a great defensive core brewing. Brodie looks like he will be a great talent in future years, and I’m excited for Wotherspoon and Seiloff.

      It is shaping into the kind of young talent The Rangers have (hopefully) – young, talented defensemen, who can pitch in offensively but play hard in their own zone – yet none of them are “marquee” guys.

  • prendrefeu

    Can’t say I’ve ever looked forward to the draft before… I do hope there is someway to trade up for 2 top 5 pics.

    Interesting game tonight. The players will want to win… their fans and their management, however… not as likely.

  • prendrefeu

    In today’s NHL I think that it is more important to have an elite centerman than it is to have an elite defenseman. I would take MacKinnon over Jones and am thinking that MacKinnon and Barkov are the two players that we should be looking at.

    Question is are MacKinnon and Barkov the star centermen that a franchise can build around? Are they Stamkos or Jordan Staal? Toews or Richards?

    What I am wondering is if it would be better to keep the top 5 draft pick or see if Columbus would do a deal for all three of their picks. It would need to be for all three of their picks (Blue Jackets, Rangers, Kings). For a top 5 pick you could get back a 5-10 pick, a 15-20 pick, and a 20-30 pick. Downgrade in the prospect but for an organization that has such empty cupboards would it not be better to take 2 extra prospects that have top six potential.

    • T&A4Flames

      Interesting concept. 5 1st rounders could be solid and from what I’ve seen/read, there is so much depth in the top 45. We could realistically be looking at Lindhol, Monohan, Ristolainen, Gauthier, Pulock etc. etc. I would give it some thought.

    • Bean-counting cowboy

      Risky. Don’t think I’d do it. The problem with the Flames for so long is not having anyone with top-line ELITE potential. Seems we can already make a team full of 2nd and 3rd liners. We need the next face of the franchise.

  • prendrefeu

    If I were the Flames I would let Kiprusoff retire. I would go forward with Ramo and Berra as my two NHL goaltenders and let them rotate each game back and forth for the first 20-30 games to find out which is better, and if either or neither of them are NHL caliber talents. The good news is that if both of them are even capable of 1C or 2A netminding then a good rotational basis will allow the Flames to have steady netminding similar to St Louis with Elliott and Halak. You put Brossoit and Ortio in the AHL next year and you clean house of all the goaltenders under contract currently playing pro in NA. Four brand new (Ortio not so much) goaltenders in the system to help the drive for tomorrow.

      • prendrefeu

        True I am skeptical myself. That said, if you are going to turn the page and go in a new direction next year would it not be better to find out if you have future NHL talent in goal rather than continue to hold onto a 37 year goaltender that will only provide diminishing returns.

        If one of them clearly shows that they are not good enough then there are always goaltenders like MacDonald available for cheap. But until you let them play you dont know what you have.

      • icedawg_42

        im with you on the goaltending…i’m extremely leery of goalies who’ve developed overseas. Not sure I agree that Jones is so good he’d be worth MacKinnon/Drouin and a second rounder…To me, unless the player is projected to be a generational talent, an elite center is more rare than a top 2 defenseman (again, just my opinion)

  • prendrefeu

    Thanks Kent. Good stuff this positivity – especially since there was so much negativity around the trades (in part it was, I believe, do to pain from the loss of an icon even though realistically we knew it was inevitable. If it happened earlier the crowd with pitchforks would have arrived. As it happened later, people complained it should have happened earlier. And because it happened when it did, the Flames managed to get something out of a dwindling bait.)

    So is the Tilted Kilt going to put up another version of their publicity on the site? Seriously though – I’m kinda tired of looking at cute-face-fake-breasts-fake-tan girl. Maybe Tilted Kilt has another model?

  • prendrefeu

    I understand the rationale that you draft the best player availible to you regardless of position…but if Calgary is in a postion where that player is Jones we have to work a trade to take a Center…don’t we? I just think it is easier to find sevicable defensemen rather than elite Center talent.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    Echoed many of my recent thought regarding this team. Agree completely.

    I think the only way we have to choose between Jones & McKinnon is if we win the lotto. Even if we finish dead last, chances are still better that you draft 2nd overall as the chances of winning the lotto aren’t great for that spot (25%). Whoever gets the 1st will draft Jones. If we are 2nd we take McKinnon. If third I think we’re debating between Barkov & Drouin (but if it’s a toss-up – take the center!!!) We are already strong at LW.

  • Great article, love to hear the positives… I’m super excited for the draft!

    Agree with others that we have to take a centre with our first pick. I would almost say that if we have the 1st overall pick we trade it to the Avs (where Seth Jones has an obvious connection) for their pick providing it’s 2nd or 3rd overall and maybe get a 2nd round pick out of them as well.

  • Sanintarious

    Great article, love to hear the positives… I’m super excited for the draft!

    Agree with others that we have to take a centre with our first pick. I would almost say that if we have the 1st overall pick we trade it to the Avs (where Seth Jones has an obvious connection) for their pick providing it’s 2nd or 3rd overall and maybe get a 2nd round pick out of them as well.

  • Great article Kent!

    Prior to the season, I felt like the possibility for a greater effect of randomness inherent in short season could be a plus for the Flames. Working from the assumption that the Flames are a mediocre team, either:

    1) The Flames could ride a high PDO to a playoff appearance that would be exciting for fans. See specifically the Toronto Maple Leafs

    2) The Flames could suffer from a low PDO and bottom out leading to high draft pick which could inject some much needed young talent in the team.

    Prior to the season, I felt these two options were relatively equal. Now having experienced option number 2, it is clearly the superior option for the long term health of the team. While watching this season has been tough, at least it kick started the long awaited rebuild.

    Further, if option 1 had occurred we could be in a much worse place as Flames fans. I think its not unreasonable to believe that Feaster would have tried to strengthen the team at the deadline, which has been pointed out many times has very little effect unless you are an elite team. This could’ve set the team back even further and just pushed off the long needed rebuild.

    Lastly, at least the Flames brutal season was a 48 games long instead of 82. We get all the benefits of a high pick and a sell-off without having to suffer through watching a terrible team for 7 months.

    Looking forward to all the draft previews come May!

  • Sanintarious

    Great article Kent. Great to see that their is some positives going forward. I am curious to see where the Flames end up to end the season. Some teams above them have really started to tank recently (see Carolina) so it would be unfortunate for the Flames to go on a late run here and finish out of the bottom 3-5. They do however, have a fairly tough schedule to finis the season.

    While I don’t want to see the team get embarrassed like they did against the Oilers last game, I have no issue’s with them losing while giving the kids their chance at an audition for next year.

    I look forward to closer to the draft lottery and seeing where we fall so we can start talking “who will the flames select”.

    Seth Jones appears to be going #1 by all scouts. D-men scare me however. See Erik Johnson, Hedmen etc. While they are all good defensemen, neither of turned their franchises around by any means.

    I would much prefer to see the Flames get that #1 center. You look at all the teams up in standings and EVERY single one have a great first and second line center.

    Guess we will see what happens sooner then later!

    • icedawg_42

      I don’t think you can make the same comparison on defense. If the Flames have the opportunity to take Seth Jones, I think it is very ill advised to skip over him. They could probably take him and trade him for the 2nd overall and a 2nd rounder if they wanted to. I still think he’s a keeper though!

    • icedawg_42

      I agree with you 100%…IMO you HAVE to take MacKinnon. The Flames have long been sad at that position. I believe the other slots are somewhat easier to fill down the road..even at the ‘star power’ level. What concerns me is Feaster saying they want to build “from the net out”…I’d rather not take a defenseman first overall.