Five things: Well well

1. It continues

Last week I talked about how the Flames’ winning ways should remain upsetting to fans, and people largely did not want to hear it. Lots of talk about how this team was never bad enough to finish in the bottom five, and so on.

Well, the Flames have three points from their last three games (a humbling of the Hurricanes, a loss to the Capitals in which they looked overwhelmed, and a shootout loss really deserved to get more against a suddenly bumbling Montreal side). The Flames remain in the playoff hunt as a consequence: tied for a wild card spot with 12 points from 11 games, but technically sixth in the West as it stands. Which, if you’d prefer the team win, has to be considered a good thing.

But how soon does reality start to set in? Has to be right around the corner. You can say this team is hard-working its way toward a bunch of points and all that, but in reality you and I both know what’s really happening here: The goalies are playing so far above their heads that wins keep coming despite the Flames actually being poor most nights out.

There’s no other way to say that. Prior to last night’s games, the team was 28th in score-adjusted Fenwick, meaning that when you normalize all factors out of the proceedings, the Flames are the third-worst team in the league in terms of puck possession. So all that winning? You can attribute it to the team’s .952 even-strength save percentage (fifth in the league) and its shooting 9.33 percent at 5-on-5 (eighth).

I think we can all agree this team doesn’t have the fifth-best goaltending setup in the league, nor is its overall talent enough to buoy the eighth-best shooting in the league for 82 games. Corrections are coming, hard and fast. Last year the team, which didn’t make many huge offensive upgrades this summer, shot just 7.86 percent at evens, and Karri Ramo (.924 ESsv% last year) and Jonas Hiller (.927 over the last three seasons) won’t keep this up either.

And then the team will suddenly start losing games, often, and by a lot. And everyone who thought this team was “too talented to be bad again” will no longer feel that way. And won’t that be a funny turn of events all of a sudden?

2. Gaudreau gets better all the time

Something Kent said Tuesday night during the Flames’ game against Montreal really had me thinking. He said, basically, that Johnny Gaudreau still looks pretty tentative a lot of the time when he’s out there. Essentially, he hasn’t played with confidence because he’s still figuring out the NHL. I think that’s a fair assessment. I’ve seen it before.

When he came into college, you could tell Gaudreau was mega-talented. And while he was putting up points, he was still getting bullied a little bit because he was no longer playing kids topping out at 20 years old was definitely weighing on him. It’s crazy to imagine this now, but there was a stretch of 13 games his first year in NCAA in which he registered just 2-2-4 and was basically a non-factor in BC’s setup. Once he got over that hump, he ended the year with a streak of 29 points in his final 21 games. In his final two years, he was held of the scoresheet altogether just 14 more times in 75 games.

Not that he’s going to score like that at the NHL level or anything, but if Bob Hartley can use him correctly going forward — as he did on Tuesday — then he’s going to be a good one. He only finished with the one assist, of course, but he was a plus-12 in terms of corsi events, and more than doubled his regular-season shot total (from four to 10). No he didn’t start many shifts outside the offensive zone, and when you need to get a player like him going (he didn’t have a single shot in his previous two games), that’s what you do.

You have to frame his “best game as a pro” in that context, obviously. But he also has four points in his last five and it wouldn’t be entirely shocking to see that continue, especially if he continues to play with Mikael Backlund and Paul Byron. They were dynamite together.

3. The center injuries

That knee-on-knee hit Matt Stajan took from Jarred Tinordi, though, is troubling. Not a 100 percent “it’s so dirty you have to suspend him for four games” kneeing, in my book, but it wasn’t good either, and I’d hope he would get a call from Player Safety on it.

The fact that it came in the same game as Joe Colborne getting dinged up a bit — as I write this, I’ve seen no information on how severe either is — is a bigger worry. These are the team’s Nos. 3 and 4 centers, and if one or both of them is out for any considerable length of time, having two AHLers running the bottom two lines is a huge concern. You have to wonder who they’d call up (Billy Arnold? Corban Knight? Markus Granlund?) or move into those positions (guys like Lance Bouma and Josh Jooris are technically natural centers). 

In any event, that’s not an enviable position, especially with the schedule the Flames have coming up. They host a hot Nashville club on Halloween, then play five on the road, far from home.

Maybe it’s a moot point and both guys are fine, but if not, that’s got to be a huge worry if this club thinks it can keep winning.

4. The Glencross question

We’re now 10 games into the season and I’m starting to wonder what, exactly, the team’s plans are with Curtis Glencross.

He’s not producing, and that has been a point of concern, but he is driving possession relative to the rest of the club, and playing literally the toughest competition of any forwards on the team. And I think that puts the Flames in a bit of a conundrum.

Glencross is unlikely to accept a hometown discount, first and foremost, which probably doesn’t matter because the team’s not going to be anywhere near the cap. So the question becomes whether they want to pay him to notch fewer goals and assists than he has been, with the idea that he can be used very effectively to drive possession anyway making him better suited to a bit of a checking role? If so, how do you properly value him? You probably can’t, for example, give a raise to a guy who will be 32 in December, especially if he wants three or four years. It would be illogical and dangerous to do so, especially if you buy into the idea that this team could legitimately compete in the West four or five years from now (they can’t, by the way).

And so if you decide you’re not going to re-sign him, you have to trade him. But you’d be trading him at a point when his value is lower than it has been in quite a while. And further, with the Cammalleri debacle last year (not trading him at the deadline and watching him inevitably walk for nothing), it doesn’t seem like that’s something the Flames are going to do anyway.

This is a deep asset management question that just might not have a very good answer for the club. But they have to make a decision anyway.

5. The Hartley question

Finally, I want to address something I saw in Elliotte Friedman’s wonderful 30 Thoughts this week: The idea that the Flames might 86 Bob Hartley at the end of the year. I would be fine with it for a lot of reasons, some of which were listed in the piece.

First and foremost, he’s not a Burke/Treliving hire, and you’d think, as the team potentially traverses its new new new rebuild plans they’d probably like their guy in there. While I don’t agree with the team’s apparent roster-building philosophy, you’d at least like to see that philosophy carried out at every level of the organization, rather than having one hand doing something independent of the other.

Second, I don’t think Hartley’s a good coach, because he continually dresses too many fighters and because he doesn’t seem particularly willing to mix his systems with what the team can actually do.

Third, if Burke and Treliving end up hiring Randy Carlyle when he gets hired, the Flames are going to be stockpiling a lot of high picks in the years to come. As you know, I’m all for that.

  • BurningSensation

    More of Lambert trying to suck and blow at the same time.

    Hartley uses too many facepunchers, yet somehow managed to be the right fit for Gaudreau. The Flames have a ton of young talent, yet won’t be competitive in 5 years. Winning is bad, losing is good.

    Here’s hoping he goes on to prove black is white and gets killed at the next zebra crossing.

  • Skuehler

    Uh,…you didn’t just say Carlisle, did you?!?

    That would be a buzzkill. Can’t imagine how lie this team would sink. Hartley has the players respect and they buy in. That’s the critical part. Systems can be changed.

  • Parallex

    Agree with all points (including Hartley, Hartley isn’t a great coach (He’s no Babcock)… he’s not a terrible one either (Don’t even think about hiring either of the last two you hired Burke!) but I doubt he survives the rebuild. As to when Calgary’s luck begins to turn for the worse, with the rash of injuries I’d say right about now-ish.

  • SavardianSpinorama

    “I can’t tell you anything you don’t already know. The entire hockey world is aware exactly how good the Flames are going to be. Which is to say, “very much not.” You know it and I know it and other fans know it and they know it and other teams know it. They’re a dumpster fire, and one large enough to be visible from space.”

    Ryan Lambert, October 1st, 2013

    Well, Ryan, sometimes you just have to take your beloved anlytics and toss them out the window.

    Are they a good tool? Yes.

    Should they be used to the point where you make matter-of-fact statements about things that cannot be measured in a matter-of-fact way? No.

    And, gee, Bob Hartley uses fighters in his lineup once in awhile! Let’s line him up and shoot him, because as you have said in the past, only idiots like fighting in hockey. Yet this site (you know, the one you write for) just purchased http://www.hockeyfights.com

    Apparently your bosses realize (much to your chagrin, I am sure) that there are a lot of idiots who follow hockey.

    The problem is, many of us don’t mind a fight, though we are willing to accept it will one day be phased out of the game. Some of us also don’t think losing on purpose is acceptable and we get kind of pissed off at people who think it is (it’s not).

    If we fall over backwards into a generational player, great; however, watching a team give up like there’s nothing to play for but a last place finish? I don’t understand that kind of thinking at all.

  • SavardianSpinorama

    As an aside:

    Flames winning percentage last season: .470

    Flames winning percentage the season prior, with JayBo and Iggy in the lineup for much of it: .438

  • Rock

    Pretty much everything you said was negative to everything that has been positive with the flames. Last year you all were saying the same thing but Mr. Hartly and his flames managed to continue to play exciting hockey for the duration of the year and only improveing there play to the end. If goaltending was available at the beginning of last year they would be a playoff team. So this year I expect to see a lot of the same and I pretty much disagree with all the negative post that have been made in this post.

  • Rock

    Pretty much everything you said was negative to everything that has been positive with the flames. Last year you all were saying the same thing but Mr. Hartly and his flames managed to continue to play exciting hockey for the duration of the year and only improveing there play to the end. If goaltending was available at the beginning of last year they would be a playoff team. So this year I expect to see a lot of the same and I pretty much disagree with all the negative post that have been made in this post.

  • Rock

    I have no idea how this Ryan Lambert has a job writing for the flames. I think every article I have ever read from him is just the same old negative pessimistic garbage. The flames should suck but they are sucking enough, they should start to suck soon, I wish it was sooner, blah blah blah. The flames are winning and completing, how terrible?! The coach is dressing “face punchers” on the roster that he doesn’t control as he is not the GM, what a terrible coach!?

    News flash Ryan, there are 30 teams in league all of which are comprised of professional athletes, managers, and coaches, not pessimistic fans. If they all lived and played in your world, there would be one team clear cut for a cup with 29 teams tanking for a first overall pick each year, because if you cant win the cup there is no point in finishing anything above worst in the league right?

    Yes McDavid would be a welcome addition to the flames, but its a long season and no team worthy of fans is going to celebrate terrible play and foster a losing environment. What a fan should want to see, is a team and organization that is striving for long term progress, and if said progress comes in the way of finishing dead last than all the better for the organization and its real fans.

    10 games in and we have already seen Jooris, Granlund, and now Ferland called up. What if they start producing well along with Brodie, Gaudreau, and Monahan to a point where the finish 24th in the league? I personally would be ecstatic to see the youth players being given an opportunity and help move the team forward. Based on what ive read from you so far, I am sure you would write about the season as a wasted opportunity to add a franchise player and nothing else.

    Do us all a favor and go write for the oilers blogs instead, as their fans may enjoy reading about firing coaches and finishing bottom of the league more than flames fans. BTW, how is that strategy working out for the oilers so far?

  • I don’t understand why it always comes down to tank or don’t tank as an argument to think those are the only two options is somewhat reductionist in logic. Ryan seems to imply the only way the Flames will get better is if they get a McDavid or Eichel but he glosses over this thesis with a lot of tripe and nonsense.

    Look at LA, Detroit, Boston – these three teams haven’t had a lot of top 10 picks in the last 10 years, the few they had they have gotten value out of. You could argue the Flames are on their way to doing that (Monhan, Bennett, 6th and 4th. )
    Take LA For example, not including 2014 they have had 3 picks inside the top 10, namely Schen at 5, and someone whose name I don’t even recognize at 4 whose no longer with them). Only Doughty at #2 is still with the team. All that other great Talent mid-lower rounds and or trades.

    Detroit everyone knows Detroits history.. they are arguably still a top 10 team in this league despite not having had a plethora of top end first overall picks.

    Boston – 4 picks inside the top 10. The only one left playing with them is Dougie Hamilton (9th). You could argue that they netted a decent return from Seguin and Kessell (2nd and 5th respectively) and that’s fair. So 2 players in the top 5, both of which were used as trade bait to better their teams.

    Teams that have been successful drafting in the top end of the Draft that are Chicago and Pittsburgh and perhaps Nashville you could say.

    Teams like Anaheim, SJS have gotten it done without tanking per se. That’s 8 of the top 10 teams in the league I’m sure if you look a little harder, dig a little deeper you can come up with a few more examples.

    Then there’s the counters. Edmonton, Carolina, now Buffalo (who are going no where fast) all of these teams have quote-un-quote tanked where are they at?

    At the end of the day, the best teams are successful because they have used assets wisely and cut ties at the right time, made cunning trades, and found value without lottery picks.

    So I laugh at a lot of Ryan’s negative assertions because he’s so plainly biased in his thought process which he disguises with a few fancy numbers which illuminate one or two of his points but very rarely support his overarching thesis which seems to be that the Flames suck and have no hope.

    To say the Flames have no hope based on 1 summer with this management group is like predicting the Flames are going to do well after 9 games despite a PDO of 102+ (or whatever it is) and a CF% that is below league average.

    In other words, it’s too soon to tell due to a small sample size.

  • everton fc

    Actively tanking is the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard. And yet it is something that gets brought up in every discussion about the flames. The fact is tanking never works for long term success. Just ask Edmonton, Florida, Buffalo or Carolina. Teams like LA, Boston and Detroit have proven that drafting well and developing their youth properly will consistently win cups. There is no guarantee that the top draft pick will even turn out to be a decent NHL player. There have been many instances where top draft picks have turned out to be complete duds. Long term success requires a hardworking attitude and proper youth development, like the flames are doing.