Random Thoughts: Warnings and Good Arrows

random thoughts

The Flames near the 20-game mark in a position nobody could have anticipated heading into the season –  firmly ensconced in the playoff picture near the top of the Western Conference. The Flames have scored a conference high 59 goals in 19 games and are ahead of heavy hitters like Los Angeles, San Jose and Chicago in the standings. 

Will it last? And, if not, should the Flames results so far be completely dismissed as good fortune? No to both, I’d say.

– Those familiar with PDO are no doubt already aware that the Flames are riding a tidal wave of good luck to start the season. They have the third highest combined save percentage and shooting percentage in the league behind Pittsburgh and Nashville (102.8). 

It should go without saying that this won’t continue. 

It’s not a comment on the Flames hard work nor a wet blanket designed to cynically dismiss their abilities. It’s just a statement of fact: teams don’t maintain those sorts of percentages long-term in this league. Especially not teams who don’t boast a Sidney Crosby up front or Henrik Lundqvist in net. Sometimes everything just clicks for a club. Right now is Calgary’s time.

– The only reason to make note of their PDO driven success is to ensure you don’t fall into false narratives about the club’s results. It’s important to stay grounded about the Calgary’s actual talent base and to keep things straight once the percentages regress. 

An object lesson is the Colorado Avalanche. Last season, they rode incredibly good percentages to an unexpectedly high finish, leading their decision makers to conclude their club had turned the corner. As a result, the Avs made all the wrong decisions during the off-season: a lousy possession team, they let two of their better possession players go in PA Parenteau and Paul Stastny and replaced them with lesser two-way players in Jarome Iginla and Danny Briere. They also didn’t do much with their underwhelming, lead-footed blueline. 

Despite their bevy of young talent, Colorado has put up even worse possession rates this season than they did last year. Their goaltending and finishing has come back down to earth and more or less napalmed their playoff hopes in the first quarter of the season. It’s nice to walk the garden path, just make sure you don’t get lost. That thing they say about players becoming overconfident by “reading their press clippings”? That can happen with management too. 

– I’d say the only narrative Flames fans and management should be on guard for (beyond the regular stuff like “the team got complacent” or “the coach has lost the room”) is if the results regress in concert with the return of one or all of Mikael Backlund, Matt Stajan, Joe Colborne and Mason Raymond. If that happens, the two things will likely be unrelated, but it will be tempting to conclude that “the Flames are better without player(s) X,Y, Z”

– All that said, there are lots of reasons to be excited about the Flames start, even if you understand their place in the standings probably aren’t indicative of their true talent. The organization has seen a lot of progression from key assets, with a few pleasant surprises along the way. 

– Let’s start with Sean Monahan, who seems to have taken a very real step forward. Monahan is second amongst regular forwards in terms of possession and he’s playing much tougher circumstances than last year. He’s also continuing to finish at a double digit pace, which, while not definitive, is a good sign that he might be an above average scorer. 

– The best Flames player in terms of driving play this year? The unlikely Paul Byron, who has been a revelation thus far. Re-signed to a one-year, “prove it” deal this summer, Paul Byron doesn’t just look like a legit NHLer so far this season, he looks like a very, very good one. He’s playing in different circumstances in all game states and driving play. For my money, he’s been Calgary’s most consistent forward up front this year.

This isn’t to say Byron is going to become a scoring leader or Selke candidate or some point – just that it looks like he’s going to be a quality depth option for Calgary as they rebuild. As the Edmonton Oilers have ably demonstrated, it takes more than just collecting high draft picks to dig yourself out of the conference basement.  

– Speaking of quality depth guys, Josh Jooris and Lance Bouma seem to be establishing themselves as high utility bottom rotation forwards. Both guys can skate, play the middle and wing and kill penalties. Another step towards establishing functional toughness.

– Of course, there’s also TJ Brodie and Mark Giordano. While their performance last year was obviously stellar, there was a question whether one or both would be able to replicate it again this season. Obviously there’s no question any longer – they have indisputably been one of the best pairings in the league through the early going. The points are nice, but their true value is their ability to control play in the very toughest of circumstances. One doesn’t need advanced stats to see the “Brodano” effect on the ice – things visibly shift for the better whenever they’re on together. 

If the Flames turn this ship around in the next year or two, it will be because of their elite first pairing. 

Johnny Gaudreau has already proven that he can play at this level, which was the last, lingering issue surrounding the mighty mite. There’s still some distance for Gaudreau to travel before he’s anywhere near his peak, but he’s already generating 10-bell chances at a relatively high clip. Right now he’s mostly doing that for others through crafty passes from the perimeter. You’ll know Johnny has taken the next step when he starts putting more pucks on net from dangerous areas of the ice himself. 

Sven Baertschi had a bumpy ride back into the big league, but he’s started to look a lot more comfortable over the last week or so. The pass he made to spring Byron for his break-away goal against the Senators, for example, was a rare thing of beauty. 

The underlying numbers are also complimentary of Baertschi’s play – he’s a plus relative possession player (third best on the team) despite some pretty tough zone starts so far (40%). We’re only talking about 6 games here, so caveat emptor, but after a first few underwhelming contests, Beartschi is starting to look legit. 

It goes without saying that it would be a huge boon to the Flames rebuilding efforts if Baertschi can get on back on track as a prospect. Here’s hoping he can stick around and continue build on his recent good performances. 

– Finally, although the Flames team-wide possession is hardly inspiring so far (45.9%, 4th worst in the NHL), keep in mind the club struggled out of the gate (39% fenwick, ahead of only Buffalo) and has actually been slowly improving ever since. This is despite one of the cheapest forward rosters in the league being decimated by injuries. That things haven’t totally collapsed given the 7 rookies and sophomores Calgary is dressing every night is actually a point in the team’s favour. It will be interesting to see how much Calgary can tilt the ice and if they get healthy.

  • slapshot444

    “But almost every other indicator has them playing over their heads and ready for a fall.
    Fans have to hope it’s not nearly as gruesome as Toronto’s 2-12-0 finish was a year ago.”

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/hockey/mirtle-unsustainable-flames-cant-keep-burning-teams-forever/article21610221/

    Its amazing to see how closely the Flames stats are this year to the Leafs last year. I am glad to read the realistic viewpoint from Kent, because I know the Leafs were getting beaten up by the analytics people last year and we need to make sure that we are being honest with where the Flames are at, and what they can accomplish this year.

  • everton fc

    “I’d say the only narrative Flames fans and management should be on guard for (beyond the regular stuff like “the team got complacent” or “the coach has lost the room”) is if the results regress in concert with the return of one or all of Mikael Backlund, Matt Stajan, Joe Colborne and Mason Raymond. If that happens, the two things will likely be unrelated, but it will be tempting to conclude that “the Flames are better without player(s) X,Y, Z”

    I think of the quad, Backlund may have the most to worry about. Just have this feeling. Raymond’s safe, as is Colbourne, due to Burke being here, not to mention he’s earned it. Stajan is getting older. Recovery from his injury may keep him from being in the discussion for a while.

    I’d say McGrattan and Setoguchi, of the vets, are the most likely to be moved when Raymond, Backlund and Colborne return (any time frame on when they return?)

  • slapshot444

    According to Elliote Friedman teams that are in the playoff picture at the 20 game mark have a 80% chance of staying there. Teams on the bubble at that mark have a 1 in 5 chance of getting in. Not predicting but just saying the numbers are the numbers.
    These are the historical numbers from the past 20 years. If should be a bit easier now for the west as we have 7 team divisions as opposed to 8 for the east.
    I like Kent’s observation of Colorado. I personally believe some of their issue is the new coach’s influence is not as strong in year two.
    One big plus for next year with a team that got lots of attention this year is being able to sign higher quality free agents.
    If we had pair of good D men in the 5/6 that were as good as the 3/4 or better could you imagine ?

    • slapshot444

      I’m no statition but I think those stats would probably say that 80% of the teams in the playoffs at 20 games make it. However, an individual teams chances would vary within that. Just how I would read the tea leaves, not sure how Friedman put it.

      • RedMan

        Not sure way all the trashes, if team A is 10 points up on 9th and team B is 1 point up on 9th, then team A would have better chance then team B. Therefore not an equal 80% chance. In fact you could say that the team in 9th with say 17 points to team B’s 18 points in 8th spot have a near equal chance of making the playoffs. Not that the team in 9th has a 20% chance and the team in 8th has an 80% chance, that just wouldn’t be right.

  • playastation

    Thanks Kent!

    I like how you’re analysis is an actual analysis. And not “CORSI IS BAD THIS TEAM IS BAD”. The goaltending has already started to fall off a bit with at least a stinker going in every game the last 4.

    The thing with team speed is that even if they are out-possessed, they end up with a lot of chances around the net, and are making the most of them.

    I think some of the team issues are really gonna show through when the LA teams come here.

    I think the good thing about all this is that when BT is interviewed, he’s always real about what we have. He talked about how the first week was all goaltending. He said he’s worried about goals. I think he’s smart enough to know that developing the kids here makes the team better next year instead of trying to add at the deadline.

    • piscera.infada

      I think the good thing about all this is that when BT is interviewed, he’s always real about what we have. He talked about how the first week was all goaltending. He said he’s worried about goals. I think he’s smart enough to know that developing the kids here makes the team better next year instead of trying to add at the deadline.

      This about sums it up for me. I’ve long been a proponent that no matter what this team does this year, they stay the course and conduct business like they’re a team in the midst of a rebuild. Moreover, I’ve always said that trading away the future (ie. the higher end prospect and early round picks) is not sustainable way to run a franchise even when you are competitive.

      This is the reason I really like the Treliving hire, as least philosophically. Listen to any of the interviews he’s given since being hired. He understands what this team is, be believes that you don’t react to the “peaks and valleys” within a season, or even season to season, for that matter. I think the Arizona/Phoenix experience will prove very useful. He’s stated constantly that “this organization can spend money (unlike Phoenix), but it’s often pragmatic to run the team with the lessons learned while being under a budget”. I take that to mean not overspending just because you can.

      Treliving really strikes me as someone who wants to build from the inside. Create a strong prospect pipeline and develop from within. This is something Burke didn’t do in Toronto, and Sutter never did in his tenure here. It’s important in the “cap-era” to do this. Burke hiring Treliving, signals to me, that this is the plan. Success will fall in the implementation though.

  • BitGeek

    Great article Kent!

    I just looked at Sven’s numbers after reading this article out of curiosity.. he’s put up 8 goals and 19 assists in 57 NHL games. Not as terrible as some people make him out to be.

    I have no doubt after watching the last few games he’ll definitely be able to play in this league.

    • everton fc

      Sven’s stats this year (between the AHL and NHL) are 0 goals, 6 assists and a minus 10. Hardly statistics to get excited about. Yes his game has improved following some tough love from Hartley but once the injured players return, there isn’t room for Sven. This is a critical year for his development and if he grows up and goes back to the A with a positive attitude and works on his game, he will have a good chance for a call up for the last 20 games. If not, he may find himself in a trading deadline deal.

  • BitGeek

    I dunno, I’m going to be an optimist and say they’re still going to have a playoff chance. Colorado is gone already unless there’s some sort of miracle happening there, Dallas is looking horrible, Arizona is done, even SJ seems to be rather wobbly this year (they really remind me of the Flames from three years ago).

      • everton fc

        I think LA will be fine. They’re not really a strong regular season team anyhow. I’m picking on SJ because they actually don’t have a lot of depth and their new kids aren’t performing all that well.

        Having said that, both teams’ possession rates have gone way down this year.

    • mk

      My bet is that one of Dallas or Minnesota makes the climb out of the basement to claim a wildcard spot, once LA and/or San Jose push into the top 3 in the Pacific. Vancouver holds on for a wild card spot as well. Calgary is the team that drops out. That’s just my guess – what my brain tells me.

      Not going to stop me from enjoying every win along the way! 😀 Are we certain that Gio isn’t part cyborg?

  • Colorado Flames

    Thanks Kent. Straight forward, honest and educated opinion of how things are playing out.

    This feels like a pre-5Things post to preemptively right the ship once Lambert does his weekly “They’re doing it all wrong” nonsense.

  • BitGeek

    I know the Flames are an unlikely bunch to make the playoffs, but what if heavy hitters like LA, San Jose, and Chicago continue to play just “so-so” or even regress below their normal capabilities? Is their bad luck combined with Calgary’s good luck enough to treat the Flames to at least 1 round at the dance post season?

  • TheRealPoc

    Nice job as always, Kent.

    I’ve resigned myself to the fact that we’re out of the McDavid/Eichel running, even though we’re also probably not a wild card team. That sucks…but it’s a lot more tolerable when the pipeline is showing signs of marked improvement already.

    It’s not out of the realm of possibility that when this team is ready to compete (and as long as Treliving keeps Burke placated), we could have a bottom six that includes the likes of Backlund, Byron, Baertschi, Bouma & Jooris. NotBad.jpg…I mean, legit hockey players throughout the lineup – what a novel concept!

  • TheRealPoc

    I’m guessing in the end, they will finish 10-13 in the west. I think the strides they have taken are inspiring but this is not a playoff team the likes of chicago, la, anaheim,etc. Its fun to watch though and the future is bright. Maybe they can ride this good luck to winning the draft lottery..

    • Colorado Flames

      I will reserve my judgement on where the Flames will finish to the 41 game mark. Their schedule gets tougher startig this week.

      One good thing about their excellent start is that most of their games have been on the road and they have come out smelling like roses. After 19 games they still have played only 8 at home and 11 on the road.

      I agree that a proper evaluation of their NHL level talent should be undertaken at the end of the season so that they wont be letting go of players they should be keeping like the Avs, no matter how high they finish.