1. Flames at the half
Well the Flames have now officially meandered through the first half of the schedule (and then some) so now seems like it’s good a time as any to kick the tires on where they stand.
As I write this, ahead of last night’s games, they’re three points out of the last divisional playoff spot, and two out from the last wild card. However, the Canucks, with two games in hand, stand in their way for both those slots in the standings.
And anyone who’s watched this team since that PDO-fueled hot start has to understand fundamentally that this is a bad team that just got very lucky at the beginning of the year. Not because they worked hard or got to good areas, but because even bad teams get lucky for as long as 60 or even 70 games over the course of a season. The Flames began the year 17-8-2, and have gone 5-10-1 since then. And they have a brutally hard schedule coming up over the next month (three vs. San Jose, two vs. Los Angeles, one each vs. Pittsburgh and Anaheim and Boston — and have played the 12th-most difficult schedule in the league to this point.
They’re a plus-9 in terms of overall goal differential but minus-2 at even strength. And since that hot start came to an end on Dec. 6, it’s minus-5 because the goaltending continues to be at least somewhat decent even as the goal scoring drops off considerably.
But the problems remain the same: The team isn’t good enough to have the puck for even half the game, and in fact to this point have the third-worst possession in the league (44.1 percent corsi-for), ahead of only Colorado (44 percent) and Buffalo (37.5 percent). They’re not even as good at holding onto the puck as the Maple Leafs, which should tell you everything about this Flames team.
Do they have some bright spots? Undoubtedly, especially among the younger players, but the overwhelming data on this team says that it’s not good enough to compete with all but a small handful of the league’s 30 teams on a night-in-night-out basis. You can chalk some of that up to the fact that they’re still rebuilding, but I think it’s clear now that the club is a lot farther away from being realistically competitive than many observers crowing abut their success early in the season are probably still ready to admit.
All the numbers suggest that even if the goaltending holds up this team is going to lose a lot of games the rest of the way. And it’ll probably finish in the bottom five or six in the league once again. But I hope bringing aboard all those, ahem, useful veterans was worth missing out on a legit chance at a generational talent.
(Or are we still pretending no one in the Flames Nation comment section said, “This team plays well enough in its systems that it can get outshot every night and still be a playoff team!” for the first quarter of the season, only to miraculously change their expectations back when the team lost eight in a row? I forget.)
2. All-Star selections
I wasn’t really either elated or upset with the two guys the Flames are sending to All-Star Weekend. I think if you’re required to send one guy from every team, the most reasonable candidate the Flames had to hand was Mark Giordano (though I will once again say that I think TJ Brodie is just as deserving, even if he doesn’t have the offensive numbers). It is good and right that he should make the team.
And if you also have to bring a bunch of rookies, the number of them that you should be able to call before getting to Johnny Gaudreau is, at most, two. Filip Forsberg, obviously, and in fact he’d be a regular All-Star if it were up to me. Then if you absolutely positively had to bring a second one before Gaudreau, Aaron Ekblad is the obvious answer.
I saw some people making noise for Jiri Hudler as well but that was obviously never going to happen. He’s not even the best forward on his own team even if he is the most entertaining.
I’ve said this elsewhere before but the only thing worth watching at All-Star Weekend is the Skills Competition, because only one actively cool thing has ever happened in the actual All-Star Game itself (that, of course, being Owen Nolan calling his shot). Gaudreau will be perfect for it because he’s basically the living embodiment of fun and skill in hockey, so watching him stick handle around cones and participate in breakaway competitions and the like is going to be great.
I don’t know what you think Giordano is gonna do there — maybe make an effort in the hardest shot competition before Shea Weber blows him out of the water — but Giordano’s a fun invitee mostly because people who watch Flames games know that what he’s good at is the opposite of what play looks like in an All-Star Game. He’ll probably rack up some points on the power play but this isn’t His Game. Seeing him play it could be delightfully weird.
3. Demoting McGrattan and the “death” of the enforcer
Lots of sad media members in Calgary this week — as there always is when a goon who has a lot of time to think up loquacious stuff to say because he plays four minutes a night or gets scratched — because Brian McGrattan was waived and sent down to the AHL. (Hopefully never to return again.)
McGrattan hasn’t been good enough to play in the NHL in a few years, if he ever was to begin with, and so this roster decision was a long time coming. Why the Flames re-signed him I will never know (unless of course the answer is “just Brian Burke” in which case I do know but do not in any way understand).
But another thing I don’t understand is everyone saying, “Now even the Burke-run Flames are moving on from employing an enforcer.” I had to check the roster two or three times to make sure I wasn’t misremembering their acquisition of Brandon Bollig (useless) and Deryk Engelland (slightly less useless) over the summer. Turns out I was right: These two guys who are not going to be utilized in most situations — hence their average TOI per game is 8:55 and 13:08, respectively — are in fact just glorified enforcers the team actively sought out this past offseason.
Weird. How am I the only one who remembers this?
4. The Shore trade
This week the Flames traded Corban Knight back to the team from whence he came a few years ago, and in return got prospect Drew Shore.
Ostensibly, the Flames got the better of the deal on paper, because Knight is older and less productive at the AHL level than Shore (24 to Shore’s 23, and 0.61 points per game in 93 AHL appearances to Shore’s 0.71 in 134). Shore also has a little more versatility to his game, with the ability to play either up the middle or on the wing. Shore also has a bunch more games at the AHL level under his belt.
Obviously roster flexibility was a motivator here; Shore’s next NHL game — presumably tonight — will mean that he has to clear waivers to be demoted once again, and this is not the case for Knight. But still, this is the kind of trade you like to see a rebuilding team make, because it preys on some concerns of better teams (the Panthers are better than someone? I still have to get used to that) and means that Brad Treliving is making savvy moves to improve his organization at minimal cost. Not that Knight was worth nothing, but if you have to send Shore down to the minors in a week or three, it’s a reasonable gamble to give up a prospect who probably doesn’t have much of a future with the club in order to kick the tires on a former second-rounder who could be a decent contributor in the bottom-six.
And in fact, here’s some WOWY data — or, perhaps, WOWIE data, because man those numbers are good — from Panthers blog Litter Box Cats last summer that show how dominant everyone was when he got into games; the data further suggests that his demotion might have been the result of bad luck (93.9 PDO). He was probably playing soft competition, but if you’re pushing around even fourth-liners with favorable zone starts to the tune of plus-5 or 7 CF against someone’s other numbers, you’re doing something right.
Given that, you’d have to imagine this kid gets a serious look.
5. Johnny Controversy
For some reason people were upset or giggling over the fact that Johnny Gaudreau is trying to copyright the term “Johnny Hockey” in much the same way Johnny Manziel copyrighted “Johnny Football.” While there was a good amount of, “Good for him, maybe he can sell some t-shirts,” or something like that, I saw a surprising amount of people who more leaned toward, “What a disrespectful jerk.”
Hmm, maybe he doesn’t want people making money off his name without getting a cut.
You’d think both Johnny Sportsnames got their fill of that when they played in the NCAA.