Flames Season Already A Success

jonah

With fewer than 30 games to be played in 2014/15 edition of
the National Hockey League’s regular season, time has finally come to shift our
focus away from the horror that has been this season for the Calgary Flames and
onto the fruits their incompetence will bear via the NHL Entry Draft in a few
months time.

Wait. That’s not right. Playoffs? What?!

That opening paragraph is how I expected to open a piece
written in February about the Calgary Flames, but instead it looks strikingly
out of place. The season has been anything but a horror and one hasn’t even
muttered the words “McDavid” or “Eichel” around these parts since mid-October.

At our Pre-Season Roundtable discussion here at
FlamesNation, everyone foresaw them a bottom-5 team; the average predicted
point total at seasons end came in at 76. Well, with just over a quarter of the
season left to go, the Flames are 13 points away from that prognostication.

We certainly weren’t the only ones on that boat, either. The
“Flames are a lottery team” prediction boat was in metaphoric terms, the
Titanic, jammed packed with virtually every opinion on the Internet.

When the Calgary Flames hit the ice, true to the story, so
did the Titanic. And sure enough it sank, taking all its preseason expert
passengers along with it. Sure, some tried to save face and grab onto the
floating door, or other debris in the water, but no one actually believed them
and they were frozen out of relevance, and also out of life because the waters
in the North Atlantic usually sit just above freezing.

The only people to make it were Aaron Ward, who is actually
Kate Winslet, and Leonardo DiCaprio, who in our analogy represents the outliers
in the prediction community that may have predicted the Flames in the playoffs,
but no one will ever hear of because Aaron Ward wouldn’t share his door with
them and they drifted off into the cold depths of the ocean that is the
internet, forever.

The TSN panelist’s final fate is still to be decided,
though. He sat smugly and confidently on his floating plywood for the early
parts of the season as the Flames screamed out of the gate to one of the NHL’s
best records, and periodically reminded stunned onlookers of his foresight.

To be fair, he owed us some good news after the Jarome
Iginla fiasco.

But with every passing game, he’s looking more and more like
a genius. The Flames sit 5 points inside a playoff spot with their fate firmly
in their hands – a situation they haven’t found themselves in, in half a
decade.

Analytic loyalists jumped at opportunities to shred the
Flames and their underlying numbered apart, citing a remarkably high PDO and bottom
5 Fenwick numbers to be sure signs of an impending collapse.

Their claims weren’t unfounded of course. This years
Colorado Avalanche followed 2013’s Toronto Maple Leafs and the 2012 Minnesota
Wild as teams whose underlying numbers bit them in rear end after the smoke and
mirrors of hot starts/seasons faded.

Unsustainable was the word of the day, week and month for
the Calgary Flames. But guess what?

But the fact of the matter is, the final 28 games of this
season and whether or not Aaron Ward’s prediction comes true are both irrelevant
when looking back and grading the Calgary Flames’ 2014/15 regular season. 

Why?

Because it’s already been an overwhelming success. They’ve
accomplished more this season as a team, and as individuals, than anyone could’ve
hope at outset. They’re waist deep in a cutthroat playoff race in year two of a
rebuild, and haven’t lost that electric work ethic that earned them headlines
last year.

Emerged from the group is a potential Norris and Hart Trophy
nominee, who also wears the “C”, and the mighty mite from Boston College has
slid right into Calder Trophy talk.

Sean Monahan, the rookie 20 goal scorer, has taken a leap
forward in every single cateogry, now firmly entrenched as the teams number one
centerman at the tender age of 20. TJ Brodie too has established himself as a
top pairing blueliner, playing alongside the aforementioned Giordano.

Not be out done, Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman have formed
one of the best supplementary pairings in the league, the latter finally
finding the offense he was signed in Calgary for.

Countless others have emerged from the shadows and taken on
important roles on the team. Lance Bouma has turned himself into a legitimate
top-9 threat while Josh Jooris stormed from obscurity, straight to the top of Bob
Hartley’s list of favorites.

But above all, they’ve come together as a team, not unlike
in the movies. They play for the man next to them and never quit on each other.
I can guarantee no tracksuits have been soaked in that dressing room 

The coaching staff and leadership core have assimilated the
youngsters into the culture established, which to this point has paid off in
spades. We all ridiculed the Jay Feaster’s “this team needs a culture change”
rhetoric, but the results of one are pretty undeniable. Takes note, Edmonton. Just
kidding, winners don’t take notes from anyone, I mean, have you seen Kevin
Lowe’s rings?

The point of it all is this: the Calgary Flames may not
deserve to be where they are right now and they may not even make the playoffs,
but the strides made this season are paramount in the grand scheme of things.

The organization is loaded with young talent that will soon
begin sprouting up, improving this team further. Whatever need they have at the
present time; a remedy or two is brewing in the AHL, junior or college.
Patience is key, and thankfully, it appears this management group has plenty of
it 

As the Bennett’s and Poirier’s and Wotherspoon’s begin
graduating (and actually playing, in Wotherspoon’s case) from the farm, they’ll
be welcomed into an environment already primed for winning. An environment engineered
for motivation and cohesiveness 

Regardless what the outside world says, this team believes
in themselves and in each other, and that is the most powerful tool they could
possibly possess. It’s what has allowed them to come back from deficits so many
times this year and topple so many of the NHL’s titans. You might say it’s impossible,
but they say it’s not.

So whether or not Aaron Ward and his floating door make it
to shore, and the Calgary Flames sit inside the playoff picture on April 12th,
the 2014/2015 National Hockey League Regular Season has been a resounding
success for the Calgary Flames, and it has been an incredible amount of fun to be apart of. 

  • Burnward

    “Takes note, Edmonton. Just kidding, winners don’t take notes from anyone, I mean, have you seen Kevin Lowe’s rings?”

    This comment made my day. Good stuff.

  • Burnward

    The Flames continue to put out effort. Meanwhile the Oilers (are they still in the NHL?) continue to slag. Balzac Billie made his predictions on Feb.2.

    Six more weeks of Oiler Winter. Billie could be correct for a number of years in the future!

  • Burnward

    Just a quick reminder that before the season started the great Walter White suggested the Oilers and Flames swap their first round picks in 2015.

    Would have been a brilliant move….

    WW

  • SmellOfVictory

    “Not be out done, Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman have formed one of the best supplementary pairings in the league, the latter finally finding the offense he was signed in Calgary for.”

    Let’s not go too far…

  • RedMan

    resounding success this season has been, playoffs will just be the icing on the cake, the gravy on the fries,

    I’d say our second pairing is OK as well – not elite, but good. wonder where they sit statistically compared to the rest of the NHL’s seconds pairings?

    Wait, hold the defnsive paring stats, cause i know what they will say… that the pair has been “lucky”! HAHA!!!

  • piscera.infada

    “Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman have formed one of the best supplementary pairings in the league, the latter finally finding the offense he was signed in Calgary for”.

    I’d have a tough time saying those two are one of the best 3-4 pairings in the league. Not sure the numbers show that. And outside of playing with Backlund, Lance Bouma really has not shown much in terms of being a legit top 9 forward.

    I’m a little on the fence about this season. I hope nobody will see my comments as being framed to just be negative, that is not my intention at all. In terms of positives this season, Monahan has been such a great surprise. I felt as if he was going to struggle again like he did last season but he has been really good and consistant. For his second year as a pro, that is really exciting. Gaudreau again has surpassed expectations by a mile for me. I did not think he’d be this good this fast.

    Outside of that though, I have to wonder if this season has really been a success. The Flames have been the 2nd or 3rd worst possession team in the league all year. In a season liek this, I’d almost much rather have a team have some strong underlying numbers, some bad luck and get a strong draft pick.

    • piscera.infada

      Outside of that though, I have to wonder if this season has really been a success. The Flames have been the 2nd or 3rd worst possession team in the league all year. In a season liek this, I’d almost much rather have a team have some strong underlying numbers, some bad luck and get a strong draft pick.

      You do understand that if this team was losing the way many of us predicted it would at the start of the season, it would mean Gaudreau and Monahan would not be having the success they currently are?

      This is what I’ve never understood about the whole Lambert “develop your young players while tanking” thought process. I won’t go as far as to tout the whole “winning culture” thing as much as many do either, but it seems somewhat logically incongruous to expect young players to be able to compartmentalize their own development while being surrounded by a dumpster-fire of a team. Keep in mind, to draft top-5 in the NHL (barring a lottery win) for successive years you have to be

      BAD

      .

      • Nick24

        I don’t really understand the winning culture argument at all. We seem to be putting way to much stock into a young player improving based on whether or not his team is winning. There’s a ton of players who came into the league with teams that were truly terrible, and turned out to be really good players. There’s just no evidence that young players are effected by a winning culture or that it makes any difference

        Are the Flames really creating a winning culture? There’s quite a lot of evidence out there that the Flames have gotten by on a lot of luck this year, some decent goaltending and a great 1st pair of defensmen.

        • The Last Big Bear

          The “Winning culture” argument is that if your team loses all the time, your young kids won’t develop into impact players. I don’t know how much weight this has.

          But that’s not what piscera.infada is saying.

          He’s saying that if your young kids develop properly into impact players, you won’t lose all the time. Because now you have impact players.

          If Taylor Hall really was the best LW in hockey, and RNH was a legit 1C, etc, etc, the Oilers wouldn’t be the worst team in the NHL.

          Whether its correct or not to say their development sucks because their team sucked is a different question. But if they had developed properly, their team wouldn’t suck the way they do.

          The only way for the Flames to be in 30th place is for Johnny Gaudreau to not have such a strong season, for Monahan to regress a little, for Brodie to not stand up as a first-pairing defenceman, etc.

          Not that finishing 30th would be the cause l their poor performance.

          • beloch

            Absolutely. You can’t really have a 30th place season and also have some young players reallly play well.

            I was saying I don’t really understand the argument itself.

            Iginla spent quite a long time on a Calgary franchise that was almost entirely hopeless. Many players have and then succeeded. You could still have an excellent locker room and environment, that people seem to really value and still be a poor team.I just don’t tend to think that it has much of an impact either way.

            My initial point in all of this was that I’m not sure this year is that great of a success. I’d have no problem if the Flames were winning in a sustainable fashion, and we were then discussing the merits of a wildcard playoff birth over a high draft pick. The fact that the Flames are a poor possession team and relying on a lot of luck to be in this position, makes me question if it’s the best thing for this franchise going forward. There still is a ton of risk that the law of averages catch up to this team and they draft in that dreaded 13-16th spot this season.

        • piscera.infada

          What @The Last Big Bear said (above). In fact, I said I don’t subscribe to the “winning culture” argument in it’s totality or it’s breadth (as is often argued here to be very far-reaching).

          The simple point is that I’m refusing to accept your claim that this season is not a success because the team is winning, while being percentage driven. I agree in large part that this is what’s happening. My opinion differs twofold however. First, as many have echoed here, I see this team growing and actually improving their possession as the season progresses, albeit a small amount, but this is a young team, and that’s what we should be looking for. Second, following from my last point, I think the team can continue to progress and develop into next season given correct asset management–I don’t believe the regression into next season is unavoidable. Could it happen? Yes, but it’s also likely the players that took a step forward in this regard this year, take an additional step forward next, and so on.

          Moreover, my point was simply that I refute the argument that being very bad is somehow conducive to the best possible development of young players. The results this year are a direct result of the impact of players like Monahan and Gaudreau’s good play. Whether you want to paint Monahan, Gaudreau, Brodie, et cetera as simply “lucky” then that’s fine, but I still believe there is tangible development occurring with these players this year, that would not have have occurred if they were at the bottom of the standings since the first drop of the puck.

          I simply don’t buy that playing well and still losing a lot–if even possible–is somehow a “good thing” let alone “the best thing” as your argument seems to suggest.

          That’s all I’m saying no more, no less. I’m not arguing the stats, I’m not arguing the “luck”, I’m not saying “this is the best team ever assembled”, and I’m surely not proclaiming “mission accomplished”. I’m merely agreeing with the Christian, that from a ‘development of the future core’ sense, this season has been a resounding success. The only caveat is of course, if management thinks they’re way ahead of the eight-ball (like Colorado or Toronto did in their playoff seasons). However, everything we’ve heard from management has be unequivocally contra that assessment.

          • beloch

            All great points and well articulated.

            As big of an analytics guy I am myself, i think we’d be blind to not put some value into a team having some level of success over almost a decade of failure. At some point it has to impact the players in some way.

            I think next year is actually the most important for the core of this team because I still think this team has a ton of spare parts on them. That’s where my disagreement on this season lands, because outside of Gaudreau and Monahan, there’s really no other young players that are going to be part of this core that really needed to develop. Brodie and Gio continued their great play as has Backlund. Outside of that, everyone is for the most part, slightly above or below expectations.

          • piscera.infada

            Fair point. I’m also of the mind that even the “more than expected” or “expected” out of players like Colborne, Jooris, Granlund (when he was here), et cetera, whether sustainable or not has given management a lot more insight as to who fits where and why as part of that future core. The worst thing a franchise can become is complacent towards believing that “it’s just a matter of time” with individual players (young or old) or the team writ large. Assuming management is able to get a firm grasp of everyones “true production” level, I think you’re much better positioned going into the next influx of talent (Bennett, Poirier, etc.). Frankly, that’s success in my mind as well, and of course it’s contingent (like everything in building a successful franchise) in management making the right decisions for the right reasons, but sitting idle and waiting for everything to fall into place is a very dangerous and often cyclical exercise.

            Truthfully, I’m cautiously optimistic because I like what Treliving has to say when he assesses the team, and really, that’s all I have to go off of. I agree with a great deal of your assessment, but if you’re Flames management (or a fan, for that matter), you can’t be concerned with “finishing in a dreaded draft position”, but rather what can be gained from this overachieving.

  • beloch

    Take a look at a rolling 10 game average of the Flames CF% and FF%. The Flames started the season weak and had a disastrous December, but they’ve actually been on the right side of 50% in both stats for significant portions of the season, including this month. With most teams it’s not a good idea to cherry pick like this, but the Flames are a team that is driven by young, inexperienced players who have made huge strides in their development this season.

    First, Gaudreau truly lived up to the hype about his offensive gifts, but he’s been a surprisingly strong possession player. His CF% of 54.62% would be amazing even if he weren’t just 21! Only Hudler’s CF% is higher, and Hudler himself took a step up from last season, going from a CF% of 54.7% to 56.2%. Gaudreau effect? It may well be! Monahan has also surprised everyone by responding to being played in a shut-down role by upping his scoring and improving his possession to a CF% of 52.26%. This is huge progress in players that will be a part of the flames core for many years to come and, given the age of Monahan and Gaudreau, their best years are still in the distant future! (Note: all stats here are “all situations”.)

    I haven’t really dug into what happened in December, but it truly was a disaster. The Flames deserved to go on an 8 game losing streak. If whatever caused that doesn’t happen again, the Flames should raise their season average CF% and FF% substantially before the playoffs. If the Flames can continue to play as they did in November and this last month plus change, they’re a playoff team.

    • Nick24

      Why should the Flames season average be raised substantially? Not sure I follow exactly. Even outside of the losing streak, when their Corsi numbers were actualy pretty decent, the Flames have been a bototm 5 posesison team almost all season.

      The Gaudrea + Monahan play is the biggest positive from this season though, totally agree.

      • beloch

        You’re right, I goofed. In fact, the Flames CF% and FF% were both on the right side of 50% during that skid. Strangely enough, the possession crater I’m talking about happened in late December to early January when the Flames started winning again. The Flames deserved to lose 8 games straight, only about 3 weeks later than they actually did! For the last dozen games they’re back on the right side of 50%, so lately they’ve earned their wins.

        The real question is whether that crater in January was something aberrant or a normal low for this team. Either way, that crater drags the season average down less than October and November did. If the Flames can avoid entering a similar crater before the season is over, their season averages should come up significantly.

  • beloch

    The Oilers’ problem is that their club sucks at both drafting and developing talent. Yes, their lottery picks are NHL’ers, but it’s arguable some of them haven’t lived up to their potential (e.g. Yakupov). However, outside the first round, the Oilers’ drafting record is nothing short of disastrous. Despite picking high in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. rounds for years, their prospect system is one of the worst in the league (Hockeysfuture rated it #25 this season). They really don’t have much farm talent vying for a spot on their NHL club right now, and won’t for years to come.

    With few home-grown players ready for the NHL, the Oilers have had to cobble together a team heavy in free agents and undrafted players. The former typically offer poor value and the latter usually went undrafted for a reason, not that there aren’t exceptions. To make matters worse, many of MacTavish’s “bold moves” were arguably change for change’s sake alone. Some have robbed the Oilers’ roster of value, such as flipping Dubnyk for Hendricks. The result is that the Oilers really aren’t a well built team. The lottery pick kids mostly haven’t lived up to their pedigrees yet and the talent level of the team dives off a cliff after them.

    I was watching the Oilers play against the Islanders last night. It was a tie game in the third and the Oilers must have kept the Islanders pent in their own zone for a good three or four minutes of non-stop hockey. It was like watching keep-away, not hockey. The Oilers just ran around the perimeter without generating shots or chances aside from a few point shots that had no chance of getting through. They didn’t look dangerous at all. I went to take a piss and, when I came back, the Islanders had scored the game-winning goal. The lottery pick kids do a lot of things right but, at present, they lack a scoring touch. Lacking a scoring touch is bad enough when said about a sixth rounder like Paul Byron, but it’s something that should never be said about a #1 overall pick like the Yak! (Note: Byron currently has 17 points in 53 games while Yakupov has 15 in 55 games.)

  • PrairieStew

    If even strength points per minute played is the measure Lance Bouma is a top 6 forward. He currently ranks 81st in the league in this stat. Granted – he hasn’t played as many minutes as some of the other guys, but he’s also a long ways above 180th in the league.