Five things: The next five days

1. We begin with a loss

That game against the Rangers was, I think, a nice encapsulation of what Flames fans should expect for most of the remainder of the season. There are more than 20 games left, but this was a contest in which the Flames tried very hard for a while and at least held serve for a lot of the early goings of the game, but once they conceded it quickly became apparent that this was not a game in which the Flames were going to score. Even a one-goal lead at that point felt insurmountable based on how things looked on the ice.

You really do have to wonder when this team’s shooting luck runs out. So many guys shot 10-plus percent for so many games that it necessarily has to come back to bite you, and we’re getting to the point at which regression tends to hit teams: about 60-70 games in, things start going the way they “should” when teams PDO their way to early success.

Going into the game against New Jersey last night, the Flames had lost three straight and four of their last six, and basically none of the data — even in that brief window — suggests it was an accident. The share of scoring chances has plummeted. Their shooting percentage is down. Their save percentage is at one of the lowest points of the season.

That obviously contributes to losing even for teams that dominate possession, but here’s the thing: The Flames have never been good at that, and it’s really escaped them in the last 10 games or so. But even if they turn the possession game around and get back to a level in the high 40s — and you have to keep in mind they’re struggling now with a mostly healthy roster — you really can’t count on their ability to get things sorted out in terms of maintaining as high a shooting percentage as before. Which leads to being outscored more often, which leads to losing. Which probably leads to missing the playoffs.

2. A decision to make

In 30 Thoughts yesterday, Elliotte Friedman wrote this, and I’m not really sure what it means for the direction the Flames are going to take over the next five days:

“You can see what this means. Calgary knows giving up the future doesn’t make sense. Not at this stage in their growth. But, what Treliving and his staff know is you have to reward your team when it deserves it. You have to show your young guys you’re there to win.

Whatever they get for Glencross (or think they are going to get), they’re going to invest it in this season. Maybe a bigger deal pops up for a good player with term, and the add really jolts the team. But, failing that, they’re going to try and bring in a little something, because they know this group deserves a legit chance.”

This was something I talked about a few weeks ago: Giving up assets — even if they’re not particularly important ones — in pursuit of making the playoffs because “eight-seeds have gone to the Cup Final before” is, I think, a very real concern.

And yeah, they’re not going to trade anything of their own, but whatever they can get for Glencross really shouldn’t be invested in this season, because it’s almost certainly going to end in tears. Who do you get that actually helps this season you for a player like Glencross? Shouldn’t the goal be a pick or a prospect that helps the team down the road instead of doing what I said weeks ago was the organization’s probable plan: Trying to sneak in.

After the Rangers loss, they were down to like a 21 percent chance of making the playoffs when you factor in more than just strength of schedule and past numbers going forward (that is, advanced stats and other more predictive metrics) and yeah that’s a one-in-five chance, but they’ve been dropping hard the last few weeks as Minnesota and Los Angeles rampaged up the standings. The Flames are almost certainly going to be mathematically capable of making the playoffs as of next Monday, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the odds in the single digits.

3. So what do you do?

Curtis Glencross is on the move, and that’s perfectly fine. He’s not the biggest contributor to whatever success the Flames have had this year and he’s going to want a ton of money for a number of years to slowly get worse. The Flames are wise not to oblige him, and are similarly wise to instead put him on the market. He’ll land with a real and actual contender, the Flames will probably take a bad contract in return. 

What they really ought to do is take on a truly bad contract, though. Like, a “the team will give up a first-round pick so you take Stephen Weiss”-level deal. Because Going For It this season is, again, a fool’s errand, and investing in it rather than the future is likewise dumb. If you get a Stephen Weiss-type player, you can say “this is a guy who has a lot of experience in the league and has been known to chip in offensively and provides leadership,” and so on until you’re blue in the face. Shows you want to reward the players for their high PDO over the first five months of the season.

But it doesn’t cost you anything beyond money and a wasted roster spot for a few seasons. And if you help someone out by taking on such a deal, they gift you something in return. Give a little, get a little.

That’s the ideal scenario, of course. And I don’t think it’s a particularly realistic one. The Flames do have guys to extend and there was a quote floating around yesterday that some GMs are planning for a cap of just $69 million (unchanged from this year) in 2015-16. If that’s the case, the Flames aren’t going to have as much money to eat as many of us probably thought.

By my count, based on the current roster, they have $44.667 million committed to 16 players for next season. That doesn’t include RFAs they need to re-sign, like Mikael Backlund, Josh Jooris, Lance Bouma, Paul Byron, and Michael Ferland. Most of those guys are probably due raises. So let’s say all those guys get re-upped. Combined, the five of them probably cost $7.5 million (let’s just say that’s the case). So you’re looking at a little over $52 million for 21 guys. That number also doesn’t include a backup goalie, who’s probably Joni Ortio. So let’s say it’s like $53 million for 22. There’s also Sven Baertschi and Sam Bennett to consider.

Not a lot of room to add without subtracting something.

4. Why don’t you just…?

Here’s the real question, though. You trade Glencross, get a pick back. In a perfect world, you also get a bad deal with term left to boost the value of the pick and figure something out over the summer. Right. That’s the easy part.

But what if you don’t do anything at all after that? You don’t invest anything in the current team. You just let the chips fall where they may. (And acknowledge that “where they may” is “probably outside the playoffs.”)

I know that maybe “sends the wrong message” to the dressing room but this is a team of rookies and not-great players (with a few exceptions) no one expected to see succeed in the first place. It should never have been the goal, and even if it came close to happening — and yeah, might still happen — the likely end result here was what you should have seen coming. Hell, if this team finishes, like, ninth or 10th in the West, they will have dramatically exceeded most rational expectations for them.

Just because they won 57 percent of their first 60 games, it doesn’t mean you have to throw anything at it to get them to, what, 60 percent the rest of the way if they’re lucky?

Depending upon how you define “success” — and I’m not sure you’d be smart to include “just wins and losses” in the mix, because of how much it ignores — why can’t you say the Flames had it with this group before, and let’s see if they have it again.

5. It doesn’t really matter

Because that’s the thing, right? This was a group no one believed in who hung around the playoff picture longer than they really had any right to on paper. “Success” and “showing the kids how to win” and everything, yeah?

And at this point, in terms of what making the playoffs means or doesn’t mean is the difference between picking, like, No. 12-14 in the draft, or maybe being 16th. Total waste of a “rebuilding season” because this is the deepest draft class in a long time and the ability to lock down even a Noah Hanifin, or Mitch Marner, or whoever, doesn’t come along every day. Tanking was never going to happen the second they signed Jonas Hiller — which was still a silly move — but then everyone on the team complicated things by shooting 11 percent, collectively, for five months.

So now I figure the Flames have a 2.5 percent chance at winning the draft lottery in a best-case scenario. The team’s about to learn how hard it is to draft impact players when you’re picking outside the top-6. Which is saying something for a team with a draft record as poor as the Flames’

  • RedMan

    Flames need to be so bad that they finish last for 3 years in a row, then become a contender in one season without any player motivation issues, bad habits, or toxic culture that happens when you finish last so many times (sounds “oily” doesn’t it?).

    Plus – we need to develop raw, young players during the losing time, in a losing culture, without any significant winning. and stay positive and happy. losing. all the time.

    then Lambert will be happy. should be easy.

    /sarcasm

      • Rockmorton65

        HOW long have they been wandering in the desert? Since nineteen ninety…what? They have been through the Yashin era and the DiPietro era, and only now are they above average?

        • Rockmorton65

          How did Tavares ever develop on such a losing organization? Also, they’re one of the best teams in the league. The point is, there’s nothing to show that a young player benefits from the success of his team. If everyone wants to use the Oilers as an example, theres just as many examples of players being drafted to terrible teams and turning them around.

          • Rockmorton65

            But you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see that a developing player would benefit more from a playoff chase/run than from 50-60 games that don’t mean anything. Players get better by playing in games that matter. Do you really think Tavares would be the player he is without the Olympics?

            Another example, Rick Nash. He was a good player in Columbus. Got points. All star selections. It wasn’t until he went to NY, and played some meaningful games, that he started to realize his potential.

          • Avalain

            This isn’t true at all. Tavares was a great player the olympics, and the same after it. There’s no evidence that playing in these games in the NHL make any difference at all. Good players are just good players. There’s no evidence of this at all.

          • piscera.infada

            If you think playing hockey in different circumstances doesn’t make you a better hockey player, then I don’t know what to tell you.

            Yes, good hockey players are good. Fancy that.

            The current core of the Blackhawks has two players that they picked in the top-5 (Toews and Kane), and one more picked in the top-15 (Seabrook, at 14), so there goes the whole “must draft many players in the top-3 to have a chance argument”.

            My argument from the beginning, is that to build a team, it is not imperative, to have multiple top-3/4/5 picks year-after-year.

            The Flames have had two picks in the top-6 (one of those was the highest ever drafted by the organization, Bennett) in the last two years. If that isn’t sufficient to create a core along with a player who was drafted in the 4th round, but has produced in his rookie year comparably to players taken recently in the top-5, then I have little to no idea what you’re looking for.

            Sure, bemoan what’s occurring on the ice right now, but no one (let me repeat, no one) on this site, responding to you, is saying this team is a finished product. No one (again, no one) is saying that this team doesn’t have to figure out what they’re doing possession-wise in order to have sustainable success. No one (do you get it yet?) is saying this team is a cup-contender. No one (!) is saying that management doesn’t have to make pragmatic trades, signings, and draft picks. And finally no one, is ruling out the possibility of regression next season.

            What people take umbrage with, is this notion that somehow this is a failure of a season, because unsustainable success has taken away what may or may not have been amazing draft position, simply because “blah, blah, blah, generational talent, blah”.

            One final point: The simple fact that you would claim that playing meaningful hockey at a meaningful time of year has no positive effect on human athletes, is the most ludicrous argument I have ever heard. It’s not an intangibles argument I’m making, it’s simply a function of being alive and having a modicum of understanding about the human condition. If you continually turn out effort day in, day out to be best at what you do, only to consistently fail, it’s demoralizing–and make no mistake, losing hockey games is failing at hockey.

          • piscera.infada

            It’s absolutely an intangibles argument. It is the definition of that. You are attaching players developing to playing in “meaningful games” with zero evidence. It is not an absolute truth at all.

            The sports world is full of players who were on losing teams for extended periods of time and still managed to succeed. Iginla played for one of the worst franchise’s in hockey at the time for 7 straight years and only got better. Same with Yzerman. The league is also chalk full of players that come into the league on terrible teams for a number of years and still get better.

            As a player, sure I want to be on a winning team, but there’s no evidence at all that it makes that player so “demoralized” that there progress takes a hit even in the slightest. You seem to be arguing that it is an absolute truth, and it’s just not.

        • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

          They made the playoffs 2 years ago and then Tavares got hurt at the Olympics last year, so they dropped off after the break. Then they picked up Boychuck and Leddy as the final pieces for this year. So I would say they have had a steady progression since drafting JT other than a few gambles by Snow that didn’t work out.
          The thing about the 2015 Islanders is that they have depth on defence. They may not have a top 2 like we do, but they have 6 top 4 guys and that is where we need to get to as well. Then it doesn’t kill you if one of them gets hurt.

  • BurningSensation

    “You really do have to wonder when this team’s shooting luck runs out. So many guys shot 10-plus percent for so many games that it necessarily has to come back to bite you”

    When’s it gonna come back and bite Alex Tanguay?

    “Going into the game against New Jersey last night, the Flames had lost three straight and four of their last six, and basically none of the data — even in that brief window — suggests it was an accident. The share of scoring chances has plummeted. Their shooting percentage is down. Their save percentage is at one of the lowest points of the season.”

    You mean four losses to teams that finished as

    – The Stanley Cup Champions
    – The Stanley Cup runner ups
    – Two 2nd round teams, one of which has been on a winning tear against :every: team they’ve faced.

    PANIC TIME!!! Because that’s representative of all 30 teams in the NHL.

    Yawn, same old tired story possession possession PDO PDO possession possession.

    How much real life money are you willing to bet on your prediction that shooting luck is going to run out, since it’s so “necessary”.

    So when is the Tampa Bay Lightning shooting percentage going to “Necessarily” drop? That Stamkos fellow is at 16% which is double the league average. Man is he LUCKY!

  • Greg

    Oh, and while the PDO = 100% Luck schtick is a joke, the rest of this article wasn’t very convincing either.

    Some players drafted in perceived “no-man’s land”:

    Filip Forsberg (#11)
    Anze Kopitar (#11)
    Kevin Shattenkirk (#14)
    Erik Karlsson (#15)
    Nick Leddy (#15)
    Vladimir Tarasenko (#16)
    Ryan Getzlaf (#19)
    Max Pacioretty (#22)

    Clearly those teams were set so far back by not having a top 10 high draft pick.

  • piscera.infada

    1) Are people actually arguing this team will regress as if the sample size has never been duplicated before? Toronto, Colarado, exc. It’s really not just a sound argument to say 61 games in is 100% proof the Flames are for real when there’s countless examples of it not being true

    2) I myself am not actually for tanking but if a team is not actually that good, which the underlying numbers state about the Flames, then I honestly think this is the Flames worst case scenario. I’d be fine with the Flames being in this spot if I believed this winning was sustainable over the long term, but it’s not. Nobody is being negative or is a hidden Oilers fan in saying this, it’s simply looking at this team objectively.

    3) There’s no evidence that playing meaningful games in February does anything for a young players progression. There’s been a ton of young players who have developed just fine playing on terrible teams.

    4. On top of that, as I stated before, the players on this team right now, with the exception of a small group, are not players that will be around to have an impact on this team when the Flames are contenders. I count 5 players myself.

    I am not less of a fan. I don’t cheer for the Flames to lose. I’m a big supporter and always will be. I’m not enjoying this any more or less then any other fan, I’m still cheering just as loud when they tie it up late or win in overtime. I just believe, like most of the hockey world outside Calgary, that the Flames are not that good of a hockey team at the moment.

  • piscera.infada

    PDO is for many reasons perhaps the worst of all “advanced” stats that is used. It is only good as a long term (a season) look, plotting it out in chunks. Even at that it needs to be broken down by things like hot goalie stretches. And does not indicate weather a team is on a win streak or not. Nor is it valid into a following season as systems, coaches, players, and surcumstances change from season to season.

  • The only problem I have with what I have come to accept as Lambert-logic is it is so myopic.

    Lambert Assumption 1. Superstars/Gifted and Talented players only come from the top 5 of their draft class.

    Flames counter examples: TJ Brodie, Johnny Guadreau, Michael Backlund, Giordano,
    Other examples: Pavel Datsyuk (167th overall), Lidstrom (53rd overall), Bergeron (45th overall).

    Fact: You can find talent outside of the top 5.
    Fact: Championship teams have been built without drafting in the top 5.
    Good drafting in general and the right trade at the right time.

    Flames now have one of the better prospect basis in the NHL. They need to keep that up. Keep developing and drafting wisely. No matter where they pick.

    In the meantime building a winning culture cannot be drafted. It’s a mindset and it’s coached. And frankly I have no problem going for it right until we’re mathematically eliminated.

    It’s unfortunate that the NHL is set up to reward teams like Florida, Edmonton, Buffalo, for being completely mismanaged. But its the reality we face. Just because other teams are mis managed to the point of being the brunt of every joke doesn’t mean we have to do the same. Stay the course Flames and BT. Stay the course or use the force.
    who knows maybe we’ll be that one time the 2% chance get’s picked first overall and we’ll get rewarded for doing things right.

    Lambert Assumption 2: numbers will eventually regress. Yes. If you only look at the short term they will (again being myopic)
    What will this teams’ numbers look like when Poirier, Bennett, and future picks figure into the mix? We don’t know yet… they could stay the same or get worse admittedly but they could also improve. Let’s find out.

    Boston, Detroit, Minnesota, LA (as you said yourself) didn’t tank to get to where they are. Why should the Flames?