Why the 2014-15 Calgary Flames are not the 2013-14 Colorado Avalanche

The comparisons are fair. This year’s Flames is a garbage possession team, with an extremely poor 44.3% CF to go off of: third worst in the league. Last year’s Avalanche wasn’t so hot, either: 46.9% CF, sixth worst. With both teams spitting in the faces of corsi and possession metrics as a whole, the 2013-14 Avalanche ended up winning their division, while the 2014-15 Flames remain in a playoff spot with 15 games to go. Neither team was expected to do so well.

The Avs ended up losing in game seven overtime; really, a coin flip, but a first round loss nevertheless. This season, they’re outside the playoffs, trying to look in. They’re probably going to fail. Their statistics have dropped, leaving them at 43.5% CF, worse than the Flames.

This year’s Flames fate has yet to be determined. They’re right on the bubble. Next year’s Flames fate is yet to be seen.

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Does Treliving believe in analytics? His trade deadline performance showed he knows his team isn’t a contender yet. Does he make off-season moves to improve Calgary’s possession stats? Do those moves improve the team? Or will they end up falling, like the Avs?

I’d be willing to bet on the former. The comparisons are fair, but the 2014-15 Calgary Flames are not the 2013-14 Colorado Avalanche.

The deception of all-world goaltending

That’s what made the Avs last season. 

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Semyon Varlamov – who should be remembered first and foremost for his domestic abuse arrest, so please don’t forget it – was a pretty okay goalie with some decent numbers as occasional starter in Washington. 

His first season as official starter came when he was traded to the Avs. Varlamov put up a .913 save percentage over 53 games with Colorado, perfectly reasonable numbers. The Avs finished the season 11th in the Western Conference, seven points back from the playoffs. He fell to .903 over 35 starts in the lockout year, as the Avs were the second worst team in the league, and gifted one Nathan MacKinnon. 

Then, 2013-14 struck. Varlamov went nuts. He played the most games he’d ever had (63), saw the most shots he’d ever faced (2,013), and posted the best save percentage he’d ever recorded (.927), carrying the Avalanche to a Central Division title. 

The problem? While Varlamov was playing great, the rest of the Avalanche seemed content to let him carry them. They gave up 32.7 shots against per game, sixth worst in the league. They have been more than content to let that trend continue, as this season, they surrender 33.1 shots against per game: second worst in the NHL. And Varlamov’s .921 save percentage – good, not great – can’t keep up with it. Hence, the Avs’ drop in the standings.

The Flames do not have all-world goaltending this season. 

They’ve improved by leaps and bounds since last season, but that’s only to be expected when you replace Reto Berra with Jonas Hiller, not to mention Karri Ramo with a more experienced Karri Ramo. Last season, the Flames had a team save percentage of .899, disgustingly bad and yet somehow only third worst in the league. This season, they’ve improved to .911, entirely respectable and tied for 11th with Detroit.

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It’s not elite. Hiller and Ramo have each had nights where they’ve looked all-world, and then nights when they need the hook more than anything else. But for the most part, they’ve been steady in net, capable of stealing a game for the Flames, but not necessarily being relied on to do so.

The Flames also give up 29.1 shots against per game, again tied for 11th in the NHL, this time with Anaheim.

Calgary is seeing consistent, realistic numbers when it comes to shot suppression and save percentage. It’s nothing like the Avalanche’s terrible shot suppression but elite goaltending. If the Flames’ goaltending caves in – and with Hiller posting pretty much his career average, there’s no reason to expect it – they won’t be in nearly as much trouble as the Avs were.

So then what’s the Flames’ problem?

They don’t generate shots.

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This year’s Flames average 27.4 shots per game, third worst in the league. They don’t give up a lot of shots, but they create fewer, hence, their frequent negative possession statistics. Despite lack of defensive depth, they’re honestly not too bad defensively. It’s offence that’s the problem.

Last season’s Flames gave up 28.6 shots per game: eighth in the NHL, and better than this season’s. Last season’s Flames also only generated 26.8 shots per game: third worst in the league, and also worse than this season.

So over the course from year one of the rebuild to year two, the Flames have marginally improved offensively, and marginally declined defensively. The biggest reasons for their increase in the standings this season has been the addition of competent goaltending, and the sudden jump of team shooting percentage from 9.2% (12th in the league) to 10.5% (second). 

Bob Hartley is in his third season as Flames head coach, and with his extension signed earlier in the season, will probably still be here a few years yet. All three of his Flames teams have been at the bottom of the league for shot generation. If the Flames are going to improve and become contenders, that’s going to have to change.

League shooting average is typically around 9.0%. If the Flames fall next season, it’s likely going to be because they stop scoring at their current rate. After all, the Flames currently have 197 goals; if they were shooting at 9.0%, they’d have 165 goals. The +22 goal differential they’re currently sporting – best in the Pacific – would drop to -10. Teams with negative goal differentials typically aren’t playoff teams.

If anything does the Flames in next season, it’ll be a lack of offence thanks to regression.

What about the future?

I think the Flames project better than the Avs. They may not perform well next season, but they shouldn’t fall as hard as the Avs did. There’s hope in sight.

Goaltending is a singular position. Colorado’s hopes rested on one player, and when that one player failed to produce, everything came tumbling down. The Flames’ problems, however, don’t stem from one player: they stem from an entire team outside of him. 

Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau are only going to get better. TJ Brodie is having a career year offensively, and will likely have more. Sam Bennett will probably be joining the team, and adding some offence at that. And this isn’t counting any potential adds to the team via surprise signings, trades, or prospects.

The Flames’ key on-ice personnel are all still growing, and as they grow, their offence should with them. As their offence grows, the team’s grows; all the while Hartley has proven he can help the team limit shots against, especially with the help of arguably the NHL’s best defence pairing, as well as competent goaltending.

That part is taken care of. The part that isn’t is on the way. No careers years are required, just steady progression. It’s entirely realistic to expect that in the near future. The Flames may not have to fall at all.

They just need to shoot more.


  • SmellOfVictory

    Semyon Varlamov – who should be remembered first and foremost as a domestic abuser, so please don’t forget it

    Really?! I’d love to see what facts you have that prove him guilty. Especially since the case was dismissed due to a severe lack of evidence.

    Speaking in such absolutes when you can’t prove something is pretty terrible journalism. This editorial of yours ruins an otherwise interesting piece.

  • Varlamov should be remembered as a domestic abuser? Problem with that was no charges were brought against him because a lack of any evidence, and his accuser (his girlfriend who he kicked out of their apartment and cut off of his credit cards 2 days before the “incident”) couldn’t keep her story to the police straight. They stated multiple times how her story kept changing. And to top it off when the denver post and sports illustrated contacted her for interviews she refused unless they paid her for them (might have something to do with her not having his credit cards anymore). There was also a report in a Russian news paper, not sure if I believe it though since its Russia, where her friend said this was not the first athlete she did this too and that she believed varlamov over her. I don’t know if he did it or not but her story changing multiple times, his kicking her out of the apartment and cutting her off his money and then the incident 2 days later and then her asking for money from media outles all sounds suspicious. I agree with the poster above, just just label someone a domestic abuser just cause you heard it a couple of times and when you didn’t do any research on the topic.

  • prendrefeu

    I appreciate how this article immediately followed the weekly “5 Things” by Ryan Lambert.

    It would be good, however, to focus on what they are doing instead of what they are not. Do you think an article like that can be written? Why do people, especially writers of late both here and, well, many places across the internet/media, focus on the easily-found negatives instead of digging for the positives? Is it that much more difficult to find positives, really? Or is it an unnatural disposition for many to look at positives, and instead it is much easier to go by their normal operating narrative prevalent in other aspects of their lives: the negatives and what is “wrong.”

    What are they doing in regards to shooting? Shooting from better positions and at better opportunities. It is not how often they shoot, but from where and when. There are different ways to get to a high shooting percentage (shots to goals), only one of them involves shooting at a high frequency.

    Thank you for pointing out that the Flames need to improve, many – myself included – can all agree on that. The Flames and Hartley, whom you have an implied hatred for, would also agree that they need to improve. Shooting more can be one method of approach, or perhaps it’s shooting a little more in better locations instead of just shooting from anywhere (and, shooting from anywhere often results in a loss of possession).

    • SmellOfVictory

      “digging for positives” because it’s implied you’re digging then.

      The Flames are not shooting from better positions or taking less shows but more quality ones. This is not a thing. There’s shot charts, there’s articles written on this, it’s just no true.

      And shooting from anywhere often results in a loss of possession? What are you talking about? Good lord.

    • jdthor

      I couldn’t agree more! The team is winning games when they’re in season two of their rebuild. Isn’t that something is Flames fans should be happy about? I understand the negative articles last season when they were loosing games but I’m getting really tired of being told I shouldn’t be happy about what they’re doing just because their CORSI is bad! We all know they’re playing over their heads but that’s part of sports. The best team doesn’t always win or there’d be no point in watching. If this team was full of vets and at the cap I’d be pretty worried but we all know that’s not the case either. Let’s just relax and enjoy the fact that our team is moving in the right direction!

      • Parallex

        Cry me a river. Nobody forces you to read… you’re “really tired”? Tough, I have to live with the endless b itching about folk not hanging up a “homers’r’us” sign so you can do the same

    • Toofun

      What are the Flames doing to win games? Last night was a good example.

      They have more power plays than penalty kills

      They capitalize on takeaways (Johnny’s goal) and giveaways (Johnny’s other goal)and they don’t usually make a lot of bad giveaways.

      They block shots and keep the opposition to the outside a lot. (who cares if they have the puck if they aren’t in a scoring position)

      They transition from defense to offensive in a flash.

      They never give up and when they get behind they forget that they aren’t supposed to be as good as the other guys and they push harder.

      Arii, if you can find any empirical data to support any of these suppositions/observations, it would be nice to show how Calgary ranks relative to other teams against these metrics.

      • RedMan

        what your describing sounds like “skill” and “hockey IQ” and “speed” kinda like what Feaster publicly acknowledged as his priorities targeted in drafting and trades not?

  • Parallex

    Off-topic: Boychuk is now off the market. Considering what he got I can’t say I’m disappointed… I wanted Boychuk but apparently the Islanders really really really wanted Boychuk. I’ll cross my fingers for Franson come July 1 now.

      • Parallex

        Ripe old age of 39. He turns 39 half way through his last season. To rich for my blood… at least at the end. For the next 3-4 years it’s a good deal. If we were at the part of the win cycle where the Isles are I might do that deal, but we’re not so I wouldn’t.

  • Burnward

    Doesn’t someone need to be convicted before labeling them a this or that?

    I do not know if Mr. Semyon Varlamov committed the horrible acts of which he was accused.

    Neither does the “writer” of this article.

    Have your opinions, sure. He may very well be guilty and be a lowly example of human life.

    But, please, stop acting and “writing” like you know one way or the other.

    I realize this site is bored with me and my ranting, but this site and its shoddy “journalism”, reliance on ego-inflating “advanced” stats and just plain glumness is boring the hell out of me.

    I think I will enjoy the playoff run and the future years of the Flames out of sight and mind.

    But I shall enjoy both merely from the beauty of the game.

    The cacophony of depression and nonsense emanating from this site is becoming deafening.

  • Parallex

    Agree with the general premise, but I disagree with a few things:

    1) The Flames need to “shoot more”. Not necessarily. They’re an incredible passing team that scores high percentage opportunities rather than relying on volume “snipers”.

    2) The Flames “could be shooting league average and THUS scoring less”. Again this goes back to shot selection. They COULD fall back down to league average probably only IF they shot worse shots. It’s a chicken-and-egg scenario.

    3) The Avs :only: regressed because Varlamov is not all-world this year. That ignores the fact that they let Statsny walk in the offseason. When you ask your 18 year old winger to take over the center position for a two-way 28 year old veteran who scored 25 goals, 35 assists last year in 71 games.

  • Because the Flames’ shooting percentage is so high while their shots are so low, I wonder if they are a team that generates better chances, rather than more. Quality over quantity, right? Does war-on-ice have a full season metric for the areas form which the Flames are scoring their goals? I’d be very interested to see that.

    Also a bonus to this good season is that free agents may be more likely to want to come to Calgary now that they’ve seen we have the potential for success, which could definitely help increase our defensive depth and maybe add some better possession players.

  • prendrefeu

    @Tdot Fan

    You have difficulty with reading comprehension, I remember this from a previous discussion on an Arii article (her second one about Hartley, which was her second anti-Hartley conjecture in two successive days). It took you several attempts, all of them misses at me, to understand what I and several others were pointing out in the nature of the writing. You still didn’t get it.

    Again, with your response here, please read carefully. I won’t bother responding to the parts you don’t understand yet, I have confidence that with careful reading you will eventually understand. However you did have a good question:

    And shooting from anywhere often results in a loss of possession? What are you talking about? Good lord.

    Let’s say there are two kinds of shots – “high value” shots and “low value” shots. High value is often location, but it is often taken at an opportunity where the defense, whether in bodies or the netminder being out of position, opens up. All teams look for these, some are better than others. I am contending the Flames are better at creating these “high value” shots. There were instances of this last night, and the most obvious instance of this could have been Monahan’s goal from a few nights ago where he waited, patiently, for the goalie to be entirely out of position and for two defenders to be compromised before nutmegging both of them. That’s a high value shot. Can High Value shots exist from anywhere? Sure – if the puck is cycled enough, or some actions are done away from the puck to open up things. I believe, and see, the Flames do this on the instances where they have possession of the puck. From today’s “5 Things” post, this might be tracked by a t.o.o.p/goals analysis (see post #22)… but I’m just asking there.

    “Low Value” shots are shots from the outside, where a team is not doing enough to open up lanes. What happens?

    • Puck misses the net entirely, hits the Boards. Forcing players to chase it.
    • Puck deflects away from net (happens more often than into net).
    • Puck is blocked.
    • Shot is wiffed or not hit correctly, which happens enough, to open up a poke or interference (not the penalty type) by the defense.

    In all of those instances a low value shot results in a moment of loss in possession. The chances of a team shooting the puck, the puck deflecting and it never coming into contact by the opposing team and immediately being cycled back in for another shot is fairly low. Sure the team will get it back, maybe, after some effort.

    What do the Flames do when they’re shooting?
    First, they’re very patient with the puck. It’s that low shooting percentage that irks the stats, understandably. The cycle it a lot. While it is being cycled we have players that are not on the puck actively moving around and causing the other team to get out of position. That, too, is not covered by stats. They also have a good tendency to draw the goalie out of their crease through this, although the better goalies tend to stay at home well enough. Again, not covered by stats. Yet.

    So what you get is:

    • Low shooting rates
    • High puck movement
    • Higher shot-to-goals

    All done fairly quickly – they don’t need to possess the puck for that long, the Flames are doing all of this in the little time they actually have the puck. Other teams can do this as well, but for some reason it takes them much longer to turn possession into goals. When the Flames score off of a rebound they do it extremely quickly – the first player (and shot) is not only forcing the goalie to respond, they are also taking at least two other defenders with them away from the lanes, away from the front of the net. Rebound happens and who is there? A Flames player, usually alone or out numbering the other team still in that quick scramble mode. Does that always result in a goal? No, but the chances are now higher and the Flames do this all very quickly.

    Is that stat friendly? No. Not yet, at least, since it is not clear whether a current advanced stat metric accounts for that (t.o.o.p/goals).

    I believe the analytics community – specifically the ones that develop analytics, not the people who just preach it blindly – will further develop the relatively new approach to understanding this sport.

  • OKG makes some good points. Is there some kind of stat that measures offensive zone passing completion or something similar? It’d be interesting to see if that along with a high shooting percentage correlate at all. Assuming that anytime a pass is made it is advantageous and improves the quality of shot.

  • slapshot444

    “Does Treliving believe in analytics? ”
    It’s not a matter of believing or not believing. Analytics is just one tool of many. There is no definitive way to gauge performance other than wins and losses. Any time you put all your eggs in one basket and rely on only one tool to gauge performance you have a cult that effectively narrows your view. The future will likely have an accepted/adapted blend of traditional stats, current evolution analytics and whatever is next on the horizon.

    RE the Avs comparison, you really needed to mention the injury to Stastney as it was key to their 7th game loss.

    • Parallex

      Hmmm, I dunno… while they subtracted Stastny they added in other areas. Without much data scraping the Aves average about a shot less per game and give up about half a shot more per game. So I’m not sure how much they have suffered as a direct result of losing Stastny… my guess would be that the answer is likely “Some, but probably not as much as you think”.

  • scoopz

    People want to discuss SH% and luck all the time. To ignore the fact that luck exists is ignorant, but to believe that a high SH% is fairly dependent on luck is equally asinine.

    Stats are valuable, but they must be verified by an on-ice viewing of events.

    We love to throw out the term “unsustainable” and “regression” as they relate to “luck.” Well… what exactly does “luck” look like on the ice?

    In terms of SH% I would say “luck” looks like a soft goal. a puck that shouldn’t go in the net, yet somehow squeaks through the goalie is a lucky goal. How often have we seen those from the Flames?

    Is it luck if, because a goalie stops an initially difficult shot, Monahan pots home a rebound? I see that as good positioning due to”hard work,” and a high percentage shot. It is luck if the puck doesn’t go in at that point.

    I think a stat that would truly indicate how the Flames are doing what they are doing would be a rebound chances generated per 60 or a pucks tipped stat. How many times per 60 minutes are the Flames able to cause a goalie to cough up a puck in the slot? How many times are they able to redirect a shot from the point?

    Dirty teams get dirty goals. SH% is a bogus stat unless we’re talking about a shooter tutor. Goalies are dynamic; they have to move to make saves, and when they do, it creates opportunity.

    Opportunity is not luck. Opportunity is the result of HARD WORK! If you want to quantify hard work, start recording rebound attempts generated and shots tipped. Seriously, it’s that simple.

  • @Guest @ckim719

    Hey Guest your “severe lack of evidence” characterization is misinformed based on what the D.A. said at the time they withdrew the case: http://espn.go.com/nhl/story/_/id/10173198/semyon-varlamov-colorado-avalanche-charges-dropped

    As for you @ckim719, you’re verging into pretty hard victim blaming with your comment there. That won’t be tolerated and if you continue on in this way, we will ban you.

    • prendrefeu

      Hi Thomas,

      Not that I want to discuss Varlamov, but what in the linked article are you pointing at which indicates otherwise?
      From the article:

      Lynn Kimbrough, a spokeswoman for the Denver District Attorney’s Office, declined to offer specifics on the new information that led prosecutors to drop the case. She said it surfaced from additional interviews with witnesses.

      “This is not an indication that we didn’t believe our victim,” Kimbrough said. “It is … simply not having the ability to prove it.”

      I agree that the above quote does not indicate a “severe lack of evidence” and victim blaming is an absolutely terrible thing, however the D.A. in this case did not have the evidence to move forward with the case, and further interviews with witnesses – for all we know – did not add evidence. For all we know, which only the DA does, the witness testimonies may have partially countered the claims from the victim – again, we don’t know either way.

      While I agree that any domestic abuser should not be employed – especially not in professional sports/entertainment – it should also be pointed out that having false accusations (again, we don’t know) is not out of the ordinary and there is, by default in society, to take the side of the accuser through bias tinted by race or a falsified ‘image’ of the accused.

      We see this in issues where a person of color is accused (often falsely) of attacking a white woman, or a person from another country – particularly one at political odds with the local country – is accused of enacting the same things that the media often portrays them as doing. IE, Middle Eastern man is “always scheming to blow up something” or Jewish man is “always taking money” or Russian man is “always violent against women”

    • prendrefeu

      Hi Thomas,

      Not that I want to discuss Varlamov, but what in the linked article are you pointing at which indicates otherwise?
      From the article:

      Lynn Kimbrough, a spokeswoman for the Denver District Attorney’s Office, declined to offer specifics on the new information that led prosecutors to drop the case. She said it surfaced from additional interviews with witnesses.

      “This is not an indication that we didn’t believe our victim,” Kimbrough said. “It is … simply not having the ability to prove it.”

      I agree that the above quote does not indicate a “severe lack of evidence” and victim blaming is an absolutely terrible thing, however the D.A. in this case did not have the evidence to move forward with the case, and further interviews with witnesses – for all we know – did not add evidence. For all we know, which only the DA does, the witness testimonies may have partially countered the claims from the victim – again, we don’t know either way.

      While I agree that any domestic abuser should not be employed – especially not in professional sports/entertainment – it should also be pointed out that having false accusations (again, we don’t know) is not out of the ordinary and there is, by default in society, to take the side of the accuser through bias tinted by race or a falsified ‘image’ of the accused.

      We see this in issues where a person of color is accused (often falsely) of attacking a white woman, or a person from another country – particularly one at political odds with the local country – is accused of enacting the same things that the media often portrays them as doing. IE, Middle Eastern man is “always scheming to blow up something” or Jewish man is “always taking money” or Russian man is “always violent against women”. Unfortunately this happens everywhere and in all countries, just change the accused and their stigma/portrayal/act.

  • slapshot444

    You know when I enjoy Arii’s writing? Whenever she sticks to hockey and considers the topic objectively. You know when I don’t? When her personality comes screaming out with some over-opinionated stance/angle/remark, especially when it’s off-topic.

    Your voice is annoying. Please just stick to hockey.

  • Good interesting article Arii. Flames had a record of 1 goal losses last year so it makes sense that league average goal tending/save % was going to add wins. Still, when Cammi didn’t resign, there was a lot of questions where the offence was going to come from. Keep in mind how many rookies & 2nd year forwards we have in our lineup during the year to date. Our blue line top 4 have been together a few years. The progression this team has made this year in Year2 of rebuild is fascinating & even if we have similar results next year, it should be considered progress. My prediction will be Flames are going to have better stats but have similar points to this year.

  • KiLLKiND

    One reason I’ve thought of for Calgary’s low shots is their high shooting percentage. They have an unreal shooting percentage and seem to be doing it off great passing plays. Maybe Calgary is truly waiting for better shooting opportunities like on a give and go one timer or after the puck magically appears on their stick after a Gaudreau pass. They have learned not too shoot a ton of shots every chance but show a tiny bit of patience draw a man to the pass to the open guy and give him a great chance to score.

  • SmellOfVictory

    Another part that we can’t overlook is that they don’t take many penalties. At ES they kind of suck, but one of the best ways to be good at special teams is to avoid taking penalties, which is a repeatable skill for players.

  • Well then improving possession will be something that the Flames sssistant coaching staff will likely be tasked with as being a good posession team is likely a part of Bob Hartley’s coaching philosophy.

  • I have begun deleting comments and banning users based on misogynistic mocking and imitating of a talented and valued Nation Network contributor.

    I’m reluctant to censor anybody’s thoughts or contributions at this site, but this sort of garbage – taking a writers name in the comment section, describing their voice as awful, and offering nothing constructive in the process beyond ‘stick to hockey’ – will not be tolerated.

    If you have a problem with that, you can e-mail me directly at [email protected]. If this issue persists I will shut down the comments on this article.