It’s been said that this Calgary Flames team is reminiscent of the Blackhawks right before they became a powerhouse (2007-08). Both teams injected a lot of youth into their line-up (each team having an average player age of 26), started off hot and vastly exceeded expectations. The Blackhawks fell short of the playoffs that year while the Flames, to this point, remain in the race. Do they share any other similarities?
The obvious comparisons between Monahan and Gaudreau vs. Toews and Kane have been made in the past. Monahan and Toews both became two-way centers and far exceeded early expectations, often facing the top competition before they were legally able to drink in the United States. Almost unheard of from a 18-20 year old centerman. As well, Monahan is on pace for 58 points in his second season while Toews recorded 54 points in 64 games in his first campaign in the 2007-08 season. However, interesting to note, Monahan was not supposed to make the team last year but willed himself on to the team. Toews was sent back to his NCAA team after being drafted 3rd overall. So in essence this is both players’ draft +2 year. Toews wins out as a better offensive talent as well as better possession and shutdown player earlier on in his career (and present day) but Monahan’s performance thus far has been impressive nonetheless.
Johnny Gaudreau vs. Patrick Kane: I’m not sure if we can say yet that Gaudreau is a replica of Kane, one of the best all around offensive talents of his era, but the comparables are there. Both are slender in stature, very shifty, have great hands, vision and poise, while often quarterbacking their respective powerplays. Both appear to be kings of the controlled zone entries and are much more effective with open space (PP, 4 on 4, etc.). Kane registered 72 points in 82 games (.878 ppg) in his rookie year and Gaudreau is on pace for 63 in 81 (.779 ppg). Its safe to say you would be hard pressed to find players with better vision on the ice.
What about the less obvious comparables…
Jiri Hudler vs. Patrick Sharp: Current Hudler and 2007-08 Sharp, playing alongside very talented teenagers, put up their best offensive years to date, shattering their previous single season offensive numbers. Hudler, 31, is on pace for 72 points over 80 games and in 66 games has already surpassed his previous best season of 57 points. Sharp’s previous best offensive season in the NHL, prior to 2007-08, came in 2006-07 when he generated 35 points in 80 games. In 2007-08, at the age of 26, Sharp put up 62 points in 80 games.
TJ Brodie vs. Duncan Keith: Brodie is now 24 and Keith in 2007-08 was 24 (the two have a birthday about a month apart). Moreover, by the end of the 2007-08 season, Keith had amassed 84 points in 245 games (.343 ppg) and was already a possession force on the back-end, regularly having one of the highest Corsi% and Corsi Rel on the Blackhawks. Similarly, Brodie to this point has amassed 97 points in 254 games (.381) and as already scored more points than Keith did in his 2007-08 season. He will likely finish with a point total in the mid-40’s and in the top 20 of scoring for defencemen. Brodie, like Keith, is one of the Flames best possession players and has been so since obtaining a full-time roster spot. Like Keith, as Brodie gets more first unit PP time and the elite talent around him evolves, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Brodie throw together a few consecutive 50-60 point seasons.
Mark Giordano vs. Brent Seabrook: It’s important to not that one player (Giordano) is 31 and the other was 24 at this time. However, both make up the second half to an elite shutdown d-pairing. Both are incredibly skilled in both the offensive and defensive facets of the game. The only difference between Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie of today and Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook of 2007-08 is that Giordano and Brodie have already emerged and cemented themselves as one of the best pairings in the NHL, Keith and Seabrook hadn’t done so until the next year. Also, Giordano was pacing to be a top 3 scoring defenceman for the 2nd straight year in a row but both years he was derailed by significant injuries. Seabrook has never scored over 48 points in a single season. Today… who would you rather have? A Canadian Olympian or a guy who probably would have gotten serious Norris love the past two years if he didn’t get injured. Take your pick.
Mikael Backlund vs. Andrew Ladd: At the trade deadline, the Blackhawks traded for Andrew Ladd from the Carolina Hurricanes and he would become a vital piece in their Stanley Cup championship in 2009-10. How does he compare to Backlund? Both players have been possession beasts since their early days in the NHL. As well, both went through injuries earlier in their career and experiences of not scoring enough early on to earn a top 6 spot until they were given the chance with elite talent. Ladd now finds himself, still a possession monster, playing on the left side of a pretty good 1st line in Winnipeg, averaging 50-60 points a year. Backlund is cementing himself into the top 6 for the Flames, appearing more and more to be molding into a 50-60 point guy going forward (pending he can stay healthy) while continuing to drive play.
Joe Colborne vs. Rene Bourque: In the 2007-08 season, Rene Bourque was 26 years of age and playing in his 3rd full season in the NHL. Colborne is 25 playing in his 2nd full season in the NHL. By the end of the 2007-08 season, Bourque had played in 183 games and amassed 75 points (.410 ppg). Joe, to this point, has played in 147 games and amassed 59 points (.401 ppg). Besides being late bloomers with comparable career scoring rates that had to cut their teeth in the NCAA and AHL before making the NHL, they share numerous other characteristics. Both are big bodies with soft hands who can look all-world on occasion but can go unnoticed for huge stretches.
Mason Raymond vs. Jason Williams: Similar offensive support players with very comparable numbers (career ppg of .484 over 500 games vs. career ppg of .498 over 455 games). Williams was 27 this season and Raymond is 29.
Goalies: The 2007-08 Blackhawks split their games between three goalies: Khabibulin – the seasoned veteran – played the lion’s share at 50, Lalime – career back-up – played 30 and Crawford – their up and coming future corner stone – got a taste of 5 games. Reference the Flames this year and you will see an identical split of games and nearly identical make-up of goalies with Hiller, Ramo and Ortio. For the curious, to this point Ortio appears to be on a faster track to the NHL compared to Crawford and has a vastly superior save percentage in the minors.
OFF. CONTRIBUTIONS COMPARISON
Here’s the breakdown of the top 10 scorers for the 2007-08 Blackhawks and the top 10 scorers for the 2014-15 Calgary Flames (assuming they keep the same scoring pace). Again we see some huge similarities, notably in the top 4. From spots 5 to 10, the Flames depth takes over as each position on the Flames outscores the corresponding position on the Blackhawks by an average of 15%. You could argue the Blackhawks stats are misleading as Toews had 54 points in 64 games and would have registered 69 points if he was healthy and if Havlat was healthy he would have registered 63 points. Conversely, if Mark Giordano had played the whole year, he was on pace for 65 points and if Backlund hadn’t started the year with an abdominal strain and then missed a pocket of time because of it he would have likely been in the 50-60 point department. All things being equal, the scoring is very comparable and balanced.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the fancy and non-fancy team stats that are tracked. I’ve highlighted the stats that are within half a percent of each other. What we can see is that Chicago and Calgary were both poor possession teams (Calgary is much worse but they’re both in the bottom half of possession teams). As well, we can see that both rode high shooting percentages (at evens and as a whole), scored at the same rate and got pretty respectable goaltending (Chicago took far more penalties than they drew which is the opposite of Calgary so we can see why their save % in all situations falls dramatically). Additionally, when we look at winning percentages, the teams have a nearly identical regulation win % (as of March 8 in both seasons). The difference in the total winning % is a result of Calgary having an incredible record in extra time as well as keeping over 59% of their games within a goal, compared to Chicago’s 45%.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT…
Toews and Kane turned into Olympians, All-Stars and Conn Smythe winners… very elite talent. Other than that, Havlat emerged as an elite scoring winger for a few years before injuries brought him back down to earth and Dustin Byfuglien became the type of unicorn every team dreams about – an enormous and strong player that can actually play, skate and shoot at an elite level and can play wing or defence seemlessly. There’s no duplicating that! They also added two impactful free agents in Brian Campbell – an elite offensive defenseman and Marian Hossa – an extremely elite two-way player that registered seven straight 70+ point seasons before signing with the Blackhawks.
I’d argue that the Flames already have their Brian Campbell in Dennis Wideman. Wideman is not at the possession level of Campbell but speaking offensively Wideman sits 17th in defenseman scoring over the past 5 years (Campbell sits 22). Two elite scoring talents of the caliber of Havlat and Hossa are the missing links.
Sam Bennett, the Flames 4th overall draft selection of 2014, is currently annihilating the OHL and could be a big offensive piece going forward. Assuming Bennett emerges as a stud in the NHL in short order, the Flames are probably one more elite offensive winger and a possession driving d-man short of competing seriously. With any luck they can continue trending like the Blackhawks of following years.