5 things: What’s ahead?

1. First the good news

As I write this the Flames are currently outside a playoff spot, having been demolished on Tuesday night by the St. Louis Blues — who to be fair demolish a lot of teams these days — while the Winnipeg Jets lit up San Jose 5-2.

That pushed the Flames a point out of the playoffs in the West as far as the wild card is concerned, and into the bad side of a nominal tie with Los Angeles at 81 points. The Kings had, at that point, played one game fewer. (They’re up to 82 after an overtime loss to Anaheim last night.) Now, one or even zero points over 12 games isn’t a lot of ground to make up in general, and even if you’re playing badly like the Flames are, you can fluke your way to a pretty easy situation down the stretch.

Especially if you’ve got the schedule Calgary does, which has to be just about the easiest schedules in terms of both quality of opponent and venue. This says both the Sharks and Canucks had it a little easier the rest of the way after Tuesday’s games, which isn’t really a factor in either case because San Jose appears too far back to catch the rest of the pack, and Vancouver doesn’t seem like a realistic target for Calgary to catch at this point.

So really what we have to look at for these final weeks of the season is who Calgary’s playing, where they’re doing it, and what other teams have to deal with down the stretch as well. That’s probably going to inform plenty about how the last dozen games go for the Flames.

2. Risk assessment

The obvious problem here is that the Flames get outpossessed almost every night. At this point only about a quarter of their games have seen them finish at 50 percent corsi or better, which is an awful number that unsurprisingly rivals those of Toronto and Colorado from the last two years. But the good news is that a lot of these games are against teams which are — while not “as bad” as Calgary in this regard — likewise not the best at keeping the puck. The question is how much better.

In the remaining schedule I have identified five games that seem like they’re going to be extremely tough outs for the Flames. At Minnesota, at Nashville, at St. Louis, hosting LA, and at Winnipeg. These are, not surprisingly, the only games left on the schedule against playoff teams, and four of the five are on the road.

They’ve played these five teams a combined 12 times this season, and gone 7-4-1. However, in those games they were also outattempted a combined 688-527 (43.3 percent to the Flames). This is an abysmal number. It breaks down to 43.6 percent against St. Louis, 47.6 percent against Minnesota, 40.2 percent against Los Angeles, 45.1 percent against Nashville, and 42.9 percent against Winnipeg.

That’s a lot of games you normally end up losing, and without Mark Giordano in the lineup you can’t exactly be thrilled at the prospect of playing any of those teams, especially given that both LA and Winnipeg are effectively four-point games — and are also the last two on the schedule, further creating cause for concern — which the Flames, on paper, have very little chance of winning.

3. Easy(?) Ws

And so it falls to the club to bank points in the other eight games they have left, and by my count it shouldn’t be too difficult to do that.

The other seven games — including this mega-easy four-game home slate coming up — is hosting Philadelphia, Columbus, Colorado, and Dallas all in a row, then visiting Dallas, visiting Edmonton, and hosting Arizona.

Against these teams the Flames are 10-3-0, but of note is that eight of those total wins came against Edmonton and Arizona alone. So maybe you call that four easy and almost guaranteed points. And altogether their possession share in those 13 games was a much-better-but-still-not-good 48.1 percent. The breakdown is as follows: 38.1 percent against Philly, 51.4 percent against Columbus, 52.9 percent against Colorado, 43.1 percent against Dallas, 50.1 percent against Edmonton, and 47.2 percent against Arizona.

Now, if you get creamed like Calgary did in its games against Philly and Dallas — which they actually split — you deserve to lose. But those were also weighing the team’s possession as a whole down pretty considerably. Factor in the losses of personnel suffered by Arizona at the deadline, and maybe you’re starting to think that the numbers can come up against the Coyotes as well.

I still see the Dallas games as being tough ones to win (though their goaltending situation should be encouraging for Calgary’s shooters) and Philadelphia poses a bigger threat than their standings position implies — again, Calgary shouldn’t have won that game; it got destroyed — but other than that, well, I think 10 points can be had of a possible 14 in a realistic scenario.

The key is banking at least five or six in these next four games. If the Flames can’t do that at the very least, the road the rest of the way looks like this:

  • at Minnesota
  • at Nashville
  • at Dallas
  • at St. Louis
  • at Edmonton
  • vs. Arizona
  • vs. LA
  • at Winnipeg

And man that looks like a pretty tough stretch. Two losses in these next four home games would be disastrous.

4. The other guys

Of course, all this means the other guys have to take care of business as well, and really the only teams left in contention for Calgary at this point are, as I mentioned, LA and Winnipeg.

Now, we know they’re pretty good teams, so let’s examine their schedules down the stretch as well to see what a reasonable expectation is.

For LA, we’ve got:

  • vs. Vancouver
  • at New Jersey
  • at New York
  • at Long Island
  • at Minnesota
  • at Chicago
  • vs. Edmonton
  • vs. Colorado
  • at Vancouver
  • at Edmonton
  • at Calgary
  • vs. San Jose

That’s a bear of a schedule. Eight of 12 games on the road, and against almost nothing but playoff teams. It’s hard to envy them this dozen games (especially if you include the Anaheim game from last night). But with that having been said, the Kings are really good and they can at least play with any damn team in the league. More often, they should be able to push even some of the tougher road opponents around. At home, they’ve probably got a pretty easy go of things. I remain very optimistic that they make the playoffs with ease.

Winnipeg doesn’t have it much easier:

  • vs. St. Louis
  • vs. Washington
  • at Edmonton
  • at Vancouver
  • vs. Montreal
  • vs. Chicago
  • vs. New York
  • vs. Vancouver
  • at Minnesota
  • at St. Louis
  • at Colorado
  • vs. Calgary

Plenty of home games (only five on the road, in fact) but also not very easy. They won Tuesday night but that was a rarity given how they’ve been playing lately. You really just can’t see a lot of wins in this stretch. The question is whether the one-point pad is enough to stave off the Flames, but I’m not so sure.

5. Slim chances

If I had to bet, I’d say that the Flames are, at this point, really only chasing Winnipeg. Everyone else is irrelevant; I can’t see them catching either Vancouver or Los Angeles. So the Jets have the harder schedule in a lot of ways, even if they do have plenty at home.

Would you be surprised at all if the teams’ last game of the season — head-to-head — is a “win-and-you’re-in” situation? I’m pretty bearish on the Flames’ chances to make it (and neither are the numbers), but if they can get it to a one-off at the very worst, I think they take those odds.

  • MattyFranchise

    Now before someone starts slamming you I just want to stop at the first sentence of the second point.

    Do the Flames really get out possessed? Or are they just getting out corsied? I can see an argument for both sides, in fact, once I get some spare time on my hands I’m going to look at some of the games I have taped and track zone times to try and prove this, but as far as I know the idea behind corsi is that the team with the higher value shoots more ergo they have the puck more.

    What I want to look at is shot attempts vs shot quality, quality cycling, and just generally not letting the other team have the puck whether you shoot it or not.

    Our friends up north even addressed this: Ebs is on record saying that Eakins wanted a better corsi so he was demanding they shoot more on the power play but under Nelson their corsi has gone down but their PP% has gone up simply because they are looking for better shot attempts rather than just shooting for shooting’s sake.

    The post was on Oilersnation a couple weeks ago but I don’t have a link to it on hand.

    Basically, I feel they we are coming into the age where corsi is slowly being proven as not telling the whole story. Same thing with +/- which everyone except the NHL seems to ignore these days.

  • Burnward

    Wow Ryan. You were surprisingly gentle. Makes me think that one day that hard exterior will crack and you’ll learn the joy of cheering for the underdog.

  • piscera.infada

    Interesting that the game against St. Louis where the Flames were “absolutely demolished”, all the analytics actually point to that game being a great deal closer than the final score indicated. I was at the game and I thought the game was actually pretty close aside from Elliott playing a hell of a game in goal. When I got home, I looked at the analytics, they support that.

    Corsi at evens was 51% for St. Louis (that’s 4 additional individual corsi events more than the Flames). Blocked shots were actually even (at evens). St. Louis had 3 more scoring chances than the Flames. The one area where the Flames were actually dominated was in the faceoff circle.

    All in all, considering the opponent, I think you can take a small amount of comfort in how they actually played the game with regards to possession.

    • Colin.S

      Very interesting, the only thing I would want to see is what about Score Effects? What was Corsi like at 0-0, 0-1, 0-2, 0-3 and 0-4. It’s been shown that trailing teams generally just start peppering the other team while the other team goes full turtle.

      • piscera.infada

        To my eye, the game was remarkably close until St. Louis scored the 3-0 goal with roughly 10 minutes left in the third. At that point, it was almost like the Flames gave-up and not much was actually generated in terms of offensive-zone possession. St. Louis just kept them in the neutral zone. So while I understand score-effects, it didn’t seem (at least by eye) to be a massive change. Sure, when they were down 1-0 and 2-0, there was push back, but I didn’t think they were dominated in score-close scenarios.

        I mean, they were down 1-0 going into the third, and everyone in the dome thought the Flames still had a very good chance of beating a very good team. Elliot really did make some huge saves when the game was scoreless. One or two of those gets by him, and that game could have been a lot different.

        Again, just my thoughts on the game. St. Louis is arguably the best team in the league. I wasn’t at all surprised by the final outcome, but I expected the Flames to get completely roasted in possession.

        ***Edit: After looking at score-close situations the Flames corsi was 48% (with 4 less corsi events). So again, not a huge difference.

  • de Animoe

    This is certainly a make or break stretch for the Flames and much has been made of the Flames terrible possession numbers and how we are defying the odds this year. The team has been compared to the Colorado Avalanche from last year (who were extremely lucky and have cratered this year) or the Toronto Maple Leafs (extremely lucky until they crater every year).

    But recently on this site a comparison was made to the 2007 Chicago Blackhawks. It was a very apt comparison as Chicago was three years away from a Stanley Cup and just showing signs of having the right pieces in place.

    So which is it? Are we doomed to fall dramatically as some predict or are we on the way to winning a cup in and around 2017 or 2018?

    I think we are on an upward trajectory and the Flames are well positioned for many years of league dominance.

    Yes we have an extremely high shooting percentage. Yes we have extremely low possession rates. However, given that the core of the team is young, and just starting to enter their most productive years, (and in some cases yet to arrive), I think we can look forward to those possession numbers moving north over the next few years.

    Monahan, Gaudreau, Bennett, Backland, Poirier, Grandlund – This is the young core that will drive possession higher. Will the Flames’ shooting percentage go down? Absolutely. But possession will go higher to offset the shooting percentage reverting to the mean or at least a more reasonable level.

    As this transition occurs, the Flames have all the building blocks to continue the upward trajectory.

    Quality Veterans – Especially Stajan and Hudler but also Jones and Raymond. They are all are pitching in and will do so until the young core hits their prime in the next couple of years

    Defence – The core is as solid as they come. Brodie, Giordano, Russell and Wideman. Will they be as solid in three years? Brodie is still young so there are no worries there. Russell will just be hitting 30. Gio and Wideman will be hitting the end of their peak years but I suspect we will not see a huge drop off. Now the last paring is a huge hole that will need to be filled as the team peaks in a couple of years. This is where Treliving needs to focus. The third D-paring is currently an adventure every time they hit the ice. Engelland is horrid, I cringe every time Brodie has no choice but to pass it to him. Who will step up? Is it Wotherspoon? An as yet to be added player? This will be important as it is here that we will find the defenceman that may have to step up if one of the top pairing such as Wideman falters as they age.

    Goaltending – Hiller and Ramo are solid but in three years I expect to see good prospects such as Ortio or Gilles leading the way. The key here is to not give a Hiller a big contract. History has shown that locking into a big goalie contract for extended years adds little. It reduces cap flexibility and it is a rare goalie that has outperformed a big contract.

    Which brings us to . . .

    No stupid contracts – Yes Engellland is bad but he will be gone when the rest of the team is peaking, sames goes for Smid. Currently the Flames have nothing on the books that will stop the team from signing the young core as they come off their ELCs.

    Cap space – We have oodles of it. We will be able to sign the young core and also add pieces as the current elder statesmen are transitioned out.

    Coaching – What does it really add? I believe all the strategy and systems a coach wants to employ or tries to employ is all for naught if the players cannot execute either because of lack of physical skill or lack of hockey sense. You can’t teach speed and you can’t fix stupid.

    But what Hartley has done is instill a work ethic and a conditioning scheme that for the last two years has made the Flames the hardest working team in the NHL and one that beats teams in the late going because they still have the legs. For a rebuilding team this is invaluable. When we hit the peak in 2017 or 2018 this work ethic will only magnify the skill of this team.

    If you don’t have every player putting it all on the line, skill does not shine through (see Oilers, Edmonton) and you get locker room chaos (see Leafs, Toronto).

    So in the end will we make the playoffs this year? Will we continue to ride the high shooting percentage and defy the odds? Really it does not matter. Am I counting down the games, figuring out what ones we can win that will get us to the magic 95 points that will likely mean a playoff spot? Absolutely! But in the end if we fall just short, the future is bright. The Flames will continue their upward trajectory, our possession will improve and we are going to have many years of playoffs to look forward to.

    Besides if we don’t make the playoffs I am absolutely certain the hockey gods will reward the Flames for choosing the higher road. The non-tank road.

    We will win the draft lottery!!

    • Parallex

      IMO the defense is not “solid as theY come”. We’re blessed with a legit top pairing (Brodano) but after that we have talent that’s murky or poor. The team needs to make significant investments in blueliners (both now and for the future) to truly say it’s as solid as they come.

      That’s why I want Franson this offseason, Sign Franson, bump Wideman to the third pair (keep him as PP quarterback), bump Engellend to #7. Do that and you’ve improved 60% of every game the Flames play. Draft a lot of high upside blueliners this draft so that when the vets we have on the blueline start to drop off/sign elsewhere in FA we have internal replacements at the ready.

        • Parallex

          No, Russell & Wideman are murky… it’s Smid & Engellend who are poor.

          Russell and Wideman look better then they are because Giordano and Brodie are so boss. Giordano and Brodie give them easier comp, easier starters, easier minutes.

      • piscera.infada

        Completely agree with the thoughts on the need to improve defense and how to do, but what would Franson cost in free-agency? Would the Flames have any legitimate hope (outside of backing up the Brinks-truck) of making it happen?

        • Parallex

          Depending on the size of the truck I would be fine with backing up the Brinks truck. I think he’ll probably get similer to Boychuk and I’m fine with paying that as we have lot’s of cap space now and by the time we really need more Smid, Engellend and Wideman will all be off the books replaced by cost controlled talent (and Franson is 4 years younger then Boychuk).

      • de Animoe

        All good points.

        I think Russell has been outstanding and Wideman as been “OK”. He definitely is not outplaying his contract.

        As a second pairing I think a lot of teams are worse.

        But your points about what needs to be done are spot on. Defence is the major gap we have after the first pairing and Russell.

        We have two to three years to find a fix so we don’t have 10-15 minutes a game with two guys that cannot move the puck on the back end.

        Franson would be nice.

        Gio Brodie

        Russell Franson

        Wideman Wotherspoon

        England — AHL

        Nice!!

  • Not sure how you say almost all of LA games are against playoff teams & being a bear of a schedule. Jersey, Edm twice, Calgary, Colorado & San Jose are all non playoff teams. That is half. LA has owned Vancouver & play them twice. I think they catch Vanc.

    You are right, Winnipeg is the only target & blockage to Calgary making the playoffs. If they had big Buff, Little, Myers, Perrault healthy, I would be beating the tank nation drum with you to try & improve your lottery odds & at least get a top 10 pick. Colorado & San Jose have the ability to get back in this but only if they get hot. Maybe one of them but both is unlikely.

  • ville de champignons

    One thing I’ve always kind of wondered in regards to high Corsi teams… if they don’t correlate well to quality scoring chances, aren’t they the ones who are actually the most lucky of all? I think it would be fair to say that a team that peppers as many shots as possible with low shooting percentage would be a much luckier team than one with a lower Corsi but much higher quality chances. The former would be a team that shoots as many pucks as possible hoping for a goal, whether a tip-in or screened shot etc. (sound like a Darryl Sutter team) versus a team that likes to create plays to score goals (typically a more talented team perhaps?). You could outshoot a team 30-10, have an amazing Corsi, and still lose 5-0 if you give up juicy scoring chances on your backend but throw as much rubber towards the net on the other side of the rink.

    I’m not saying that Calgary is more talented than an LA or vice versa, I’m just making an argument that Corsi doesn’t tell the whole picture. I think you need to do more in depth analysis of advanced stats to get a much clearer picture, and even then, there are still always going to be factors of luck or freak incidents that prevent hockey from being as clear cut in advanced stats as baseball is. This is why Ryan Pike and Kent Wilson’s assessments with advanced stats actually have some meaning to them, and why it’s the same old same old 5 Things article from Lambert.

  • ville de champignons

    Overall I think this was a fair assessment of the way things are for the Flames. I only read the ariticle once, skimmed it really, but I think this is the first Lambear article that avoided – entirely – the word “regression”. Oh, and they will make it.

  • RedMan

    CORSI is the new +/- but just a bit more sophisticated.

    it tells a story that requires more details to be useful. Like plus and minus it can be used to understand a situation, given the context.

    • DoubleDIon

      Agreed. Did you read what that one guy posted about Xdiff and look into it? Seems like brilliant and accurate stuff to me.

      FWIW, the flames are 22nd in the league in Xdiff and 28th in corsi. I think they are somewhere in the range of the 18-23rd best team in the league. So it makes a lot of sense to me.

  • Parallex

    Off-topic…

    Bob McKenzie
    ‏@TSNBobMcKenzie 31m31 minutes ago CGY is strong front runner to land college UFA right-shot D Kenney Morrison of Western Michigan University.

    … hope that ends up happening.

    • Burnward

      Dude’s got some solid scouting reports. Very nice.

      Here’s from Hockeysfuture:

      Kenney Morrison, D
      Junior, Western Michigan University (NCHC)

      Western Michigan junior Kenney Morrison was one of the most sought-after collegiate free agents last year. His return to Kalamazoo and developmental progress this season has simply enhanced his free agent stock this year.

      The Lloydminster, AB native currently co-leads the Broncos defensemen with 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 32 games to date. He has been especially dangerous on Western Michigan’s power play this season, where three of his five goals have been scored.

      Morrison is a 6’2” and 205-pound two-way defenseman who possesses arguably the hardest shot in all of college hockey. To say that his shot is a cannon might be an understatement. The sheer power and velocity that Morrison’s shots possess make them difficult for opposing goaltenders to stop. What is different (and better) this season is that Morrison has added some variety to his shooting arsenal, attributes not lost on NHL scouts.

      Two notable areas that make Morrison an even better defenseman this season are his maturity and more well-rounded game. He has established a nice balance between his rugged side and playing a more sound, disciplined game. Morrison is making smarter decisions, not only in his puck movements but in his positioning, as well. His noticeably stronger frame makes him more effective in containing opposing forwards without coming at the expense of his superb mobility.

  • DoubleDIon

    Corsi out of context is no more relevant than +/- out of context. I was a believer in corsi stats but it’s losing me slowly as no one wants to talk about the context.

    If you block a lot of shots (flames do), hit a lot of stretch passes (flames do) and have a good penalty differential (flames do) it explains a lot of the corsi/record incongruence.

    Xdiff is a much more useful stat. Advanced stats people are starting to become dinosaurs in my books because they just cite corsi over and over and aren’t diving deeper into things like Xdiff that are better representations of on ice play.

    • Parallex

      That last statement is silliness. If you think Advanced stats people just cite corsi over and over and aren’t diving deeper into things then I don’t think you’re putting much effort into reading advanced stat work.

      • DoubleDIon

        Have you read nations articles lately? I read every article here and at ON. There is a literal belief that corsi translates directly to wins and losses in the long term. Corsi doesn’t really even measure possession. It measures shots directed to the net, including blocked shots and misses.

        If they were diving deeper they’d be citing xdiff over corsi. Every article I’ve read here that speaks to advanced stats has used corsi as a measuring stick and not a single one has mentioned xdiff unless you count the comments section.

        Maybe you’re the one who isn’t reading? Usually you’re a good poster, but you come across quite arrogantly at times.

        • Parallex

          Meh, I got called silly earlier for merely asserting that our bottom four talent is murky/bad… I’m merely a product of my environment. With regards to xDiff I don’t see why something without much/any peer review that lacks full accounting of it’s data set should be given the same standing as corsi/Fenwick and it’s assorted offshoots To say nothing of discussing it “over” which would imply some manner of supiority. Something I would certainly not assign without significant review by folk smarter then I. Let me make a suggestion… if you think xDiff is a valid innovation forward/send the link to that paper to the folk at Hockey Prospectus or Tom Tango or other credible folk who look at that stuff at least semi-professionally.

        • Parallex

          Its a proxy for zone-time (possession). It also correlates strongly with winning.

          Correlation DOES NOT EQUAL causation. If anyone is saying increasing Corsi will directly lead to more, winning (because of the corsi), that isn’t true.

          We don’t know whether a good corsi leads to more winning, or winning leads to a good corsi.

          However, its not even debatable at this point. A team with good corsi, and therefore puck possession, will likely win the majority of games.