5 things: Getting tighter

1. The race

So that concern the Flames should have had about the Kings having a game in hand proved legitimate. Tuesday night Los Angeles made up that game and reveled in disemboweling a very strong Rangers team on the road. That brought the Kings into a nominal tie with Calgary for eighth in the West (the Flames hold the ROW tiebreaker, and likely will through the end of the season regardless of any reasonable combination of future results).

Obviously last night’s game brought the Flames back to one extra game played and they needed two Deryk Engelland goals to even lose in a shootout; Los Angeles can make up the ground and then some tonight with a win. But the problem with relying upon the Kings to not-win remaining games is that they sure don’t seem likely to make your wishes come true.

It’s funny, in a way, that an entire 82-game season is going to effectively boil down to a nine-game run here at the end, with neither having a particularly favorable schedule (and the Flames’ looking decidedly worrisome). One thing I forgot to note in discussing those schedules last week is that the Flames play these next five games on the road, and in the space of just eight days. That’s a lot of time on the plane in a little more than a week, and a lot of miles logged against mostly difficult opponents.

The Kings don’t have it much easier (at Long Island, at Minnesota, and at Chicago in a five-day stretch is brutal), and that’s what will make these last two and a half weeks so fascinating.

And my personal favorite twist: The teams both play at the same time on the final day of the season; that means they’re probably going to come off the ice to learn their postseason fates. Which is awesome no matter how it finishes.

2. The top/only line

Part of the reason the Flames have hit a little bit of a bumpy road of late and let the Kings back into the conversation once again, by the way, is that their scoring has dried up pretty well.

In the month of March, they have 21 even-strength goals in 11 games from their forwards (not including last night), which isn’t a bad number or anything. Until you figure out nine of those come from the top line of Jiri Hudler (five ES goals), Johnny Gaudreau, and Sean Monahan (two each), alone, which is a share that is entirely too large, and a point of significant concern.

Matt Stajan, Mikael Backlund, David Jones, and Lance Bouma all have more than one ES goal as well this month, but that was all early on. The team had just four 5-on-5 goals in four games from the 17th to 23rd. Two of them, unsurprisingly, were Hudler’s.

If the Flames are going to have a chance down the stretch here, they’re going to need contributions from someone who isn’t shooting like 17 percent this month. Or, I guess they could all do that. It’s worked before.

3. Murray gone

I was very glad indeed to see that Douglas Murray completed his pro tryout deal without so much as a sniff at ice time in a real NHL game. I get the impulse to add someone to help on the back end, but Murray was never going to be that guy. He is bad.

Anyone who even casually observes this league had to understand that any defenseman kicking around without a contract at this point in the season wasn’t going to be able to fill any sort of role vacated by Mark Giordano. But Murray was, like, the worst possible candidate. Again, that he didn’t get into the lineup at all is and should be a-okay with everyone whose name does not rhyme with Bouglas Burray.

But at the same time it does present the question of what the Flames value on a philosophical level. We’ve been told over and again that Brad Treliving values “advanced” stats and the Flames have one of the best guys in the league when it comes to that sort of thing, but a lot of the acquisitions made under Treliving kind of indicate that this may not be the case; Murray isn’t exactly the canary in the coal mine here. He acquired Bollig, he signed England to that contract, and the Flames continue to talk about how they’ve figured out the best way to subvert the league’s newfound and well-founded obsession with possession metrics. (Just a reminder here that they actually haven’t, by the way.)

I think we’re going to learn about how this team actually intends to be constructed in the near future. If they continue their efforts to “surround skill guys with beef,” then Flames fans are likely to end up sorely disappointed with the end result in a year or two. This is a philosophy actively shown, again and again, to result in losing teams. But if efforts are made to keep the Douglas Murray types the hell away from Monahan and Gaudreau and Brodie and Bennett, etc., and actually clear some of the garbage off this roster, then maybe we can believe the “Treliving is good at this, and totally not a Brian Burke puppet at all” hype.

4. Kenney Morrison

Late last week Calgary signed UFA college defenseman Kenney Morrison out of Western Michigan University, the same school that produced Danny DeKeyser. And you know me: NCAA hockey is kind of my thing.

So here are some brief thoughts on Morrison and his game, which I admit are a little limited because I think I only saw WMU on TV once or twice this year; they certainly didn’t venture east for me to get any sort of look in person.

The thing that stands out to you, apart from his size (he’s a big boy) is that for his size the kid can really move around the ice. He was probably the best free agent defenseman in college this season (I’d make an argument for one or two others, not the least of whom is Ohio State’s Drew Brevig. He’s of a similar size but a year younger than Morrison.)

The other thing with this kid is the goals and assists numbers don’t impress but boy he loves to shoot. He attempted 105 shots at evens this season, and 60 more on the power play, but only saw two and three, respectively, hit the back of the net. I’d be a little bullish on his chances to post more impressive numbers if he can generate those kinds of attempt numbers at the AHL level.

As with any college free agent, you have to temper your expectations somewhat, especially when they’re already 23. The good news — if you want to call it that — is that the Flames are kind of lacking on blue line prospects of any kind, so this is a cheap addition who, even if he doesn’t work out, costs nothing but money. The Flames light more of that on fire by dressing NHL dead weight in one game than they’ll pay Morrison over the next two seasons.

5. A few NCAA prospects still alive

Finally, speaking of the NCAAs, we’re now into the 16-team national tournament, and as usual the Flames have a few guys in the mix: Boston University’s Brandon Hickey, and Providence’s Mark Jankowski, John Gilmour, and Jon Gillies.

(Neither Tim Harrison’s Colgate club nor Matt DeBlouw’s Michigan State made the cut.)

Hickey’s BU team won the Hockey East regular- and postseason trophies — thanks for scoring 11 points in four games, Jack Eichel! — and will be playing with relative home ice advantage in Manchester, New Hampshire (about an hour north of Boston). They take the No. 1 offense in the country into tomorrow afternoon’s game against Yale, which has the best defense in the nation. Hickey played some pretty significant minutes for the Terriers in all situations throughout the playoffs, as has been the norm for a while. 

He had two assists on his team’s combined 20 goals in the four games in question, but obviously played a bigger role than that. He’s been in every one of BU’s games this season, and went 5-11-16 to date. I’ve said it before, and I’ve included quotes from his coach to that effect, but man this kid is good. Great mobility, great size, even better shot. Another thing I’ve said before: He’ll be an NHLer for a decade. I’ve seen nothing to dissuade me of that opinion.

Meanwhile, Providence was bounced in the second round of the Hockey East tournament (they had a bye in the first), and that at least means they’ve been rested for the last two weeks, right? They’ll more or less play host to a banged-up but dangerous Miami University just down the street from their home rink on Saturday afternoon.

Gillies is obviously the guy to watch for the Friars, as he’s up to .931 on the season; he was absolutely not the reason his club lost in three games to lowly UNH. In the three-game series, he allowed four goals in 197:40, and on 86 shots (.945). That the team in front of him could only score  four goals in support of his excellent performance is kind of the story of Providence’s season. So far he’s .942 at ES, which is obviously an elite number.

Jankowski, meanwhile, scored one of the four PC goals in that series, on one of his just three shots. It was only his sixth goal and 61st shot in 33 games this year. Moreover, he only attempted 83 shots in those games, total, and that’s the real issue. He’s the same age now as Johnny Gaudreau was when he scored 80 in 40 games last season, and he finished 12th on the team in shot attempts. 

Finally, there’s Gilmour, who missed the entire month of February with an injury. But he also scored the other of the two goals in Providence’s lone win in the series — his was the game-winner — and set up Jankowski’s. He’s up to 4-7-11 in 26, and plays a pretty important two-way role. He’s hardly the best defenseman on the team, but he’s perfectly good at this level and will probably get a chance to expand his role next season.

I’m not too optimistic about Providence’s chance to do a lot of damage in their regional; they’re going to struggle to score against three good possession teams, as goals have been a problem for them all year. Miami will be missing a pair of 20-goal scorers, meaning that their offense will run through UFA forward Austin Czarnik pretty much exclusively, but even if they win, they face the winner of Boston College and Denver (which I’d wager will be Denver).

Anyway, if you have college player questions, fire away in the comments, I guess.

  • Nick24

    Thanks for the update on the College prospects, Ryan, I always appreciate the insight. I was curious as to how long you think it will take for Morrison to get a sniff at the NHL? Is this a kid we should expect to see challenging for a spot next year, or will he likely need more time in the AHL to acclimatize to the pro game?

  • piscera.infada

    Thoroughly enjoyed the article, but I’d be very reluctant to point to Murray as some sort of a harbinger of the organization’s philosophy. Listening to the both Treliving and Hartley talk about it, it seemed to be a move that was of mutual benefit, but it was very apparent early on that the Flames had no intention of signing him. They gave Murray a chance to show other teams he could revive his career (which he can’t), and the Flames got an extra body for practice so that they could give their top-3 defensemen more time-off as a function of all the mileage they’ve picked up since the Giordano injury.

    Great to hear about Hickey. Are we looking at a three-year college career then? Or, is it looking like he’ll need all four?

    Any rumours on what Gilles is thinking at the end of the season? Does he turn pro, or?

  • Great insight on the college guys.

    Realizing he’s still a freshman, so very early to project, but what is Hickey’s ceiling? Is it serviceable bottom pairing, a reliable3-4 guy, or can he conceivably be a top-pairing defensemen if he continues to progress?

    From a non-Flames-related perspective, how good can Eichel get? I’m guessing you’ve seen a lot more of him than you’ve seen McDavid, so there may be some bias, but in 20 years could we all be saying that he was at least as good, if not better than the Erie Otter star? Could this be a Lafleur-Dionne 1-2 comparison more than a Lemieux-Muller?

    • i think hickey can be a 3-4 guy, yeah.

      as for eichel, the comparison i hear most often is to mike modano, but i obviously wasn’t around covering the sport when modano was 18. i will say he’s better in a lot of ways at 18 than gaudreau was at 20 last year. and if you can get a guy who’s even in the same ballpark as modano — a future HHOFer — then that seems pretty good.

  • Toofun

    I enjoyed today’s post and I thought your critique of the Flame’s was fair.

    A couple of things I’d add is:

    1. The team’s the Flames have faced lately have all been on a tear and playing their best hockey of the year.

    2. The Flames are holding up surprisingly well post-gio.

    3. If you told me at the beginning of the year that the playoff race would come down to a 10 game sprint with LA for the last spot, i’d have taken it.

    4. Don’t forget about Winnipeg. Like Calgary, they are doing great while missing key players but their remaining schedule is crazy hard. They could lose their next 5 in a row and nobody would be able to blame them.

  • Parallex

    What’s this? 5 things and none of them are whining about not being in the McEichel sweepstakes despite being exactly that bad? Whoo!

    Anyways, I definitely think Jankowski needs to assert himself as an offensive player. He has all the talent yet somehow the results (shot attempts) aren’t there. It makes no sense to me.

  • Parallex

    The sad part about the Jankowski pick is that there are, at least, five quality players they passed on by trading down that would be making an impact in the NHL right now.

    The good part is that the man primarily responsible for that pick now works for the Canucks.

    I’ll give Mark another year to underwhelm me before I write him off completely.

    • Parallex

      And with the way Sieloff has been apparently developing, trading down also increases the list of very good prospects we passed on. Imagine how much less painful the loss of Gio would be if we had a Cody Ceci on our team (and even Olli Maatta if you include the trade). Or a Teuvo Teravainen to add to our RW prospect depth.

      And without the Jan and on push to 9th place, we could easily have Filip Forsberg in our grasp. Imagine him AND Johnny on the same line with Monahan.

    • Parallex

      Your a loser using Ron Sutter’s actual name….expand your creativity and develop a unique name rather than use someone who has exceptional skill and knowledge of the NHL not only as a player but as a development executive….let me know if you need some help in developing your own name that you can hide behind….

      • RKD

        I used the name Ron Sutter once only because there was an article listing all of the people who work for the Flames, but it missed Ron. So my comment was something along the lines of, “What happened to me?” But I have no particular reason to keep using that name, so out of respect for the real Ron Sutter (and you, of course, Demchuk), I’ll just go back to a non-commenting reader. Go Flames go!