FN mailbag – March 26, 2015


As they charge towards their Cinderella play-off berth, the Flames can see the imposing figure of the Los Angeles Kings looming ever closer in the rearview mirror. It’s a bit like Ichabod Crane trying desperately to stay beyond the reach of the Headless Horseman. We’ll see if the Flames can reach the bridge in time or not. 

With this in mind, we discuss Joe Colborne, Deryk Engelland and what the Flames ideal line-up might look like in this week’s mailbag. 

Joe Colborne is a bit of popular topic right now because he had such a bad performance during such a crucial game on Wednesday night. 

The truth is, I don’t really know why Colborne keeps getting so much ice time. As I noted on twitter today, Colborne has just a single point in the entire month or March (a goal vs OTT) and just 4 points in his last 22 games stretching back to the start of February. That’s despite frequently averaging 15 minutes of ice or more. 

Colborne’s issues stretch well beyond the scoring numbers. As we’ve noted in this space previously, no regular skater on the team has a worse possession ratio this season. The Flames give up a lot of shots when Colborne is on the ice at even strength and they generate ver few. He’s not really good at either end of the ice and barely generates a shot per game on his own. 

If I was forced to guess, I would say the Flames are intrigued with Colborne’s package of skills and potential. That said, he’s taken a big step backwards this year in terms of performance and execution. At 25 years old, he’s starting to look more and more like a replacement level big guy who can win face offs and not much else. 

It is they then also win the draft lottery and draft McDavid. 

This will of course partially depend on what other options exist via free agency, trade or internal development. I’ll say that Joe Colborne should be bumped ASAP given what we discussed above. 

As for Mason Raymond and David Jones, they are both established middle tier NHLers who will probably stick around in the short term. They are both still better than internal options and unlikely to be replaced right away. That said, it should be an implicit goal of management to render both guys expendable in two years through whatever means possible. 

As noted in the recent RFA article, Paul Byron is one of the best play drivers on the team and should stick around through the rebuild given his age and price. 

Somewhat related…

I’d say it’s premature to anoint Poirier as a future producer in the NHL, although he had a very encouraging pro debut with Adirondack this year. If, however, he has the show in his future, I would expect him to be useful by 23-24 (about 3 years from now).

That’s a tough one because there’s so many young and relatively unknown commodities on this team. Let’s go with something like this (assuming everyone is healthy):

  • Gaudreau – Monahan – Hudler
  • Jooris – Backlund – Byron
  • Bouma – Stajan – Jones
  • Raymond – Shore – Ferland/Granlund
  • Bollig/Colborne

  • Giordano – Brodie
  • Wideman – Diaz 
  • Schlemko – Russell
  • Engelland

In many places, you’re simply picking your poison rather than making ideal choices. Such is the Flames roster currently. Backlund is the Flames best possession forward still, but deploying him in a support role makes more sense so you can free up a scoring unit like the Monahan line. The depth is still questionable, although moving out Bollig and Colborne and moving up Stajan makes things look a tab better. We don’t know much about Granlund, Ferland and Shore at this level yet, but they’re more intriguing than the two designated healthy scratches, whom we know are bad.

On the blueline, it’s Giordano/Brodie, then a bunch of guys, then Engelland. Diaz has the third best underlying numbers on the team amongst regular skaters, but he’s also faced really soft circumstances all year. Still, I’d like to move him up just to see what happens. Schlemko’s outcomes are also encouraging, but then again he’s face nobodies in limited minutes. 

With all due respect to both guys, probably not that important at all. Carroll was an overage 7th round pick (who nevertheless had a fine season in the WHL this year) and Smith was a Hail Mary “I hope he turns into Lucic” selection who is currently 6th on his junior team in scoring. 

Neither guy is likely to see much, if any, NHL time.

By and large, the Flames management group went with a “we gotta get bigger” philosophy in their player acquisition philosophy last year. They paid too much for Brandon Bollig and Deryk Engelland in terms of dollars and assets and selected a lot of beef in the draft outside of Sam Bennett (Smith, Carroll and Adam Ollas-Mattsson were all north of 6’3″ and 214 pounds). They also signed DEL tough guy David Wolf and invited Nolan Yonkman to training camp. 

I don’t know if this was in response to the perceived youth of the club, the general smallish size of the roster or the expectation of having to protect Johnny Gaudreau (maybe all three), but I’m guessing (hoping?) the focus shifts to real players and required depth rather than big body presence this off-season. 

Calgary can shift into another phase of the rebuild in 2015-16 if they can shore up key areas of the roster. They need more quality 5on5 players on the blueline and the RW depth at the NHL level in particular is fairly shallow, particularly with both Jiri Hudler and David Jones entering the final years of their respective contracts. 

Brad Treliving is going to have a lot of cap space in the coming summer and he’s a lot more familiar with his roster. We’ll see if that translates into meaningful additions or not.

  • Craig

    The two most frustrating things about this team are the usage of Engelland in Gio’s absence, and the usage of Colbort.

    Hartley has been so opposed to using Diaz with Brodie, even with Engelland continually making mistakes. Hartley should have run through a few defensive options as soon as Gio was hurt, when the games meant less.

    Colbort has flashes where he looks really good, the two problems are they are flashes, and they happen about every third or fourth game.

    Bring Stajan off the fourth, put Shore in instead of Bollig or Colbourne.

    Make some good choices Hartley!!

    • beloch

      Reading Kent’s article it’s not surprising this is the response, and likely many more will follow. As to your comment, first.

      Can’t disagree with either Engelland’s usage or Colborne’s. DE has stepped up big time and is playing some of his best hockey of the year. He’s been fairly strong in front of the net and very strong on the boards and breaking up the cycle. And as far as foot speed (non-issue) and getting the puck out I see he and Brodie have worked that pretty well. He’s also played versus top-level competition so I don’t buy the “Diaz is so great possession…” line cause it’s apples and oranges. Engelland is no Gio but he has done well. The coaching staff, who knows much better, thinks so too.

      Colborne hasn’t been scoring, granted. I’m thinking I might be looking at line mates, like Raymond and Bollig but that’s just me. JC is I believe one of, if not the best forward working and retrieving the puck off the boards and in the corners. He’s the bird dog getting the puck and then looking to feed someone for a shot, so I’m not really surprised his shots are low. I feel he’s a pretty essential element to the team, apparently so does the coach I.e. Ice time.

      Seems like I’m starting to hear a repetitive theme here, which is building a high Corsi-based team a la Kent and many others on FN advocate versus building a diverse, multi-functional team based on speed, skill, functional-toughness and defensively-responsible that BT and Hartley seem to be moulding the Flames into.

      It would be nice to utilize advanced stats as one of a number of tools to aid the process, rather than them being the end goal of the process. We’ve already had a terrific example of how much of a disaster and failure that focus is via Dallas Eakins and the Oilers the last couple of years up North. How anyone can truly advocate the same here is beyond me.

      • Southern_Point

        haha advanced stats wasn’t the reason the Oilers failed this year. When Andrew Ference is your best defenseman you have serious issues with your roster. He has never been anyone’s best defenseman so it was a bad idea to think he could be on the back side of his career. The Oilers failures are on MacTavish and Lowe not on Eakins or stats.

        People advocate having good stats because teams that have good stats win Stanley cups.

        Also next time you watch Colborne notice that all he does is skate around in circles ‘looking for the pass’ but never actually passes it to anyone, He just holds on to the puck forever until the play dies on his stick. He is the anchor to his linemates not the other way around.

  • Parallex

    Yeah, Joe Colbourne should be immediately demoted to the fourth line. I don’t hold any hope that they’ll sit him but in lieu of that I can hope that they’ll put him someplace where his minutes and competition will be limited and basically reserve him in case of shootouts.

  • Parallex

    I know a lot of people don’t like Engelland although he is not very talented he plays his heart out and sticks up for his fellow players…also I never here anything about Jankowski as to how he is doing. I really like the way the Flames are playing and the future looks good.

  • everton fc

    Good, balanced reporting Kent. As always.

    I think Engelland has done well in his increased role. What do people expect from a 32 year old 5/6 defender filling in for the probable Norris Trophy winner? He’s stepped up, in my opinion, as best he can. So I agree with Bruins post above – Engelland is one of the few Flames, along with Ferland of late, who will immediately stick up for their teammates.

    As for Colborne. Perhaps a change of scenery will do for him what it did for Comeau in Pittsburgh? I think Byron provides both more offencive potential, and more grit, albeit from a frame not much bigger than Scotty Nicol’s. “Just giver” on every shift from Byron. Not so, with Colborne. Poirier, Ferland, and perhaps Wolf, will all eventually push him out of the lineup, unless Byron does it first, which should be the conclusion of the Colborne discussion. Perhaps. It’d be nice to see this local kid come out of the “expectations” category, but maybe his ceiling has been reached??

    Byron, prior to injury, had a lot of Hartley’s trust. I hope that continues when he returns. He could provide that desperately needed offence from our other lines.

    The future looks bright. Ramo/Hiller/Ortio/Gilles – not other organization has this much depth between the pipes. Bennett, Ferland, Poirier, Shore, Arnold, Wolf, perhaps Hathaway, perhaps Agostino, throw in Byron perhaps, even though he’s no longer a prospect per se – that is some impressive depth as well, prior to the draft. I think Jones has done well here this season and if healthy for 70-plus games can still pot 20 goals. Bouma could be a 10-15 goal producer as well, on the same line. Bouma and Jones should be the bookends of our third line next season. Down the road, Arnold could centre that line, with someone like Ferland on the other wing when Jones’ days are over here. Still, if you can re-sign Jones for half the price, is he worth keeping, as he certainly has more upside than down, when healthy. Not sure where Raymond fits next year, or Shore, who’ll be re-signed for certain. Or Stajan, for that matter. But these are nice challenges to have for the organization.

    I think Jooris may be a 4th liner. A 4th line of Jooris, Arnold and Ferland would be interesting. I see Ferland taking over Bollig’s role, and eventually he’ll put up #’s – he’s got the skill, more skill than Bouma, and Bouma’s producing offence, though I must admit I am a bit concerned with Ferland’s offencive production since his concussion. It’s simply not been there. Could just be the role he’s playing here, which he’s playing well. Again, our depth is impressive, fast, somewhat “truculent”, and hungry as heck to get at it in the big games. A winning combination.

  • Greg

    Hey Kent, a question for the next Mailbag…

    Do the flames really have cap space to add much this year? Won’t any long term, big $ deals really hamper them next off season when Gio, Russell, Hudler, Gaudreau, and Monahan are all due? Before any of Wideman, Engelland, and Smid are off the books?

      • Greg

        I’m not so sure…

        You’ll still have to spend some money to replace Hiller. Backlund, Bouma, et al get a bump up next year, plus Brodie’s raise and Bennetts cap hit – say $5M extra spend next year even without replacing Jones.

        Gio, Johnny and Monahan could be another $8M between them. Retaining or replacing Hudler and Russel could easily be an extra $2M.

        Difference between the floor and ceiling is only $16M and it seems mostly spoken for until the other bad-value contracts clear out. Add in another big contract and a potential cap reduction if the dollar stays flat… I don’t really see the room to add much.

        At the very least, I think it’s worth looking at closer and would enjoy reading an article on it.

        • Parallex

          Hiller will likely be replaced internally (Ortio/Gillies) so cost controlled talent. Add Jones on to that the 16M floor/cap difference and it turns into 24M (If you include Hudler in there it becomes 28M).

          That’s should be more enough, even if somehow it’s not (and I really think it is) I don’t figure it would be awfully hard to do a short cheaper bridge deal with Monahan and Gaudreau and then just do an ultra quick second extension to give them their longterm deals.

  • Parallex

    Hartley’s continued usage of Colborne is tied to job preservation as it keeps BB happy. Hartley has shown he is willing to deploy (or not deploy) resources to keep BB (and to a lessor extent BT) happy. This also explains why Engellend continues to get ice time over Diaz, Bollig is repeatedly given starts over more skilled youngsters and why Sven was doomed the minute BB ripped him on becoming team President.

  • everton fc

    Went to the Dallas game.

    Yes, Colbourne sucks. No, he’s terrible along the boards. It doesn’t help that he’s very slow. He cannot keep up with Raymond at all.

    Stajan is also very slow. But he is smart so he knows where to be to help the play along. But holy crap there were a few times where he was at the opposition blueline, huffing and puffing away trying to get back into the Flames’ zone.

    • Burnward

      I’m not here to defend Colborne but he isn’t that slow. I heard when they were doing testing with computer chips in players skates Colborne had one of the more explosive accelerations out of players tested, which wasn’t small enough to scoff at. Anyone would look slow compared to Raymond..

      Anyway, I agree Colborne has slowed down his progression and his future is in doubt but I still wouldn’t hate a 4th line with him and Ferland on it as they could be effective big bodies that can cycle along the boards. Although when you look at the depth charts it becomes rather obvious Calgary may have to make a quantity for quality trade. We have alot of depth/3rd-4th liners on the big club and in the system.

      The only players that have solidified their roles in the organization are Monahan, Gaudreau, Hudler, Bennett (I know he is young but he is a stud player and everyone knows it), Bouma, Brodie, Gio, Russell, Wideman, Backlund if he continues to stay healthy and Ortio.

      That leaves 1 goaltending spot (Hiller or Ramo are front runners to continue filling this role for now), 3 defensive spots (Engelland is the only one guaranteed to fill this role for now, Schlemko, Diaz, Wotherspoon, Smid or some fresh blood will fill in for the remaining spots).

      Then you come to the forward ranks which gets so much more confusing cause there is alot of players to like but they are still finding their way (Jooris, Granlund, Shore, Ferland, Byron, Colborne), some decent prospects that will need more time but are trending towards being NHLers (Poirier, Klimchuk, Arnold, maybe Agostino etc.). Finally you have the vets who aren’t long term guys but placeholders (Stajan, Raymond, Jones, Bollig).

      I’m interested to see how this team will be built to fill in these gaps..

      • beloch

        Yay yippee I too can skate real fast for fun.

        When it matters Colbourne turns into a pile of goo. The freaking Kool-Aid man can go faster.

        And no, other players can go as fast as Raymond. Gaudreau and Monahan can fly out there – and what I mean by that is that they can get from point A to point B, deliberately and quickly. Players like Colbourne are dumb as rocks and cannot leverage their supposed talents.

  • Toofun

    The Flames have done great post-gio but it’s a coin-flip whether they will make the playoffs unless the goalies steal some games or we add to our secondary scoring. This brings the question of Colborne and Brodie/Engelland into focus.

    In my opinion Colborne has been asked to step up his game and he hasn’t found an extra gear to make it happen. Hopefully Paul Byron can come back and make a difference. He might not find the back of the net himself but he makes everyone else better and he makes Calgary much more dangerous on the transition game.

    Stick tap to Engelland for the 2 goals on Wednesday (one more and I might have had to buy a new jersey) and he’s also survived better defensively than I thought he would (Brodie deserves some credit for this). Having said this, Calgary needs to be more dangerous offensively and Wednesday aside, Engelland can’t do this. He doesn’t shift the flow of the game with a quick, smart, dangerous first pass and it results in a game of chip n chase for our forwards. That is why I would try pairing Brodie with Diaz. I don’t expect them to be better defensively, but I do expect better transition.

    Calgary needs to be more dangerous. As good as our first line has been (and they’ve been awesome)the team needs to regain it’s quickness. Drooping Colborne and Engelland’s minutes on the ice, is a neccessary adjustment.

    • mattyc

      Interesting comment, which I’m not sure would be more effective but definitely is worth consideration. Basically giving up on certain aspects of the game (strength on the boards…) for more speed and better transition. I would fully agree that the above would happen, not too sure that it would be a net positive impact. Since JC’s board work is most pronounced in the O zone but the line is still not scoring (line mates) the change might well be positive. Since the DE impact is mostly in the D zone I’m not so sure that’s a benefit to switch to Diaz, I would say not. As well, if Diaz is so adept at a quick transition and getting the offence going you’d be losing that on the match-up where he is now…

      The last stretch there have been many games where the top line has been shut down and I think that’s really a result of closer attention teams are putting on them plus several D strategies effectively targeting them. Likely at this time of season as the tough play ratches up and the refs swallow their whistles, it is harder and harder to break free as everyone is checking tighter and the ice is getting clogged.

      • Reidja

        Dude. Stop trying to convince people that Colborne is super valuable to this team. The eye test and every stat, counting and otherwise, indicate that he is above his head right now. I’m looking forward to a 2015-16 with a more responsible player who makes better decisions in his spot. At least everyone can agree that he got his shot – there won’t be any blaming a lack of opportunity or coach bias on this one.

    • Parallex

      Not on Brodie’s pairing, not playing significant minutes. Now that’s not on him… he’s not the one who makes the pairings or decides when he goes over the boards… that’s on Hartley. But on aggregate he’s just not a good player.

      I don’t care if he’s “playing his ass off” or “giving his all” unless he’s able to perform well while doing it and he’s not. A crappy hockey player that tries hard is still a crappy hockey player.

    • mattyc

      I expect him to be a $3M/yr dman he was signed to be. Clearly he’s not that player, and probably never was. I’m sure he tries hard, and is a nice guy. Unfortunately most players play their asses off, because they are professional athletes. Moreso, he’s probably not as good as other dmen getting less ice time than him, who are probably also trying really hard, and giving it their all.

      • Colin.S

        Your going to get a lot of trashes but you don’t deserve to, your comment is spot on. Engelland is not a 3 million dollar defencemen, not even close. He scores two goals and suddenly people come out of the woodwork to defend him and are somehow quick to forget his previous 60 games, the fact that those two goals were his first goals since March of last year and the fact that he’s been healthy scratched this year for all those defenders you mentioned that he’s getting more ice time then now. By EVERY single metric there is, Engelland is a bad player, the only player making Engelland look good is Smid.

        The ONLY thing you can take from Engelland right now is how good TJ Brodie is. He’s so good that he’s making a #7 D like a top 4 D to some people.

  • Megamind

    Maybe Genius Bob should just bench Colborne for one game? After all, that’s how terrible hockey players like Gaudreau and Backlund became so good.

    Bottom line on Colborne is he accomplishes a sum total of ‘zero’ when he’s on the ice. As Kent said, poor defensively, poor offensively. Add in not being at all physical and that makes for a prime candidate to ditch in the off-season.

    Anyone who watches Engelland without rose-colred glasses or a “the coaches are always right” mindset can see he’s terrible. He hasn’t stepped up, Brodie has. Brodie is carrying his @$$ all over the ice and his own game is now suffering from trying to do too much and having to be everywhere all of the time. What’s happening is that Engelland is so bad, that when he does do something well, it’s all some people see and it’s branded as “stepping up.” Wotherspoon is an instant upgrade over Engelland next season.

    I’m really hoping that:

    1) Burke was mostly responsible for moves like Engelland, Smith, Bollig;

    2) Treliving has seen the light and realizes that getting bigger for bigger’s sake is a huge fail.

    When a player has skill, speed, IQ – then size added to that is great. Let me know when Kopitar and Toews become available.

    Size for the sake of it, or “surrounding skill with beef” is old-school and doesn’t work. The “beef” has to be able to keep up with the skill, make plays, etc.

    Instead, how about just 4 lines of skill? That can’t possibly work though, having more talent than anyone else. Let’s see……who are the Flames’ best players again?…….oh yeah…. Gio, Brodie, Backlund, Gaudreau, Hudler…..yup, all monsters. Monahan would be one of those exceptional exceptions I’m talking about (highly skilled AND big!) and the reason I advocated for him so hard over Lindholm.

    Hopefully, 2015 is the year the team finally figures this out.

  • Christian Roatis

    On Smith and Carroll: While things aren’t Bennett-level encouraging, I think it’s a little irresponsible/premature to write off 19 and 21 year olds. This organization is all about development and I think both will have great opportunities to turn into NHLers as things move forward. Both could be menacing bottom-sixers if they’re nurtured properly, imo.

    • mattyc

      It’s not writing them off. Unfortunately, there isn’t much indication they’re going to turn out (in fact it seems quite unlikely). Here’s to hoping they buck the odds, but its irresponsible to be expecting them to turn out.

    • Megamind

      The problem with the likes of Kent is that they are so keen to make the numbers relevant that others who are “looking for guidance” take their opinions as gospel (like a cult).

      Let me just say that hockey is not a math equation.

      If you put Kent, Christian and all the rest of the FN team in a room and had them evaluate a game they would all have differing opinions.
      Same goes for us commenters.

      I just hate the mathematicians.

  • beloch

    Re: Colborne

    Why is Colborne getting ice time? He produces 1.76 points per 60 minutes of ice time, which is ninth best on the team.

    It’s worth noting that Colborne is already one of the most sheltered forwards on the roster. Moving him to the fourth line would actually mean giving him less shelter and worse line-mates to cover his butt. It’s certainly not a good thing that he’s one of the worst possession players on the team despite being one of the most sheltered, but his point production is what has kept him on the roster.

    What I see on the ice is a player who still looks like he’s 20. Colborne has a big frame but lacks the strength to drive it. Long limbs and a long stick mean low mechanical advantage. Big framed players like Colborne have to be significantly stronger than smaller players to be as strong on the puck. In terms of brute force, I’d bet Gaudreau could take Colborne’s stick off the puck every time. This is probably why Colborne loses the puck so fast if his opponents get close enough to the puck to go stick-to-stick with him. He only protects the puck well when he’s able to get his butt in between him and his opponent so he can use his giant reach.

    Colborne needs to go beast-mode in the gym this off-season. He’s nowhere near strong enough at present. However, how much muscle can we really expect him to put on at 25? He should be finished bulking up by this age.

    Most GM’s in the league are going to see two stats when they look at Colborne: 6’5″ and close to 30 points per season. That’s eminently tradeable. Given that the Flames are scoring pretty well right now but need to get better in terms of possession, Treliving should be shopping Colborne around this summer.