Flames will need to find ways to utilize depth

There are some things you just can’t do anything about. Mark Giordano’s injury is one of them, although Gio seems to be trying his best to get around that. Raphael Diaz’s injury is another. So is Lance Bouma’s. Players are going to get hurt in contact sports, and you need to learn to live without them.

The Flames are doing that right now, albeit just barely.

Flash back to the majesty that was the playoff-clinching game against the Los Angeles Kings. Jonas Hiller was amazing. The top line came together to score just as much as they needed to. The patchwork defence did what they had to do.

Corey Potter played 2:26. Total.

The Flames looked at the best possession team in the league, hungry and desperate and needing a win to stay alive in the playoff race, and decided to play with five defencemen. TJ Brodie played 29 minutes. Dennis Wideman, 28. Kris Russell, 27. Deryk Engelland, 25.

That’s pretty massive, and has to be pretty exhausting. Hence a bunch of sitting for the final meaningless regular game of the season.

But now it’s playoff time, and in the playoffs, you simply play, no matter what.

Sparse ice time

Potter didn’t play 2:26 in the first game against the Vancouver Canucks. Instead, he played 3:56. He had all of one shift in the third period.

Again, the Flames effectively decided to utilize just five defencemen, but this time, in a playoff game.

Wideman played 30 minutes. Russell, 29. Brodie, 26. They’ve already been doing this all season; can it last in the playoffs, too? Especially when they’re facing the same team for however many games in a row, a team with more chances to study their specific habits and usage and learn to exploit it? After all, without Giordano or even Diaz, the Flames are essentially down a man on the backend.

Brandon Bollig played 6:51. Markus Granlund, 7:20. Josh Jooris, who initially started out as their linemate, was somewhat spared, ultimately getting 10:16 of ice time.

Jooris is a capable player. The Flames, throughout this season, have been capable of running four functional lines. A touch less so at the moment thanks to injuries, but there are easy solutions to that. There have been easy solutions all season long, starting with the most obvious answer: bite the bullet, admit you messed up on the Bollig trade, and simply stop playing him.

Or, you know, take a player who you said could totally handle a bigger role. A player who averaged 9:11 of ice time over three seasons and 125 games with the Chicago Blackhawks. And then give him an even smaller role: an 8:36 average with his new team. And continue to act like there are no other solutions but to play your depth defenceman signed for basic roster security purposes.

It’s working now, but pretty much everything about the Flames is inexplicably working now. How long does it last?

Play someone who can play

Mason Raymond is right there. Mason Raymond has not been super good as of late. He also plays more minutes than Bollig, and has a tendency to be able to actually score on occasion.

Put it this way: you need a goal. You have two players to choose between. Who do you choose?

With the top line struggling so far, and the Flames absolutely needing them to come through, the most balanced forward lineup possible is crucial. Balanced does not include playing guys for five minutes. That’s the opposite.

Balanced is what the Canucks did, where their least-played guys got 13 minutes, and their most, 22.

While this isn’t entirely anyone’s fault – Paul Byron looks like he may come back any day now, and then it will be the fault of the roster-maker – it’s not exactly the best strategy to go on. 

Especially on a heavy-minutes position such as defence.

Russell and Wideman have had to play above their heads all season long, and that only got compounded when Giordano went down. The occasional 24-minute game turned into increasingly frequent half hour-long ones. Brodie has been forced into this role as well.

It’s not as though the Flames’ top defence prospect isn’t available, and hasn’t been available multiple times throughout the season, yet always sat so Potter could play seven minutes, if he was lucky.

This is not to speak ill of Potter at all, but it’s clear his coach does not trust him. And he’s right not to. So what’s the worst that’s going to happen, here, exactly, if someone else takes Potter’s place? Wotherspoon plays four minutes in a playoff game and… then what? There are still five defencemen actually being used, three or four overly so, but at least it’s better than sticking with what we already know isn’t exactly working. Maybe the new guy would show something better, and the Flames can go back to six defencemen.

How long does this last?

Either until bodies come back, including Giordano’s apparently inevitable miraculous recovery, or the Flames exit the playoffs, whenever that may be.

Rookies have already overtaken the spots of lesser players on the roster. Jooris is one of them. Ferland, at least at present time, appears to be another. Devin Setoguchi and Brian McGrattan were banished. Bolig seems immune, albeit Bouma’s injury likely has a lot to do with that.

Meanwhile, Wotherspoon has been recalled four times throughout the regular season, and has gotten all of one game: a game in which anyone of consequence (re: everyone Hartley has to entrust 30 minutes of ice time to because there is absolutely nobody else to take it) was not playing.

Something happened with Wotherspoon in between his season-ending shoulder surgery from last season and whatever has been going on this season.

The entire team is getting growing and improving; soon enough, Bollig’s physicality won’t be able to save him a spot in the lineup. Definitely not with kids who are already better than him coming along.

Poor Markus Granlund is left without option, simply clearly not NHL-ready just yet. One day, probably. Now? No.

And while the Flames do have better immediate solutions for persistent problems, instead, they ignore them, and continue following through with decisions that have brought the Flame success in spite of them, rather than because of.

Exhibiting no trust in a player but continuing to play the player in the face of other solutions is somewhat odd, though. Let’s see how playing down a few guys plays out over a best of seven where the opposition doesn’t do that.

  • Lordmork

    Bob Hartley always seems to be making one inexplicable, indefensible lineup decision or another. Backlund on the 4th line? Check. Pretending Engelland is anything other than a boat anchor for Brodie? Check. Running the team with five defencemen when our top defensive prospect sits for endless games? Check.

      • Craig

        Just because this team is outperforming expectations doesn’t mean it can’t be improved upon. There are many things ( Engelland, Bollig) that the Flames are winning in spite of not because of.

  • JohnyR

    I think once they get back to Calgary Hartly will use the lesser guys a little more. Wotherspoon hopefully will get in and have a chance to earn some trust.

    • Greg

      I doubt Hartley puts him in now. He’s repeatedly shown throughout the year that he has next to no confidence in Wotherspoon.

      Wotherspoon has spent a lot of time on the Flames roster, yet he’s only played 1 game, and that was the meaningless game 82 in Winnipeg.

      Since Hartley has barely used Wotherspoon all year, I don’t think hoping for him to play Wotherspoon in a playoff game seems valid.

  • Parallex

    Yeah, Bollig didn’t really do anything out there… I wouldn’t be unhappy if Shore and Raymond drew in over Bollig and Granlund.

    I also wouldn’t mind if Colborne got reassigned to a different line since besides his last shift he looked like he was holding back Bennett & Backlund all night.

  • beloch

    If the first game of this series is any indication, there isn’t going to be much goonery. Derek Dorsett is a hot-head who has more than twice the penalty minutes of any other Canuck. When he laid an ugly hit on Russel it wasn’t Bollig who stepped up, but Ferland. Unfortunately, Ferland dropped his gloves before Dorsett could engage with his inner pugilist and the refs nipped off the encounter just as Dorsett was entering the shoving stage. It seems as though the Canucks’ bad boys have been told to keep it civil and the refs are ready to pounce on anything that resembles a fight. What purpose does Bollig serve if other players are capable of performing what reduced enforcer duties are necessary?

    Bollig and Granlund played just 7 minutes each and Potter played 4 minutes, while not one Canuck played under 12 minutes. The reason this is so bad is that the Flames are relying on the ‘nucks tiring out late in the game. The Canucks were great in the first, but two periods of the fastest hockey they’ve played all season was too much for their aging stars. Some ‘nucks fans think Desjardins botched the game by not playing the Sedins more in the third, but the more probable truth is that Desjardins knew they were out of gas. The Flames pulled away in the third thanks to superior conditioning. The Flames were able to do that in the first game after a decent rest, but how long can they keep doing it if they insist on playing Bollig and Potter? (Granlund will likely improve with better linemates).

    Raymond in for Bollig is a no-brainer. Raymond at his worst is still better than Bollig at his best if there are no faces to be punched. Wotherspoon, on the other hand, was worse than Potter in last Saturday’s game. That doesn’t inspire confidence. However, Wotherspoon is a rookie who might take big steps forward if given the chance. Given how critical endurance is going to be in this series, a player who can’t be trusted with more than 4 minutes a night is unplayable. Hartley must either play Wotherspoon or go with an extra forward.

    • Greg

      I think putting Wotherspoon in would be the right call, but Hartley seems to have no confidence in him.

      Hartley’s hesitance to play Wotherspoon speaks volumes about his lack of trust in him, since Hartley isn’t exactly brimming with confidence for the only other alternative in Corey Potter (only 3:56 TOI last night for CP).

  • Greg

    I dont about Wotherspoon. Not sure he is ready although I think he will be an NHLer one day. He needs to learn the system before he can play. He and Ramage looked absolutely lost out there against Winnipeg.

    I know a lot of the writers and posters here think they know better than Hartley and Treliving… which is funny. Players have to earn a spot. No one is super happy about having to rely on Engelland and Bollig. These guys are stop gaps. It is still about the long term and slowly bringing youth into the lineup… exactly like what was done with Ferland this year. It will be a slow process to replace Engs and Bolls but it will happen when the kids are READY!!!!

    If you throw in kids who arent ready you get a mess like the oilers. This rebuild is a long slow process… figure it out people.

    • trox

      Yes!

      Given Hartley’s refusal to give Wotherspoon a shot, the third pairing might be a pipe dream (although to be clear, one I 100% agree with).

      But if Hartley refuses to give ice time to Potter or Wotherspoon, the most obvious short-term fix is to adjust the second pairing. Play Schlemko with Brodie and give him 15+ minutes a night. That will at least take some of the minutes off the backs of Wideman and Russell.

  • Burnward

    Good news: per Sportsnet

    “I’d like to clarify once and for all: We didn’t ask the B.C. Lions for Travis Lulay’s shoulder pads. Sean Monahan has no shoulder injuries,” Hartley said. “I’ve had so many texts and emails from fans from Calgary because they got this somewhere that Monahan has a shoulder injury. We had a plan with him. This kid has played 22, 23 minutes the last month of the season. We were making a push to make the playoffs and I felt that in many games, he was our best player. When you want to win the big games, your best players need to be on the ice.

    “I sat with him and he wanted to keep playing, but I shut him down. I shut him down because we want to be in this for the long haul and obviously we’re going to need all of our injuries. Sean Monahan is not injured.”

  • Burnward

    Hey FN crew, is it possible to request a daily update page during the playoffs where we can discuss the daily events?

    I love the content, but miss the communal feel.

    And no, Lambert sure ain’t cutting it for that.

  • beloch

    This is gravy time right now, no need to throw Wotherspoon out there in NHL playoff games where one mistake could haunt him for the rest of the summer. Hopefully Diaz is back soon, but either way there is no onus on this team to win this series, other than that it will be awesome.

    If we sweep the Canucks and continue to avoid overtime we can get the main D some needed rest.

  • RKD

    I would like to see Schlemko’s ice time bumped up, I’m okay if they don’t play Potter too much. Bad d-men can easily get caught on goal on a line change especially on the road when you don’t get the match ups. I would keep Wotherspoon as a reserve, it may not hurt to replace Potter with Diaz. Diaz gives you more than Potter. I do want to see Raymond and Byron in the lineup, they would add more speed and create some more havoc for the Canucks. Take Bollig out, he’s not giving us too much.