FN Mailbag – May 4, 2015

Mailbag

Game 1 of round 2 was a bit of a rude awakening for the Flames and their fans. The Ducks are a clear step up from the Vancouver Canucks, so it’s going to take some new strategy from the Flames coaches and new heroics from their increasingly beat up line up to get this thing back on track. 

The questions this week focused more on the future than the present though. Topics include the Flames draft, if there are any buy-out candidates on the roster and where we can expect to see them finish next year.

The Flames aren’t really in a situation where buy-outs are necessary. Mikael Backlund, Lance Bouma and TJ Brodie will see their salaries increase next year, but that’s not enough to worry about. The team will be on the hunt for some depth on wing and on defense in free agency, but unless they go whale hunting the Flames aren’t anywhere close to a cap crisis.

Mason Raymond and Brandon Bollig might both figure to be superfluous next year, but my guess is the team will look for other ways to get them off the active roster (demotion, trade or extra forward) rather spend a bunch of money.

It’s possible, I suppose, though it depends no what you mean by “move up”. It’s easier to move up from a mid-20’s pick to lower-20’s or high teens pick. It’s much more difficult to move up from 15, which is where they will land if they lose to the Ducks.

Every team in the mid-to-late range of the first round dreams of moving up, especially in a draft like this one. We’ll see if the Flames have the will and the assets for it though.

Back to Raymond, who has become a topic of interest because of his lacklustre season. The former Leaf and Canucks has definitely been disappointing this year – his skating isn’t anywhere near the asset it seemed to be previously and he tends to spend a lot of time sending shots at the net from the perimeter of play.

Part of Raymond’s problem as well is that he skates on the left wing, which currently features a mix of Johnny Gaudreau, Sam Bennett, Lance Bouma, Michael Ferland and Brandon Bollig. Of those, Raymond is only a clear upgrade on Bollig, but because he can’t play a tough guy or checking role, he seems superfluous to the coaching staff.

Raymond could probably bump Joe Colborne from the line-up if he played the right side. There isn’t much to choose from when it comes to their possession rates, but Raymond does at least shoot more, score more and draw more penalties than Colborne at even strength (Colborne had the worst penalty differential at even strength during the regular season).

Unfortunately for Raymond, he took a step back this year and a bunch of the kids on his side of the ice took a step forward. He’s definitely a “trade for pennies on the dollar” candidate in the off-season.

It is, of course, way too early to guess this. Brad Treliving has an entire summer to transform the roster for better or worse, so we don’t even know what the lineup will look like come October.

That said, obviously the Flames have a lot to do in order to become true contenders and an annual threat to make the post-season. I mentioned in my Herald column a few weeks ago that the Flames are just one of four teams with a regular season possession rate around 45% to make the playoffs in the modern era: the 2013-14 Maple Leafs (44.7%, lock-out season), the 2010-11 Anaheim Ducks (44.6%) and 2009-10 Colorado Avalanche (45.4%). 

It’s instructive that none of those clubs made the playoffs the next year. The Leafs unexpected success sparked a league wide debate about advanced stats and shot quality and whether the team had found a way to “beat corsi”. They have since imploded spectacularly. 

The 2009-10 Avalanche were an even bigger surprise than the 2013-14 version who also came of out nowhere to make the dance (and who also didn’t make the playoffs the next year, by the way). The Avs squeaked in with 95 points in 2011 and then finished second last in the league in 2012-13 with 68, ahead of only the Edmonton Oilers. Finally, the Ducks went from fourth in the West in ’10-11 to 13th in ’11-12. 

None of the clubs in question improved their possession game to a noteworthy degree (the Leafs got worse, actually). If we project Toronto’s lock-out year to a full season of about 97 points we can say, on average, that each club dropped by about 20 standings points in the season after their Cinderella run. 

So let’s assume the Flames don’t improve and their possession game is more or less stagnant. I would say an expectation of 85-75 points next year would be reasonable.

We’ll end on a present tense question.

The truth is we may not see a Kesler/Backlund match-up because Hartley has preferred Stajan and Monahan to take on the top-6 guys most so far. I don’t consider that a knock on Backlund, rather a reflection of his line mates: Bennett is impressive, but he’s just 18 years old. Colborne is Colborne and not really built to take on the heavy hitters. Which means Bruce Boudreau would happily take that match-up, I think (I don’t really see a match-up Boudreau would shy away from at this point to be frank).

With the first line again struggling to keep their heads above water away from home, we may see Bob Hartley mix things up. If so, we might see Backlund get some more veteran partners (David Jones and Lance Bouma, come on down!) and get put back into a more shut down role. Whether he faces Kesler or Perry/Getzlaf is another question.

  • PrairieStew

    Agree on the assesment of the fringe forwards. Raymond, Bollig and Colborne could all be replaced by younger players without affecting the overall team. Kenny Agostino had a great second half in ADK and is similar to Raymond; Poirer probably has better potential as early as next year than Colborne, who despite his size and reach seems as weak as a kitten out there. Bollig is supplanted on the fall roster by Ferland without a doubt; and perhaps by Wolf as well.

    What remains is a team with a good first line, a pretty decent third line in Backlund, Bouma and Jones; and Matt Stajan and a wealth of 4th line options. What is missing is a second scoring line – perhaps centred by Bennett. Someone really needs to step up and be a dangerous option; or someone needs to be brought in.

    Could one of those expendable forwards be packaged with one the second round picks to acquire a second pairing defenceman ?

  • PrairieStew

    Question for your next mailbag please……

    How did the FAN960 pass over Brad Curle and Ken Thrower to replace Peter Maher and Mike Rogers?

    A fan of sports radio all my life (47 years) it is my opinion that Derek Wills and Peter Loubardious are the the worst pair of commentators in any sports – in the history of ALL sports.

    Derek (and he scores = every goal) Wills and Peter (always overstate the obvious in the whiniest over enunciating voice possible) Loubardious have turned me to watching AND listening to the TV broadcasts = sad.

    Happy that we will have MUCH better announcers on the radio for the Conference and Stanley Cup Finals.

    Thanks!

    RJ

    • mattyc

      Wut? Curle and Thrower are homers to the max. So annoying.

      If you think Wills and Loubo are the worst, then you haven’t listened to very many other teams. Try the Boston guys, or the Pitts guys. If you can figure out what the hell is going on the ice with the Pitts PBP, tell me.

      • Burnward

        Have listened to far more games on the radio from far more markets than I can count my friend. Not talking about Homers here. Talking about listening to an entertaining broadcast. Not the butt-kissing festival when Wills, LouA$$, Kerr, Steinberg and the rest of the talking heads hit the airwaves. Calgary deserves so much better than what the FAN960 infomercial offers on a daily basis.

        • Burnward

          Wait so you want to replace the butt-kissers with two guys that are even bigger butt-kissers. Gotcha.

          Having “listened to far more games on the radio from far more markets than you can count”, your impression of the Boston guys was that they were fair and objective? Pfft.

  • PrairieStew

    OilersNation is in the off season and still get better participation. Try harder. It’s monday, waste some white collar company money. Happy McDavid Mailbag Monday! McDavid 4th be with you. Want some McDavid Jam and toast? Heard McDavid was great at Duck Hunter, you guys could use him.

    • RexLibris

      You do realize that you haven’t actually drafted McDavid yet right? Has it crossed your little mind that behind the scenes McDavid could have already told the Coilers that they had better talk to Buffalo and Arizona about swappimg picks+???

      Do you honestly believe that having McDavid,Chiarelly(sp) and maybe Babcock will all of a sudden put Deadmonton on the top of all the high end talented players lists?

      No-one wants to play for the Coil and why you are building a new arena is beyond reason.You would be better off relocating.

      Happy McDavid Mailbag Monday! =Weak
      McDavid 4th be with you.=Nonsense
      Want some McDavid Jam and toast? =Huh?
      Heard McDavid was great at Duck Hunter.= umm..ok?

      Thanks for dropping by though…enjoy your happy meal and your nap.

      • Burnward

        Yes. Yes we do. Watch it happen 😉

        Thanks for having me though! The nap was good and the toy inside my Happy Meal was a McDavid bobble head. Hes nodding at me as we speak.

        Anything else? If not, we’ll get back to watching this epic sweep brought to you by The Ducks.

  • beloch

    Raymond’s contract is a bit too generous for how he’s performed. I suspect the Flames may be stuck with him for two more seasons, unless somebody claims him off waivers or he improves next season. At this point in the rebuild, there’s no reason to package negative value contracts with better players in order to dump them, as was done with Regehr and Kotalik.

    The good news is that several of the Flames’ young rookies seem to be actual upgrades on marginal veterans like Raymond and Setoguchi. Here’s hoping they prove themselves next season and stick for good.

  • Burnward

    75 points Kent?!?! Is the entire team getting injured?

    They played better than .500 down the stretch without their captain, beating serious playoff teams along the way.

    The kids are getting better with each passing playoff game.

    The leadership group led by Hartley, Gio, et al will not let them rest on their laurels. And you know Mony and Johnny are just coming out harder next season. And Bennett. Sweet, angry badger Bennett.

    A legit number one goaltender would also be nice.

    This is Chicago post Kane draft. 90 points next year minimum. If they take a step back.

    • RexLibris

      I think 75 to 85 is a reasonable expectation for that group, considering Kent is forecasting a full off-season into the future.

      Maybe they add a couple of veteran defenders and trade for Patrick Sharp over the summer, or maybe they roll through with another round of lower-roster adjustments and head into next season believing that the core group is young enough to grow into the challenges facing them.

      Drawing a straight line of progression for the young players isn’t wise. They’ll have ups and downs and there are questions about the repeatability of many of the Flames’ statistical accomplishments this season.

      Recall that 80 pts was largely considered a very optimistic expectation for this team at the beginning of the year.

        • RexLibris

          Colorado was considered a better team than Calgary before last year. Mad their miracle season wasn’t even as fairy tale as Flames this year. They got 112pts in their Cinderella season and regressed 22pts this year.

          But you have yourself convinced this is a top 4 contending, very good team who deserves to be here in skill (luck aside)

          Next year is going to hurt so hard for a lot of delusional people who have convinced themselves this year is reality. This team would have got pounced by many teams that are already golfing but Lady Luck looked brightly on them. St Louis, Nashvill even LA would have throttled this team just like Anaheim is. The two worst teams in the playoffs met up in the first round, the way the system worked. It’s a sand castle…

          Don’t fool yourself.

          • Burnward

            I hear you. I get it. But NO ONE is saying this is a Cup contender now.

            For a year and a half though (dating to that Vancouver game) they have maintained.

            They may miss the playoffs next year, but the West is a tough go. On the right track though.

          • Burnward

            Absolutely. This team has the foundation in Monahan, Gaudreau, Bennett, Brodie, etc. Their analytics will probably improve over time as guys get older and stronger. The may regress next year, but I bet that they’d be playoff bound for sure in the 2017 season.

            A few more pieces here and there, a couple more seasons of experience, and I truly believe that this team could be an annual contender.

          • Burnward

            Right track 100% completely agree. This team is IMO almost guaranteed to be really good in the future. I don’t say that about the Avs despite their 112pts

            But I think the bar has been pushed unrealistically high for next year by people thinking this year is based on merit and skill and being a true contender.

        • RexLibris

          With all due respect, this is not a pretty good hockey team.

          The Flames have some very good pieces and had a terrific run this year, but this team is a dog’s breakfast in a number of key areas.

          Goaltending was good this year with Hiller and Ramo. One half of that equation leaves this summer and the other is in the final year of his contract.

          Save percentages have very little carryover from year-to-year.

          The Flames are likely elevating Ortio next season to play behind Hiller, and while his small sample size was good this year, we have no idea what it will be next season.

          Defense is a mess after the first pairing. Wideman had a career year and you can’t help but like what Russell has become, but again, shooting %’s don’t have a great history of consistency from season to season. Also, we are again looking at a key veteran entering his contract year in Giordano. He’ll be 30 and aside from a few Chelios-like examples, I think we’re looking at sustain more than improvement now.

          The Flames need a lot of things including upgrades at the wing, defense, and goaltending if they want to replicate or even improve upon what they did this year.

          Declaring them a good team because of 26 comeback wins and an improbably high team sh% doesn’t hold a lot of water.

          Now let’s see if I can achieve an unsustainably high number of trash votes. 🙂

  • RexLibris

    What are the odds they can move up in 1st round?

    Flames are likely picking 15th and have three 2nd round picks this year.

    They could stay at 15 and hope that Jeremy Roy is there when they pick, or package two 2nd rounders and the 15th overall to move up into the Columbus, Colorado, San Jose range and try to get Zach Werenski.

    I’ve been wondering if they don’t target Crouse on account of his size and being Bennett’s linemate in junior.

    Burke has focused the draft on size recently, and the Anaheim series would likely only reinforce that kind of imperative in his mind.

    He could go anywhere from 10th to 20th, so the Flames could go into their draft slot and take whichever of the two, he or Roy, is available and call it a day or move a couple of 2nd rounders to try and get another late 1st if someone like Zacha falls.