What’s with the obsession with size, anyway?

“The Ducks are bigger, and the Flames can’t handle them.
That’s why they lost.”

Well… yes, and no. The Ducks are a bigger team: this is a fact. The Flames are not
currently able to handle the Ducks: this is also a fact. But correlation does
not equal causation.

The Flames’ problem isn’t that the Ducks are a bigger team. 

It’s that they’re a better
team. 

Nobody’s saying size isn’t important…

Size is a factor in professional sports. It’s especially
important in a contact sport like hockey. And if you get the chance to take a
Johnny Gaudreau-sized Johnny Gaudreau or a Joe Colborne-sized Johnny Gaudreau,
chances are you’re going to go with the latter. That much skill and size
packaged into one player is valuable.

That said, if you’re picking between just Johnny Gaudreau
and Joe Colborne, you’re going to take Gaudreau, size be damned. Because he’s
the better player.

You win with better players.

In Game 2, the Flames opted for size over skill, and while
they gave up fewer goals, they created even fewer themselves.

It was not a viable solution.

… But you need more than just big bodies

With Micheal Ferland
unable to go, David Wolf drew into the lineup for his first ever playoff game.

David Wolf, who has an entire 28 minutes of NHL experience. Just because he’s
similar to Ferland in stature doesn’t mean he’s similar to him in not only hockey
ability, but experience. As it turned out, Wolf was one of the worst Flames possession-wise in Game 2, with a CF of 37.50%. (Only Sean Monahan was worse, at 34.48%.)

Meanwhile, Johnny Gaudreau – all of his 5’9 (allegedly), 150
lbs. (allegedly), second-on-the-team-in-scoring, potential rookie of the
year self – was sat for the entire third period in Game 1. He was taken off of
the top line in Game 2; the same line on which he was the best player.

Gaudreau was at least a positive possession player at 51.43%
CF. Not only that, but he played in far less sheltered circumstances as well,
with lesser zone starts and while being matched up more often against the
Ducks’ top line.

Gaudreau retaining his place on the top line would have made
far more sense than playing Wolf up there.

The revolving carousel of Sean Monahan’s wing

Let’s take a look at just how well the four left wingers,
all of who got turns with Monahan, did on the top line. All numbers in even strength situations:

monahanwingers

There’s one bar that immediately stands out above the rest,
and that’s Gaudreau and Monahan’s possession stats with one another.

I mentioned earlier Monahan had the worst possession stats
of all Flames players. Game 6 against Vancouver aside, he hasn’t looked quite
like his regular season self, leading to speculation of injury. Monahan may
only be a sophomore, but over this season, we’ve all come to expect far more of
him.

All of the left wingers had somewhat similar times with
him, so it’s fair to compare them all together. And even if Gaudreau with
Monahan received far more offensive zone starts than Monahan with Wolf or
Raymond, the difference in their possession statistics is staggering.

Neither Wolf nor Raymond had a single offensive zone start
with Monahan, but no matter Wolf’s size, he clearly wasn’t up to the task.
That’s not his fault: he’s a rookie, it’s his first playoff game, and he’s
already being tasked with going up on the top line? Ferland wasn’t ever asked
to do that, and Ferland is the better, more experienced player at this time. 

Raymond’s numbers with Monahan weren’t great either, but
they were far better than Wolf’s. Wolf and Monahan were a dismal combination.

Sam Bennett was the most sheltered of all Monahan’s wingers,
and even then, they still didn’t perform that well with one another. In fact,
Bennett saw significant improvement when taken away from the Flames’ top line
centre.

Monahan only saw success with one player, and that player
was his linemate of the past few months, whom he was separated from for much of
Game 2.

Desperation did not pay off 

Ferland being unable to play was not ideal, but it’s unclear
what Drew Shore did in Game 1 to warrant being a healthy scratch for the next
game.

None of the Flames were particularly offensively inclined,
but Raymond was one of their best bets to score a goal in Game 2. 

Both should be in the lineup for Game 3, although Shore appears to be out.

If Ferland is good to go, and it looks like he is, then he should be replacing Wolf.

Substituting size into the lineup didn’t work. Putting size
on lines with skilled players didn’t work. Size didn’t allow the Flames clean
zone entries. Size didn’t bring the Flames closer to the Ducks’ net. Size
didn’t create havoc for Frederik Andersen.

Size is not going to intimidate the Ducks, because the Ducks
are big enough already. The only thing that’s going to give the Flames a chance
is actually getting offensive pressure, and the Flames’ bigger players are not
skilled enough to do that.

Separating two of the team’s most offensively talented players did
not pay off. Waiting until the second game of the second round of the
postseason is far too late to start playing with extremely established
chemistry that has brought success before. It was a desperate move with
absolutely no payoff to speak of: the Flames did not score a single goal, and
they didn’t look like they deserved to, either.

The Flames did not magically become smaller

To start the season, the Flames were the lightest team in
the NHL with an average weight of 196.3 lbs., and one of the smallest teams
with an average height of just over six feet.

The roster hasn’t changed that much since then. Swap Josh
Jooris for Devin Setoguchi, the Flames get a little lighter, but a little
taller. They lost Brian McGrattan’s size, but McGrattan wasn’t exactly playing
much, anyway, and Ferland’s a pretty big kid already.

The point being: any size changes the Flames roster has
experienced has made them a little smaller and a little lighter, but we’re
talking about a team that’s going to burn a year of Sam Bennett’s entry level
contract on a pipe dream. Bennett is 6’1 – decent height – and 178 lbs. – not
heavy at all. And Bennett actually gives the Flames a better lineup.

The Flames have a smaller roster than the already-small one
they started with, but considering the players involved, it’s to their benefit. 

This is also the same roster that got them in the playoffs
to begin with.

The Kings are one of the biggest teams in the NHL. The small
Flames eliminated them. 

The Chicago Blackhawks are a pretty small team; the only
team lighter than them is the Flames. They look poised to move on to the third
round.

Calgary made the playoffs off the benefit of league average
goaltending and one of the league’s best shooting percentages. They were lucky.
Their hard work ethic, excellent conditioning, and gritty play have also been
cited as reasons for their success.

They did all that while being a small team.

Playing bigger, inferior players did not help, is not
helping, and will not help them beat the Anaheim Ducks. Their best chance is to
do what got them there, and what got them there was Johnny Gaudreau playing
with Sean Monahan and limiting the minutes of players not quite skilled enough
to provide offence, whether they’re 6’2, 215+ lbs. or not.

  • AusFlame

    Thanks, an insightful article Arii.

    It was useful to revisit this issue to help ensure some readers don’t get skill mixed up with size, and that size isn’t mutually exclusive of skill.

    Simply put…we’ve seen comments critical of a couple Flames, seemingly in some cases because they are big. And additional comments have been made diminishing Treliving’s continuing search for size by drafting larger players as if this was an inappropriate tactic.

    However…the real issue is skill level.

    California’s “death valley” the last couple years has featured 3 teams each led by elite players possessing both skill AND size at 6’4″ (Getzlaf, Carter, Thornton) and 6’3″/6’2″ (Perry, Kopitar, Marleau).

    The Flames are building around two elite(?) centres at 6’2″ and 6’1″ (giving Bennett the benefit of the doubt although he has always been listed at 6’0″ in numerous prior sources).

    On the wings we have 2 top 6 skill players who are small (Hudler, Gaudreau), and are awaiting additional Top 6 skill players with size to fill the void to replace Bouma, Jones and Colborne. Ferland’s 96 points in junior may allow him to be groomed for one of these positions as a power forward and help ride shotgun on one of the lines. Poirier at 6’1″ has skill/size potential.

    Still…we currently have no 6’3″-6’5″ skilled forwards to compete head-on with the California teams (or WPG, STL, BOS, NYR, WSH)

    Overall the Flames forward group lacks 2″ and 20 lbs. On defence 3″ and 30+ pounds is needed.

    For all the disparaging comments made about drafting size I still remain hopeful we can see 2-3 drafted prospects who can make the team and bring skill AND size in the next couple years to the team can truly be called a cup contender.

    So here’s hoping a couple of Hunter Smith, Jankowski, Carroll, Kanzig, Roy, Mattson pan out and develop as skilled NHL players in the near future.

    • Burnward

      Thanks Styx, those were some of the same thoughts I had. In addition I would say that there is merit in nocking some some small players, or maybe just too many small players, in that you get pushed around a lot. There is a big difference between playing regular season and playoffs, the series aspect playing the same team night after night is huge.

      Gaudreau is a great player but surrounding him with other small players is an inefficient use of his talents at times; if he is getting manhandled there is no one to do the heavy lifting for him.

      Next season I would like to see the Flames add 2 top 9 wingers with size and as much skill as we can get, plus 2 defensemen with the same attributes. Some bit to their games would be nice as well.

      Ari was bang on about the Ducks being just flat-out a better team.

    • Burnward

      Thats it isn’t it. I wanted to puke if I read another derogatory post about Burke & his truculence. Well for all purposes, truculence is size & skill in 1 package. Burke is right. That’s what wins in the playoffs. It’s why they reached for Hunter Smith & it’s why even Feaster reached for Kanzig in the 3rd round. Everyone wants to catch that unicorn size & skill player. Many were hoping that Wolf had a little more offensive upside, he might, but looking slim. Problem is, Stanley Cup Playoffs in the 2nd round isn’t exactly the right time to find out what kind of prospects you have from the AHL. Bouma has size & offensive skill, we sure miss him, I would dare say almost as much as Gio. Almost. Gio would have given us such a different look & enable us that smoother quicker transition to compliment our speed game of our smaller, very skilled players. Anaheim coaches aren’t stupid, they know exactly how Calgary succeeded & they know without Gio, they could take away our speed game. Our bottom of our D rotation has already overachieved, I just don’t see where we can expect performance to exceed what they have given us already. I think our fans will help bring more urgency to our players & that urgency for 60 minutes should get us 1 win coming up, hopefully tonight.

  • Burnward

    Rev up the dynasty discussion should the “light” Hawks reach the conference finals. LIke Johnny, Patrick Kane is pretty small too I guess. Of the death Valley teams, two have won championships. But the Ducks win was almost another Era with Prongs and Neids.

    Now that the Flames have their confidence in front of the home ice, game three doesn’t end well for the Ducks.

  • Burnward

    Just want to add that the average height and weight of the Flames is 6’1, 194.9 lbs. However, Chicago also averages the exact same for their players, 6’1 and 194.9.

    Like Ari said, size is a factor. But its not the only one.

    Anaheim is beating Calgary so far because they’ve been the better team. Their superior size (6’1, 207.2) has helped them go up 2-0, but its not the only reason they’ve got a lead.

    • Burnward

      Anaheim has been the better team, granted. But Anaheim has also dominated physically, which means controlling the boards, cycling consistently, being next to immovable in front of the net and laying the majority of punishing hits. These factors are one of the major reasons why “better team”. The other factors are quicker, more determined and better defensive coverage.

      The Flames getting bigger is important and would certainly help in this series and most playoff series where that stuff becomes all that much more important (e.g. Round 1 versus the Canucks). Skill with size goes without saying… the more skill the better, but in combination with other factors if you want to win…

  • Burnward

    Size is only a non-factor if you have Toews, Sharp and Kane in your lineup. Other than that I have always agreed with Burke…”you better have size and turculence if you want to compete with teams like the Ducks”….here here!!

    GFG!

  • Burnward

    You are driving out on the fields rather than the highway on this one!
    The rational for large players in the first two games was a simple formula – two large mixed with one medium sized player – this was so that your medium sized but skilled players (Gaudreau & Hutler) were not MEAT TENDERIZED the first two games!
    Their chief role was to minimize the snarliness in Getzlaf & Kezel and others rather than their experience and talent.
    As it turns out Gaudreau shows that he is able to survive on his own in the snarliness of the play-offs no thanks
    to the Flames management who misunderstand the Jungle part of the Game.
    A McGratton could be in the dressing room tying his skates all game and the opponent big guys would still sense his presence and moderate their venom in order to keep him in the dressing room!
    Flames Management is totally unaware of snarly dynamics!
    The Flames will win because Gaudreau & Colborne are true talents.
    The Flames will lose because they are a stick checking team rather than a body checking team rather than what Getzlaf or Kezel may Russell up!
    Monahan may need as much time as Colborne needed to solve his computer snooze mode inclinations?