Do the Flames need to get bigger?

Johnny Gaudreau never should have been taken in the fourth round. He had first round talent, but his size – listed as 5’6″, 137 lbs. at the time of his draft – was a concern. And to be fair, someone that tiny is concerning, even if they aren’t done growing yet.

Gaudreau is now listed as 5’9, 150 lbs. Not a whole lot bigger, but big enough to be an NHL All-Star and be among the top-30 point scorers, not to mention lead his team in playoff scoring.

Tyler Johnson never should have been undrafted. He’s leading the NHL in playoff scoring. Martin St. Louis never should have been undrafted. Mats Zuccarello never should have been undrafted. 

When you’re big, you have to prove you can’t play. When you’re small, you have to prove you can.

How do the Flames compare?

The ultimate goal is, of course, to win the Stanley Cup. To do that, you have to make the playoffs. Giving everyone equal odds, though, you still only have 1/16th of a chance. That goes down with each passing round.

If you make it to the third round, things get a whole lot more serious. By that point there’s only one hockey game on a day, and each one is increasingly crucial.

The Flames weren’t one of the final four teams this season. With their size concerns addressed by guys like Brandon Bollig and Deryk Engelland – even though players like Paul Byron and Gaudreau are significantly better – how did they stack up against the best teams of the 2014-15 season?

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The difference in height is basically negligible. The Flames are the shortest team, but not by much; the Blackhawks and Rangers are really, really close to them in terms of size. This makes sense, as both teams have their fare share of smaller players – Patrick Kane, Teuvo Teravainen, Martin St. Louis, Mats Zuccarello – without that many bigger guys to cancel it out. (Though the Flames have Joe Colborne; the Rangers have Kevin Hayes.)

That said, it’s not as though the Ducks or Lightning tower over any of these teams. On average, they’re only about half an inch taller.

That leaves weight, where the discrepancies are clearer. Even then, though, the Flames are still about the same weight as the Hawks; about two pounds lighter. The Rangers and Lightning are pretty much the same size, about five pounds heavier on average, while the Ducks are comparatively massive, with about 15 pounds on the Flames.

While rosters do change year-to-year, though, compare the Ducks and Hawks in recent years. The Hawks, with three straight third-round appearances, including a Cup. The Ducks, with first and second round exits, have only made the third round for the first time since 2007.

It’s pretty obvious which team you’d rather be. Then, keep in mind that the Flames are about the same size as the Hawks.

Which players are most effective?

Both the Hawks and Ducks have two standout forwards leading their teams: Patrick Kane (5’11”, 177 lbs.) and Jonathan Toews (6’2″, 201 lbs.), Corey Perry (6’3″, 213 lbs.) and Ryan Getzlaf (6’4″, 218 lbs.). The Hawks’ guys – despite being smaller – have been able to get it done more often.

Total team size is one thing, and indeed, it’s a team game: everyone’s valuable. But some are more valuable than others; hence, the distinction between first and fourth liners, their production, and their possession. The guys who put up the best numbers are the guys you want on your team.

Who are the best performers?

Goals Points ES CF% ES CF% rel
Tyler Johnson 12 Tyler Johnson 18 Nikita Nesterov 59.97% Victor Hedman 10.30%
Corey Perry 9 Corey Perry 17 Marian Hossa 56.61% Anton Stralman 9.50%
Patrick Kane 9 Ryan Getzlaf 17 Duncan Keith 56.48% Nikita Kucherov 8.50%
Nikita Kucherov 7 Nikita Kucherov 16 Andrew Cogliano 55.62% Duncan Keith 8.30%
Chris Kreider 7 Patrick Kane 15 Jonathan Toews 55.50% Dan Boyle 7.50%
Alex Killorn 6 Alex Killorn 15 Simon Despres 55.41% Keith Yandle 6.80%
Steven Stamkos 6 Steven Stamkos 15 Brandon Saad 55.30% Nikita Nesterov 6.70%
Ondrej Palat 6 Jonathan Toews 14 Anton Stralman 55.03% Marian Hossa 6.50%
Derick Brassard 6 Jakob Silfverberg 14 Corey Perry 54.99% Kevin Hayes 5.70%
Matt Beleskey 6 Ondrej Palat 13 Dan Boyle 54.97% Tyler Johnson 5.40%
  • Average height and weight of top playoff goal scorers: ~6’0″, ~197 lbs.
  • Average height and weight of top playoff point getters: ~6’1″, ~195 lbs.
  • Average height and weight of top playoff corsi players: ~6’1″, ~199 lbs.
  • Average height and weight of players best relative to their teams in the playoffs: ~6’1″, ~199 lbs.

It’s a small sample size, but the guys contributing the most to teams that have made it this far aren’t exactly behemoths. It’s not that being big hurts; it’s that talent is a far greater asset than size.

What does this mean for the Flames?

Draft for talent, not size.

On average, the Flames are about as tall as the final four’s most productive players, and a couple of pounds lighter. If we go by this methodology, then there really isn’t a pressing need for the Flames to get bigger.

Talent is what’s going to carry teams. The Blackhawks are a talented team as big as the Flames; they’re two wins away from their second Cup Final appearance in three years. The Lightning have learned to draft and sign talented players incredibly well, and as a result, they’re looking more and more like very regular, very serious contenders. The Ducks have a couple of excellent pieces on which to hang their hats, but in addition to being bigger guys, they’re also just plain good. The same goes for the Rangers.

With so many picks in the first three rounds, several key pieces of the Flames’ rebuild could come from this upcoming draft. Drafting for size can be disregarded – the Flames may very well be big enough already – and talent needs to be brought to the forefront – as they certainly aren’t talented enough to contend. Not yet, anyway.

  • Derzie

    Good analysis. Anaheim, who looks to be the most likely to come out on top, is 1) Talented, 2) Deep, 3) Big. Talent & depth are mandatory to win for sure. Size helps but is useless without the other 2. The only time size should be considered by Brad & Co is as a tiebreaker between 2 otherwise equal prospects. Not as a requirement. We do need to get bigger but as a result of improving our talent and depth, not for the sake of it. Agree with article for sure.

      • Parallex

        I think the truer test is how they draft in the later parts of the draft. In the first round the talent tiers are smaller so you have (for lack of a better term) fewer true options.

        … let’s see if they’re willing to draft a Travis Konecny or Mitchell Vande Sompel or other such smaller player thought of to be available when any of their times to go to the podium arrive.

        I’d bet more on “no”.

        • Parallex

          If a skilled player is judged to be bpa when they draft, the Flames will take him. Meier, White, Andersson, Merkley are all true sub 6 footers and I don’t think the Flames would shy away from them due to their skill and competitiveness. Konecny probably won’t fall to 45 but White may.

          • The GREAT Walter White

            It will be very interesting to see what BT does if a highly skilled undersized player is available at 15. I’m not so sure we draft the smaller player over a big player with decent skills.

            What ever player we pass on will be available to the Oilers at 16 ….

            We need to get that pick right, for several reasons!

            WW

          • The GREAT Walter White

            I agree. I’d like to see one of the very skilled forwards drafted there but wouldn’t be too upset if they took Zaboril. Perhaps we help Boston out of cap hell and they slide us 14 as well?

  • beloch

    Big, skilled players are the dream every GM and scout chases. Skill is difficult to assess, both in the present tense and when projecting how it will develop over the course of several years. Size, on the other hand, can be assessed with scales and a tape measure. “You can’t teach size”, as the saying goes.

    I think GM’s tend to rationalize picking huge, unskilled players by reasoning that skill can be taught. A big, unskilled player might eventually become both big and skilled, while a tiny but skilled player will always be tiny. At the draft, everybody is chasing the next Zdeno Chara, not the next Martin St. Louis.

    While good combinations of size and skill can be had early in the draft, the odds of picking a Chara in round 3 are pretty damned slim. The question becomes, are small but skilled players more likely to overcome their size than big, unskilled players are to overcome their lack of skill? With Gaudreau’s arrival this season, I know what Flames’ fans are going to pick. Skill, skill, and skill!

    I’d honestly love to know more about the process that lead to picking Gaudreau, because that’s going to go down as one of the best spent picks in the Flames’ history. I love to see late-round picks being spent on high-risk, high-reward prospects rather than players who are a safe-bet to be mediocre.

  • beloch

    Interesting theoretical arguments on skill trumping size. All I know is Anaheim manhandled us in the second round and have more skill throughout their lineup. We need to get bigger with prospects that are more skilled than Bollig, Hunter Smith, Kanzig and Engellend.

    • beloch

      Skill is perhaps the MOST important, but you need a mix of all on the team. Gaudreau is terrific in many ways, but in the corners or along the boards he basically stands back and waits for the puck to pop out. Not that I blame him, but I don’t think we can afford d to give up those battles and consistently win.

      Your comment is unwarranted, niether Hunter Smith nor Kanzig have had a chance to play at the NHL level yet so labelling them as not good enough is way premature. Both are playing well where they are currently at, and they could easily continue to progress and be solid contributors on the Flames.

      Final comment: Worth taking a flyer on Vladimir Tkachev in a middle round? He’s fast, slippery and definitely making a difference for his Remparts team in the Memorial Cup. It would also tick off the Oilers big time, I’m sure.

  • beloch

    Do we need to get bigger? Yes. Do we need to get better? Yes. Both will occur next year; as our kids age(Monahan, Johnny, Bennett, Ferland) they will all get physically heavier. I expect their weight gain will all range between 5-15 pounds this off season and their experience from the playoffs will make them better; the more they play at the NHL level the better these 4 will be. At a certain point about 24/25 growth will slow down and we will know what they are.

  • Alsal

    So many smaller, highly skilled RWs in this draft:

    Marner
    Barzal
    Bracco
    Merkley
    White
    Konecny
    Sprong

    It’s gonna hurt to see all of them snatched up in the first round / early second… Hoping we land Merkley or Bracco. I’m not sure any of the bigger forwards have nearly the same upside… Maybe Guryanov.

  • MontanaMan

    The challenge is drafting a blend of size and talent. You can’t draft 6 players at 5’8″ and can’t draft 6 neanderthals. Hopefully the Flames have a long list and get it right.

  • Cofred24

    Good article. The flames need to gain some more size, yes they already have good talent but lack size. In order to gain size they need to pick up a power defenseman like Seabrook, who is big. Or pick the option of drafting bigger players. But don’t just pick them for size put talent in the mix.

  • Cofred24

    Like everything in life it’s about balance. There needs to be a balance of skill and size to be successful in today’s game…one without the other is not a recipe for Stanley Cup success.

    To me, the 2015 version of the Anaheim Ducks is the perfect blueprint to follow, waive after waive of big skilled guys that can also play a physical game and wear you down over the course of the long playoff grind. Those guys can really do it all and play any type of game that is required.

  • Franko J

    Hunter Smith vs Brandon Hickey.

    Two prospects very different in so many ways. In a manner of drafting: two opposites in style of play, size and skill set. However both integral to the Flames prospect pool. Now it is up to the Flames to develop them into “NHL” ready players and with the proper tutalage can possibly be in the Flames lineup down the road in 2 to 3 years. Both have pro’s and con’s to their game but it is up to both the player and the team to get the most out of them.

    I agree with Hedley Lamarr with balance. In the series against both the Canucks and the Ducks it was totally about balance. First round Calgary had the upper hand and the second round the team was over matched against a team that was focused on winning the Stanley Cup. Finding balance throughout the lineup is equal to finding balance in the draft.

  • RKD

    You need to balance it out, it’s always nice to have size against teams like the Ducks or Kings. However, if the Flames are following the Chicago model you probably don’t need a whole lot of size. Guys like Bennett are still going to put on some weight, so it’s very early to determine if you need to add a bunch of bigger players. You need guys that can think the game, score, hang on to the puck in addition to their size.

  • Greg

    I’d like to know what those comparison charts look like if you do weighted averages of height/weight by ice time. Like if we are “near average” but only factoring in minute men like Bollig, and our guys who actually get ice time are out matched significantly, there may still be something to worry about with “getting bigger”

    I’m definitely not a proponent of “size” (or grit or whatever), and my natural bias is to say no, size doesn’t matter. But I like to base my opinion on data, so would be curious to see.

    Happy to do it myself if you don’t mind sharing the size data you already have.