So far this summer here at FlamesNation, we’ve invested a fair bit of time poking at the proverbial corpse of the Calgary Flames’ 2014-15 season. As a result, now we have a bit of idea of how each regular player performed, particularly relative to their roles on the club.
After that process, it’s likely prudent to take a look at the team at a glance and, perhaps, make some determinations regarding how the Flames should improve the team going forward. In particular: which players should Brad Treliving endeavour to retain, and which should be attempt to divest the team of?
THE GOOD NEWS
In terms of Calgary’s possession game, such as it was, there were roughly a dozen regular Flames players that made their teammates better – in terms of their teammates’ Corsi ratings increasing when they were on the ice together.
The 12 were David Schlemko, Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Mikael Backlund, Johnny Gaudreau, Matt Stajan, Sean Monahan, Jiri Hudler, Paul Byron, Raphael Diaz, Micheal Ferland and Josh Jooris.
Now, most of these names aren’t terribly surprising.
- Gaudreau, Hudler and Monahan were Calgary’s most potent offensive line.
- Giordano and Brodie were Calgary’s top defensive pairing.
- Matt Stajan performed very well as fourth line center and dragged his line-mates along with him.
- Paul Byron continued his strong possession play, even while being hampered by injuries.
- Raphael Diaz was used primarily as a third-pairing defender and got a lot of offensive zone starts against the other team’s depth players, but he made the most of his advantages.
- Mikael Backlund continued his strong possession play, though he couldn’t generate much offense – though that may have more to do with his most frequent line-mates.
Surprising names on this last are Josh Jooris, Micheal Ferland and David Schlemko. You can make arguments that the Flames (and their fans) shouldn’t get too excited about Ferland or Schlemko quite yet, as they didn’t play a ton with the Flames over a full season, but Josh Jooris appears to be the real deal in terms of being a fourth line player that can jump up into other roles in a pinch and not drag down the possession numbers of the team’s stars.
In terms of where these guys slot in, the good news is that the Flames have a good top line, a good top defensive pairing, a second line center, a fourth line center, a couple depth defenders, and guys in Jooris and Ferland that aren’t 100% locked in to spots yet. Paul Byron’s good, but I’m not sure where he slots in for this group relative to the other strong pieces.
THE BAD NEWS
On the flip side, here is a list of the players that are dragging down the team’s possession stats – in the sense that the majority of their teammates are worse-off playing with them rather than away from them.
There are roughly 10 regular players that were possession killers: Kris Russell, Dennis Wideman, Joe Colborne, Ladislav Smid, Lance Bouma, David Jones, Mason Raymond, Brandon Bollig, Deryk Engelland and Markus Granlund.
Of these guys, the three players you can make a case for ignoring their numbers are Lance Bouma, David Jones and Markus Granlund. Granlund is still super-young and a relative newcomer to the NHL, who has yet to play a full season. Bouma and Jones trended towards playing tougher minutes, particularly in tandems with Backlund earlier in the season and Stajan down the stretch. You would expect them to have not-great possession numbers. Bouma and Stajan were also a very good penalty kill duo, and there’s some value in that which won’t appear in the analytics.
Wideman and Russell got tougher minutes over the last quarter of the season, when Giordano went down and Brodie was shifted to playing with Engelland, but their numbers weren’t all that good earlier in the season when they were playing sheltered minutes with Brodie and Giordano eating all the toughest ice-time. Wideman is likely better suited to Raphael Diaz’s 2014-15 role: a third-pairing, sheltered-minutes defender who produces offense on the power-play. And Kris Russell is a functional #4 NHL defender, but needs a good partner with him in order to really help his team.
Smid, Bollig and Engelland are what they are at this point. They’re depth guys, and you hope they don’t have to be on the ice too often in situations where they are given the chance to hurt the team’s chances of winning.
WHAT DOES THIS TELL US?
Calgary’s top priority should be upgrading their defensive depth. Of the team’s eight most-used defensemen, four have rough possession numbers – and to be honest, bumping Diaz and Schlemko up to second-pairing status probably wouldn’t do much to help the team either.
The other big priority is finding help on the wings. Calgary’s three top lines currently feature two strong wingers (Gaudreau and Hudler) and four guys with iffy results (Colborne, Bouma, Jones and Raymond). Even if you have a mindset towards retaining Jones and Bouma for tough minutes and penalty kill duties, you’re still left with work to do to solidify the scoring lines. In an ideal world, you have young wingers pushing for jobs at the NHL and threatening to bump Bouma and Jones to the fourth line. Sam Bennett may be slotted into a top-six spot right now (either on the wing or at center), but nobody else in the system (save for maybe Josh Jooris) seems like they have the stuff to bump anyone down the totem pole quite yet.
Wing help could come on its own, though; Ferland is still really an unknown quantity, and his playoff success could give him the confidence to wrest one of the top-nine spots away from a veteran. Emile Poirier needs some seasoning but had a strong AHL debut, while Morgan Klimchuk looks like he’ll jump to the pros but will need time with Stockton. If the mindset is the team wants to push for contention by 2017, playing “wait and see” with the kids may not be the worst idea. It’ll certainly help their cap space, and last summer’s “throw money at Mason Raymond” gamble didn’t really pay off. I’m all for similar moves this summer, though, as long as the term is short or the cap hit is minimal.
But I have no clue how they upgrade their defense in the short-term, particularly with the money they have already spent on their current group. The team has three players best-suited to third-pairing duties, if that: Dennis Wideman has a cap hit of $5.25 million, Ladislav Smid is $3.5 million, and Deryk Engelland is $2.917 million. That’s pricey, and all the deals have some term left. Now bear in mind that both Mark Giordano and Kris Russell are looking at new deals in the short-term, and T.J. Brodie’s new deal kicks in on July 1, and suddenly it seems like the team has painted themselves into a bit of a corner here. Their only option may be to wait until some of these contracts come off of the books and regroup, but that may go contrary to any internal plan of short-term contention they may have.