A shift in philosophy: comparing the Flames’ 2014 and 2015 early offseasons

There was one guy who really seemed to stand out at the prospect scrimmage. No, not Mark Jankowski – although he had his fair share of moments, too – but one of the newest additions to the Flames organization.

The 5’10, 170 lb. Andrew Mangiapane was working his magic on the ice. Undersized by hockey standards, and with just 51 points over 68 games for the Barrie Colts in his draft year, Mangiapane was passed over. This past season, though, he rocketed up to 104 points over just 68 games, which, even though he was a year older than the rest of the class, earned him a pick.

Meanwhile, Sam Bennett was the shortest of the organization’s 2014 picks at 6’1; take him out, and the smallest was the 6’2 Brandon Hickey. A guy under six feet did not seem likely to be taken that year.

Clearly a lot changed over Brad Treliving’s first year as general manager, and the differences in drafts reflected that.

Reviewing the drafts

In 2014, Sam Bennett was a gimme. If the Flames had been picking at fourth overall in 2015, they almost certainly would have taken Noah Hanifin or Mitch Marner. Bennett didn’t really require any decision to draft: he was an automatic pick.

So, with that in mind, when it came to making decisions, the Flames decided on Mason McDonald, Hunter Smith, Brandon Hickey, Adam Ollas Mattsson, and Austin Carroll in 2014 (Brandon Bollig, too, if you want to count trades).

In 2015, Calgary decided on Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington, Pavel Karnaukhov, Andrew Mangiapane, and Riley Bruce (also: Dougie Hamilton).

Bruce is the odd man out in 2015, and Hickey in 2014. Swap those picks, and the themes become consistent: in 2014, it was all about getting bigger guys (hopefully with potential); in 2015, it was about guys who could put up numbers.

Reviewing free agency

These themes carried over to July 1. In 2014, the Flames purchased Mason Raymond, Jonas Hiller, and Deryk Engelland; in 2015, just Michael Frolik (and Karri Ramo, if you want to get technical about it).

The 2014 offseason wasn’t purely about size. As goalies, Hiller and Ramo are their own thing. Raymond, though, really isn’t a guy you add for the sake of size at all. He was coming off of the second best season of his career, and was just finally getting that bigger contract he’d been knocking on the door of for a while. He was a veteran who pointed towards depth offence, and on a young, rebuilding team, should have been an ideal pickup. 

Engelland, on the other hand, got a raise more than five times his previous season’s pay for no apparent reason other than being big and veteran, firmly tying him in with the rest of the 2014 offseason’s theme: the Flames need to add size.

Frolik is more along the lines of the Raymond signing, but better. He’s hardly small himself – in fact, he’s bigger than Raymond – but he wasn’t targeted for his size. He was targeted for his abilities with and away from the puck.

While 2014 was about size, things did a complete 180 over the season, and 2015 became about possession.

The early returns are looking good

Of course, it’s far too early to call anything just yet. Bennett aside, none of the draft picks from the past two years are close to making the NHL, and we don’t even know what numbers Hamilton and Frolik will be wearing, much less what impact they’ll have on the Flames.

Still, this evident shift in philosophy is very welcome. The Flames spent a year focusing on adding size, and while that worked to varying degrees of success, the bigger guys didn’t have as big an impact in the Flames making the playoffs as one would have expected, considering the focus on acquiring them.

Jiri Hudler and Johnny Gaudreau – listed as 5’10 and 5’9, respectively – were the team’s highest scorers. Brian McGrattan was a perpetual healthy scratch before finally getting waived, and with the glut of forwards, the same could happen to Bollig soon. 

Engelland was asked to play above his role, but the real heroes of the defence core were Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie, and one is known for being more physical than the other. Not to mention the fact that one of the more heralded guys, Kris Russell, also just happens to be the smallest.

Size is great to have, but the players who had the greatest, most positive impacts weren’t known for it. 

That said, the returns on Smith are looking increasingly good, as with Carroll, and Ollas Mattsson may be able to make something of himself. But to loop back around to 2015: both Andersson – a defenceman – and Mangiapane – a smaller guy – outscored Smith’s draft+2 year in their draft years in the same league, and that’s not exactly what you’re hoping for out of a second round pick.

Top six players are preferable to bottom six, and they’re hard to get ahold of. For all Smith’s development, Mangiapane may be better; he provided more offence than Smith did for a different OHL division champion. He was one of the top guys on his team, while Smith wasn’t.

To draw further comparisons: this is a team that was the same size as the Stanley Cup champions this past season; a team that, in 2011, took 6’2, 210 lb. Mark McNeill 18th overall, but in 2012 took 5’10, 185 lb. Teuvo Teravainen in the exact same spot. And only one of those guys has actually made the show.

So this apparent shift in the Flames philosophy is more than welcome and may just yet end up paying dividends for them as well. It’s exciting to think where the Flames may end up over the course of this year, and just what the theme of 2016 will be.

  • Tomas Oppolzer

    While I understand the premise of this article I am not sure that I agree with the logic. I believe that the Flames look for the best player available at whatever position they are drafting. Size while a bonus is not the primary criteria for the Flames. When I asked BT about this at a recent season ticket holder event he remarked that it is about balance. He said that he feels that a team of small skilled players doesn’t work just as a team of big slow players doesn’t work. He commented that foot speed is a must as is a nice mix of players that makes up a complete team.

    I also think that we need to give some merit to the intangibles that players can bring to a team. I think that one of the short comings of the analytics camp is that it believes that if it isn’t quantifiable it isn’t real. I think that this narrow minded approach doesn’t give credit to factors like motivation, work ethic, leadership, team spirit and heart. I think that while most agree that this team hugely over accomplished, few are willing to give guys like Engelland credit for the impact that they may have had on team moral, heart, grit etc. when BT brought In Engellend he talked about the positive impact on the dressing room, playing like a pro, developing good habits. We saw a team that displayed the very best in these attributes and yet we are quick to dismiss them as random.

    If you speak to anyone that has ever played a sport they will tell you that there are guys who make you better, though their impact on the ice is average at best. Warrener talks about this all the time and I know that in my experience a positive veteran can make all of the difference.

    I hate it when guys discount analytics as not being able to tell you anything. I also hate it when we discount the intangibles and say that they aren’t real. I prefer a balanced approach. For me whatever mix of layers BT had last year it worked. Team chemistry matters and I would say that Derek Engelland was a positive part of that culture. I also applaud the signing of Frolik as we need to improve our possession numbers. It isn’t an either or its a both and….

    • DestroDertell

      So only possession boat anchors like Engelland are capable of bringing leadership, heart and other “intangibles”? With all the folks here talking about how Engelland and Bollig are the heart of the locker room, I feel like I’m the only here who has never stepped in the flames’ locker room (or any NHL locker room).

      • DestroDertell

        As we both have not been in the locker room I think it is best to go by what those who have say. Treliving and Hartley have been clear that Engellend is an excellent locker room guy. They also say that Gio is awesome in the room. I believe them on both counts

        • DestroDertell

          Public relation. They’re not going to shit on the player they brought. Since player like Engelland are not good NHL player by any measurable metrics of ice play, buzzwords are the way to go.

          Compare by inversion with the Hamilton and Seguin smear campaigns following their trades. Boston media needed to justify how lopsided the trades were so they sent “reports” of Hamilton and Seguin being locker room cancer. Treliving needs to justify the cap dumps’ untradeable presences in the roster now that Calgary has become a free agent destination they’re way above the cap floor.

          BTW, not saying Engelland isn’t a good guy. But we need neither off-ice cancer nor on-ice cancer. No team does.

        • DestroDertell

          Public relation. They’re not going to shit on the player they brought. Since player like Engelland are not good NHL player by any measurable metrics of ice play, buzzwords are the way to go.

          Compare by inversion with the Hamilton and Seguin smear campaigns following their trades. Boston media needed to justify how lopsided the trades were so they sent “reports” of Hamilton and Seguin being locker room cancer. Treliving needs to justify the cap dumps’ untradeable presences in the roster now that Calgary has become a free agent destination they’re way above the cap floor.

          BTW, not saying Engelland isn’t a good guy. But we need neither off-ice cancer nor on-ice cancer. No team does.

        • DestroDertell

          Public relation. They’re not going to shit on the player they brought. Since player like Engelland are not good NHL player by any measurable metrics of ice play, buzzwords are the way to go.

          Compare by inversion with the Hamilton and Seguin smear campaigns following their trades. Boston media needed to justify how lopsided the trades were so they sent “reports” of Hamilton and Seguin being locker room cancer.

          Likewise, Treliving needs to justify the cap dumps’ untradeable presences in the roster now that Calgary has become a free agent destination and way above the cap floor.

          By the way, I’m not saying Engelland isn’t a good guy. But we need neither off-ice cancer nor on-ice cancer. No team does.

        • DestroDertell

          Public relation. They’re not going to crap on the player they brought. Since player like Engelland are not good NHL player by any measurable metrics of ice play, buzzwords are the way to go.

          Compare by inversion with the Hamilton and Seguin smear campaigns following their trades. Boston media needed to justify how lopsided the trades were so they sent “reports” of Hamilton and Seguin being locker room cancer. Treliving needs to justify the cap dumps’ untradeable presences in the roster now that Calgary has become a free agent destination they’re way above the cap floor (not his fault, he had to at the time).

          Not saying Engelland isn’t a good guy. We need neither off-ice cancer nor on-ice cancer.

          • DestroDertell

            It isn’t just about PR.

            Calgary overpaid for Engelland but he is an asset. You never destroy the value of your own asset, publicly, while it is still your asset.

            He may also be great in the room and that is the only evidence out there, so I suggest we accept it until new evidence suggests otherwise. So let’s leave the cancer talk out of it.

            While the role of enforcer is on the way out, there are still plenty of players who aren’t enforcers out there that will push the envelope. Engelland has shown, repeatedly, that he stands up for teammates and is willing to absorb knuckles on their behalf.

            Possession anchor or not, he brings something to the table. Whether the Flames need what he brings is a different conversation. But whether they do or not, they aren’t going to erode his value. That’s not just PR, it’s just smart.

          • DestroDertell

            I never said and I don’t think they should tell the truth and admit publicly Engelland is a cap dump. What I’m saying is that Treliving is going to put an emphasis on off-ice matters when he’s asked about Engelland’s value because no measurable metrics suggests he’s an NHL dman.

            In his post TRAv suggested his off-ice intangibles made him a good addition. That’s what I replied to. Being willing to take punches is not an off-ice intangible. It’s an on-ice intangible of questionable value.

            TBH, I’m not bothered by the cap space he takes right now; just hoping he won’t be above #7 on the depth chart.

          • Burnward

            Absolutely.

            These are some of the toughest pro athletes around going to battle each night.

            You have to keep your opponent honest if you want your skill players to be able to play their game.

            And those players that are free to play their game because of it are the first to appreciate guys like Engellend.

    • Burnward

      I am more inclined to accept the premise of the article.

      BPA is a pretty elusive concept, unless you have a clear cut a la McDavid. But if we are talking about 2nd round picks, or later, well it just won’t be clear cut unless you choose to value one characteristic over others. Leaving Mason McDonald aside, can you really say that, without doubt, Hunter Smith was BPA where he was picked last year? I guess so but only if you value size above all else.

      My recollection is that there was a lot of moaning about that choice at the time. TGWW wasn’t the only one either. I think the Flames did go out to pick up size last year. That is not the characteristic most of us would pick above all else, I suspect. But having done that, getting a bunch of skill guys in a deep draft seems pretty reasonable.

      • Burnward

        Cosentino had him high, as did others. It wasn’t like he was a huge reach.

        He also helped contain McDavid in that series and plays a simple, big man game: North, South, to the net.

        Strength and agility should come with age. Regardless, he is much more intriguing now compared to when he was taken.

        Which is a nice running theme.

    • OKG

      This team was already overachieving in the second half of 2013-14 season.

      ::Before:: Engelland and Bollig were brought in.

      This team never had a shortage of leadership in guys like Giordano, Stajan, Hudler, Backlund, and Russell.

      Engelland was a pointless and lazy “size” signing and the rest is just Brad T covering his tracks.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    One of my favorite intangibles is tenacity, I think it often gets confused with grit. Tenacity mixed with intelligence is a great combo. Frolik is a perfect example.

  • DestroDertell

    Public relation. They’re not going to shit on the player they brought. Since player like Engelland are not good NHL player by any measurable metrics of ice play, buzzwords are the way to go.

    Compare by inversion with the Hamilton and Seguin smear campaigns following their trades. Boston media needed to justify how lopsided the trades were so they sent “reports” of Hamilton and Seguin being locker room cancer. Treliving needs to justify the cap dumps’ untradeable presences in the roster now that Calgary has become a free agent destination they’re way above the cap floor.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    If you’d said before the draft we’d come out of the weekend with Hamilton, and 2 top end Swedish offensive defenceman I think I’d have said you were crazy

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    Anaheim just signed Chris Stewart to a 1 year 1.7 million contract with Anaheim…..no lets trade for Chris Stewart at the deadline posts on FN for a while!

  • Derzie

    The premise of the article is fine but the analysis is completely wrong in terms of the what and why.

    Management is looking for balance, they clearly lacked size in their prospect base pre 2014 draft so addressed that aggressively that year, of which allowed them to draft more skilled players this year.

    It has nothing to do with changing drafting philosophy, management is intelligently looking for players of all types to ensure balance within the roster go-forward. All good teams do this.

    • Burnward

      It’s clear we have competent people in charge.

      Finally?

      When everyone here can identify the weakness in the organization, and they go address it…it instills faith.

      It’s nice to know our team is in good hands.

      That said though, what is most impressive to me, is the way that BT is being so aggressive and just straight out getting sh!t done.

      Hamilton. Unreal.

      Trade up to get Kylington, right in front of TO and wunderkind Dubas mind you, is unreal too.

      Rasmus is going to be great just because of that first name.

      Best part of the draft for me is thinking about the Leafs brass about to take Kylington, internet blog heroes immediately…but BT swoops in and just crushes. Probably got a little dap from Burkie for that too.

      Not to get off on a tangent here… But what this rebuild has been, to me, is establishing a culture of excellence from the top down. Hockey people in charge, a GM that is plugged in and gets it. A coach that inspires, that players can respect.

      Then there’s the right people on the ice. And this organization has them in spades: from Gio to Bouma to Monahan. These are professional men with a singular goal. And the leadership transition through the years will be so smooth.

      This isn’t some patch job either. The ideals of being a Flame are set. The mentality of the players is set. The talent is there.

      I’m done with accepting that this franchise is second class to any other, as I’ve done for too much of my life.

      There is no reason that in a decade this shouldn’t be one of the top five most respected organizations in the league.

      Sure, they’ve also been blessed by a lot of good things in Johnny, Brodie, Hamilton…but that’s come from within, whether it be good drafting or trades, and that’s the sweetest part.

      Nobody on this team has been given or promised anything. And there they are laying it on the line, all game, each night.

      Tis a beautiful time to be a fan of this team.

      Go Flames Go!!!!

      P.S. definitely tangential

      • Derzie

        I get your excitement but this rebuild is hardly complete and BT has a lot of tough sledding ahead of him. The next 2 years are going to be really important as he has a number of key players to sign and some budget issues. If he is able to manage the budget and make some key trades to free up some cap space then and get these key guys signed then the journey will look good. And yes it is a good time to be a Flames fan.

        • piscera.infada

          I don’t think anyone thinks the “rebuild” is complete, nor does anyone think this is a cup-contending team right now. Also, I don’t think anyone is under any illusion that there isn’t work left to do. That all said, when a management group can seemingly address the biggest organizational issue over the course of roughly 36 hours, it bodes well for the confidence everyone has in that management to see the rest of the work through in a smart and efficient manner.

      • Derzie

        Not only that, but they’re developing talent throughout the organization. They recently promoted Jordan Sigalet, who had been the goalie coach of the farm team for a few years. They got Treliving from the Coyotes, hired Conroy, who now has his fingers in every facet of the organization, and let’s not forget good ol’ Ryan Huska, the young coach developing with the AHL team.

        Beautiful time indeed.

  • Derzie

    We’ll know 2 months into the season whether the components are there for a Stanly Cup.

    If the Flames Defense Men have the most blocked shots statistics than the work is not being done further down the ice before the other team hits the Flames Blue Line.

    Blocked shots bragging rights will tell us that balance has not been achieved.

  • Derzie

    We’ll know 2 months into the season whether the components are there for a Stanly Cup.

    If the Flames Defense Men have the most blocked shots statistics than the work is not being done further down the ice before the other team hits the Flames Blue Line.

    Blocked shots bragging rights will tell us that balance has not been achieved.

  • Derzie

    We’ll know 2 months into the season whether the components are there for a Stanly Cup.

    If the Flames Defense Men have the most blocked shots statistics than the work is not being done further down the ice before the other team hits the Flames Blue Line.

    Blocked shots bragging rights will tell us that balance has not been achieved.

  • Derzie

    We’ll know 2 months into the season whether the components are there for a Stanly Cup.

    If the Flames Defense Men have the most blocked shots statistics than the work is not being done further down the ice before the other team hits the Flames Blue Line.

    Blocked shots bragging rights will tell us that balance has not been achieved.

  • Derzie

    We’ll know 2 months into the season whether the components are there for a Stanly Cup.

    If the Flames Defense Men have the most blocked shots statistics than the work is not being done further down the ice before the other team hits the Flames Blue Line.

    Blocked shots bragging rights will tell us that balance has not been achieved.

  • Derzie

    We’ll know 2 months into the season whether the components are there for a Stanly Cup.

    If the Flames Defense Men have the most blocked shots statistics than the work is not being done further down the ice before the other team hits the Flames Blue Line.

    Blocked shots bragging rights will tell us that balance has not been achieved.

  • Derzie

    We’ll know 2 months into the season whether the components are there for a Stanly Cup.

    If the Flames Defense Men have the most blocked shots statistics than the work is not being done further down the ice before the other team hits the Flames Blue Line.

    Blocked shots bragging rights will tell us that balance has not been achieved.

  • Derzie

    We’ll know 2 months into the season whether the components are there for a Stanly Cup.

    If the Flames Defense Men have the most blocked shots statistics than the work is not being done further down the ice before the other team hits the Flames Blue Line.

    Blocked shots bragging rights will tell us that balance has not been achieved.

  • Derzie

    We’ll know 2 months into the season whether the components are there for a Stanly Cup.

    If the Flames Defense Men have the most blocked shots statistics than the work is not being done further down the ice before the other team hits the Flames Blue Line.

    Blocked shots bragging rights will tell us that balance has not been achieved.

  • Derzie

    We’ll know 2 months into the season whether the components are there for a Stanly Cup.

    If the Flames Defense Men have the most blocked shots statistics than the work is not being done further down the ice before the other team hits the Flames Blue Line.

    Blocked shots bragging rights will tell us that balance has not been achieved.