Calgary’s Best Players Haven’t Been Good So Far

I don’t understand how this team can be so bad.

That was my thought on Sunday morning, as I reflected back upon the first five games of the 2015-16 season. The Flames had added bodies over the summer, but otherwise it’s the same team as last season. Seeking some understanding, I had some coffee and dug into the individual player underlying numbers, seeking a pattern.

Now I get it, somewhat.

The Calgary Flames are under-performing, to put it kindly, because their best players are playing very poorly right now.


The Flames have played three of their first five games at the friendly confines of the Scotiabank Saddledome, giving Bob Hartley and his staff a huge amount of control over the situations, match-ups and deployments his players face. (For ease, we’re focusing just on 5-on-5 play.)

Coaches have two ways of giving players easier ice-time: offensive zone starts and deployments against lesser lights on the other team. (Generally-speaking, you can use the ice-time of the other team’s players as a proxy for how good they are; the best players usually play the most, the worst the least.) Offensive starts make it easier to generate chances, regardless of opposition, while playing against easier opposition also makes it easier to generate chances.

Here’s who’s gotten the two kinds of high ground (the six of each type, in decreasing order):

  • Time On Ice: Sam Bennett, Mason Raymond, Dougie Hamilton, Dennis Wideman, Mark Giordano and Kris Russell
  • Zone Starts: Jiri Hudler, Josh Jooris, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman

On the flip side, here’s who’s gotten the toughest sledding:

  • Time On Ice: Lance Bouma, Markus Granlund, Josh Jooris, Brett Kulak, Deryk Engelland and David Jones
  • Zone Starts: Matt Stajan, Michael Frolik, Brandon Bollig, Sam Bennett, Mason Raymond and David Jones


Based on the deployment factors, you’d expect a particular series of outcomes in terms of their possession stats.

Good Numbers: Dougie Hamilton, Mason Raymond, Mark Giordano, Kris Russell, Jiri Hudler, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Dennis Wideman

Middle-of-the-Road: Sam Bennett, Mason Raymond, Josh Jooris (and everyone not explicitly in the “good” and “bad” groups)

Bad Numbers: Lance Bouma, Markus Granlund, Brett Kulak, Deryk Engelland, David Jones, Matt Stajan, Michael Frolik, Brandon Bollig

Deployments are used, especially at home, to allow the team’s best players more ample opportunities to create chances, score goals, and win games.

You can probably guess where this is going.


Based upon all of this preamble, you probably have expectations – as we all did – regarding which players would be driving the bus for the Flames. Those expectations haven’t been met, most likely.

Players At 50% (and Up) In Corsi For: Deryk Engelland, Brett Kulak, Sam Bennett, Lance Bouma, Brandon Bollig, Josh Jooris and Markus Granlund

Players At 50% (and Up) In Scoring Chances For: Deryk Engelland, Brett Kulak, Sam Bennett, Josh Jooris, Lance Bouma and Matt Stajan

Players At 50% (and Up) In High-Danger Scoring Chances For: Brett Kulak, Deryk Engelland, Sam Bennett, Matt Stajan, David Jones and Josh Jooris

The players that who were given the most high-ground in its various deployment forms? Awful, awful numbers, among the worst in each of those three measures. It’s downright scary that the players giving Calgary the best chances to win games are their third defensive pairing and the odds and sods that are making up their fourth line. (And Sam Bennett, for what it’s worth.)

It’s only five games, but it’s a pretty disappointing start given that Calgary’s best players have been rather ordinary, leaving it to their depth guys to carry the mail.

  • FeyWest

    Agreed Ryan. I Honestly think this has a lot to do with trying to do too much… Things like positioning, play making, shooting tend to be affected by how much thinking is going on and for how long.

    Too many low-percentage passes, fancy plays every time, losing position leading to running around in both Offensive and Defensive zones all point to the guys who know a lot rides on their shoulders. They need to settle down and get back to the basics, simple but smart plays, more bank pass and carry in zone entries and less dump and chase (absolutely hate this but has its place every so often).

    The guys aren’t out there alone and need to stop playing the one-man-army type running around plays and utilize eachother better with more crisp, controlled passes, everything should fall in to place when they calm down. (Except Bennett his energy is a welcome breath of fresh air because I think he plays that style very smartly)

  • Tomas Oppolzer

    Thats a very good analysis and pretty much confirms with what we’ve seen in games. Our top line spend more time running around defending than attacking. Wouldn’t be surprised to see all the lines scrambled to get a diff look next game.

  • SmellOfVictory

    I think also worth mentioning, is that the Flames played a very disciplined game last year. They seemed to compensate for their lack of possession by playing smart hockey, and not making any reckless plays or stupid penalties. All signs of a struggling team.

    It has been the complete opposite this year, very uncharacteristic of the Flames.

  • SmellOfVictory

    From what I’ve seen, I think the bulk of the issue is on defense. Russell has been pretty awful, Wideman has been mediocre at best, Hamilton has been all over the place, and Giordano is definitely not playing anywhere near the level he was the last couple of years.

    The top forward line has looked passable (not great, but mostly competent) and I think the dmen they’re playing in front of are what’s really tanking their possession stats right now.

  • ville de champignons

    Last year they played like a team that was *us against the world* with no expectations on them. This year there are expectations and they have looked tense and hesitant and haven’t been good as individuals. The consequence of that is bad team play. Better start getting some wins or the guys will only try even harder as individuals causing team play to decline even further as they risk sliding into an edmonton-like death spiral. *see the Oilers last 8 seasons*

    Bob has to be a great coach now to stop this.

    And get a goalie.

  • CofRed4Life

    I think part of the reason is that the Flames are no longer a surprise. Everyone now knows about Hudreaunahan, and teams now do a better job planning their game around that top line to shut them down. They realize our scoring depth is so-so right now (without Jones it would be awful right now…) and so as long as they shut down the top line, they have a much higher chance of winning. It’s a lot harder to score in any sport when you’re being defended by the best defenders on their team.

    Now they have to figure out how to keep scoring with the added pressure. Time will tell if they can do it.

  • everton fc

    My feelings on the team this far;

    Players giving a good performance this far:
    Jones, Hudler, Gaudreau, Kulak, Raymond, Bennett

    Players not hurting the team, but who need to score more, or give a little more:
    Stajan, Ferland, Frolik, Monahan, and yes, Engelland.

    Players I feel are disappointing this far:
    Gio, Hamilton, Russell

    Wideman is a 5/6 guy and would be fine in that role with, say Kulak. Or a stay-at-home type of defender. Our defence has been porous. Backend and forwards.

    I didn’t mention guy like Bouma (hurt) or Backlund/Jooris (niether getting the ice time), or Bollig (Why?). We simply can’t score. Against the Jets, if we could have scored, we’d have won, even with the soft one Ramo let in. I think the trio of goalies is a distraction to us fans, and must be for the goalies. That is a real problem.

    Give Granlund some shifts and see what he can do. But we really cannot score.

  • hulkingloooooob

    to me it’s simple, we’ve just GOT to hold on to the puck more. we talk about becoming a better possession team and how certain people with certain stats will help us do this, but how bout just holding on to the puck more?

  • hulkingloooooob

    If the team motto really is “Always earned, never given” then we should see players like Kulak and Jones rewarded with more ice time.

    Yet that isn’t happening…

  • ChinookArchYYC

    Well… I heard we are now sitting last place in the league with a nightmare 6 games ahead of us. Oh oh. Well the bright side of things are:

    1/ Matthews is being compared to Jack Eichel on talent level, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing…….

    2/ Johnny’s & Money’s bridge contracts won’t be that bad either so we avert the cap nightmare next summer & all that worrying was for not.

    Personally, I think things are going to get straightened around but we may be really bemoaning & over analyzing what is shaping up to be just a horrible October that analysts will be pinpointing why we come up just short of the playoffs. You heard it here first. 🙂

  • ChinookArchYYC

    Am I the only one, or have Monahan and Hurler been disappointing to start the season? They almost remind me of early in the playoffs when they fell off a cliff from injuries or whatever reason.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    okay a young inexperienced team can’t handle all that drinking at the party last year and now they are paying for it with a big hangover now. Sober up boys the new season has started so it is back to work and start playing again. ( everyone )

  • Big Ell

    The title of this article should be “Calgary’s Best Players Aren’t That Good”

    When 8 players who had best in career years all at once crash down to their average it’ll be clear this team is full of secondary players and devoid of any truly elite players outside of Gio and perhaps Brodie.

    • SmellOfVictory

      21 year old Monahan and 22 year old Gaudreau are going to “crash down to their average”?

      Hudler is a proven commodity at this point, and nobody expects him to put up 70 points again, but they expect him to be better than he has been this year. Hamilton has multiple seasons of solid play as a top 4 dman, and we can reasonably expect that from him, at minimum.

      Which “best players” do you think are going to regress to normal, outside of Hudler? Bouma isn’t a best player by a longshot, nor is Jooris. Most of the guys who rode percentages last season were secondary players.