FN Mailbag: October 18, 2015


Five games in and the Flames are stumbling through a nightmarish start to the season. It’s way too early to say the regression gods are taking their revenge, but it’s certainly been a discouraging opening foray. The Flames have seen a lot of the bounces that favoured them last year go the opposite way so far while the opportunistic offense and last minute comebacks have been tragically absent. 

No one is panicking yet, but it’s not unfair to say that the team has to play a lot better very soon in order to be a going concern in the hyper competitive West. 

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This week in the mailbag we look at (question the) coaching, goaltending and defense.

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This question came through in a couple of variations.

Given what we’ve seen so far, I think it’s highly likely that Brodie and Gio are a pairing again once Brodie comes back. 

The Hamilton/Gio duo has been just short of disastrous. This can be put down to a number of factors, including Hamilton’s unfamiliarity with the systems and Gio returning from a long lay-off, but they’ve been fairly awful. Both players are too good for it to continue indefinitely, so maybe they’ll be reformed before Brodie gets back. If not, it’ll be Brodie/Gio as the top pairing again.

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By now my position on the current goalie situation is clear: trade or demote Ramo and ride a Hiller/Ortio pairing this year.

As for what will happen next year, we’re probably too far out to guess. It will depend entirely on how all the guys mentioned perform this year and who is available via trade or on the UFA market in the summer. Goaltending is probably not something to sweat about currently: if the team still isn’t sure about Ortio or Gillies by the summer of 2016, they’ll have the option of re-signing Hiller/Ramo or acquiring someone else (there are always a few goalies kicking around). 

Speaking of which…

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At this point, Im sure the team will trade whoever out of Hiller or Ramo garners interest. Unless another team gets extra desperate for some reason, I’m guessing they don’t get anything more than a mid level pick or prospect in return.

I doubt it. I don’t think Columbus will give up on Bobrovsky that quickly, nor will they think that any of the Flames goalies would be the solution should he somehow continue to struggle.

(Asked before the latest two losses, obviously)

The Flames have a couple of clear problems right now. 

First of all, many of the key players on the team simply aren’t executing at a high level. Sean Monahan, Jiri Hudler, Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton and to a lesser extent, Mikael Backlund – all of these guys have had rough starts to the season to one degree or another. Giordano in particular has struggled through perhaps the roughest stretch in recent memory. Monahan looks like he did in the playoffs last year – completely overwhelmed by quality opposition.

For the Flames to be successful, they’ll need better execution from this collection of guys at both ends of the ice.

It also looks like there might be systemic issues plaguing the team as well. First and foremost is the club’s strong reliance on stretch passes in transition. Though this scheme can result in odd man rushes and sudden break aways when executed well, it can also result in a very stilted, easily defended system if the opposition team is successful at cutting off passing lanes (or if your players aren’t pinpoint accurate in their headman passes).

To my eye, the Flames have had a very hard time implementing this transitional strategy most nights. There’s altogether too many icings, as well as passes into skates or behind players. As a result, the team has a lot trouble establishing a consistent attack. They also finds themselves on their heels all too often.

Nakladal’s problems are logistical. With Brodie and Smid set to return, the Flames are going to be forced to demote at least one of their existing defenders (likely Kulak since he isn’t subject to waivers) and another body besides (unless they get rid of a goalie before that point).

So for Nakladal to get the call up, the team will have to suffer more than a few injuries.

Poirier is merely a decent AHLer right now. He was way over his head during his cup of coffee last year and he had a very mediocre training camp this season. I suspect Poirier is going to need a full soak (at least three seasons in the AHL) before we’ll really know if he can be an NHLer or not.

Coaching is a tough thing to gauge, because a coach is limited by the roster he’s given. Great coaches do tend to have teams who are better at controlling the puck than not – or they at least make mediocre rosters middling at it.

The Flames were one of the worst teams in the league last year at puck possession and one of the worst possession clubs to make the play-offs in the modern era. To some degree, Hartley tailored his game plan to the roster he had – one that foregrounded collapsing, blocking shots and counter punching. That said, as his roster improves through organic development or acquisitions, Hartley must find systemic methods to get the puck in the offensive zone and keep it there. 

The Flames can’t be a team overly reliant on comebacks and opportunistic scoring to make hay. As many other upstarts have discovered, that is not a long term solution.

  • SmellOfVictory

    First and foremost is the club’s strong reliance on stretch passes in transition.

    I think this, combined with lack of Brodie, is a reasonably notable factor in the Flames’ issues so far, at least in transition. Brodie is the best breakout passer on the team, and I think in that respect his absence from the roster hurts even more than Gio’s did last year.

    • piscera.infada

      Couldn’t agree more. If you go on youtube and watch some TJ Brodie highlights, it’s amazing how much off the Flames’ offence came off a beautiful first-pass he made to a forward. Couple that with the fact that he’s probably the best Flames Dman in terms of jumping up/leading the rush, and the Flames blueline is missing arguably its most important player (all respect to Gio).

      Always knew Brodie was good, even great, but he has become a truly elite player on CGY. Hurry back TJB

  • mattyc

    The flames possession game has been very disappointing. Especially considering we played VAN twice, and EDM once, both teams who we will need to best to make the post-season.

  • Könniek

    With the Flames 1-4 it is high time that Ortio got a chance to help Flames pull out of their slump! Ramo and Hiller have looked rather pedestrian this year!

    • Greg

      Agreed. It hasn’t been either Hiller or Ramo’s fault thus far (the whole team has been bad), but neither has been good either. Might as well throw Ortio in and see what he can give you.

  • CofRed4Life

    Our reliance on the stretch pass is hurting our ability to maintain possession in the offensive zone. We can’t even get there most of the time, and it’s painful. There needs to be more emphasis on easier passes, more carry-ins, and less fancy stuff. Back to basics. As my dad always says, “It’s the little things that make the biggest difference.”

    • piscera.infada

      This exactly. When the Flames do find themselves in the offensive zone, they usually come away with some solid zone time, and some scoring chances. The main problem is they can’t get there with any regularity. The problem with that though, is that it’s a symptom of the whole team, as opposed to some players, or some lines, or defense, or offense.

  • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

    @Kent_Wilson With Hiller/Ramo contracts expiring after this year,the Flames cant be thinking of an Ortio/Gillies tandem next year,can they?

    Why not? Here is a list of WHY for you

    Jonathan Quick http://www.eliteprospects.com/player.php?player=11798

    Tuuka Rask

    Pekka Rinne

    He has had 3 years in College where he has proven to be a potential number 1 and then if he spends a year in the AHL playing 60+ games he will be at about the same development point as the 3 examples above, so why not him and Ortio next year?

    We are still rebuilding aren’t we?

  • Craig

    I think s huge reason for our lack of success so far is the reliance on Russell and Wideman. They look terrible, are getting second line TOI when they are a third pairing, and continuously get hemmed in their own end. Engellland and Kulak have looked better!

    Also, Hartley has no idea how to properly deploy his lines. We need a coach that actually understands how to get possession time out of a roster.

    • Tomas Oppolzer

      Engellland and Kulak have looked better!

      It’s early, and I’m very surprised, but I’m very pleased with Engelland’s play so far this season. He’s playing like he was with Brodie at the end of last season (very simple game, staying within his means, not trying to force plays) except that, since he’s playing in a third pair role instead of a first pair role, he hasn’t been overwhelmed by competition he can’t handle. Instead, he and his partner are actually driving play. He and Kulak are doing what the third pair of any team needs to do.

      Quite frankly, we haven’t seen a third pair this effective since Brodie – Sarich.

  • Tomas Oppolzer

    I think you’re being a little unreasonable with Poirier, Kent. Even acknowledging his consistency issues, Poirier still had a great rookie campaign last year. His few games with the big club last year were his first taste of NHL action, of course he didn’t look great. Remember how Gaudreau looked in his first 5 games last year?

    • Tomas Oppolzer

      Agreed. Poirier was better at the AHL level last season than Ty Rattie, Anthony Mantha, and Joel Armia, all of whom are older and “better” than he is.

    • Tomas Oppolzer

      One thing to note about rookies is most need some luck to go their way early in their career. There needs to be a blend of enough luck and enough skill to force a GM and coach to hold a spot. Jooris is a prime example of a guy that clearly has the ability to be useful at the NHL level, but needed a streak to break in. Even now he’s struggling to hold down a spot.

      Baertschi was the opposite of that, where he definitely has the skill, but hasn’t been able to kick the door in.

      Poirier will need some breaks. I think we all hoped he’d get them this camp and didn’t. He also didn’t play that well. At least we have some time left between now and when he’s waiver eligible to ride this out.