Toilet Thoughts: Kulak, Russell, Wideman, and Frolik


What better way to debut on FlamesNation than my new weekly column titled Toilet Thoughts where I discuss things I’ve observed in the world of Calgary Flames hockey. Please try to limit the amount of blood spilled in the comments as this column will be an ode to the legendary Five Things series by Ryan Lambert.

Every week will be a topic or a couple topics so there will be no concrete structure to this column.

1. Brett Kulak, you’re a peach

I’ll be the first to admit that I had zero expectations or any mere semblance of belief that Brett Kulak’s growth from last season to now could ever take place. Yet here we are, another fourth round pick who is a defenseman who happened to make an incredible impact. Kulak proved many wrong that he could compete and earn a roster spot to start the season. Not only did he do that, but he carried around Deryk Engelland, forming a pairing that played pretty consistently.

It’s unfortunate the Calgary Flames didn’t shed some dead weight on the blueline this summer, though most things are easier said than done in hindsight. He’s now a temporary casualty to Ladislav Smid’s return/Jakub Nakladal being recalled. Here’s hoping a deal happens in the near future so Kulak can return.

The silver lining to Kulak being sent down is hopefully top pairing minutes in Stockton, on a very talented team. Depending on Nakladal’s or Smid’s performance — or even injuries (which are bound to happen) — Kulak should return. With that promising hope, we’ll see even more growth from him.

2. Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman, I don’t even know

They received their fair share of criticism, which was well justified. There is absolutely no denying that they’ve exhibited some of the worst play on the team in recent games. Further using them as a pair, and the usage they receive, is counter-intuitive to the goal of being a better team.

Wideman receives his fair share of vitriol, often fuelled by his inability to actually play more than 30 seconds of defense coherently. But that’s who he is, and the upside of his offensive abilities is something Brad Treliving should sell high on. Now we can dismiss the notion that Wideman was being “propped up” by his partners as both players are exhibiting the same systemic issues.

Russell on the other hand, the byproduct of his blue-collar demeanor and play, is no better this season. Often criticized in the stats community, concern over his actual defensive impact is surfacing even on Sportsnet by Mike Johnson:

He may be beloved by many, but it’s really showing these last few games of the lapses in his overall game.

3. TJ Brodie’s return and setting correct expectations

Sad Brodie Photo

The chorus of angels Ari eluded to in her piece yesterday are blissfully singing the name Thomas James Brodie. It’s true, he is close to returning as the Flames teeter on the precipice of falling further and further to early season despair. His return will likely reunite him with Mark Giordano who, prior to his injury, was in Norris-quality form. Not so much this season, but the limited faith I have in this mortal plain leads me to believe he’ll be okay. Thankfully he wasn’t rushed back and traveling with the team will make fans salivate to the point of dehydration.

Brodie will help, albeit the impact in both defensive and offensive terms will remain to be seen until we get a handful of games from him. The one thing to keep in mind is not immediately assuming “Brodie is back, therefore things will be okay“. That’s not to say that everyone is assuming that, but it’s an underlying theme. Even if pairings are mixed up and Brodie even sees time with Hamilton, Brodie’s defensive impact could help Dougie out, too.

Plus his beard might be one of the best in the league.

4. Michael Frolik is literally everything as advertised

I’ll close here with discussing new-Flame Michael Frolik, who may have been considered an “over-payment” by some, though is living up to his billing. There is no denying that augmenting your core with the proper players is one of the hardest things to do in this league. Some augmentations are hits like the Ducks adding Mike Santorelli (honestly, it was one of the best damn signings) or the Capitals adding Justin Williams. Both are the right types of players to add to an existing roster looking to make jumps in right directions.

He is exactly that option and the Flames have him wrapped up for the remaining quality years of his career. Evidently his play with Sam Bennett and Mikael Backlund is resulting in improvements, even if the points aren’t coming yet. He is seeing usage in all circumstances so far and realistically has been the most consistent forward besides Johnny Gaudreau. Given it’s early in the season, it’s hopeful and purely optimistic that he can keep trending this way yet not out of the realm of possibilities.

Frolik in many ways is part of Brad Treliving’s work of establishing [to some regard] a demarcation point in the top-six. If the they start putting it together, we’ll likely no longer see Bouma used in that role. The days of David Jones, Matt Stajan, Joe Colborne, etc. occupying precious minutes are gone. If there is one final silver lining to address, it’s hopefully player usage is ironed out and we see an end to incorrect roster design.

5. HOT DAMN! Mike has a project he is working on

Part of last season, particularly around the post-season push I started studying the Flames penalty kill closer and closer. From a personal standpoint, the PK is absolutely fascinating and it’s always been something I loved dating back to my childhood. Given the Flames’ 20th ranked PK last season, which could have been higher due to their first place penalty differential, I wanted to explore it in further detail.

So far this season I’ve been analyzing the systems of the Flames’ penalty kill, tracking events, and working towards producing some visualizations for each game. I’m hoping to have some content available for next week once I get through a few more games and finish the visualizations I’m trying out.

Though, a few key things have appeared that are worth noting:

  • Part of the “necessity” of shot blocking on the PK often by Lance Bouma is to compensate on the left-side for Dennis Wideman
  • There is a lack of Paul Byron on the PK is something that irks me. This isn’t a time to cry about his waiving, but a time to highlight how delightful he was on special teams. He was aggressive, smart, and fast. His work along the boards suppressing plays is sorely missed.
  • Michael Frolik needs more special teams time.

I’ll definitely want feedback and comments on how this project goes so please provide anything you’ve noticed that I’ve missed when it goes public.