FN Mailbag – November 2, 2015


October is associated with fear and horror thanks to Halloween. To be sure there was plenty of horror for the Flames, with the club stumbling to an excruciating 3-8-1 record. Only the Ducks’ baffling power outage has kept the Flames out of the bottom of the Western Conference through the first month of action.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this! Calgary was supposed to take a step forward after surprising everyone last season and improving the roster in the summer. The extreme discordance between Calgary’s finish to 2014-15 and their start to 2015-16 has the collective hand of the Flames fans base hovering ever closer to the panic button. 

I think it’s important to note, however, that we’re talking about a stretch of 11 games. That feels like a lot, but it’s only about 1/8th (13%) of a single season. As the Ducks’ current predicament perfectly illustrates, sometimes everything goes wrong for small segments of games. It’s just too bad the consequences of such a lousy (though relatively brief) spate of games far outstrips its informational value when it comes to grading the roster. 

Which is a very long way of saying that nobody should be jumping to wild conclusions just one month into a season. Unless a conclusion has a longer background and much more data to be be based on, everyone should resist the urge to start stringing up effigies or trading everyone not named “Gaudreau” for a dirty skate rag. 

So let’s talk about trading goalies and firing coaches then shall we?

I’m perhaps the last person in Calgary who thinks this, but I’m not on the “we need to do something about the goalies” train of thought. Calgary got an entire season of at least average puck stopping out of the cadre of guys they have right now and Hiller has an entire career worth of results to suggest he’s above average. There’s just no way every single Flames goalie became an ECHL-quality starter over night.

Like a sniper who suddenly can’t find twine, sometimes everything goes in on goalies. Even good to great goalies have stretches where they can’t even break .900. Just look to Columbus, who have seen a former Vezina winner in Sergei Bobrovsky suddenly look like Andrew Raycroft despite multiple years of above board netminding. 

To whit, I asked some of the more analytically inclined Twitter folks about the chances of an average goalie putting up an .870 SV% through 10 games. The response was 35 different NHL goaltenders have done it over the last 5 years or so and that the chances are any starter will experience a patch like this once every 4 seasons. Just by chance alone.

This isn’t to say the goaltending has been fine. Nor am I excusing the Flames’ defensive play, which has been a part of the problem. It’s just that sometimes this stuff happens and it doesn’t mean that the team needs to go out and immediately replace a goalie with a strong history of results because of it. Because there’s a good chance you won’t really be fixing anything.

That’s a bit premature. I mean, if they have only 9 wins by the end of December, then yeah start considering which vets to sell off at the deadline. But for now, just look to continue getting better.

Easy enough. Here’s a visual snapshot of the Flames possession so far.


And here’s a link that will take you to the Flames relative possession ranking. Surprises so far? Engelland being better than average, Monahan getting beaten up and Russell somehow taking another giant step backwards.

Although I was never the biggest Hartley booster, I think it’s fair to give him a bit more time to try to figure things out this year. If he can’t find a way to adjust the systems and start playing a game that doesn’t rely so much on counter punching, then it’s time to start looking for a replacement.

I personally don’t have anyone in mind, though if Claude Julien or Bruce Boudreau are let go from either Boston or Anaheim I wouldn’t be against giving either of them a call.

I don’t think it’s likely Johansen will be asking out of Columbus, but I think it’s even less likely that the Flames will be able to put together a package for him without offering up a key piece in return. The Blue Jackets want to make it out of the basement as desperately as the Flames do, so they won’t be just giving away a blue chipper.

No. Feaster instituted that rule because he was managing a team that really didn’t have anyone worth signing long term anyways. Except, of course, that he broke his rule for Dennis Wideman, but that’s a minor quibble.

The flaws that exist on the Flames were mostly apparent before the rough start, even if they were masked somewhat by Calgary’s turn as underdog darling last year. Treliving and company now have the best of times and the worst of times to help balance out their evaluation of the club. My hope is they don’t choose to use either of the two extremes to make their decisions.

Russell is definitely well liked in the room and by the coaches given how much more rope he’s gotten relative to others to start the year. And although I’ve been skeptical of his abilities as a top-4 defender for some time based on his always bad underlying numbers in Calgary, Hartley and co. obviously weight his other results from last season far more and fair enough.

So Russell won’t be sitting in favour of a kid or hopeful any time soon. I’d settle for a bump down the rotation myself though.

  • Willi P

    I like Russell but holy crap has he been a hot sewage dump. When he’s nailed to the bench Calgary is one of the best possession teams in hockey 5v5. They are the 2014 Sabres when he plays. Crazy. 2 goals against per game when he plays 5v5 this year. In 3/4 of one period of 5v5 (Russell’s average playing time) he averages two goals against. What??!! That’s like having someone’s power play out there against us. Literally a pylon.

    We get on a lot of guys for stinking (Hamilton/Backlund/Gio). Russell is always there when we think they are bad. Stinking. Sit the guy for two weeks (no Smid please – maybe Kulak). See if the problem gets solved.

    Nice guy. Heart. Tough. And horrendous right now.

    • Willi P

      Maybe because he wears an “A” but I don’t know either. Like most of the rest of the team, I think they read too much press on how much they improved. They need to start playing like underdogs again, particularly Russell

  • beloch

    Here is what will likely be an unpopular opinion:

    Sit Russell, play Smid.

    Yeah… That guy. Smid was predictably terrible in his first game back, but he finished with CF%’s of 54.17% and 52.0% in his second and third game back. Those were pretty bad nights for the Flames’, so those were both actually close to team-leading performances. He played mostly with Hamilton in that stretch, but also several shifts with Engelland.

    To the eye, Smid looked healthier than he’s been since joining the Flames. No grimacing and limping to the bench after every shift. No stumbling around the ice looking slower than a goal-post. He actually skated the puck out around a forechecker in at least one instance, which is worth taking note of because Russell would have attempted a pass that would almost certainly have been picked off in the same situation.

    Smid is a stay-at-home defender. This is true. However, when your goalies are shakier than Michael J. Fox off his meds, isn’t it a good idea to swap out a guy like Russell for somebody more defensively oriented?

    The reason Smid wound up back in the press box after his second and third games was because that’s when Brodie returned. He was looking good and had earned another game, but Brodie is brotastic. However, now that Russell is clearly the worst performing defender on the team, perhaps now is the right time to see if Smid can build on those two good games. Even if he can’t do that, it might do Russell some good to sit for a couple games and get the same opportunity for introspection that apparently did Gaudreau so much good at the start of last season.

    Why won’t this happen? Smid had worked his way up to 12 minutes of TOI when he was rotated back to the press box. Russell, as bad as he’s been, hasn’t played less than 20 minutes so far this season. Clearly, Russell still has Hartley’s confidence. I don’t know how many more bone-headed giveaways he needs to make to lose that but, apparently, it’s going to be a lot. The best we can probably hope for is that he will continue to play with anyone but Wideman, whose own defensive shortcomings only amplified Russell’s.

        • aflame13

          In all fairness, Michael J. Fox makes light of his own disability.

          I knew a guy that suffered from MS and he was super funny about his disability as well. He’d joke that if he didn’t have his Starbucks (he would get a large coffee with 2 extra shots of espresso), he would be shaking uncontrollably. Obviously in a funnier way than I just said it, but you get the idea haha.

          Point is, not all jokes about disabilities (or whatever “touchy” subject is being referred to) are bad and we just gotta be careful to be respectful and caring of these things at the appropriate times. This time though, I feel like the joke wasn’t crossing the line seeing that Fox himself views and portrays it humourlessly at times.

          Ok, I’m done. Back to Flames stuff.

        • Willi P

          Firstly, I didn’t author the line. Secondly, I think MJF would have laughed at that one too, he is somewhat of a comedian after all. I thought it was funny and done in a way that describes the situation, not belittling someone or their disease. Just light hearted fun, but that is just my opinion.

    • Willi P


      Smid was not too bad, but he is like Regher offensively. No pinching, all dump-ins. Nevertheless, ABR (Anything But Russell) should be the mantra. Stuffing Brodie with Russell to drag Russell up but dragging Brodie down is an offensive coaching decision.

      Sports is a business. Maybe Russell is hiding an injury, or maybe he cannot play in a more open scheme. Nevertheless as a season ticket holder I shouldn’t have my (very expensive) experience wasted because Hartley is protecting his favourites.

      This team is pretty good aside from Russell and a crap goaltending run. Lets give it a chance to be great.

  • OKG

    While I fully agree Russell has struggled this year, part of that is the fact that we haven’t had a good partner for him.

    Wideman? We all know how that works out. Wideman too prone to taking terrible shots that bounce off the boards and then Russell backs off and lets the other team get an easy zone entry and then both guys get hemmed in because one’s too small and the other too slow.

    Engelland? The one player on the team who ices the puck as often as Russell.

    Brodie? Sure, but he needs to play with Giordano against top competition.

    Hamilton? On paper a good pairing, just hasn’t worked in the small sample size so far as it’s mostly been during score-effects induced panic mode. I still think Russell-Hamilton can be a good pairing once both players are playing well, Hamilton needs to be a bit better, stronger, “bigger” in front of the net and they need time to build some familiarity with each other. The upside is there.

    Nakladal? I honestly think this can be a very good pairing from what I’ve seen of Jakub but we’re still talking about a guy who has yet to get into an NHL game

    • Willi P

      I can’t decide if this post is brilliant sarcasm or not.

      However in the event it isn’t; if all the partners they give Russell play better without him then maybe the problem is simply Russell.

  • Willi P

    Russell had an interview where he himself noted that hes been on the ice for like every goal lol

    That must be frusterating lol imagine being that guy that everyones trash talkin

    • aflame13

      Russell seems like a great guy and its sucks that he has been so bad. I will leave you with this stat. In 5v5 situations:

      -Russell ON the ice Flames average 25 shots for and 37 shots against every 60 minutes

      -Russell OFF the ice the Flames average 31 shots for and 26 shots against.

      The first number is basically the 2014-15 Sabres (-11.6 shots per game). The second number is tops in the league in 2014-15 (+5.2 shots per game).

      Its truly amazing Russell is only 2minutes total behind Gio for ice time this year. It not an accident that he’s -14, though that may be a little worse than expected thanks to the goaltending.

      Calgary right now is playing elite possession hockey outside of Russell. The goaltenders stink, but if you fix Russell the Flames might be closer to Minnesota in 2014-15 than we think.

  • Parallex

    The Flames are desperate to get back to last year’s exciting play.The Oilers continue to do little. For them its only 10 years.
    The Oilers new Coach made a drastic move to improve. Four (4) Assistant Captains were appointed.Maybe they could use 5 or 6?

    NHL teams pay in US Dollars. All the Canadian Clubs except Montreal are hardly performing. These poor performing clubs should be paid in Canadian Funds!

    Fans in Alberta are getting a lousy exchange on their Canadian $$’s.

  • piscera.infada

    I think the most important point made in this article is this one about goaltending:

    …but I’m not on the “we need to do something about the goalies” train of thought. Calgary got an entire season of at least average puck stopping out of the cadre of guys they have right now and Hiller has an entire career worth of results to suggest he’s above average. There’s just no way every single Flames goalie became an ECHL-quality starter over night.

    Thanks Kent, I honestly thought I was the last one in Calgary to hold this view. Yes, the goaltending has sunk them since they’ve started to get their game together. But I’m not sure there are a lot of better options out there, and the ones there are will either a) cost a substantial amount to acquire, or b) difficult to fit into the cap structure this team, or both. Then you have to think about possibly resigning that goalie–and doubly so if they do, in fact, save your season (meaning term, and dollars).

    I think Hartley has to pick one goalie–I frankly don’t care whom, at this point–and just ride them until their comfortable. While I don’t think that the goalie rotation is the problem itself, I definitely think it exacerbates the problem.

    The coaching staff can then use all their “goalie stress” time, to work on other areas (special teams) of concern (special teams) that need to be addressed soon in order to win more games (special teams)–special teams.