FN Mailbag – November 7, 2015


We’re more than a month into the season and we’re all still kinda waiting for the Flames to snap out of it. At least they finally have a quality start from a goaltender under their belt. Everything else, from the offense to the defense, is still bait of a tire fire, however. The coaching staff has been mixing and matching parts like manic alchemists in search of a magical formula, without much luck. Whenever one part starts to click, two more seem to break down. 

Today’s mailbag is mostly concerned with this ongoing search for chemistry.

Anything is possible when it comes to the Flames’ baffling goaltender carousel, but I doubt Hiller will be demoted. The coaches don’t seem to have much faith in Ortio at the NHL level right now and I’m willing to bet the club’s SV% struggles to start the season will make it a lot easier for the kid to pass through waivers. It doesn’t do him much good to be stuck on the bench or in the press box indefinitely so they might as well send him down so he can get some reps.

Which is the long way of saying I think it will be Ortio rather than Hiller.

Unfortunately, the situation on the back-end is difficult one to manage. Mark Giordano isn’t his usual Norris-caliber self, Dougie Hamilton is still adjusting and the Wideman/Russell pairing has come crashing back down to earth.

With so many key guys underperforming, it has become a game of mixing and hoping for Hartley. He has TJ Brodie and Deryk Engelland as the ice time book-ends and he has to to basically hope at least one of the other guys figures things out.

Wideman and Russell are getting ice time, in part because there’s only so much Brodie can play every night and in part because Hartley experienced so much success with them last year. At some point their 2014-15 credit is going to run out, but for now with so few other options, Hartley is kinda forced to go back to the well.

As for Brodie/Hamilton, I can only assume Hartley is too spooked from Dougie’s abysmal October to put him back into a regular top-pairing role at this point. That said, I also hope we’ll see what this pairing can do.

This is something you see across the league when a team is struggling – the coach puts the forwards in a blender and frantically tries to find something that clicks. This is especially true in a couple of instances: at the start of the year when the slate is blank and when a team’s goalies can’t stop a beach ball. Bad puck stopping makes every one look worse, so it often results in the decision makers getting desperate.

I suspect this is going to continue until at least one trio catches fire or is at least consistently effective for more than a period or two.

Colborne has what scouts call “projectable” size and skill. He’s huge, can skate, has good hands and decent vision. So there’s the enduring hope that he will become one of those highly coveted “big body” power forward types. And every so often, Colborne has a games that suggests he’s finally turned the corner, which convinces the coaching staff to elevate him and cross their fingers.

Because of his combo of skills and the occasional good performance, Colborne is going to be given every opportunity to succeed. I’m suspicious he’ll ever be anything more than a competent bottom-sixer, but he’ll get a few looks at the top of the rotation every now and then, especially while the team is struggling.

It will depend on need and perceived role, but my guess is Markus Granlund will be the next forward recalled. He’s been here before and is again one of the leading scorers on the farm.

As for lack of production, it’s a concern. The problem isn’t just a fall in even strength shooting percentage relative to last year, but also the big drop in Calgary’s power play (both in terms of frequency of opportunities and lack of success). Right now, the Flames are tied for 24th in terms of penalties drawn this season (38) and dead last at generating shots with the man advantage (39.5/60). To put that latter number in perspective, the Flames managed over 48 shots per hour at 5on4 last year and they were still a bottom-5 team in the league.

Mark Jankowski has had a really good start to the season with 10 points in 7 games, but we’re talking a small handful of games. If this level of performance can continue for the remainder of the season then we can start talking about him being back on track.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    I’ve been really hopeful that both Russell and Coburne are being shopped. Both players keep getting more TOI than teammates whom are simply better options. While Colburne’s play has at least been passable, Russell’s utilization is confusing. Russell is uniquely the flames worst defender, with some of the highest minutes on the team. Hartley has pretty much refused to demote him to the 3rd line as well.

    • OKG

      Agree that Russell has had some struggles and Colborne belongs nowhere near a top 6.

      That said Russell-Hamilton has been a good pairing with some potential. 50.0% Corsi-For this season so far. They keep that up they could produce some decent results.