How have the Calgary Flames been one quarter through the season?

With 21 games played, the Flames are now just over a quarter of the way through the season. They have a 8-12-1 record to show for it, with five of those victories coming in overtime, and the one loser point thanks to failing to win in the one shootout they’ve played thus far.

They’re also sixth in the Pacific division, but only four points out of a playoff spot, still with a ton of divisional games to go. They’ve scored 50 goals – 20th in the NHL – but have given up 75 – dead last, by a fair margin (the next worst team is the Columbus Blue Jackets, and they’ve only surrendered 66 goals).

So this hasn’t been the best start to a season. In fact, it’s been one of the worst in franchise history. This is a team that can’t keep the puck out of their net, and can’t win in regulation. This is still a rebuilding team.

Team stats

  • The Flames, with 2.38 goals per game, are 21st in the NHL; with 3.52 goals against, they’re last.
  • With 29.0 shots per game, they’re 21st in the NHL; with 29.9 shots against, they’re 16th. So goaltending has definitely cost this team its fair share of games, even if the offence hasn’t quite been doing its job, either. Goaltending has definitely been the greater cause for blame, though.
  • With a 14.3% success rate, the Flames have the fifth worst powerplay in the NHL; at 74.6%, they have the fourth worst penalty kill. Special teams have been pretty atrocious.
  • The Flames have a 5v5 CF of 48.3% through the first 21 games this season, the eighth worst team in the NHL. Considering how last season they were a 44.4% possession team and third worst in the league, this has been a genuine improvement thus far.
  • Their PDO which, in theory, should regress towards 100.0, is currently sitting a 96.5: in a sense, they’re the second unluckiest team in the NHL, with only the Carolina Hurricanes showing a worse fate. The Flames may still be a rebuilding team, but they aren’t actually as bad as initial returns have presented.

Player stats

  • With 20 points in 21 games, Johnny Gaudreau is the Flames’ scoring leader. He has five goals and 15 assists. The next highest scorer is Sean Monahan, with 15 points.
  • Monahan and David Jones are tied with seven goals apiece.
  • Dennis Wideman, with eight points (all assists), is the highest scorer from the backend.
  • T.J. Brodie dominates ice time for defencemen, playing an average of 25:19 a game. Mark Giordano follows him up at 24:01. They have inverted scoring stats, too: two goals and four assists for Brodie; four goals and two assists for Giordano.
  • Monahan is the most used forward, playing 20:06 a game. Gaudreau comes in second with a 19:48 average.
  • Mason Raymond is the Flames’ best possession player, with 55.56% 5v5 CF over 11 games.
  • Mikael Backlund is the Flames’ best possession player to have appeared in all 21 contests, registereding 52.39% 5v5 CF over that time. Michael Frolik is right behind him at 51.97%.
  • Brodie is the best defence possession player, with 51.53% 5v5 CF.
  • Nine players in total register as positive possession players: Raymond, Kulak, Bouma, Backlund, Frolik, Brodie, Bennett, Engelland, and Jooris.
  • Ladislav Smid is the Flames’ worst corsi player at 42.86%. Kris Russell is the worst out of all regulars, at 44.57%.
  • Jiri Hudler has received the most sheltering, with a relative offensive zone start of 21.07. Gaudreau (16.34) and Monahan (15.98) are up there as well.
  • Matt Stajan is the least sheltered player; his relative offensive zone starts rest at -24.31. Jones (-17.02), Bollig (-14.40), Grant (-10.80), and Brodie (-10.76) rest there as well.
  • After getting to start 10 games in a row, Karri Ramo has dragged his save percentage up to .901: tied for 50th in the NHL. He’s the top Flames goalie at the moment.
  • Jonas Hiller, who is injured, and Joni Ortio, who is… essentially being held hostage? Let’s go with that, haven’t gotten to play much, and as a result, are still stuck with .861 and .868 SV%s. They’re two of the worst percentage goalies in the league to start 2015-16.

Player usage

first quarter flames woi

  • As noted above, Hudler, Monahan, and Gaudreau are extremely sheltered. The fact that Monahan and Hudler are posting negative relative corsi numbers is concerning, then, regardless of the points they’ve been putting up.
  • Gaudreau, on the other hand, has been doing a better job of justifying his zone starts: not only is he scoring a lot, but he’s moving the puck forward more often, too. It’d be great if he was doing that even more than he is now, but considering how it doesn’t appear his linemates have been helping out, he’s doing really, really well.
  • On the flip side of things, we have Jones, Stajan, and Colborne. A more recent line, they aren’t as tightly huddled as the top line is; that said, they’ve all still been relatively buried, which explains their negative relative corsi.
  • Stajan, in particular, is the most unsung hero on this team.
  • Brodie and Giordano are absolutely crushing it, especially Brodie. They’re playing top competition and getting the worst zone starts of any defencemen. They’re also playing huge minutes and coming away with glowing relative numbers. 
  • Making sense of the six-player jumble in the middle: they’ve all been playing in relatively similar circumstances, although Frolik, for example, has been noticeably better than Wideman, with positive relative possession in more difficult circumstances.
  • Backlund and Frolik in particular are positive relative possession players. Bennett and Hamilton are as well, but not quite to the same extent. Wideman and Russell have been negatives, Russell in particular.
  • This is with Wideman being the most sheltered of the group when it comes to zone starts. In descending order, Hamilton, Bennett, Backlund, and Russell have all received positive relative offensive zone starts as well. Frolik is the only one to be in the negatives.
  • Frolik is the most impressive of the group, while Russell and Wideman are posting concerning results.
  • The fourth liners and bottom pairing guys have, for the most part, been doing relatively well for the Flames. None of them get particularly big minutes, but most are positive relative corsi players. Grant and Ferland aren’t, but they’re playing in more difficult circumstances than Raymond, who is (and while Grant and Ferland are negatives, they aren’t that bad: -1.16 and -0.71, respectively). All have negative relative offensive zone starts.
  • Jooris has been doing well for a depth player. Engelland has been doing notably well for a sixth defenceman. 
  • Bollig is more buried than the rest of the bottom players, and he’s just barely – 0.08 – a relative positive corsi player. He still shouldn’t be playing much, and he isn’t, but when he’s on the ice, things could always be worse. His penchant for stupid penalties is the greatest threat he poses, as even though the chances he gets are low percentage ones, at least he’s shooting the puck on the opposition’s net, rather than having shots go against his own.
  • Smid has been awful when he’s appeared. He’s playing limited minutes in some of the easiest circumstances on this team, and he’s gotten crushed. Whether that’s rust due to not playing regularly for almost a year or just a reflection of his actual abilities, he really shouldn’t be out there.
  • Bouma, Kulak, and Granlund have all barely played, either due to injury or being sent down. Still, they’re a trio that did decently well enough when they were present.
  • Kulak in particular was playing really well in sheltered roles, which is a good first step as he continues to develop. Now he knows he can play at the NHL level, and the statistics back him up so far. It’s a good start for his pro career.

Conclusions

  • The Flames still aren’t a particularly good team, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them perform better as the season continues, especially if the goaltending has stabilized.
  • There are very real concerns in regards to Monahan, Hudler, Russell, and Wideman; Monahan is the most concerning, considering how he’s the most likely to stay with the Flames long-term. That said, he’s also the youngest of the group, so there’s plenty of time.
  • Frolik has been pretty much exactly as advertised. He, Backlund, and Bennett have formed a modest second line that can control play.
  • Hamilton’s struggles have been obvious, but it’ll be interesting to see how he compares at the halfway mark, particularly now that he appears to be finding his game again.
  • The Flames have decent depth options.
  • Matt Stajan is underrated.
  • Johnny Gaudreau is being put in position to succeed, and he’s running away with it. 
  • T.J. Brodie is the Flames’ MVP.
  • Oil City Roller

    The Flames season thus far has been, in a word, lacklustre. I believe the Flames problems stem from a lack of true high end talent. Sure Jonny Hockey is decent but he isn’t the type of player to carry a team. The Calgary model has alway involved a lot of blue-collar journeymen spiced with modest offensive talent. This inevitably leads to moderate success followed by failed seasons and “rebuilds”. Calgary needs to reevaluate its entire philosophy if if hopes to build a true dynasty.

    • Oil City Roller

      “I believe the Flames problems stem from a lack of true high end talent…… Calgary needs to reevaluate its entire philosophy if if hopes to build a true dynasty.”

      High end talents? Of course every team wants those.
      One easy way is to shamelessly “tank and draft high”?

    • First Name Unidentified

      Weak trolling efforts aside, the talent part is an interesting question.

      McDavid is a generational talent, but I think that besides him there is no Oiler that I would trade Brodie for. I believe the converse is true; they would offer up every Oiler but McDavid for Brodie. Even last year it was obvious he’s a top 5 defenceman in the NHL.

      Gaudreau and Bennett are true high end talent and are developing the right way. Hamilton and Giordano are high end talent (maybe not true high end talent). Calgary very much wants to turn Monahan into a poor man Toews. That might be the difference for a real run.

      A top 1/3 of the league goalie, another scoring winger and frankly just replacing some of the bottom 3 defensive dregs with competent NHL quality 4-6 guys and Calgary is a perennial contender. Calgary has quality (and cheap!!) forward depth otherwise – as good as any in the NHL. Never underestimate cheap talent on the bottom 6 lines. It keeps teams rolling.

      I don’t think they need more actual high end talent aside from a goalie and another scoring winger (though you always want more). The defensive adjustment should happen now with Russell out and I bet they get close to the playoffs. Thanks to the stinky division, but still…

  • TRAIN#97

    Calgary looks like they are starting to come around. The d is tightening up a bit creating less outmanned chances and they are cutting down on the goals against.
    If the d and goaltending hold up they might have a better chance at turning the season around .Gaudreau is the real bright spot , projected to finish with 78 points.
    After Gaudreau there is a drop off in production. Monahan could get 60 points but Hudler is on pace to finisher with about 25 less points than last year .Frolik is on pace for about 40 points ( about where he should be ). Bennett may hit mid 40’s.
    That’s not a lot of production from the offense and the D is not producing this year like last.So if they are gonna make a run its gonna be because the d will have to play shutdown defense and win a lot of low scoring games.

    • First Name Unidentified

      Projected points mean nothing at this point in the season. Hudler lit it on fire in March last year, which is what put him so high. Bennett played the first 7 games without a point, much like Gaudreau did to start last year.

      The slow start to the season has kept down all players’ production. Especially the defense. Once they start to gain back the lost confidence, you will see them start to score. The fact that the team was being hemmed in so much affected scoring for.

      The same is true of Oilers. Draisaitl is on pace to score 122 points and Hall 98. Neither will come close.

      With all that “top talent” you would think there would be more than 2 guys crushing it. Beyond the top 3 (includes Nuge) there is nobody currently scoring at higher than a 0.55 pace. Last year was more of the same.

  • First Name Unidentified

    Notably, Bennett is a 56% ES Corsi guy as a center. And he has 6 points in 8 games too.

    Somehow everyone seems to miss the fact that Bennett is a better center than winger, in favour of the bafflingly popular narrative that he needs to play LW to learn how to play C (which doesn’t even make sense).

    Also: The Flames are a better possession team when Bennett plays center too. Likely because it upgrades the bottom six vis a vis the presence of Backlund.

  • John 316

    Monohan will be comparible to toews as he matures.
    Gaudreau is already getting close to kane comparible.
    Gio and brodie are also comparable to kieth and seabrook.so now if we could just find some crawford like goal tending and let bennett mature some more we will be fine for the next good while.maybe some tweaks as we go but we definetly have a promising future.this year our boys are still having growing pains….but it is coming…….i like ramos never give up style kinda like ol kipper back in the day but hes got a long way to go still…the dream team in the makinggggg…go flames go?

  • John 316

    Articles here about possession here have been numerous over the years. So, let me get this right, possession numbers are improved since last year and our results have diminished? I now believe possession stats to be Junk Science! Some things cannot be quantified! Clearly possession stats are not the end all, be al!!! Craftmatic4.0