It’s end of November and the Flames are tied for last in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers. They have just three regulation wins through more than a quarter of the season and they have the worst special teams and goaltending in the league. And the second worst score-corrected possession rate. Yuck.
It’s safe to say Calgary won’t be visiting the playoffs again this year. While I don’t think the current results accurately reflect the team’s true talent (seriously bad goaltending will always salt in the field), the Flames haven’t made enough real strides to turn the horse around in such a short period of time. Calgary’s probably not this bad, but they aren’t good either.
So the rebuild is back on. Start daydreaming about Auston Mattews, Matthew Tkachuk or one of the big Finnish kids everyone.
In this edition of the FN Mailbag, we talk about the future of Bob Hartley, the club’s untouchable players, trade deadline and what to do about the Flames goaltending.
— Jay (@jayrlocked) November 27, 2015
— Nid (@NiddNation) November 28, 2015
— Luc Withell (@FutureSVC) November 27, 2015
Bob Hartley is a sore subject for many Flames fans right now. On one hand, he was the apparent architect of Calgary’s miraculous run last year. He won the Jack Adams trophy as a result of his club exceeding all reasonable expectations.
Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to resurrect the magic this year. Quite the opposite, in fact – all the things that enabled the Flames to outpace their rough possession game in 2014-15 have disappeared entirely. The Flames are literally the worst in the league at a handful of important measures.
The only reason for fans or management to have loyalty towards Hartley is the assumption that his system somehow enables the Flames to drive things like SH%, SV%, penalty differential and/or “clutch play”. That combo of uncanny abilities are what allowed Calgary to win while being relentlessly outshot 12 months ago. If Hartley’s system doesn’t do that – and it’s looking increasingly likely that is doesn’t – then he’s just a guy who watches his team get outplayed 3 out of every 4 games.
My personal test for Hartley this year was to see if he and his staff could transition from a collapse/counter punch based system to something more conducive to controlling the play. It hasn’t happened. The Flames look utterly lost in their own end most nights, even with an apparent embarrassment of riches on the blue line.
That’s a long way of saying…no, I don’t expect Hartley to be the Flames coach next year.
As for how to apportion blame, I think we can say the roster isn’t quite there yet either – the blueline depth needs reconstruction behind the top-3 guys and the Flames still can’t quite put together a tough minutes forward option – as can be expected from a team at this juncture of a rebuild. That said, they shouldn’t be fundamentally struggling to the degree they are now. There should be real steps forward being taken by this roster, but it’s not happening.
@Kent_Wilson outside of Gaudreau and Brodie, who’s the most untouchable player on the team? Monny? Bennett?
— Tomas Oppolzer (@toppolzer) November 27, 2015
Bennett before Monahan I would say. If Sam isn’t a better player than Sean right now, he will be inside a year or so. And I would say if Monahan’s overall game doesn’t start to progress that he’ll be dropped from the untouchable list as well. Which isn’t to say I’d put Monahan on the auction block tomorrow, but at some point his reputation will outstrip his utility if his two-way game continues to stagnate.
Maybe add Dougie Hamilton to the list. I know his debut for Calgary has been inauspicious, but everything we know about the player prior to this season suggests he’s going to be very good for a long time.
There’s probably no one else who can be called untouchable at this point. The only other asset the Flames should put behind a vault is this year’s first round pick.
@Kent_Wilson Do you see Sam Bennett staying on the wing for the rest of the season?
— Spencer (@Sathome97) November 27, 2015
No. I think the team will start to experiment more and more as the playoffs grow out of reach. They’ve stated they want to develop Bennett at centre, so at some point there’ll be no reason not to play him as a pivot to see how he does.
@Kent_Wilson Who do you start shopping to ship out at the trade deadline? What prospects have officially become assets?
— Kat (@ktcant) November 27, 2015
The NHL trade market tends to be fairly flaccid until at least the third quarter of the season, so I imagine Treliving won’t be actively selling until about February. That’s the time when demand starts to pick up and it tends to peak right around the deadline, so that’s when the team will want to leverage a few assets for the best return possible.
I don’t know if any of the Flames prospects are notable assets, aside from obvious ones like Kylington, Gillies, Andersson and Mangiapane. Maybe Jankowski has worked his way back into that conversation this year, but I don’t know if the club will gain much by moving young players out.
@Kent_Wilson so what happens to this team if John Gillies is NOT the answer? What happens in the meantime?
— Blaine Meller (@blaine_meller) November 27, 2015
@Kent_Wilson who do you think will be the flames goalies next season?
— Justin (@iggyfan12) November 27, 2015
First, I’ll say that I don’t think Gillies was ever considered the answer in the short term for the Flames. He’s more of a long term investment, as most puck stoppers are.
As for next year, the Flames are going to have to go shopping in the UFA and trade markets to adequately fill the net. This upcoming summer, James Reimer, Cam Talbot, Anton Khudobin and Antti Raanta are all set to become free agents. That’s not a killer’s row of superstars, but there’s some at least adequately netminding ability in there.
If none of those guys are available or if the team doesn’t like any of them enough, there will also be a handful of guys they could trade for. In the near future, players like Jimmy Howard, Ben Bishop and Brian Elliott might be available for a song given cap and/or depth pressures in each of their respective organizations.
@Kent_Wilson what’s up with the PP
— Petter (@numerartovertag) November 27, 2015
Good question. From my perspective, the Flames are having a lot of trouble with zone penetration and puck retrieval right now. They don’t seem to have a solid way of gaining the zone, outside of trying to make Johnny Gaudreau skate the puck through a wall of players. Their shoot-ins typically fail because it’s too easy for the bad guys to turn around and ice the puck.
Another issue is the Flames don’t seem to have any high percentage set plays. Some teams have strategies that set up a back-door pass to a defender or wide winger sneaking behind coverage. Other teams, like Washington with Alex Ovechkin or San Jose with Brent Burns, have a set up that favours a one-timer from inside the face-off circle by a guy on his off-wing.
All I see the Flames attempting right now is: get a big guy in front of the net for a screen. It’s not a very sophisticated plan and it’s certainly difficult to execute if you can’t gain the zone or establish any real pressure.
@Kent_Wilson How would you fix the Flames if I gave you GM powers tomorrow morning?
— Andrew (@aloudoun) November 27, 2015
Tough one. Since this season is more or less lost and I don’t see any one move righting the ship, I’m not sure I’d suddenly and drastically change course if I woke up on Treliving’s office tomorrow. Long term, here’s some stuff I’d consider:
- Fire Bob Hartley if the team continues to struggle at own zone and transition hockey. Find a coach who can get the team out of its own end (and maybe teach special teams too).
- Permanently demote Ladislav Smid to the AHL.
- Put Kris Russell on the auction block and trade him to the highest bidder.
- Ditto Jiri Hudler at the trade deadline.
- See if anyone will give us anything for Dennis Wideman.
- Give Nakladal and Kulak a longer look at the NHL level.
- Continue to pursue Travis Hamonic.
- Start calling around on goalies.
- Look for more solid two-way veteran forwards.
- Find at least one more scoring winger.
That would be my “action item” list for now.