How much does Bob Hartley really play the kids?

When Bob Hartley became the Flames’ head coach, he wasn’t signing up for a rebuild. The team desperately needed one, but at the start of the 2012-13 season, that wasn’t the objective. They still had Jarome Iginla, they still had Miikka Kiprusoff, and the objective remained clear: just make the playoffs, and anything can happen.

Only the Flames hadn’t made the playoffs for a while, and they weren’t about to that year. The 2013 season was a disaster from the start, in part thanks to Hartley, a coach unfamiliar with his new players, having only a shortened training camp with which to work. And sure enough, by the season’s end the Flames’ stars were traded off, various kids were filling in the lineup, and Hartley was coaching a rebuilding team.

An important element of rebuilding is ensuring the kids get ice time. This is Hartley’s third season coaching a team that’s actually rebuilding. How has he fared at that task?

Two quick notes before we really begin:

  • For the purposes of this post, I’m defining a “kid” as someone 25 years old or younger, the maximum age someone can be to win the Calder Trophy. However, it’ll still be noted if they’d played multiple NHL seasons beforehand, or if they were a rookie.
  • I’m not including the 2013 season here because that was the season Hartley really had no chance due to the lockout. He didn’t get to know his players, and by the end of it, he was playing a handful of random kids out of necessity as everyone else got sold off. By the time 2013-14 rolled around he was much more settled in his position as the Flames’ head coach, and that’s the season the rebuild truly began.

2013-14

The 2013-14 season saw 44 players dress for the Flames, 23 of whom were 25 years old or younger at the time. The majority of these kids barely hit even 10 games, if that, so it’s a little misleading just how young the lineup was night in and night out.

However, it’s not as though all kids are created equal. A Sean Monahan, for example, would naturally play more than a Bryce Van Brabant.

Player Age Seasons in the NHL Games Played Average Ice Time
Sean Monahan 19 1 (Rookie) 75 15:59
Johnny Gaudreau 20 1 (Rookie) 1 15:11
Markus Granlund 20 1 (Rookie) 7 12:05
Tyler Wotherspoon 20 1 (Rookie) 14 13:27
Bill Arnold 21 1 (Rookie) 1 13:35
Max Reinhart 21 2 (Rookie) 8 10:42
Kenny Agostino 21 1 (Rookie) 8 11:06
Sven Baertschi 21 3 (Rookie) 26 14:07
Bryce Van Brabant 22 1 (Rookie) 6 9:10
Roman Horak 22 3 1 4:04
Joni Ortio 22 1 (Rookie) 9 55:39
Mark Cundari 23 2 (Rookie) 4 10:47
Corban Knight 23 1 (Rookie) 7 7:56
Ben Hanowski 23 2 (Rookie) 11 7:15
Lance Bouma 23 3 78 12:36
T.J. Brodie 23 4 81 24:04
Lane MacDermid 24 3 (Rookie) 1 4:08
Christopher Breen 24 1 (Rookie) 9 9:23
Chad Billins 24 1 (Rookie) 10 12:13
Paul Byron 24 4 47 14:27
Joe Colborne 24 4 (Rookie) 80 14:16
Mikael Backlund 24 6 76 18:32
T.J. Galiardi 25 6 62 14:37

The first thing one notices here is that this season was crawling with rookies. It makes sense, as it was the first year of the Flames’ rebuild, and 17 of the 23 players had played 25 or fewer games in the NHL.

The second thing you notice is only seven of these guys even played half the season, and of those seven, only two – Monahan and Colborne – were rookies. For rookies, they got respectable ice times, Monahan in particular.

Brodie and Backlund had long-since established themselves as NHLers, and they got the ice time to prove it. Guys like Byron and Galiardi were up there as well, although without the history to encourage more. 

The only other player on this list to play a decent number of games and average at least 14 minutes was Baertschi, whose game was fluctuating, but didn’t have the chance to work through his misgivings like Monahan did, particularly once Brian Burke took the GM’s reigns. 

Bouma played throughout the entire year, but in more of a fourth line role: exactly what he was suited for. Tyler Wotherspoon was en route to a pretty decent cup of coffee before a shoulder injury prematurely ended his season.

Easily the most perplexing player on this list, however, is Horak. He never pulled big minutes for the Flames, but he’d played 81 games before the 2013-14 season, and was averaging 14:32 in the 2013 lockout year. And then he just… wasn’t used anymore. At all. While a bunch of rookies got their cups of coffee with low ice times – especially a lot of college kids who got to burn a year off their entry deals – Horak, still just 22 and with established history with the team, was completely shut out.

2014-15

Thirty-nine players dressed for the Flames in 2014-15, including 21 who were age 25 or younger. More of the kids this time around played more games, several building on the season they’d had before, while others hadn’t played enough and would still be classified as rookies.

Player Age Seasons in the NHL Games Played Average Ice Time
Sam Bennett 18 1 (Rookie) 1 16:00
Emile Poirier 20 1 (Rookie) 6 7:59
Sean Monahan 20 2 81 19:37
Tyler Wotherspoon 21 2 (Rookie) 1 20:19
Brett Kulak 21 1 (Rookie) 1 19:31
Markus Granlund 21 2 (Rookie) 48 13:22
Johnny Gaudreau 21 2 (Rookie) 80 17:43
Max Reinhart 22 3 (Rookie) 4 8:05
Sven Baertschi 22 4 15 9:13
Micheal Ferland 22 1 (Rookie) 26 10:31
John Ramage 23 1 (Rookie) 1 18:10
Joni Ortio 23 2 (Rookie) 6 55:33
Corban Knight 24 2 (Rookie) 2 6:24
Drew Shore 24 3 11 10:40
Josh Jooris 24 1 (Rookie) 60 14:30
Lance Bouma 24 4 78 14:01
T.J. Brodie 24 5 81 25:12
David Wolf 25 1 (Rookie) 3 9:23
Paul Byron 25 5 57 14:28
Mikael Backlund 25 7 52 17:45
Joe Colborne 25 5 64 15:25

The 2014-15 season was still filled with rookies, with 13 out of 21 kids having played 25 or fewer NHL games in previous years. Gaudreau was heads and shoulders above the rest, while Jooris and Granlund still played notable roles. Ferland played just enough to lose his rookie status, but not in a prominent role, and he sat for a fair number of games as well.

Players from the year before, like Monahan, Colborne, and Bouma saw their ice times go up as they were trusted more, and Byron, Backlund, and especially Brodie remained in prominent roles.

Then, there are the players who were just completely neglected. Baertschi and Wotherspoon were essentially ignored entirely, with absolutely no progress or opportunity granted similar to what they’d had the season before. Reinhart was in a similar boat. Knight fell off the radar, and while his replacement in Shore was given a greater chance, it didn’t exactly allow for real opportunity.

Poirier made his NHL debut, but didn’t have the chance to do anything with it.

Furthermore, this list is a little misleading due to the final game of the season, in which the Flames sat a lot of veterans, and brought in kids to take big minutes. Four rookies – Bennett, Wotherspoon, Kulak, and Ramage – wouldn’t be on this list at all were it not for the regular season finale.

2015-16, 25 games in

Thus far, just 27 players have dressed for the Flames this season, 12 of whom are 25 or younger. The number of rookies has dropped off entirely, in part due to players losing their rookie statuses, and possibly in part due to it being so early in the season – a time when kids typically aren’t brought up to make their NHL debuts.

Player Age Seasons in the NHL Games Played Average Ice Time
Sam Bennett 19 2 (Rookie) 24 15:22
Sean Monahan 21 3 25 20:08
Brett Kulak 22 2 (Rookie) 6 10:00
Markus Granlund 22 3 4 10:16
Dougie Hamilton 22 4 25 19:18
Johnny Gaudreau 22 3 25 20:01
Micheal Ferland 23 2 17 10:21
Joni Ortio 24 3 4 35:01
Derek Grant 25 3 (Rookie) 9 9:15
Lance Bouma 25 5 3 11:18
Josh Jooris 25 2 20 11:18
T.J. Brodie 25 6 16 25:09

Only three rookies have suited up for the Flames thus far this season, and only one of them has actually stuck around. Kulak was starting to show some cracks, but wasn’t playing badly in limited minutes, and Grant was a good performer in a fourth line role, but a victim of waiver rules.

At least Bennett has been getting minutes, though, but that’s about it outside of Monahan, Hamilton, Gaudreau, and Brodie. And considering how Hamilton is a top four defenceman, his minutes count is rather low, albeit deserved after a poor start. It’ll likely go up as the season goes on.

The question is, will anybody else’s? Granlund isn’t suited for a fourth line role, but he’s been getting fourth line minutes, and not playing as much as he did in 2014-15. Jooris is in essentially the same position, although he’s likely more suited for a bottom six game than Granlund is (but he’s also been an undeserved healthy scratch a number of times, too). Ferland actually is suited for a fourth line role, but there’s been some flirtation with him playing in the top six, albeit nothing that’s actually been committed to.

And of course, there’s no need to go into further detail about how disgracefully little Ortio played considering how long he was up.

All in all

There’s no denying Hartley definitely plays the kids he’s given, but the quantity of kids is misleading, considering several of them were up for just a handful of games, mostly towards the end of the season. The start to this season is probably more representative than Hartley’s first few years, if only because it hasn’t had the chance to be inflated by call ups yet.

Occasionally a Jooris or a Kulak will get their chance, but there seems to be an inevitable drop off. Horak saw it, Baertschi saw it, Reinhart saw it, Wotherspoon saw it, and even Ortio saw it. Granlund and Jooris are currently seeing it as well.

Of course, this could simply be a case of overvaluing of prospects. While it would be nice for every kid the Flames draft to make the NHL, that’s simply not going to happen, and typically, as players get older, it becomes more evident if they have what it takes to play in the world’s best league, or if they’ll be one-and-dones. Some of them should be top six guys, and some of them should be bottom sixers, and it’s not necessarily a reflection of how much a coach believes in them but simply utilizing them in their proper roles.

As seasons go on, prospects are inevitably going to be weeded out, and only the top guys will remain. However, it can be tough to determine if the kids who were cut should have been, or if they would have flourished if given more of a chance.

  • Kevin R

    It’s funny, everyone wants to play rookies all the time & as many as possible. Last year I felt we were able to give our most promising young players a decent chance to get minutes. It was contagious & was part of the reason they over achieved last year. But you can’t do that year after year. Doesn’t make sense & the venom Hartley gets for not playing players the way people feel should be played is almost laughable. Flames payroll is near the cap ceiling, it’s not like we were the bottom 3 like we ran last year. Hartley is now expected to win. BT doesn’t make moves like he did with Hamilton & Frolik & spend big $$$ & then say don’t worry Bob, play the kids all the time. Hartley plays the players that he thinks will win him games. Whether you like it or not, it’s his job on the line if they don’t win. It’s not a popularity contest. I know people making $40K a year working the way Management want them to work, despite co-workers saying they should do it a different way. Bottom line, they will work the way Management want them to work or they lose their jobs. Hartley is probably being told they expect him to win. We can armchair analyze but ultimately I respect Hartley’s decisions. It’s his show. We finish as a lottery pick, well he’s probably gone & we’ll be able to second guess someone else.

      • Kevin R

        I suppose it’s like that whether you coach another NHL team or you’re the CEO of a multimillion dollar widget company. You get results, thats all that is important to the people that matter.
        Bottom line is usually the currency in business based on my experience. The second guessing & pyschoanalizing every little thing Hartley does is about fans & pride of consumers(the fan). Hartley made some pretty whacko decisions last year right through the playoffs. Second guessing Hartley’s player utilization decisions isn’t exactly a new thing on this site. But, his eccentric methods got this team to win games, fill the building, get the team to the playoffs & win a round & ultimately, Management & Shareholders/Ownership made a schwack of money.

        Management(BT) says,OK Bob, how do we get better. Bob being the coach says we need more possession players & another pillar going forward in our top 4 defence. BT complies & makes a big trade & a solid UFA signing. Like it or not, Management are committed to this coaching staff & are not about to bail just because of a losing streak. Bottom line, if Bob gets this team to the playoffs & wins a round again & achieves that by just utilizing Backlund, Hamilton & Frolik for 12 minutes a game, you think he is going to get fired?? However, if the year goes the way it has & continues this way, I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be Hartley going into Burke’s & Trelivings office to discuss what went wrong & what needs to improve for the next year to have success. I am not saying I think Hartley’s decisions are right. I don’t like a number of things but, I’m not a coach & I didn’t make my money coaching an NHL team. I guess what I laugh at is Ive seen people complaining about Gaudreau only getting 1 shift in OT against Dallas. My Lord, he was questionable playing the game at all because of the flu. Maybe the coach knew he was pretty gassed. Many are dumping on him about Bennett not getting OT time period. Well maybe because Bennett is a very very talented player & makes some high risk high reward moves. That’s great, when you are playing 5v5 or on the power play but 3 on 3 OT, there is little room for error & Bennett is still just a rookie. I personally not sold if Hartley is the guy to take this team to the next level, so I am not defending him, I just think the scrutiny & criticism & venom against him is a little over the top to say the least. But I don’t think our opinions on Hartley are too different. I expect Hartley to be the coach until the end of this year, after that, all bets are off.

  • hulkingloooooob

    I hate to say it but it seems like the flames have backed off on their “nothing given, everything earned” philosophy. there have certainly been some questionable choices in terms of line up given people’s performances.

    that said, when half the team is playing badly, you can’t exactly bench them all. furthermore, it sure seems like certain players are being played to try to elevate, or recuperate some of their value for potential trade.

    for example Wideman, who’s had a pretty horrible start to the season, has still been getting a lot of ice time, especially on the power play. Of course they’d love to see him return to last years pace or anything like it (like for instance scoring A goal) but it doesn’t seem to be working. Raymond, Russell, Hudler, Bollig, Ramo and Hiller could also all been seen to varying degrees in this way.

    I can see the logic in this strategy, if in fact this is what’s going on, and to me it certainly looks like it, but really, it doesn’t seem to be working. Remember when Hartley sat Wideman last year at the beginning of the season and then he came back and was on fire! well, i think we might need a little more sitting and a little less sales pitch. cause at this point we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.

    Does anyone know, if this is indeed the strategy being employed, if these orders would be coming from the top? are we possibly blaming Hartley for carrying out “orders” rather then making bad calls?

    an aside: didn’t Granlund look good the other night? looked faster and more aggressive then I’ve ever seen him. Let’s see if he gets rewarded for this.

    and one more aside: please, Please PLEASE try to hold onto the puck more on zone entires. this dump and chase and fail and flail approach is starting to look really weak. And I’d like to see Ferland up with Johnny so that line can have a bit more cycle to it. The dangle doesn’t always do it….(though when it does….!!!)

    And another….I’d love to see some analysis on dump ins. i think sometimes we take the approach that all dump ins are created equal. I feel like when you watch a team like Chicago, when they dump the puck it always seems to be in the best place to increase the likely hood you gain control of the puck. The mantra of taking away time and space that the boys executed so well in the 2nd Chicago game makes this strategy look brilliant. but if the forecheck isn’t vicious it just seems to go the other way and tire us out, thus we get stuck in our own zone “blocking shots”. To me the idea should be hold on to the puck unless you have a A grade dump in opportunity, but I’m not a hockey player and assume this might be much more difficult to identify in the heat of the moment then one might think.

    thoughts?

    GFG!

    • Ari Yanover

      2013-14

      Brian McGrattan, 76 GP, 6:43 ATOI

      Kevin Westgarth, 36 GP, 7:02 ATOI

      Shane O’Brien (??), 30 GP, 11:16 ATOI (I did get to see him score an AHL goal in person though and that was incredible)

      Tim Jackman, 10 GP, 6:23 ATOI

      + Lane MacDermid, Bryce Van Brabant

      2014-15

      Brandon Bollig, 62 GP, 8:36 ATOI

      Brian McGrattan, 8 GP, 6:38 ATOI

      2015-16

      Brandon Bollig, 17 GP, 8:23 ATOI

  • Ari Yanover

    “Jooris is in essentially the same position, although he’s likely more suited for a bottom six game than Granlund is (but he’s also been an undeserved healthy scratch a number of times, too).”

    Where is this love for Jooris coming from? Is it just because he was so unexpectedly good last season that people are just all of a sudden blind to how he has been playing this season? Cause outside of a couple individual games he hasn’t been good…

    I posted this on the post game ember article after the Flames played Arizona (so the numbers may have changed minorly since then) but for Flames players that have played over 10 games, this is how Jooris stacks up:

    Points: 3 (tied for 3rd worst with Ferland, only Engelland, Bollig and Raymond have been worse)
    PIM: 23 (3rd worst on the flames, only Giordano and Bollig have racked up more PIMs)
    Corsi rel QoC: Fourth worst on the flames, only better then Engelland, Raymond and Bollig)

    In my opinion, a good depth player is one that is not a liability/does not hurt his team when he is on the ice andis able to chip in scoring occasionally. This season, Jooris has been the opposite of that. So, if someone could please enlighten me as to why Jooris deserves more ice time, that would be great.

    • Ari Yanover

      I generally agree with most of your post other than Jooris having to play bottom 6. My bottom 6 would be big, heavy fast guys to compete with the Jets, Sharks, Ducks, Kings etc. Right now the Flames are overwhelmed in certain games as they are too small. Jooris has to be able to play in top 6 and unfortunately there is no room on the Flames roster for him in that area…I don’t see Jooris around much longer…