FN Mailbag – December 7, 2015

flamesnation

Whatever may be remembered about this era of the Flames down the road, at the very least we can say it was rarely boring.

A flash of the old 2014-15 magic returned this past week with thrilling come-from-behind victories over Dallas and Boston. Versus the Bruins, it was more of a case of losing the lead late before knotting things up in the dying seconds, but that’s a quibble. Although the Flames still linger at the bottom of the league with just three regulation wins, at least they’re giving the home crowd their money’s worth recently. 

In this mailbag we talk about goalies (of course), the trade deadline (naturally) and if Sean Monahan is starting to come around. 

Goalies are a challenge. They are the only player on the roster who can singlehandedly sink (or elevate) a club’s results. This is one of the reasons goaltenders have such a long development period – coaches are loathe to trust a kid with such a huge responsibility. 

Of course, a corollary of a ‘tender’s deep value is that it is technically the easiest deficiency to fix. Unlike skaters, where you have to build layers of depth to be effective at anything, acquiring one guy can completely turn things around in net. Darryl Sutter built an empire around the Miikka Kiprusoff trade, for example. 

Unfortunately, nobody is very good at evaluating goaltender talent, which is the monkey wrench in the works. Sometimes that means you can acquire a Vezina caliber goalie for mid-round pick, but it also means you cycle through an endless procession of pretenders year-after-year. The Oilers discarding Devin Dubnyk only to ironically see him become an above average starter down the road is an object lesson.

All of which is a long way of saying I can’t predict right now how the Flames’ net situation is going to change in the next 12 months. Andersen, Smith, Reimer, Bernier, Elliot, Bishop, etc. All of these guys are potential solutions (or at least stop gaps) for the Flames. 

It’s worth noting, as well, that the Flames’ current duo is almost certainly not as bad as they have seemed through the first quarter of the season. Both guys have long track records suggesting they are middling NHL goalies (Hiller was better than average till this year), which means SV% north of .900 at least. 

If someone forced me to place a bet, I’d say the club will get a lot more saves in the second half of the year than they have thus far, just as a matter of course. 

The most recent and relevant example is Boston College’s Thatcher Demko, a second round pick of the Vancouver Canucks and former Johnny Gaudreau teammate. He actually endured two hip surgeries last spring and is currently putting together a massive season for BC (13 GP, 12 wins, .953 SV% at the time of writing). That should bring some comfort for Flames fans.

Personally I’m glad Gillies is getting this sort of corrective surgery out of the way at the age of 21. If we consider this as an inevitability, you probably couldn’t ask for better timing.

I don’t think I’m going to go through the entire roster, but I’d say Johnny Gaudreau is the Mantis Shrimp.

Well, part of the problem is the fact that the organization was lousy at drafting for years. No amount of development was going to make Kris Chucko an NHL player. 

That said, I’m not sure how fair the charge is to the Flames. I don’t know what the NHL base rate is for successful AHL player development, nor to what degree you can credit “development” over “drafting the right guy”. 

I’m personally satisfied from what I’ve seen coming out of the Flames farm team recently. Lance Bouma, Josh Jooris and Michael Ferland are recent graduates and all of them were relative long shots to make the show when they arrived as pros. Markus Granlund’s progression on the farm has been adequate and Brett Kulak looked fairly capable during his cup of coffee this season. 

And, of course, TJ Brodie has turned into one of the best players on the team. 

That seems like a decent rate of return on investment. Remember that very few prospects ever make it to the NHL, let alone make an impact. If you’re graduating a couple of kids a year from the farm, you’re probably ahead of the curve. 

It will largely depend on demand when the trade deadline comes around, but I think Hudler may be able to fetch a mid-first round pick, even with his play receding from the 2014-15 high water mark.

Russell is a bit tougher. He seems to have developed a strong reputation around the league thanks to his penchant for blocking shots, but that esteem may not last until March if he keeps getting outplayed every night. That said, if he can stretch that reputation to the deadline, Calgary may be able to pluck an early second (35-45) and/or a B-level prospect out of someone.

Given his circumstances, ice time, line mates and innate ability, Monahan’s counting numbers were always going to come around. The question remains how much the Flames have to invest in Monahan to yield those results in the form of shots and goals against.

Monahan has struggled in aggregate this season. Right now, he has the third worst shot attempts against rate amongst regular forwards on the team at about 60 corsi/60 (only Colborne and Jones are worse), even though he gets a big zone start bump over those guys from his coach. 

This is significant because the Flames’ primary struggle this year is denying shots against. They are middling at getting shots on net so far (about the same as NYI or BOS at even strength), but they are bottom-3 at keeping the puck out of their end of the rink. Figuring out how to get the puck out would go a long way to fixing what ails the club. 

The good news is, Monahan’s shot metrics seem to be coming around lately:

Monahan_corsi

The graph is a 10-game rolling average of Monahan’s corsi differential (all shots for and against at 5on5). As you can see, there was a big dip at the end of last season and in the playoffs which extended into the start of this year. The recent uptick is encouraging. 

That said, the improvement seems to be on the “shots for” end of things. If we look at Monahan’s corsi against/60 rolling average, we see nothing but a dip (from War on Ice.com):

Monahan_SA

Monahan fell down below the 60 shot attempts against/60 mark to start the year and has pretty much hovered around that mark since. It’s way too high a rate for the club’s acting number one centre – it means the other club’s best players are putting a lot of pucks on net while he’s out there. 

I maintain that Hartley is asking too much of Monahan given his age and defensive struggles. Although the Flames coach tries to give Monahan the high ground as much as possible, he still plays him too much and too often against other team’s top lines. He’s just not quite ready for that assignment. The plan may be to play Monahan until he figures it out (we’ll call this the development strategy), but given how much he has stalled this season in this regard one wonders how long this plan should be pursued.  

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