FN Mailbag – December 21, 2015

flamesnation

The Flames’ seven-game winning streak was an early Christmas gift for Flames Nation this year. Prior to this month, all signs pointed to them being out of the playoff conversation by the New Year, with a race to the bottom and Auston Matthews the only realistic objective remaining. 

That may still turn out to be the case, but for now the club is back to playing meaningful hockey thanks to their December outburst. How long will it continue? Who knows, though if they continue to sleepwalk through first periods and power plays they may find themselves back at the bottom of the Western Conference pretty quickly. 

Goaltending has been better recently – one of the reasons for the turn around – but remains a question mark in many fans’ minds. In this mailbag we talk about Jonathan Bernier and Jimmy Howard as potential solutions to that conundrum. We also touch on summer UFAs, the World Junior Championships, Ryan Johansen and Russell vs Hamilton. 

I’m sanguine about a Jonathan Bernier gamble, assuming the cost to acquire him is nominal. His recent struggles aside, there’s a history of competent (if not above average) netminding there and he’s young enough that it’s at least possible he can regain his mojo.

If not, the risk associated with the gamble is minor. Bernier’s $4M contract ends after next season. If he turns things around, the Flames have found a decent stop gap goalie for peanuts. If not, eat the salary for a year and move on.

In contrast to Bernier, I don’t like the Howard gamble for the Flames. He’d take more to acquire, he’s entering the downslope of his career and his contract is expensive ($5.3M until 2020). As for Mrazek, you won’t be prying him out of Detroit unless the offer sheet is ludicrous.

Hartley rates Russell above Hamilton for a couple of reasons. At the start of the year, it was because he was a known commodity whereas Hamilton came in and struggled. “So did Russell!” you might say. True, but Hartley had all of last season draw from when it comes to trust in Russell. Not so much with Hamilton. First impressions and all that.
Lately it’s because pucks have been going in for the Flames with Russell on the ice. There’s probably some intangibles skewing things in Russell’s favour behind the scenes, too.

At this rate Hartley may never change his preference, short of Hamilton turning into Pronger or Doughty. Sometimes coaches just like who they like.

This will depend a great deal on who the Flames retain amongst their own UFAs and what how much it takes to re-up Gaudreau and Monahan. There’s a chance they won’t have enough cap space to pursue anyone.

Assuming for now that both Hudler and Jones leave, the Flames will have a big need on the right side. There are actually a handful of interesting options, including Andrew Ladd, Loui Eriksson, David Backes, David Perron and the immortal Jaromir Jagr. Oh, and Paul Byron of course. 😉

We can only speculate at a 50,000 foot level right now since we can’t be sure how much cap room the Flames will have or how many of these guys will actually make it to free agency.

I’ve never seen any convincing evidence that appearing in the World Junior Championships is important to development. There’s going to be a correlation between the WJCs and prospect success simply because the best kids tend to get selected to play. Of course, the great challenge in evaluating prospects is to determine causality amongst all the various competing factors.

I don’t know how much value the tournament would have for guys like Monahan and Bennett, at least when it comes to skills development. The NHL is much, much tougher competition, so cutting your teeth against men in the show probably ranks above the WJC.

That said, it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity to compete for a medal in an international tournament against your peers. I personally would have sent Monahan to the WJCs during his season for that reason alone, particularly since the Flames weren’t in the running to win anything anyways. Whether that would have actually helped him become a better player? It’s an open question, but I’m skeptical.

As with all potential trades, it depends on the asking price. That said, assuming CBJ doesn’t give him away for a song, I don’t see a fit with the Flames. Columbus will likely ask for one of Gaudreau, Bennett or Monahan up front or Brodie from the back-end. That seems like a lateral move at best up front and Brodie is as close to an untouchable as this team has on the backend.

That said, if Columbus is looking to give him away a la Boston and Dougie Hamilton, then he’s definitely a player the Flames should call about.

That strikes me as ridiculous, but NHL GMs do ridiculous things in the offseason all the time so it’s not beyond the realm of possibility. Andrew MacDonald was re-inked by Philadelphia for $5M/year after all.

If the esteem for Russell really is that high around the league, Brad Treliving should auction him off to the highest bidder around the deadline, regardless of where the Flames are in the standings.

Unfortunately, I can’t speak intelligently about goalie coaches since I don’t really know what they do. It likely depends on the quality of the coach and the fit between the mentor and player, so it might be something you can only judge on a per case basis. It’s also very difficult to tease apart coaching influence from variance, player skill, team performance, etc. For that reason, I’m sure a lot of hokum and pop psychology can run rampant in the space, but that’s speculation.

In the Flames’ situation, keep in mind that Jordan Sigalet was the guy who was around last year when the Flames’ goalies put up average to above average results (behind a fairly suspect roster). I can’t say if that had anything to do with the goalie coach, but we shouldn’t lean exclusively on the recent suspect results to evaluate him.

Bennett has 11 of his 14 points on the road this year, so it certainly seems like he’s better away from the ‘Dome. This is pretty counter intuitive since you’d think he’d be better at home given more favourable match-ups. That said, sometimes strange patterns happen in data just because. You can discover this if you take a season’s worth of information and parse it arbitrarily; i.e., even and odd games, games on Monday and Thursday vs Friday and Tuesday, etc. If you do that you’ll find some players “excel” in odd games or on certain days of the week.

Chances are these patterns are just randomness. And that’s what I suspect is going on with Bennett.

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  • phockey489

    Bennett on the road, Johnny at home. Johnny gets blanketed by the best shut down combos on the Road which may allow Bennett a little more room away from the Dome. Last change at home puts Johnny on the ice as frequently as possible against the most favorable match ups leaving Bennett with less ice and more difficult circumstances at home.

  • MontanaMan

    I’m in favor of moving Russell at the deadline and stock the shelves. I’d rather move Wideman but pretty tough to do with that contract. The intriguing thing for me is the goaltending situation. Hiller is done in Calgary and Ramo hasn’t established himself as a bonafide number one goaltender. I’m not convinced that Bernier is the answer but not sure who we should be targeting. This isn’t a one year fix as even if Gilles is the long term answer, he’s likely two years away.

    • piscera.infada

      With regard to goaltending, I’m not sure why you’d give up assets at this point. You’re probably better off seeing how the season goes, and then attacking the problem in the offseason via relatively cheap free-agents. The only way I’m spending assets (and, if you want a considerable upgrade in net, they would need to be considerable assets) is if I’m not sold on anything in the pipeline that can potentially fit the window I have mapped out (2 to 3 years).

      Honestly, I think this is where Gilles injury hurts the most. It’s tough to say where he is, because he’s missing the entire AHL season.

      I mean, I look around around the league and some of the names I hear, and I’m not sure anything really jumps off the page to me as a good cost-effective move.

      Bernier, sure, it could be worth a flier, but if it doesn’t work, you’ve just extended your goalie problem by another year (although, I’ll admit this is probably the most cost-effective possibility).

      Bishop? Tampa isn’t going to give him away, even if they want to go with the younger and cheaper options, they’ll still be able to sell high on him because he has some pretty solid playoff pedigree.

      Howard? I don’t get this one at all. He’s overpayed, and has a substantial amount of term left (3 years). I’m not sure you’d want to 1) give up assets for that, and 2) take on someone else’s problem (because that contract is a problem) without considerable incentive to do so.

      Ward? Again, I’m not sure how much of an upgrade he really is. He could probably be had for relatively cheap, but I feel like Carolina (given the state of their franchise) will start the conversation with considerable young assets. At that point, it really comes down to what would he resign for, as you’ll likely want him for 2-3 years. If it’s reasonable to resign him, doesn’t it just make more sense to go after him in free agency anyway?

      Andersen/Gibson? Now, I’m certain Andersen is the one they’ll trade, but I’ll put both in here because the reasoning is the same. Too expensive. End of discussion. Smart management teams do not trade any good goalies within division for anything less than sure-fire prime-squared return. The optics are potentially devastating. Imagine if Vancouver had taken a similar return from Edmonton as they did from New Jersey for Schneider. It was bad with New Jersey, but Edmonton? That would have been absolute disaster having to play that guy 5 or 6 times a year for the next decade.

      • MontanaMan

        Agree with you that they are best to wait until the off season but the fly in the ointment is if we are competing for a playoff spot with substandard goaltending. It will be interesting if BT feels pressured to bring in help should the Flames be battling for the post season at the trade deadline.

        • piscera.infada

          Treliving doesn’t seem to be the type of GM that is really pressured to make moves in order to make a playoff push. If he was, you’d think that the Giordano injury last year would have proved opposite.

          I just don’t think that given what we’ve seen over the last two-plus months, and the poor quality of the pacific division, make goaltending and absolute make or break in terms of a playoff spot. Winning in the playoffs? Definitely. Making them? Not so much.

    • Kevin R

      Kinda get the sense that if they trade Wideman, they should be able to resign Russell & probably will. Don’t trash this because nobody here wants to resign Russell, it’s just Russell is way more higher regarded than many on this site.

      Hudler is probably going to get moved, I initially hoped for a 1st & who knows, Montreal is looking for offence & Hudler could fit the bill & a late first could be possible. But who knows. I don’t think if we traded Hudler that our push for a playoff spot would be affected by him being traded. Last summer I would have thought differently.

      If Jones can’t get us a 2nd, I would keep him till the end of the year & possibly see if you can bring him back at a little less than 1/2 price of what he is. If Wideman can’t be moved at TDL, I would look at selling Russell. One of them probably won’t be back next year because of our cap situation this summer.

          • Burnward

            Perhaps. I like Russell much more than most though.

            Unpopular opinion that can’t be backed up: I’m of the mind that a lot of his Corsi issues has to do with LW’s that can’t win a board battle to save their life.

          • MontanaMan

            The Corsi stuff just re-enforces what I see on the ice. Russell struggles to contain most forwards, and prefers to sit back during an attack. His breakout attempts are the most annoying part of his game. Shot ring out along the boards is mostly picked off, since it’s an easy read. His stretch passes to players along the boards is too hard to accept, since that player is usually stationary or has someone checking him.

            His successful breakouts are skated out, usually to the other blueline or a short pass to another player.

            For that reason, I pass on re-signing him; trade him while he has perceived value.