We’ve arrived at the Flames’ update at last. Our previous
two, the Canucks and Oilers, reviewed the progress of the roster players,
possession metrics, sv%’s and various other metrics used to track a team.
For those interested, here’s the pre-season look at the Flames.
The Flames had a tough start to the season and I suppose I
could save you reading through this article by just summarizing the first few
months by saying they looked lost early and were sunk by atrocious goaltending
but appear now to be rounding into something resembling an NHL team.
However, let’s see if we can’t do a little better than that.
The Flames’ record after 41 games was 19-20-2 for 40 pts and
they sat 6th in the Pacific and 13th in the Western
The Flames’ power play and penalty kill at the halfway mark both
sat 30th in the league, at 14.4% and 74%, respectively. Of all the
things we’ll look at today, this surprised me more than anything else. The
roster, for all its weaknesses and mis-deployments, boasts players like
Gaudreau, Hudler, Hamilton, Frolik, Stajan, Backlund and Giordano whose
strengths typically manifest on special teams.
I expect this area to improve in the second half of the
season as the current standings are a reflection less of where the Flames are
today so much as where they had been earlier in the season.
Below is the table of the player performances thus far with
their paces in several categories.
I suggest Flames fans
just forget the year and refer to this season as the Season of Gaudreau,
because outside of a slight down turn from Monahan and Giordano gradually
rounding back into form, this team has more or less been driven, at least
offensively, by the young forward.
I’m overstating obviously, but Gaudreau has likely done as
much as Ramo over the course of the season to help keep the Flames afloat while
the rest of the roster found its feet.
I decided to look a little deeper into his season and found
that Hartley is continuing to give Gaudreau and Monahan a strong push in the
offensive zone, though less so than Hudler and Granlund, and of those four and
Sam Bennett, Gaudreau and Monahan have faced the weakest competition, which is
almost certainly by design.
The sv% started abysmally and has improved moving closer to
the league average over the course of the season thus far. Despite carrying
three goalies for a good stretch of the first half, Hartley seemed to commit
early and often to Ramo. That Ortio was on the roster but not playing for so
long suggests a difference of opinion between Treliving and Hartley. Nothing
wrong with that, but if it causes Treliving to waive a useful player like Paul
Byron while his coach mothballs a young goalie in the pressbox, while still not
settling on a clear starter, then it needs to be addressed.
The trendline for the Flames in sv% and goal differential
has been noticeably improving. A major part of that was due to their extended
winning streak in early December. They have also played in 16 one-goal games
thus far, winning 12 of them. This continues a trend we’ve seen extend over two
and a half seasons now.
With regards to the sv% trendline, the black line represents
league average, 0.916 at the time of this writing, and so individual games
shouldn’t be weighted too strongly, rather if the Flames can get their
trendline above the average more often than not then good things should happen.
(Data courtesy of War on Ice)
The possession numbers are perhaps the most encouraging of
all the data gathered thus far. Or at least they likely are for those fans who
look to sustainable winning trends as much as outright team performance.
The Flames, solidly subpar in that department now for
several seasons, have begun to turn things around this season. Individual game
numbers tend to be erratic, so I recommend looking at the trendline as it gives
one the best measure of how a team is managing the puck possession aspect.
Ideally one aims for 50% or greater coupled with a low goal
differential, so by those two measures the Flames are certainly trending well.
Whether there remains enough time in the season for it to pay off though…?
The two goalie graphs are quite telling in contrasting the
two seasons we have seen from Flames’ goalies. While neither started
particularly well, Ramo appears to have steadily improved while Hiller is
trending precipitously downwards, albeit within a much smaller sample size. We
should be wary of drawing too-strong conclusions on goalie performances based
on save percentages, doubly so on small sample sizes which I would argue is
anything under a full season or perhaps even two.
That being said, if Ramo continues this way then the Flames
would seem likely to try to extend him this year and shopping Hiller will
become only a matter of time, organizational injuries notwithstanding.
Of the three teams we’ve reviewed, the Flames have the
strongest lines trending upwards.
Based on current projections they have a reasonable chance
to at least challenge for a playoff position this year. More on that later.
(Courtesy of mangameslost.com)
We must consider that outside of the early season injury to
Brodie and a more recent injury to Frolik, the team has largely been blessed
with a relatively healthy roster.
Above is a graph taken from Man Games Lost around the 41
The higher the team the greater their share of points in the
standings, the further to the right the greater the number of man games lost to
injury, the larger the bubble the more significant the impact of those injuries
to the team based on possession metrics. Red bubbles are those outside a
playoff position, blue are those inside, yellow denotes division leaders.
That the division leaders all have among the fewest impact
injury losses should be self-evident. Thus far no team has had a larger injury
impact than Edmonton, followed closely by Buffalo, Detroit, Philadelphia and
Vancouver. The fact that only one of those teams finds itself in a playoff
position also serves to remind us of the oft-overlooked impact that injuries
and depth can have on a season.
Calgary has largely escaped the season to-date unscathed,
with about the same level of injury impact loss as Carolina, Colorado, Arizona,
Ottawa, Minnesota and Nashville. Four of those teams have playoff positions,
three do not.
The Flames currently find themselves in a race with
Vancouver, Edmonton, Arizona and San Jose for a Pacific Division playoff spot
and among those they have the second fewest man games lost to injury with the
second lowest injury impact rating.
This will be something to keep in mind as the second half of
the season progresses luck has been on their side thus far.
(Courtesy of MicahBlakeMcCurdy@Ineffectivemath)
Initially I had estimated the Flames would end up with 90+
points and perhaps just miss out on a playoff spot. Micah Blake McCurdy over at
Ineffective Math has a running projection algorithm that has the Flames
estimated to finish with between 85 and 87 points. His system works off of
current performance while I had based mine off of simple projections of player
production leading to GF/GA and then using that to ballpark a place based on
the previous season’s standings.
We’ll revisit all three teams at the end of the season to
see how the estimates worked, who played above or below expectations and what
areas were the most or least successful.
Brian Burke has said that he doesn’t believe that last year
was a peak moment for the Flames, nor does he believe that their rebuild is
finished. It will be intriguing to see once the season has concluded, once we
can look back and examine this year in detail, whether the Flames took a step
forward, maintained, or slipped back. For the time being every one of the items
measured above is trending up with the exception of Jonas Hiller’s save
One last point. Recall all that discussion last year about
the Flames regressing towards a more sustainable shooting or save percentage?
Well their PDO as of Jan 14th was 99.2, or just below the standard
mean, with a team shooting percentage of 8.3% and a team save percentage of
90.9%. In other words, if we take out the specifics of the wins and losses (6-0
win here, 4-2 loss there), what you are seeing from this team is pretty close
to what you should expect.
Story of the Season So Far?
Heeeeerrrrreeee’s Johnny! (see above)
It isn’t all just about Gaudreau, but if you want to single out one storyline from the season, I think averaging just over 1.0ppg in his sophomore season is as good a place to start as any.
The team had holes all over and looked some nights like they couldn’t tie their skate laces properly and he kept producing.
Now the team seems to have it’s head screwed on straight and are moving forward and there’s Gaudreau, way on up the path just waiting for the rest of his team to catch the hell up.
Why the song?
I’d picked Elvis for the Flames back in the initial season
The first part of the year did not go as well as many had
planned. In fact, it was probably pretty awful for both fans and players.
But gradually, as the games went on, things began to improve
and then with a prolonged winning streak in December the Flames seemed to come
around until the point now where they are a relevant team in their division,
weakened though it is.
By many measures the Flames are not having a good season, and yet I get the impression that there is nothing but good feeling surrounding the team right now as they have been playing well since early December and fans are confident in the management group and the young core developing before their eyes.
The playoffs are still a long way off but the general feeling around the team seems to be positive (arena press conferences notwithstanding).
I left my home in Norfolk Virginia
California on my mind
I straddled that Greyhound
And rode into Raleigh and on across Caroline
We had motor trouble that turn into a struggle
Halfway across Alabama
And that hound broke down and left us all stranded
In downtown Birmingham
Sure as you’re born brought me a silk suit
Put luggage in my hand
And I woke up high over Alberquerque
On a jet to the promised land
The Flames haven’t won the Stanley Cup, and they may not even make it to the post-season dance this year, but I get the feeling that regardless, fans are singing with the top down as this ride rumbles on down the highway.