Flames 4, Canucks 1 post-game embers: Vindication

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Photo credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA TODAY Sports

And lo, just when the Flames fall into a six-way tie for last place in the NHL, they snatch up another two points and get themselves in a tie with Winnipeg as the teams with the third-worst points record in the league. 

The better fate the Flames deserved against Columbus came against Vancouver. The Flames were roughly controlling play until they scored; once they were on the board, the Canucks finally kicked it into gear. (Though you’d suspect if it had been the other way around, the Flames would’ve been the one generating more shot attempts.) (They still only had four over the final 11:44 of the second period, which, yikes.)

They generally played well. When they didn’t, Jonas Hiller did. Throw in a couple of empty net goals and Calgary got themselves an out-of-proportion score (and are now 22nd in the NHL in goal differential! Moving on up).

Checking in with the trade bait

The Flames’ two biggest trade chips are Jiri Hudler and Kris Russell. Hudler played 17:32 on the top line, got top unit power play time, and registered a rather gutsy assist – making the hit to make the play will probably win him some points from prospective buyers – on what ended up being the game winner.

Russell, meanwhile, played 21:11, one of just three Flames players to crack the 20 minute mark. He had himself a solid game, with nary a flop to the ice to take himself out of the play. At no point was he really in position to cost his team, and for a game that was spent mostly tied or with a precarious one-goal lead, that means a lot.

So basically, this was a really good showcasing game for both players. 

To go off on a tangent, a few oddities surrounding them: Johnny Gaudreau didn’t have a single point in a game in which the Flames scored four goals; and somehow, Russell’s regular partner, Dougie Hamilton, ended up playing less than Deryk Engelland. Only by 1:33, but still… okay.

And T.J. Brodie led the way with 27:29, nearly five more minutes than the next most frequently used player, Mark Giordano. He had two assists, including that beauty that led to the first goal, and is now tied with Hudler for fourth in team scoring with 28 points. He seems kind of important to the team, to say the least. It’s nice when he’s not injured.

Looping back around… could Karri Ramo, perhaps, be trade bait? He’s an unrestricted free agent, and it’s not like the Flames will be left floundering around without a goalie for the rest of the season if another team wanted to give up assets for Ramo. 

What happens, assuming the trade bait goes?

Russell has been used as the Flames’ third defenceman for quite some time now, so Calgary would have to promote someone else in his stead. That someone should be Hamilton, so at least a Russell departure could see more appropriate usage for the 22-year-old.

As for Hudler’s replacement: he should probably stay with Gaudreau and Sean Monahan until it’s time, but when it’s time, assuming no players or prospects of note come back… it’s gotta be Micheal Ferland, right? He was getting a spin on the top line before his injury, and every now and then, he shows real, legitimate chance-creating talent.


Like, at absolute absolute absolute worst, when all is said and done, he could end up being the third-line left winger alongside Mikael and Michael. He’s known for his physical play, but he’s got more to his game than what a fourth liner has to offer. And assuming Hudler is gone, he could get a decent 20 or so game stretch with Gaudreau and Monahan (the latter of which is looking much better as of late) to audition for a top six spot.

When the Flames traded for Brandon Bollig, they certainly weren’t counting on Ferland breaking out. And at this point, his upside is probably higher than Lance Bouma’s (who has been used almost exclusively in a fourth line role this season – though to be fair, he’s performed well in that position, and had a lot of jump the past couple of games).

And yet, Ferland only has eight points through 40 games this season. It’s like we’re on the cusp of just waiting for him to break out and start putting up some numbers. Though we are talking about somebody who has only played 75 games, including the playoffs, so there’s still time for his efforts to start translating into tangible results.

Here is a section of Mikael Backlund love

This game was the game where I don’t get why people can have problems with Mikael Backlund.

No, he doesn’t score a lot. He did have a goal and an assist last night, though, bringing him up to 24 points – on pace for 39 this season (the same number Sam Bennett is on pace for, by the way) – and both points encapsulated two different facets of his game to love.

The first was the assist, which he got on the offensive zone entry. The zone entry itself wasn’t the most amazing thing, and Brodie gets more credit for making himself an available passing option when Chris Tanev challenged Backlund, but the point is Backlund is one of the Flames’ best players at carrying the puck into the offensive zone. And it’s kind of hard to score from outside of there, so.

The second was the empty netter, which he clawed and fought for. Backlund, more often than not, will show enthusiasm and effort in his play, and generally has throughout his time in Calgary.

He’s a heart and soul player. Don’t people generally love those guys? Just because he doesn’t play a style that lends itself to hitting or blocking shots – because both are actions you do when you don’t have the puck, and Backlund usually does actually have it – doesn’t make him not a heartbeat of this team.

He’s ideal for a third line role. Hopefully, one day soon, he’ll be bumped down there. But that doesn’t make him any less valuable to the Flames, whether he’s putting up points or not.

  • MontanaMan

    I am quite sure the reason Backlund fought and clawed to get to that puck was because he KNEW there was no goalie in the net and he could pump that miserable chance squandering shooting % up.

    Same amount of points as a 19 year old rookie who is about to blow past him on the depth chart like he is standing still. Loving Sammy, he is on a higher scoring pace than Monny was in his rookie season and we have a good one there.

    I too look forward to the day Backlund will be bumped down to the 3rd line..for good!

    • BlueMoonNigel

      You sure love beating a dead horse, ultrathin. Like Backlund is all that ails the Flames. Forget about it.

      That TJ Brodie is a beautiful player to watch though. What a great defenseman. So confident and talented. He’s like a younger version of Duncan Keith.

      With that incredible defense of yours, I really don’t understand why the Flames aren’t in a playoff position.

      Could it be your overated coach??

      • The GREAT Walter White

        Did you figure out why your mighty Oilers played so poorly in that afternoon game in Montreal yesterday?

        Montreal…..Kassian……strip clubs……

        This off season should be fun for all the young Oilers this year!!!

        WW

        • MattyFranchise

          There is one word for why the Oilers played so bad in Montreal Walter. Schultz.

          He was absolutely brutal coughing up the puck over and over again.

          That is why I envy your defense.

    • Old Goat

      Ari is right to show Backlund some love, however it really shows the flaws in our lineup. If Backlund was on the third line because we had someone better to take his place on the second line that would be ideal. As for the dump Russell movement, keep in mind , the devil you know. Hate to end up with a Fayne
      Cheers

      • MattyFranchise

        The dump Russell movement is justified by having Nakladal, Wotherspoon, and Kulak all in the minors playing very well and not being given a chance because Hartley would rather have Russell be personally responsible for a goal against 3 out of every 5 games (Personal ESGF% of 43.8).

  • MontanaMan

    Backlund’s line scored 3 goals and yes 2 were into an empty net. Yet why were they on the ice with the game 2-1? Because they are defensively responsible and the coaching staff trusts them. How much time did this line play against the Twins? How many points did the twins have?

    Ideally Backlund would be your third line center having the majority of hard minutes and still creating OZ opportunities. I would have no problem with my 3rd line center scoring 10-15 goals and 40 points a season and being able to go up against the other teams top line. Unfortunately he is being asked to play up a spot and his haters are mad because he is not a 20-30 goal scorer and a 60 point man.

    It’s up to BT to find two or three more forwards to play in the Top 6. Hopefully they are in the system but there are draft picks and FA to be found.

      • hulkingloooooob

        Pretty sure there is some genuine hate out there.

        Sure there is some excessive love, but if Backs scored more his name would be Bergeron, or Toews, or something and we couldn’t afford to keep him. He is what he is and he does it pretty well.

    • Kevin R

      I have no problem with Backlund. He comes up with some pretty decent games. Is he a game changer? No. I think some are frustrated that our most lethal, probably future top line Centre has been playing wing in a year where playoffs are a pipe dream & because we lack the talent to do anything different. Are we a playoff contender having Backlund centring the 2nd line? Nope.

      I gotta say, if Im Treliving & I just spent 3 very valuable draft picks to acquire a 22 year old “league perceived” stud defence man, who I resign & is currently the highest paid player on the team & Engellend plays more than him… well I’m not happy. Then I say at the beginning of the year that my prized draft pick will be playing Centre & has played wing the whole season…..well I’m not happy. Gonna be an interesting convo with my coach on locker clean up day in April.

      I hear a coaching position may be opening up in Montreal. Can a team trade a coach like they do a player?

      • Kevin R

        Well said, and your points about Treliving/Hartley are accurate I would think. I am sure Brad isn’t happy with the asset management, so many boner decisions made throughout the season, of which Hamilton’s icetime last night was the latest.

        Hartley has one year left? I can’t see him coming back for a new contract, if he doesn’t get punted after this season. He wasn’t a Burke or Treliving hire and only wrangled a contract with the Flames being in that hot start last season.

        As much as a lot want to say oh yeah this is just the Great Regression. I think it has a lot to do with the coaching. Why do they come out of the gates flat on so many nights? Why are horrendous decisions made regarding ice time? Powerplay personnel?

        This team was given bullets to put in the gun to avoid too much of a regression and instead the bottom has almost dropped out. That’s on Bob.

        Someone else here said it well when they said Brad’s almost got to do a Billy Beane and strip Art Howe’s power from him. Get rid of Hartley’s favorites and tie his hands some, if only deals were possible in Bettman’s NHL other than a blue moon

        • MattyFranchise

          The weird deployment decisions aren’t just contained to this season, though. Last season we were treated to the 50-game refusal to put Sean Monahan with Gaudreau and Hudler, Top Six Forward Lance Bouma, and the Pair of Doom (Russell/Wideman).

          I’m actually with MontanaMan on the Hartley issue. Many of the decisions Hartley makes are maddeningly contrary to the dictates of common sense, but literally ALL coaches make decisions like that. Under Mike Babcock the Red Wings deployed both Justin Abdelkader and Dan Cleary in their top six (and I mean really? And they’re still doing the Abdelkader thing). Several Pittsburgh coaches have saddled Sidney Crosby with third line wingers (Kunitz and Dupuis) when attempts to give him real wingers didn’t immediately bear fruit (and those wingers were immediately and invariably granted to Malkin in perpituity). John Quenneville once deployed MICHAL HANDZUS as his second line center (and they won the cup because Blackhawks).

      • MattyFranchise

        “I hear a coaching position may be opening up in Montreal. Can a team trade a coach like they do a player?”

        I think if we fired Bob and Mtl hired him we would get a draft pick…but I think the GM’s turfed that rule recently?

        Too bad…could have been a savvy move for Tree

  • MattyFranchise

    The problem with the Backlund hate is that it’s because he’s playing above his head, which isn’t recognized by the haters at all. This team has 2 top line players (Gaudreau, Monahan), 2 second line players (Bennett, Hudler) and the rest of them are 3rd or 4th line players.

    Backlund, to me, is a better version of Stajan but you never hear anyone bitch about Stajan because he plays on the 4th line, which is where he should be playing while Backlund is way up there on the 2nd.

    As for the defense, it’s anyone’s guess. Wideman is untradeable (even without the suspension), if Tre couldn’t trade him after last season, no is gonna take him this season for all the tea in China. Might just have to cut our losses and let him walk during free agency.

    Russell is fine with his wage and ability to slot in at 5th/6th D, so it is definitely head scratching coaching that he plays #3 minutes night in and night out. We’re out of the playoffs and barring a miracle are not going to get back in so might as well slot him in at #5 and leave him there with Engellend and Smid on his other side.

    Let Nakladal play with Gio on the second pairing and get Brodie/Hamilton going on the top pairing since that is likely to be the top pairing for the foreseeable future. They’ve only played 17(!) minutes together at even strength this season, isn’t it worth at least trying?

    I fully expect Hartley to be coaching somewhere else next season, his decisions are not making a lot of sense this year and judging by his player usage, he and Treliving are clearly at odds concerning which direction they want this team to go. Now that there is no longer compensatory picks for letting a coach go somewhere else mid contract there is no reason to bring him back for his last year.

  • MattyFranchise

    The problem with the Backlund hate is that it’s because he’s playing above his head, which isn’t recognized by the haters at all. This team has 2 top line players (Gaudreau, Monahan), 2 second line players (Bennett, Hudler) and the rest of them are 3rd or 4th line players.

    Backlund, to me, is a better version of Stajan but you never hear anyone bitch about Stajan because he plays on the 4th line, which is where he should be playing while Backlund is way up there on the 2nd.

    As for the defense, it’s anyone’s guess. Wideman is untradeable (even without the suspension), if Tre couldn’t trade him after last season, no is gonna take him this season for all the tea in China. Might just have to cut our losses and let him walk during free agency.

    Russell is fine with his wage and ability to slot in at 5th/6th D, so it is definitely head scratching coaching that he plays #3 minutes night in and night out. We’re out of the playoffs and barring a miracle are not going to get back in so might as well slot him in at #5 and leave him there with Engellend and Smid on his other side.

    Let Nakladal play with Gio on the second pairing and get Brodie/Hamilton going on the top pairing since that is likely to be the top pairing for the foreseeable future. They’ve only played 17(!) minutes together at even strength this season, isn’t it worth at least trying?

    I fully expect Hartley to be coaching somewhere else next season, his decisions are not making a lot of sense this year and judging by his player usage, he and Treliving are clearly at odds concerning which direction they want this team to go. Now that there are no longer compensatory picks for letting a coach go somewhere else mid contract there is no reason to bring him back for his last year.

  • MattyFranchise

    The problem with the Backlund hate is that it’s because he’s playing above his head, which isn’t recognized by the haters at all. This team has 2 top line players (Gaudreau, Monahan), 2 second line players (Bennett, Hudler) and the rest of them are 3rd or 4th line players.

    Backlund, to me, is a better version of Stajan but you never hear anyone complain about Stajan because he plays on the 4th line, which is where he should be playing while Backlund is way up there on the 2nd.

    As for the defense, it’s anyone’s guess. Wideman is untradeable (even without the suspension), if Tre couldn’t trade him after last season, no one is gonna take him this season for all the tea in China. Might just have to cut our losses and let him walk during free agency.

    Russell is fine with his wage and ability to slot in at 5th/6th D, so it is definitely head scratching coaching that he plays #3 minutes night in and night out. We’re out of the playoffs and barring a miracle are not going to get back in so might as well slot him in at #5 and leave him there with Engellend and Smid on his other side.

    Let Nakladal play with Gio on the second pairing and get Brodie/Hamilton going on the top pairing since that is likely to be the top pairing for the foreseeable future. They’ve only played 17(!) minutes together at even strength this season, isn’t it worth at least trying?

    I fully expect Hartley to be coaching somewhere else next season, his decisions are not making a lot of sense this year and judging by his player usage, he and Treliving are clearly at odds concerning which direction they want this team to go. Now that there are no longer compensatory picks for letting a coach go somewhere else mid contract there is no reason to bring him back for his last year.

  • MontanaMan

    I’m a fence sitter when it comes to Hartley but for those of you calling for his head, who do the Flames hire? Personally I think Hartley relates well to the youngsters and the vets (tough to do in today’s NHL) but I’d be interested to know who you think would do a better job, given the limited talent through the lineup?

  • calgaryfan

    Mr Backlund is too soft for a 3rd or 4th line centre and not talented enough for lines 1 or 2. He does not like the physical part of hockey and tends to just dump the puck if he is going to take a hit. He fills a roster spot now but will not be with the flames if they become a good playoff team.