Assuming the rest of the season goes as it has this year, the Flames will likely be a lottery team again. Which is exactly what this team needs: another strong draft pick with exceptional upside to continue the rebuild. Calgary hit it out of the park selecting Sam Bennett fourth overall in 2014, even if the young centre ascended into top prospect territory with just one shoulder.
This season for fans has been an emotional roller coaster of sorts, with many coming to terms with the crippling reality that surrounds this team. The highs may feel like they’re few and far between but one remains very clear: Sam Bennett is legitimately having a strong rookie season, despite any dissenting voices saying otherwise.
Realistically on both a basic level (goals, points, other now archaic numbers) and underlying numbers he is having quite a bit of success this season. Even if he has spent a bulk of it on the left wing, all available data illustrates how fantastic Bennett has been.
And that’s the important point to keep in mind, regardless of preconceived expectations you may have had or cries of scoring consistency that should fall on deaf ears. Sam Bennett has been a predominately effective player on this Calgary Flames roster, even with any growing pains he’s faced.
I LOVE YOU, SAM BENNETT
In recent days, Domenic Galamini‘s WARRIOR charts have been updated to reflect more recent results as well as provide more insight into player evaluation. These charts are fantastic for giving a brief glimpse at a player. From a personal perspective, I find it hard to really be disappointed in any regard with Bennett’s progress as a pro.
I’ve added Bennett’s individual advanced stats on the right side for quick reference. All stats are pulled from War on Ice. Rank among forwards is strictly forwards on the Flames with a minimum of 300 5v5 minutes played at the time of this article.
The main takeaway here, just like all measures we have to judge a player’s performance, are player outputs. The exploration of what makes up a player has been explored at length by Garret Hohl recently. One of the biggest areas of interest is Bennett’s ability to be a factor in driving scoring chances (SCF%) and high-danger scoring chances (HSCF%).
He has a nose for creating offense and the Flames have benefited as a whole this season, improving to 48.9% SCF and 48.6% HSCF so far on the season. Last season, the team was among the league’s bottom at 44.8% SCF and 45.4% HSCF at 5v5 in the regular season.
From an individual contributions perspective Bennett shouldn’t be ignored as someone who stands to make every minute of his ice time count:
I used Johnny Gaudreau as a measure because he’s the team’s biggest offensive contributor currently. Bennett still manages to produce exceptional results in terms of individual events and various metrics per 60, even though he’s fourth in EV TOI in forwards on the team.
The tl;dr is as follows: Play Bennett and give him more power play time.
Now with his transition to centre (what may very well be full time), we might see a slight drop off in his output as he takes on a whole new layer of responsibilities. This is fine, as it’s part of many rookies’ path in the NHL. The time spent on the wing with Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik served well as a stepping stone to what should surely be an enjoyable remainder of the season for the 19-year-old.
JOSH JOORIS – ANOTHER WAX POETIC
By all accounts Josh Jooris should be a fixture in the lineup based on what we know about his performance last season. This season, he’s had his ups and downs just like everyone else, but yet he’s often the odd man out. It’s confounding and nauseating that others are looked upon over Jooris when there is more credible evidence against these types of decisions.
With that, and some of the growing pains this year as a pro, these three narratives continually crop up:
- He isn’t putting up reasonable secondary scoring numbers.
- He takes too many penalties.
- He’s just not as good as [pick a player in the bottom-six] right now.
Even if you strongly consider the penalty differential aspect as a logical reason to avoid using him until he improves (his 10 penalties this season are as much as he had all of last season, playoffs included) it’s still a farce to conceive of or dress a team without him playing.
Compared to last season’s overall success, Jooris is putting up points at nearly the exact pace, with a more realistic shooting percentage than he benefited from early on in his rookie season. From there on, both overall and relative to his teammates, he’s rounded his game a little more. And that’s the main thing you want from depth like Jooris: a forward who provides steady results on a contract just below $1M AAV.
These types of measures prove that the team does in fact benefit from his usage. Where his offense might not be groundbreaking, he makes up for it with being of value in his defensive impacts. Factor in his even strength play, along with his work on the penalty kill, and you have a preferable depth forward.
Jooris offers and provides the types of attributes necessary to give the team an edge despite the team’s abysmal performance. He deserves to be played in the capacity he has been this year, but without having to be a healthy scratch.
DESIGNING AN IDEAL BOTTOM SIX
The biggest crux of the Flames’ existing bottom six roster is dissonance of what coaching might see in certain players and their on-ice results. Some players, like Matt Stajan, have seen their usage considerably adjusted to reflect their current production. Meanwhile due to the consequences of limited talent relative to their roles, we see absurdities that have yet to be remedied.
At some point once Sam Bennett fully transitions to a center role, Backlund will become the de-facto third-line center. If it pans out the way fans hope, it should give much needed parity to the roster. The immediate pause on that is whether or not the existing youth continue their ascension and if the team has capably skilled forwards to fill out the rest of the roster.
If this team ever hopes to fully break out of the rebuild in the future it needs to be insulated with capable NHL depth. The Penguins are a case study on having a top-heavy roster that wallowed in the depths of using Tanner Glass and Craig Adams far too long and far too often. The roster needs to be full of players that add wins, not subtract them or hinder a team from achieving them.
It’s critical that Treliving, along with the rest of management, embrace this. The likes of a Micheal Ferland or a Josh Jooris go a long way now. It’s why these players move at the trade deadline and there is a premium to be had. There needs to be a full-stop on embracing the tropes of intimidation tactics over meaningful talent.
In the end, the goal of the game is to put the puck in the net, not promote an environment where you inhibit your talented players from finding success. And doing that starts in composition of players in this exact area.