The Calgary Flames, just over 3/4ths through the 2015-16 season

We’re in the final stretch of the year. The trade deadline has come and gone, and all that’s left is to play the final 20-ish games of the season, wait for the draft lottery, and then crawl into a hole and bide our times until the actual draft is upon us and we can officially turn the page on year three of the rebuild.

In the meantime, let’s do a quick review of just how the Flames have fared through the first three-quarters of this season – and maybe, what the future could have in store.

The basics

The Calgary Flames…

  • Are the third worst team in overall league standings. Edmonton has one fewer point in two additional games played; Toronto has four fewer points in one fewer game played. Winnipeg has the same number of points, but in one fewer game played.
  • Have a goal differential of -27: sixth worst in the league. Worst are Toronto and Edmonton, at -36 each.
    • Have scored 170 goals, tied for 14th in the NHL.
    • Have had 197 goals scored against them, third worst in the NHL.
      • (So they may be okay at scoring – although there’s obvious room for improvement – but need help defensively? Or at least with, you know, goaltending.)
  • Are shooting at 9.20%, 11th in the NHL.
    • Take 29.0 shots per game, 21st in the NHL.
  • Have a team save percentage of .894%, the worst in the NHL.
    • Give up 29.3 shots against per game, 11th in the NHL.
      • (Oh, goaltending.)
  • Have a power play of 15.9%, second worst in the NHL. Toronto has the worst power play at 14.1%.
  • Have a penalty kill of 72.8%, the worst in the NHL.
  • Have a 5v5 CF of 47.7%, tied with Buffalo and the Rangers for seventh worst in the NHL.

Compared to last season, the Flames have improved their possession rate. They give up fewer shots on net per game, and have been taking more: a sign that they should be getting better if not in the standings, then on the ice. 

They’ve given up more goals because their goaltending has tanked, and they aren’t scoring as many goals because their shooting percentage isn’t as high as it was the year before, hence the contention for good lottery odds instead of a playoff spot.

Their power play has gone from league average to trash (a reduction in shooting percentage may be part of the cause of this), and their penalty kill has gone from bottom-third to just plain bottom (again, goaltending). The Flames have the personnel to make their special teams work – they have a lot of offensive defencemen and, well, Johnny Gaudreau; on the kill, two of their offensive defencemen are great defensively, plus there’s Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik – but their actual performance is a failure.

There are still some things to like about this season, though, and a smart off-season could see the Flames not only looking better when it comes to underlying numbers, but in the standings themselves, too. (The goaltending can’t possibly be this bad again, can it?)

Player usage

The higher you are in these charts, the more difficult the competition you face. The further to the left you are, the more defensive zone starts you take (i.e. difficult circumstances). The bluer your bubble, the better your relative corsi is to the rest of the team; the redder, the worse. The bigger your bubble, the more ice time you get per game.

Via War on Ice:

woiwhole

Rookies and call ups have skewed the chart a little. For example: Garnet Hathaway is very sheltered to start his NHL career, as he should be. Brett Kulak was pretty sheltered competition-wise as well; there’s a lot of empty space around him. (On a positive note, though, they both at least have high CF%s through their limited time playing: 54.90% and 54.78%, respectively.)

To correct for this, here’s what the Flames’ usage looks like, with a minimum of 100 minutes played:

woi100min

We lost a couple more bodies who weren’t as big outliers:

  • Tyler Wotherspoon was keeping pace alongside Jakub Nakladal quite well. Almost the same circumstances for them, and not much difference between the two at all; Wotherspoon a little more ice time, Nakladal slightly better corsi numbers with slightly better zone starts.
  • Jyrki Jokipakka was sheltered in his first game, but he put up a 54.55% CF, so it clearly worked for him – while facing more difficult competition than Nakladal and Wotherspoon have. (It’s only been one game though, so it doesn’t mean much right now.)
  • I feel like if Derek Grant had gotten the chance to be recalled after he started tearing up the AHL, he wouldn’t be grouped so close to Brandon Bollig – but of course, that’s just a gut feeling. There’s no way to tell for sure.

And some are now departed:

  • Jiri Hudler remained sheltered with offensive zone starts right up until the end. His 48.60% CF didn’t reflect well on that.
  • On the opposite end of the spectrum, David Jones was buried in defensive zone starts, but wasn’t particularly inspirational with them. At least he had a built-in excuse.
  • The Flames aren’t really missing Mason Raymond, who got the benefit of easier playing circumstances and was still a negative corsi player.
  • This really, really goes for Markus Granlund: among the most sheltered Flames out there, and his 44.46% CF was sixth worst on the Flames.
  • Poor Ladislav Smid, but look between his pink circle and Nakaldal’s deep blue. True, Nakladal is getting more offensive zone starts – but he’s also doing a hell of a lot more with them, his CF 56.07% compared to Smid’s 46.81%. Being a veteran hardly makes one a better option.
  • Speaking of defencemen the Flames don’t miss: Dennis Wideman. Like, in general. He’s grouped with Raymond, except he gets more ice time and more pucks go against him.
  • And Kris Russell is a red blemish in a sea of relative positive possession (with poor Dougie Hamilton struggling to stay afloat – an effect Russell had on him).

And finally, for the still-present, and frequently used:

  • Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan see teams’ top players, but they also get the high ground to start on. For Gaudreau, this makes sense: his primary job is to score. It does call into question Monahan’s two-way abilities over the course of this season, though; especially when in nearly identical circumstances, Gaudreau’s CF is 49.55%, while Monahan’s is 48.23%.
  • T.J. Brodie and Mark Giordano are doing really well for themselves, taking on the biggest minutes and toughest players. There’s no real discrepancy between them, either: their bubbles are nearly identical.
  • Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik are also doing extremely well with one another, with nearly identical stats in nearly identical circumstances. Those four Flames are the only regulars to be over 50.00% 5v5 CF so far this season, and it looks clear they should be partnered together for a while yet.
  • Joe Colborne is trusted with somewhat difficult circumstances, and he isn’t totally buried: his 48.28% CF is about middle of the road on this team. Things could always be worse, but he might actually thrive if given easier playing situations (something that might not be possible this season due to limited depth).
  • Micheal Ferland is about on par with Colborne, but does a better job in very slightly easier circumstances. Looking at how the Flames are used, I’d be really interested to see how he fares alongside the other Mikes over a period of time.
  • Sam Bennett has been reasonably sheltered, and has done a good job of keeping his head above water – as a rookie. There’s a lot to look forward to here, and he’ll probably start seeing tougher minutes as his career continues – especially with him playing as a centre. He’ll probably be able to keep up, too.
  • Dougie Hamilton really, really needs a new partner. Hopefully the Flames will be able to identify one for him in the long-term, whether he comes from within or somewhere else.
  • It’s been 84 years since Matt Stajan has seen the light of the offensive zone. This probably helps explain why he only has 11 points through 61 games this season.
  • Lance Bouma is not faring much better than Stajan. However, he’s been playing in easier circumstances, and has the worst corsi on the team: 42.70%. (Stajan is at 43.71%.) I’d be willing to give him a mulligan because he spent half the year injured, but this really isn’t that different from his 2014-15 performance, except he doesn’t get his numbers boosted by Backlund anymore.
  • Deryk Engelland isn’t that great, his own corsi number – 44.26% – is only marginally better than Stajan’s, despite the significantly easier circumstances in which he plays. With the Flames apparently having diamonds in the rough embedded through their organization – Nakladal, Wotherspoon, Kulak, and maybe even the addition of Kevin counts here – it’ll be time to transition him out soon.
  • Josh Jooris had a lot more offensive zone starts last year than this year. Even though he’s now no longer sheltered, he’s still a vestige of hope in the bottom six landscape. His CF is actually 47.96% – which is really close to Monahan’s. They’re on opposite sides of this chart. Just something to think about.
  • Brandon Bollig is not doing as bad a job as he could be, but it’s not like he’s being particularly helpful, either. Like with Engelland, it should be time to say goodbye soon.

  • PrairieStew

    I’ll say it again – I think Hamilton’s partner should be Brodie, who would move from right side with Gio, to playing left with Dougie.. This is much easier to do now that there are some right hand shooters on the defence corps. The second pair would be Gio and Wideman (when he returns), but if Dennis falters I give that spot to Nakladal. Jokipakka gets the left side with whomever is not playing with Gio. Deryk goes to the press box.

  • beloch

    Aside from the goalie crease, RW is shaping up to be a real nightmare for this team.

    With the departure of Hudler and Jones, Frolik and Hathaway are the only natural RW’s on the roster at the moment. If nothing else, the sight of Hathaway playing with Gaudreau and Monahan last game should convince you that the Flames are in dire need of some RW’s!

    To be frank, Hathaway projects as a bottom six player. I’ve really liked what I’ve seen from him so far but, let’s face it, he’s 24 and has a NHLE of 18.7. Hopefully he will be a physical, possession driving player, but don’t count on him suddenly blossoming into an offensive superstar. Even Frolik is more of a second line possession driver than a first line scorer.

    Emile Poirier should be up in Hathaway’s place right now. That’s what everyone would have predicted at the start of the season. Instead, his production has cratered to the point that he’s interchangeable with Hathaway. What’s especially concerning is that he’s far from alone. The Flames brass should be seriously looking at replacing Huska.

    So, the Flames need a veteran RW for the top line to replace Hudler, they need some prospects developed enough for the AHL, and they need to draft some RW’s too. Treliving has his summer’s work cut out for him.

    • Primo

      Totally agree! I have been saying all year Huska is a prospect killer.

      This team needs top level skill in all areas. Drafting top 3 this year is badly needed! Time for call ups and focus on player development the rest of the way.

      • Parallex

        Yeah… I mean just look how terrible he was in WHL and how he graduated zero guys to the NHL. Oh wait… none of that is true.

        I can’t claim to be a big watcher of the Flames farm club but based on what I saw of Kelowna when he was there (a fair amount) Huska is a damn fine coach.

        • Primo

          You didn’t explain the digression of our top prospects??

          Huska could be in over his head….WHL and pro hockey slight difference?
          Giving him another year could be very costly to the entire organization….I defer to BT on that one.

          • piscera.infada

            You didn’t explain the digression of our top prospects??

            By all accounts Kylington is progressing very nicely in the defensive part of his game. Watching him over the course of the season, you can see it too. Is that not important?

            Klimchuk has worked his way up through the lineup and is now playing 2nd line minutes. He’s surprisingly good in his two-way game. He isn’t scoring a ton, but he’s a first year pro.

            With Poirier, read the comment above. Perhaps he’s just not that good. It’s not to say “cut him loose” or “give up on him”. It is to say rough seasons happen for good players, good season happen for poor players. I have a hard time seeing him excel in the second half of last season under Huska’s tutelage, and then now, he’s “failing because of Huska’s tutelage”. Which is it?

            I get sick of this narrative because it doesn’t take anything other than cursory scoring statistics into account. Now, I’m not saying that isn’t important, but (as I said above) it is nowhere near the whole picture.

            Also keep in mind, many of these “top-prospects” are players picked at the back-quarter of the first, and the back-half of the second rounds, if not later. What should we realistically be expecting out of their transition into pro hockey. Is it possible that “our” expectations of these prospects is too high? Is it possible that we’re expecting them to hit these lofty expectations too early?

          • cberg

            WHAT digression of WHAT prospects? Its called DEVELOPMENT! Focusing on and learning and incorporating other aspects of the game that wasn’t there previously. That is how its done.

      • cberg

        Strange. Even though you and a few others seem to think Huska has been a bust and is a “prospect-killer”, every single prospect that has joined the Flames this season has performed not only well, but I would say above average, and certainly way better than they have been previously, and they’ve fit in. That would include Grant, Granlund, Ramo, Wotherspoon, Nakladal and now Hathaway. THAT is the very definition of a great coach and symptomatic of the good job Huska has been doing down in Stockton.

    • piscera.infada

      The Flames brass should be seriously looking at replacing Huska.

      Look, I know this maybe be heresy around these parts, but have you ever stopped to consider that perhaps Poirier and other prospects that the fanbase has (for some reason) termed “can’t miss” are not “can’t miss”.

      It seems like every once in a while we see these conversations where “so and so slots in a second line right wing”, and “‘x’ can play top-4 D minutes”. That’s not how it works. There is a pretty standard attrition rate for all prospects, and chances are far better than not that some of these guys aren’t going to make it.

      None of that is to say Huska shouldn’t be held accountable, but I will point out that the times this season we’ve seen players come up from Stockton, they’ve performed (almost unanimously–depending on what you expected out of Granlund) well. So sure, we can look at NHLe and the points of prospects who should have NHL futures (although expecting all of them to hit their perceived ceilings is ridiculous), we can look at how one of the youngest teams in the AHL is performing based on wins and losses, or we can use that available data in concert with other means of observing player development.

      Firing Huska–a coach with a very good reputation of developing talent at the junior level–seems capricious to me at this time. This is a coach that despite The “Great” WW and others views to the contrary is very highly regarded as a development-centric coach.

      • KiLLKiND

        It clearly is Huska’s there is no possible way for a 2nd year player to not dominate in the AHL, is there? Since Poirier isn’t over 100 ponts yet it is probably Huska’s fault, who knows maybe that coach is even teaching Poirier to play at both ends of the ice! Why would he do such a thing this is clearly all on the coach for having a young roster! The outrage! I am so mad the Heat aren’t dominating even though when I look at their lineup I don’t expect to. Maybe now that tall guy Hunter Smith is going to get more time the Heat will really do well, or maybe Carroll as the Heat now have only 3 natural RW’s. Still Huska why didn’t you trade for another RW you are the coach after all.

        I tried playing the Meth heads role, think I did it rather well though.

      • beloch

        When one or two guys hit a brick wall transitioning to pro that’s normal. When practically every guy transitioning hits a wall and even the guys who where were already established in the AHL have their offensive production halved, it begins to look like there’s a systemic problem. Maybe it’s not Huska, but something is definitely rotten in the state of Denmark. The Flames’ brass should be doing a detailed autopsy on the Heat’s season for sure.

        • piscera.infada

          I’m not sure I buy it. It seems overly circumstantial to me–I actually don’t see it being “practically every guy”. Now, if a trend develops that way next season, I’ll start to agree.

          As I said though, based on reputation, a relatively strong performance from the same prospects last year under the same coach, and the fact that I don’t believe the win/loss record of the team is anywhere near indicative of the team’s play I’m not buying the narrative at this time.

          • beloch

            Coaches can lose the room. We see this happen in the NHL all the time. If Huska is the problem, letting him soldier on for another year could do a lot of damage to the Flames’ prospects in crucial, formative years. I’m not saying I know Huska’s the problem, but there clearly is one and the Flames should be trying to figure out what it is.

        • Parallex

          Who pray tell are these “even the guys who where were already established in the AHL have their offensive production halved”?

          Because I just looked up and down the Heat’s line-up and I see a grand total of 1 offensive player who was in the AHL last year and has roughly half the production this year (albeit in less games played) and there is another whose had his production take a notable dip. Of course while I was looking at all those guys I noticed that there is a guy under the same criteria whose offensive production has doubled and another whose production has taken a notable upgrade.

  • Parallex

    “Oh Goaltending”

    Indeed. Did a quick search of goalie stats this year and the SV% of the 15th ranked Goalie (min 32 GP) which I’ll call the “Average Starter” was .918. If we assume that we’d get that performance for the team we’d actually have a goal differential of +19 (11th in the league).

    That’s an overly rosey outlook though and it lacks context. Namely that the backup wouldn’t be as good as the starter (so even if we had a goalie with league average stats we’d lose some on the backup) and that the team Corsi is bad. If folk are wondering why I bring up Corsi it’s because I’m bringing it back to it’s original use. For those who don’t know Corsi was “invented” by Jim Corsi, goalie coach, as a way of measuring his goaltenders in-game workload (since a goalie has to react to every shot attempt as if it was going to be a shot on net). So if we bring Corsi back to it’s original use we can assume by the poor team Corsi our goalies are getting quite the work out (which may impact their performance though to what extent I don’t know).

    That’s not to excuse the goaltending (it’s been crap) but it is to throw water on any idea that the Flames can sign a James Reimer, wash their hands, and say “problem solved”.

    So, offseason moves to make a jump…

    1: New coaching staff with different systems
    2: Buyout Smid & Wideman
    3: Get a goalie who can make a damn save

      • Parallex

        While that goal differential is crazy I think you missed the point of the second paragraph…. which was that it’s NOT just “A top three stud and a goalie and off we go”.

        Top offensive talent in the draft is something that we’ll need. Hudler’s production needs to come from somewhere and an inexperienced elite talent will likely provide that (and in time exceed it). But in order to get an average or above goalie that can perform like an average or above goalie we’ll need more possession of the puck which we’ll get by ejecting the negative possession players and replacing the coaching staff with a staff with better systems (almost certainly improving the special teams in the process).

        … but yeah, do get a goalie that can make a damn save please. He doesn’t need to be Carey Price but we need better then we got.

    • cberg

      Its now after the game so 20-20, but really, Gaudreau’s style works much better with Monahan, and Bennett’s works much better with Frolik and a guy like Ferland, as was clearly demonstrated in the game.

      The experiment was fine as it gets the players thinking and trying different things at this time of year is ideal because nothing much is at stake. Once we find a solid. good RW for 1RW I think we’ll have a pretty solid top two lines.

  • DM

    Ok, so I really like the site, been coming here daily for a while – best of flames sites frankly. Been trying to get my head around some of the statistical analysis. Can someone explain what a 51 Corsi for player looks like next to say a 50 Corsi for player? I get all the terminology, but I’m wondering what a 1% Corsi differential looks like to the dreaded eye test. Mostly just because I’m trying to get my head around what each percentage point means when teams and players are separated by percentage points.
    Thanks for any perspective anyone can provide.

  • freethe flames

    Since the rebuild began we have often said we should follow the Detroit model and that model preaches patience. Last year we were given a gift of the playoffs and we foolishly believed we had already turned the corner. BT has said that he gave this years team a chance to repeat last year; “that deserved the chance”, well it has not happened. We can belly ache all we want but what it has done is give some of our non top end draft picks and we only had Two Monny and Bennett another year in the AHL to develop; I’m not prepared to give up on any of them yet. I wonder how long some of Detroits young stars waited for their chance? I bet often more than 1 or 2 years. As Flames fans we don’t have much experience with waiting and the last time we did it was ugly. I for one am going to try and be more patient. And yes BT needs to try and address some of the holes in the organization; RW and golatending; but as I said on another thread we are not brimming with high end prospects at any position but the may develop.

  • Franko J

    The Flames started the season in a very deep hole. Had a few good weeks of hockey and that is about it. Statistics and percentages aside {the numbers don’t lie} the Flames had a number of players who had “career years” last year and this year everyone except for Gaudreau, Brodie and most nights Giordano have not played up to expectations.

    Heck even Ramo was playing better until is year ending injury. As for the rest of the team very inconsistent and just not enough contributions to make a difference game in and game out.

    Going forward, in order for this team to be consider a playoff contender next year they most definitely have to improve their special teams and defensive zone coverage. Goaltending aside I want to see the team have a little bit more jam and desperation in their game.

  • aflame13

    Regarding the Heat and coaching and all that stuff. Is it not possible that the move to the west coast has affected them somewhat as well? Not as an excuse, but I would think that’d be a big transition.

    • Parallex

      Likely not… but you’d have to accept the certainty of the premise that something is wrong in the first place. A premise that seems uncertain at best and erroneous at worst.

      Considering that it appears to me that the premise is based seemingly on not much more then “Emile Poirier took a step back in his counting stats” it’s not worth the breath that’s being wasted on it. At least not yet.

      • freethe flames

        The purpose of moving to west coast was to give these team more practice time and to add in the development of our young players and one has to believe that this has happened. However this is a results driven business and the Heats record is not great. But in large part this can be attributed to losing their starting goalie early(Gilles) and not getting consistent goaltending from Ortio. Secondly their best center iceman came up early and this impacted their best prospects(Grandlund), then their hottest scorer breaks his jaw in a freak accident in practice. (Grant) However everyone from the Farm who been brought up to big team has played adequately but we have not brought many up and there are a number who should be given their auditions. This would include Agostino, Shinkarik and Poirier. Grant as well if he gets healthy but the problem is that we can only bring a total of 3 up unless there are emergencies. What would be good for these young prospects is a long AHL playoff run but I don’t know if they are going to even make the playoffs.