FN Mailbag – March 7, 2016


Mailbag

So Here we are again, riding out the homestretch. The players are skating for pride and the decision makers are conducting evaluations, but most fan’s minds have already turned to the offseason. That’s not only because the remainder of the regular season is meaningless. Brad Treliving is facing a particularly interesting summer with the org is in line for a top-3 pick at the entry draft but also staring down the barrel of an imposing cap crunch. 

This season also makes it clear the club still has work to do when it comes working its way out of the Western Conference basement. Treliving will likely have to spend a bunch just to run in place, so the challenges facing him are significant. 

The general feeling towards Hartley has certainly soured this season, but I don’t see any reason to rush him out the door at this point. I’m personally leaning towards the Flames needing better coaching to get over the hump, but for now there’s no harm in sticking with the current guys.

It’s a similar answer for questions about certain players and roster spots. At this point, we don’t need to worry about optimal lineups. And, keep in mind the org only has a limited number of recalls and still has to ice a roster every night.

I can’t speak for the Flames decision makers, of course, but I can speculate.

The easiest assumption is that Jonas Hiller is done. The team was fairly skeptical about him heading into the season and he completely fell apart. There’s a good chance that at 34-years old Hiller is playing out his NHL career given just how ghastly his numbers are.

As for Ramo, I imagine he’ll be considered a contingency option the same way he was last offseason. Ramo is the “best” goalie of the group, but he’s also not quite good enough to meaningfully plan around. If the Flames can’t shore up the position enough through other signings or trades, Ramo might return as a 1B option.

As for Ortio, his future with the Flames probably depends on what he does down the stretch on the parent squad. He’s had a fairly awful year, but he’s young enough that the Flames might consider retaining him if he can put together an above average final 20-games.

The great misfortune of having a bunch of overpriced veterans clogging up the Flames blueline this year is that we didn’t really learn much about some of the hopefuls, including Tyler Wotherspoon. The 23-year old definitely looked comfortable during his cup of coffee in the show, but six games isn’t very much information. The most we can say is: he’s earned another look.

It’s not really fair to say Monahan hasn’t meaningfully progressed. 

I thought he took a big step forward in his sophomore year over his rookie campaign, and not merely because his points jumped so significantly. Monahan played much tougher minutes during his second year in the league and held his own much better from a possession stand point. There were many nights where he looked simply overwhelmed at 19, but he seemed more comfortable at 20.

That said, Monahan hasn’t yet become the capable two-way pivot many expected when he was drafted. Despite relatively friendly circumstances (lots of o-zone starts), the Flames still give up a lot of shots and chances when Monahan is on the ice. 

In fact, According to Own the Puck, Monahan’s shot suppression and goal suppression rates so far in his career are equivalent to an average 4th liner, which is what holds him back from being a truly high impact player (because his offense is top shelf). 

Dashboard 1-8

For further illustration, here’s Monahan’s “Hextally” chart from War on Ice, which shows the relative frequency of shots against with Monahan on the ice at even strength:

MonahanHex

As indicated by the legend, red areas mean “more” as in “more than league average”. The numbers are “per 60 minutes” of ice. What this chart shows that the Flames yield +2.3 shots/60 versus league average from the slot with Monahan skating at even strength. Here’s Backlund’s shots against hextally for context:

BacksHEX

At this point, it’s an open question whether Monahan will get much better south of the redline. He’ll only be 22 by the time the new season starts, but with 220 NHL games under his belt we’re getting closer to knowing what he is than hoping to find out what he will be. 

Even if Monahan plateaus, he’s a really good NHLer. It just means he won’t be Jonathan Toews.  

He’s an interesting target. A former 4th round pick of the Washington Capitals, Grubauer spent part of two seasons in the ECHL when he graduated from junior, but has been above average at both the AHL and NHL levels since then. The 24-year old has a .930 SV% as Braden Holtby’s backup this season and was a .917 SV% backup as a rookie in 2013-14. Those are encouraging numbers.

That said, I’m not sure how eager the Capitals will be to give him up.

A Wideman buyout is the best bet. It saves the Flames almost $4M in cap space next year and only costs $2M in cap room the year after. Buying out Smid only saves the club $2.67M, which is still decent, but not $4M.

The only factor that might change things here is if the Flames can move Wideman by eating some of his contract. If they can get something in return and save roughly the same amount, the club may go that route and then buyout Smid instead. Assuming they can’t put him on LTIR forever, of course.

The notable UFA goalie options this summer currently include: James Reimer, Anton Khudobin, Antti Raanta and Jonas Enroth. None of them should be overly expensive to sign, but that’s because none of them are established high-end NHL starters. Reimer is the only guy here who might cost around 4 bills. 

We’re way too far out to even guess about this right now. 

It’s possible the club’s first pick in June might be in the lineup thanks to the sorry state of the Flames RW (yes, I assume they pick RW), but even that is reading tea leaves. We’ll see what Treliving does to clarify the Flames budget in a few months and then we can start to make more educated projections.

  • JMK

    Thanks for answering the Monahan question, appreciate it. The hextally shot rate differential charts are very interesting. He still has lots of time to improve, but looking like Bennett could surpass him sooner rather than later. He’s a sniper anyway maybe it’s best that he is sheltered for a large portion of his career.

    • FeyWest

      Either physical development or learning the magic of the poke check I think would really help Monahan out, he’s got the size and strength, and definitely the reach.

      • Parallex

        Monahan is fully physically developed and his stick work is fine. I think what’s holding Monahan back defensively is not “physicality”… IMO it’s his foot speed.

        One of the reasons that Backlund is so good defensively is that he’s practically demonic in his puck pursuit. He’s so quickly up on the forecheck pressuring the oppo puck carrier that he leaves comparatively little time for the opposition to develop the play in the neutral zone. Monahan doesn’t have that quickness.

        I think an offseason devoted to power skating could do wonders.

        • SmellOfVictory

          Monahan is definitely a fairly “passive” defender. He’ll try to block passing lanes and use his stick to take the puck away, but it’s in a very floaty manner. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if he’s going to be floaty about it, his positioning needs to be borderline perfect. I don’t know how much we can expect his skating to improve, given that he’s already improved noticeably from his rookie season in that regard.

    • Joe Flames

      If Monahan is giving up so many scoring chances in the slot, should they consider moving him to the wing? We are never happy with his defensive play at centre, why not try him at another position? He is a sniper so could be more productive without the defensive responsibilities of a centre.

      This becomes an even better option if we draft another talented centre this summer.

      I would like to see him get another year at C to figure it out, but if we draft another option it might be worth a try.

  • FeyWest

    Agreed with everything stated above, I understand the worry of some but lets not kid ourselves as contenders, just like last year we’ve still got a long way to go, this year just actually highlighted what everyone knew.

    I think once Monahan becomes more comfortable hitting guys I think that’s whne we see his defensive zone coverage improve. I’d never seen him play in the O, was he as tentative/passive physically there as well? maybe it’s just something he’s got to develop to evolve his game, it’s still nice to see us develop a meaningful impact Center (no disrespect to Backs, just not offensively exciting although he always shows flashes of it and leaving us wanting)

    • mk

      I’m a big supporter of the idea that a player’s possession stats can tell you a LOT about how well they’re being used in game. The context of the numbers is VERY important – they can’t be used as an absolute evaluation. You can see this quite well with Monahan & Russell.

      Russell had very good possession stats in a limited (bottom pairing) role for a couple years and terrible stats on the 2nd pair. Conclusion: good player, forced to play above his ability. Fabulous to have him on your 3rd pair.

      Monahan: not a top line centre (yet?). Perhaps his relative shot rates tilt more in his favour if he is sheltered or separated from Gaudreau (let Johnny and Sam take the tough opposition)? He can clearly score, but he might be best utilized away from a power-v-power role, at least for now.

  • brodiegio4life

    even if monahan doesn’t become an elite 2way centre, I’d still say the flames hit the jackpot taking him at 6th. Not many 6th overall picks start their careers with 3 straight seasons with at least 20 goals.

  • calgaryfan

    It must drive Mr Burke crazy watching the buttery soft Monahan. His skating is not elite and his compete in the physical game is zero. He can shoot though.

    • Kevin R

      You know it’s funny. I go to the games & I can honestly tell you these last couple years that the majority of our offence comes from Monahan/Gaudreau & whoever happens to be on that line. Monahan can shoot, my Lord, who else would you want on a line with Gaudreau? Byron for pete sakes? When a line & player are trying to press to generate high quality chances, they tend to get caught & give up high end chances against. The guys that don’t give up so many QSC against tend not to generate too many QSC for. Do we want Monahan to become like Backlund or be a sniper like Brett Hull or Martin St Louis.

      • Parallex

        Hull and St. Louis were wingers.

        Your asking a false questions in that it implies that it’s a binary choice. Answer to that question is generally “None of the Above” and likely truth is more that we want Monahan to be become like Bergeron or Toews.

  • The GREAT Walter White

    Hi Kent.

    How do you feel about the return on the Russell trade?

    After you pulled out all the stops to sewer the Flames return on this trade by flooding the Internet with crap articles about him; I must say BT still hit it out of the park!!!!!!

    Jyrki is a nice return on Russell; bigger, younger, cheaper and better.

    The addition of the 1/2 pick and Pollock is just robbery…

    WW

    • BitGeek

      WW, I think you seriously overestimate the popularity of this website among General Managers across the league

      To add to that, I doubt that any of those GM’s have Kent bookmarked just in case they want to read what he’s thinking about the Flames assets or potential roster moves.

  • Greg

    I can’t see a Wideman buyout happening. You would have to replace him, and the cost of signing a UFA plus paying his buyout will mean a bigger cap hit without a substantial improvement. If a guy like Russell is projecting to get $5M+ this offseason (and probably will when you look at what’s available and what D got last year), you’re better off just riding that contract out and replacing him when you’ve got the full cap space back. If a buyout and sign someone else move was in the works, I think they would have just signed Russell.

    If you can get a team to take him at 50% and give you a 3rd-5th round pick, then sure, but otherwise I’ll bet he’s already penciled in to next years top 4.

    Raymond on the other hand, the writing is on the wall.

    • piscera.infada

      I don’t disagree. I’m definitely not in favour of buying out Wideman, but you don’t “have to replace him” by “signing a UFA”. It’s been painfully obvious since he’s been suspended that there are internal replacements for Wideman that will 1) play at least as well, but likely much better than Wideman has at any time this season, and 2) be much, much cheaper than Wideman (Nakladal himself, can’t be much more than 1 million to re-sign as a UFA this offseason).

      If you can trade Wideman (with salary retained) without taking bad salary back, you do it all day long, even if the return is absolutely nothing.

    • Cfan in Vic

      I know I’m reiterating some of what P.I. said, but I’d bet any money that Nakladal would instantly be an improvement over Wides next year. I’m not pretending he’d put up the offensive numbers that Wideman did last year, but he’d be a better bet compared to “current or next year’s Wideman”. Buy out Wides and just insert Naks right in there.

      Nakladal has shown in other leagues that he can play the minutes, and has looked pretty steady. He’s shown that he has a very solid point shot and a good intuition to launch strong breakout passes. I’d take him all day long over what we’ve seen of Wideman this year.

      Other than eating minutes, I’m surprised anyone is worried about a potential void left by Wideman. He’s just not that good.

    • cberg

      They don’t need to bring in someone to replace Wideman. Nakladal, Wotherspoon, Jokipakka and Engelland will do just fine, with further reinforcements on the farm.

  • PrairieStew

    Not in favour of the buying out Wideman. While it “saves” $4m in the first year – you have to remember that his roster spot will need to be filled. If that’s a young player like Wotherspoon, it might only be $1m, but that takes your savings down to $3m. It is a $2m cost in the next year, so your overall cap savings is only $1m. If you choose to sign a veteran free agent to replace him, it will cost more – and there will be no savings.

    I’d offer him up in trade, retaining the full 50% and see if you can get a low pick in return.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    Easiest thing in the world for the Flames to do this offseason is to hold a newser and present two oversized cardboard cheques for the identical amount to Monahan and Gaudreau.

    Stupidest thing in the world for the Flames to do this offseason is to hold a newser and present two oversized cardboard cheques for the identical amount to Monahan and Gaudreau.

    So how do the Flames break it to Kid Monahan that he just isn’t as valuable to the team as Hockey, hence the smaller cheque? Will this harsh blast of reality devastate him and cause him to suffer PTSD or does it grease the rails for his premature departure from Calgary to more civilized parts where his true value will be recognized and appreciated? Would love to be the fly on the wall when Tre tells Monahan the cold hardies. On the other hand, maybe the Flames give Monahan and Gaudreau contracts that are the same in length and bucks. End of suspense, until that move puts the Flames in cap hell for a long time.

    Worst mistake the Wild have made was to cut identical cheques to Suter and Parise. Will the Flames follow along the same road to Stupidville? Stay tuned, Kids.