FN Mailbag – March 14, 2016


The Flames’ march down the NHL standings continues. The latest loss to the Coyotes ties Calgary for last in the West with Winnipeg and Edmonton (though Calgary somehow has three games in hand on the Oil). 

Frankly the results have been worse than the team’s efforts, which is the best of both worlds for Flames fans right now. The club playing competently but losing is, pragmatically speaking, the ideal way for the team to finish off 2015-16. Losses in and of themselves are never worthy of “celebration”, but if the Flames can get a shot at a top three draft pick without playing like the 2014-15 Buffalo Sabres for the last 20 games, let’s call it a dim silver lining. 

Not many mailbag questions this week, so we’ll focus on some tangents.  

This was a tongue in cheek question, but I’ll use it as a springboard to look at the Flames’ results with and without Wideman (and Russell) this year.

Since Kris Russell has been out of the line up (Feb. 13-March 13), the Flames have been a 50% possession team. That’s mediocre but well above the 47% average they’ve managed in aggregate this year. The findings are similar without Wideman: 49.4% without, 47.4% with. 

Keep in mind these are highly unintuitive results given the Flames’ make-up without these two players: the club has resorted to calling up multiple fringe players throughout the lineup, and especially on the backend. The natural result should be a precipitous drop in the team’s possession rates, but we see the exact opposite.

A 3% shift in possession doesn’t sound like a lot, but over a full 82 games it’s massive. For example, over the 14 games without Russell, the Flames’ 50.5% CF equals a +13 shot attempt differential at even strength. Over 82 games, that equates to a +76 differential. In contrast, a 47.5% averages out to about -4.6 shot attempts per game this year or -376 shots over a full season. That’s a 452 shot attempt swing at 5on5 play.

So why are the Flames losing if their possession improved so much recently? Unfortunately, 50% is merely middling and still not good enough to overcome the team’s lousy special teams; especially since the Flames saw their penalty differential go deeply negative after the Wideman incident for some reason (*cough*).

This isn’t really a hockey or Flames question, but it’s an interesting one nevertheless. Of course, there is a number of factors that likely explain Rogers’ dip in viewership this season. Not the least of which is the fact that all of the Canadian teams – Calgary included – suck. Watching meaningless hockey for the last two and a half months of the season tends to shave away the ratings points.

In addition, modern sports broadcasting is still wedded to the traditional cable model, which increasingly cuts against the grain of audience viewership habits. This is completely speculative on my part, but as consumers continue to drift towards on-demand, a la carte content platforms (and away from bloated cable packages with blackout restrictions), companies like Rogers may find their viewership undermined as a matter of course.

There may be some concern that the Flames and NHL hockey are simply falling in popularity, but our experience at the Nation seems to dispel that notion – FlamesNation has seen a year over year growth of about 25% even as Rogers has their seen game ratings shrink.

Should we be worried as Flames fans? Not really. The problem of monetizing game broadcasts is Rogers’ alone at this point. Calgary owners have bad oil prices and a falling cap to worry about right now.

  • RedMan

    regarding TV viewership…

    with Sportsnet, how many times have we seen the broadcast of the game commence long after the game has already started, because they have booked an eastern game prior to the Flames (or Oiler) game, and it went over-time.

    I think of one game in particular where the first period was already close to half over and goals had already been scored, and they just drop the feed into calgary.

    There are are many games now where there is no pregame show – just old time crap hockey until the game starts.

    then there is the weird studio where the guys stand around holding props and try to demonstrate stupid stuff or talk while standing on a large display – this always looks stupid and is only entertaining in the “laughing at you” level.

    and of course Sportsnet always has the one crew looking orange with a combination of spray tan or something and over saturation… they literally look like oompa-loompa’s. weird and creepy.

    and how many times has the sound cut out, or the feed cut out… pathetic

    the overall quality of broadcast has nosedived ever since the contract shifted to sportsnet.

    • cberg

      I totally agree about the eastern games going over and dropping the Calgary games, though often there are alternate channels. As for the studio and other demonstrations, no, I actually like them as they provide a different perspective and insights you never get from talking heads. Overall I’d say there are both wins and losses versus previous broadcasts.

    • Hubcap1

      I think that sometimes they (the proverbial ‘they’) try to fix something that isn’t broken or create something new where the tried and true is what works. Find out what has always worked and sticking with it isn’t a bad thing (look at the late Roger Neilson’s great work with video).

      Media seem all to ready to try and jazz things up and make them fast paced for a younger crowed they forget that that is what the internet is for and simple, well thought out, educated, and informative off ice programming works great on TV.

      I love numbers and advanced stats but they don’t relate well on TV and broadcasters shouldn’t try to hard to spend time over explaining complex stats that many of them only barley understand.

    • slapshot444

      I agree, bottom line, Sportsnet is awful. HNIC is better than most of the other weeks broadcasts but George doesn’t help that show. Clearly he’s not a hockey guy, not that he pretends to be one, but he’s a pale replacement for Don Maclean.
      My beef is the alternate channels. I watch all sports on PVR as to cut out commercials and have the slow mo replay ability. SN will move a game around, depending on HD availability, playing wack a mole on what channel are we using tonight isn’t something a PVR remote set up does well.
      My biggest beef is no post game what so ever if it’s not HNIC.
      Like zip, nada, straight to the looping roundup on scores.

      Thank God we get Rudy as our commentator or i’d be off to the radio.

      Hey it could be worse,, we could be stateside with all those matinees ( Bettman loves those) and the Yank broadcasters who after all these years still don’t understand the game. Or how about the in-house announcers who needs to announce a power play like its a goal. ( ok folks wake up now and pay close attention because we have a powerrrrrrrr playyyyyyy)

      • RedMan

        I agree, and forgot to add to my list the very thing you mention, namely that I too like to PVR the games, but they often schedule the game into such a tight time frame that it often goes over the allotted time, meaning that when you PVR it, you might miss the last 10-15 minutes of the game. this has burned me a few times when i had to leave to do something and came back to finish watching the game, only to find the last part missing.

        In fact there was the one game where they tied it up with seconds left and won in overtime, and we were watching it on delay (started watching late) and when we were about 3 minutes left in the game, down by one, it all of a sudden came to the end of the recording and switched to live TV, where the tying and winning goals were already scored. I tell you, there was some pretty ticked guys at my place.

  • Pizanno

    Here’s a question:

    Should we be worried that our top scorer and cornerstone of our future has 48 points at home and only 18 on the road? Monahan’s numbers are pretty skewed that way too. To win ya gotta win…everywhere. Our top line cannot be that easy to contain with the last line change.

    • cberg

      When your top line is two smurfs and a not-very physical C it makes it much easier to shut them down. Getting a solid RW like Ferland would be ideal, which is why I’m hoping they continue to work on that and Ferland eventually fits in. Failing that, we need a solid power forward from somewhere.

      In addition, having a stronger, dangerous 2nd line would also help greatly by forcing teams to spread their D coverage onto two lines to shut down the Flames. Calgary is still working on that, with a couple pieces already there.

      Bottom line, its still a rebuilding team and we need to get better throughout.

    • Hubcap1

      I’m not to worried yet, if the trend continues through next season it could be an issue. I believe putting Gaudreau with other line mates will help him a great deal. No, I don’t have any suggestions, but I would say the personal aren’t here yet. And of course he may always find it harder to produce on the road with the matchups and all.

    • ApolloRising

      Im not worried at all. It’s only Gaudreau’s 2nd season on a team in the middle of a rebuild. He’s still very much a young developing player. If that trend continues into the next two seasons, then there might be something to worry about. But for now, he’s just finding his game and learning to play against the top competition. I’m certain he will figure out how to score on the road.

    • OKG

      No, we should be worried that our “top center” is 52.13% CF at home (average) and 43.12% CF on the road (terrible) though. When that top center can start driving possession so that he’s around 48%+ CF on the road, his winger Johnny will start producing a lot more.

    • Baalzamon

      They didn’t have that problem last year. Last year, Gaudreau scored 35 points at home and 29 on the road and Monahan had 35 at home and 27 on the road.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      Should we be worried that a 2nd year pro only has 66 points in 67 games? No. The fact that he has scored so many at home should be something to be happy about. Give him a consistent RW for a season. He’s the top scorer on the team, so he is going to see the league’s best defenders.

      The way to get him better circumstances is to double shift him on other lines, or change him in on the fly. His numbers will start to balance out when his usage is managed a bit better on the road, and he gets a top 3 RW on his line full time.

    • cjc

      Not trying to pile on here… I think this is a good question, but it’s hard to isolate when the team as a whole has been awful. However, when a player’s goal, assist, points and shot totals are all up, it’s hard to be too upset. He’s only 22 and will just get better from here – that includes road production.

      As for needing more beef and physicality on that line, I would say “jury’s out”. Hudler was great there last year, not so much this year. Ferland has looked good there at times, but that hasn’t translated into more production.

      Calgary’s biggest problem is that they really only have one offensively skilled line. That makes it easy for other teams to match them. A second true scoring line might help Gaudreau and Monahan more, as opposed to adding a big/physical winger to their line.

    • freethe flames

      My response to this question is take a look at the tonights lineup (yes I know they are up 5-2) But the problem is that the 2nd line is a very good third line and the third line is the a good look at what the 4th line should be, The forth line should not be playing. The first line could use a high end RW hopefully the draft will produce this. I could see Bennett having Ferland on his leftwing still needing another RW who could be a top 6 forward. My point is I don’t worry about Johnny and Monny I worry that there is not enough skill and depth to support them. But i am an optimist about the draft and our prospects developing.

  • Jake the Snail

    1 point for McDavid in his last 4 games; Taylor Hall could not make it on the top line! 🙂 – the Oilers will have 6’3″ 230 lb Patrick Maroon playing LW with McDavid and Eberle tonight.

    Flames need some beef on the top line too.
    I have no problem using Ferland on the top line for the rest of the season. It will eventually click in and be an awesome line.

  • Derzie

    My take on the TV drop: The model is for people to see every game of their in-market team. If your team ends up stinking (e.g. all of Canada), so does your viewing market. The appetite to switch to watching another team is restricted to a smaller part of the market (fantasy players, hockey fans who just love the game). Also, the parity in the NHL is tiring. Wins are not rewarded as much as they should be. Also, scoring chances seem rare (maybe that’s just watching the Flames) but without them, the entertainment value suffers. Also, why is it that Sportsnet paid millions for hockey but TSN quietly keeps plum regional markets like Leafs, Sens & Jets? Somebody got fleeced at Sportsnet. Lastly, who are the Ray Ferraros and Bob McKenzies on SN? Most of the talking heads are not very likable, let alone leaders in their field.

  • sathome

    Sports are the only time I watch live TV, and I can’t justify paying for cable just to watch the Flames. If there’s a game I really want to see on TV, I can just go to a bar. They usually mute the games during the intermission, too, which is an added bonus with Sportsnet.

  • Stu Cazz

    No one has mentioned the ridiculous contract overpay the SN executives signed to obtain the rights……now because of this we are seeing the adjustments….business 101.

    • RedMan

      we can only hope that with a year of crap under their belts, they have learned something and will not be the Edmonton oilers of the broadcast world again next yea.r

  • Petzl

    Fringe players called-up on the back-end, yet the team is significantly better without nhl veteran players Wideman and Russell… What does that make them then?

  • Greg

    Regarding the TV drop: I don’t know if my own consumer behaviour has been typical, but I’ll tell it anyway and hope SN’s social media analytics picks it up anyway 🙂

    For me, it started and ended with in-market blackouts. I was happy to pay for Game Center last year and got to watch almost every flames game. This year, local blackouts were back in effect, and I cancelled Game Center as a result. There was a way to unlock the games if you had a cable subscription but a) what’s the point of buying Game Center if I have a cable subscription and b) I’m not going to pay for a cable service I do not use or want. Period. Double the price of Game Center if you want (I “might” still buy it… Probably not), but I sure as heck am not paying for cable anymore. I wish media companies would get that through their thick skulls, that model is dying or already dead. There’s folks like me out there that are more than willing to keep paying for the services we do want, but you can either sell us what we want or get no money selling what we don’t want… Or get zero money trying to force sell what no one is willing to purchase anymore.

    I know for myself, with no legal avenues to pay for what I wanted to watch, I just stopped bothering trying to tune in. Listened to a few games on the radio, watched a few at a pub or a buddy’s house, but that was it. And funny thing was, once I got out of the habit of tuning in all the time, I started to forget to tune in anytime… Most Saturday nights I forgot to check if the flames were playing on HNIC so didn’t even watch when I could have. That’s something that should really concern SN and the NHL… Give the fans a reason to change their viewing habits, and you might not ever get them back.

    So ya, while I would think a lot of the lower numbers is due to being down in the standings, I’d bet a non-trivial amount is just people like me cutting the cord and then finding other things to do with my time when I couldn’t find a way to pay them for what I wanted. They’ll kill off their entire business (and probably take a lot of value of the NHL’s as well) by refusing to adapt to a newer and better business model.