FlamesNation Roundtable: 2015-16 post-mortem

The 2015-16 season is over. We laughed, we cried, we yelled at our TVs a lot. But now the Flames are dead and gone, not to be seen on the ice again until October 2016 (or September, if you count pre-season). 

Brad Treliving and his management group have a lot of self-reflection and evaluations ahead of them. In the meantime, in part one of what turned into a very lengthy roundtable, we also took a look back on the year that was.

Part two will involve looking ahead to the future. Keep an eye out for it tomorrow!

What went wrong this season?

Ari: Goaltending. That’s such an easy answer, but it’s not wrong. It’s entirely possible that with league-average goaltending – like the Flames had last season – they’re in the playoffs, or at least fighting it out until the end so they could be as disappointed as the Boston Bruins and not like the Edmonton Oilers. Special teams, too; they were both league-worst for a considerable amount of time. 

Though I’d also like to say deployment was a disaster as well, from the lack of trust shown in Dougie Hamilton to too much trust shown in Joe Colborne. Some factors were unexpected and out of anyone’s control – Jonas Hiller showed no signs of collapsing to the extent that he did – but there was room for improvement in other areas that was never taken.

Ryan: Well, almost everything that broke their way last season seemed to swing the other way this season. Their goaltending crashed back down to Earth, they didn’t get the bounces offensively, and the “Find a Way Flames” became the “Find a Way to Lose Flames.”

Kent: The goaltending and special teams were AHL level for 3/4 of the season. That’ll sink just about anyone, but especially a team like the Flames who are still below average possession-wise.

Mike: A combination of things that many of us with nearly perfect foresight predicted: they came back down to Earth with their PDO, goaltending wasn’t ANYWHERE close to where it should have been, player usage and deployment continued to be a trademark of Hartley hockey, special teams were an absolute nightmare, and finally, the NZ/DZ systems were atrocious at facilitating or creating an environment where they could succeed regularly.

Taylor: Yikes, well, going wrong sorta implies that things were on track to begin with I suppose. The goaltending is an obvious thing that every Flames fan has observed over these painful months. Once again, I feel like the way in which the lineup was constructed, right from day one, was problematic. The reluctance to sit certain players (read: Bollig, Brandon) and jettison useful ones (RIP luv u always Paul) was another awful move from the beginning and it hurt them incrementally throughout the season. Though, it’s hard to overstate just how bad the goaltending was. Like, absolutely terrible.

Christian R: I think Mark Giordano’s exit quote says it all, and I paraphrase: “I think we know not to take for granted the effort it takes to make the playoffs”. The Flames came into the season with an air of false confidence I think, and got torched for it. Hartley took too long adjusting his system and the stretch pass getting roasted combined with poor goaltending resulted in a crap start. That stretch in February was bad too, and with five extra wins this season they make the playoffs. So I would say the wake-up call of “hey you have to try to win” came too late. 

Christian T: Besides Hiller being unprecedentedly bad, I don’t think much else went wrong. Like many people were warning, this team was going to regress, and they regressed hard. Dennis Wideman wasn’t going to score 50 points again, Kris Russell couldn’t get away with blocking shots forever, and Lance Bouma wouldn’t score 16 EV goals again (just to name a few of the unsustainable aspects). You didn’t have to be a skeptical mind to believe these things. If Hiller played like he did last year, then the team would probably still be battling it out for the eighth playoff spot: the same situation they faced last year. With a vastly improved roster from the previous season, that’s not enough.

If you really want the problems summed up in one word, it’s stagnancy. Despite some improvement, there was still not enough done to prevent the inevitable regression. Perhaps not shaking up the goaltending corps was a mistake, especially considering two of those goalies were older and coming off of average and below-average seasons. Maybe they could’ve added a solid bottom six piece (instead of waiving the one they had), or a better bottom three player (instead of letting Schlemko and Diaz walk into free agency). Maybe it was time to sell high on a few players despite the backlash. I can’t read minds, but I think some members of management didn’t want to tinker with last year’s roster for fear they might set the team backwards. They guessed wrong, and this year’s Flames weren’t as good as last year’s. That’s what did the team in.

Byron: The start killed them. Horrendous goaltending, no Brodie and new players (especially Hamilton) adjusting to a new system and way of playing all making up the first two months of the season destroyed them. They won eight games in their first 24 and won 27 of their last 58. Take out that really bad start and they’re not a playoff team but they’re where we expected… knocking on the playoffs but not quite there.

Beloch: Had the Flames aggregate SV% been league average (0.910), they’d have surrendered 213 goals, which would placed them in a tie with Nashville at #14 in the league. Nashville is in the playoffs even though the Flames scored more goals. Goaltending is what sank this team.

What went right?

Ari: Johnny Gaudreau. You always dream of that random small kid you pick up later in the draft turning into a point per game player, but this time, it actually happened. T.J. Brodie and Mikael Backlund were big parts of this, too: longstanding positive possession guys on the Flames, both players had career years offensively as well. Michael Frolik’s first year in Calgary paid off, and Dougie Hamilton really came into form over the course of the season. The Flames’ youth movement, for the most part, appears to be very much on track, which was the number one thing to hope for out of this season, at least.

Ryan: Johnny Gaudreau, Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie continued to show themselves as really good – dare I say “elite?” – talents. And Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik and Dougie Hamilton proved themselves to be pretty good parts of the Flames future core.

Kent: Calgary nevertheless made strides at even strength, improving everything: their shot generation, shot suppression and scoring chance differentials. They aren’t great, but they at least pulled themselves out of the basement.

The team also saw key young players like Sam Bennett, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund and T.J. Brodie take positive strides forward.

Mike: Bennett’s growth as an NHL level player, Backlund’s career year, the real emergence of T.J. Brodie, Michael Frolik (when healthy), FINALLY using Jakub Nakladal, trading Kris Russell which removed the anchor from Dougie, and probably Johnny’s fantastic step forward as a player.

Taylor: Just like the years where the Flames would squeak into the playoffs and make quiet exits, you can’t help but feel annoyed that a perfectly good season’s worth of production was essentially wasted. This year from Giordano was fantastic, 21 goals is an amazing feat for him. Fantastic seasons from Backlund, Monahan, Gaudreau, Brodie, Colborne (I suppose), and Hamilton were all essentially wasted. I hate that. I suppose that these performances represent what went right this year but sitting here it kinda feels bitter.

Christian R: They grew. They grew individually and as a team. Career seasons all around. I think this deserves an actual article itself because a bunch of very important Flames had very good seasons. A few pieces here and there and this team could be back in the playoffs next year. Exciting stuff.

Christian T: The top six forwards and top three defenders were absolutely stellar, and only one of those players is older than 30. That’s pretty good.

Byron: Offense. All this talk of they need a guy to play with Monahan and Gaudreau… sure that would be nice but their offense was just fine. PPG Johnny, another 60+ from Monahan, production from the possession kings (Backlund and Frolik), perfectly adequate production from rookie Sam Bennett and three defensemen with 40+ points. They have tons of offense, they finished in the top 10 for a second straight year. 

Johnny is not regressing. He blew the doors off in his second season and will get better. Monahan has his all-around issues (expected from a young center) but the guy knows how to find spots and score. I was very happy with the offensive production and am ecstatic about the fact that the majority of their offense is coming from guys that are 25 or younger and a 30+ defenseman that looks like he’s a massive late-bloomer and is just in the middle of his peak.  I love scoring and this team should be a top 10 scorer for years and years.

Beloch: The kids went all kinds of right. The 19-year-old Sam Bennett had nearly half a point per game. Monahan is leading his draft class. Gaudreau finished sixth overall in league scoring. The AHL call-ups for the blueline also exceeded expectations. Players like Nakladal and Jokipakka could have a positive impact next season. Ortio salvaged his season from an abominable start and now appears to be the back-up. 

That’s it for now. Tomorrow we’ll be looking at what we expect to carry over into 2016-17, what’s priority #1 for the off-season, and when the Flames’ rebuild needs to turn the corner. Stay tuned!

  • RedMan

    I understand how everyone was frustrated as the year went on regarding the use of Joe, but am I the only one that is now thinking that the ice time and opportunities given Joe allowed him to develop into a good middle six player?? Yes, we all groaned when he was sent out on the PP instead of Frolik or Bennett, but look at it as development, and form that lens,it seems to have been a success. in fact, some are suggesting he is worth too much now because of the steps forward he took this year.

    • Parallex

      I think he was a passenger on the bus being driven by Backlund and Frolik. There’s also some recency bias since he was far more productive in the second half (25% shooting percentage) then the first…

      http://www.hockey-reference.com/players/c/colbojo01/splits/2016/

      … It’s perfectly fine if he’s a passanger, but he has to be put on the right bus and here’s the thing… I don’t trust Bob Hartley to use Colborne correctly. I think at a moments hesitation he’ll go back to trying to shove the proverbial square peg into the round hole.

    • Stu Cazz

      Joe performed at a high level when the games were meaningless. He was no where to be seen earlier in the year when the games were on the line…He has a lot to prove and a reasonable extension below $2M per is in order….

  • Kevin R

    There is no doubt goaltending sunk us early. The year before I remember a game in Chicago we won & Hiller was freaking amazing that game. You saw the confidence in the play of the rest of the players. Last year it was contagious. There is some merit to the saying that championship teams are built from the net out. Price proved that with the Canadiens in dramatic fashion this year.

    Tre got caught. Just by his comment of wanting to give this group a chance to take what they built on last year forward as a group. He probably figured he could have moved a Ramo or Hiller for a decent return, if they had played anywhere close to what they did last year. He had Ortio ready to move in as backup. All 3 crapped the bed in October. Tre won’t make the same mistake going into next year. 87 points was all we needed to get there this year, the year before when needed what? 97 to squeak into that last wildcard. If we had the goaltending of the previous year, this team would have been in.

    I think Hartley will probably start the year next year, if he answers Tre questions correctly. I think the obvious one is, I spent 3 incredibly valuable draft picks on a future franchise defender who is not only just 22 years old, but has quite the resume of playoff experience. We had once of the worst PP, why wasn’t the guy who is getting paid the most money on our blue line sitting on the bench on the power plays? If I was the GM of what had gone down from the draft throughout the year, the only way I forgive the coach is if the team performed &made the playoffs. There has to be some pretty interesting dynamics going down here.

    • Wheels

      Hiller was 8-0-1 when he had a SV% at/above .900, 1-11-0 when below it. Small sample size given he played less than 1/3 of the season and he got pulled a couple times, but the team was winning with Hiller when they got league average goaltending. Goaltending is not the only issue, but the numbers are black and white.

      • Kevin R

        Was at a lot of the games at the Dome & not only most of the fans had zero confidence when he was in net, but not too many of the players either. Never had that feeling the year before. So to me, you put a goalie that will literally win you games on some nights & suddenly you start seeing different decisions by players & confident players raising their level of play. That is pretty black & white as well.

        • BlueMoonNigel

          How come you sucking down Molson’s at the Dome think you had a better grasp of player deployment than the highly paid and highly experienced management team the Flames employed to run the team on and off the ice? You spent exactly how long on the bench, in the dressing room, in the gym, on the ice and on the plane with the players to know how much or how little confidence they had in their goalies? Funny how guys with no real stake in something always know more than those who are in charge.

      • Joe Flames

        It was pretty obvious that after the off-season trade talk and signing of Ramo, Hiller looked like he had decided to head back to Europe and checked out mentally.

        His head/heart was not in it all season. On one hand it is hard to blame him, but on the other he is a professional athlete being paid well to perform, so there is no excuse.

        If he did plan to go back to Switzerland to play his plan worked because he has likely played himself out of the NHL.