In the afterglow of a fifth-from-bottom finish in the National Hockey League standings, the Calgary Flames held court with media for the final time yesterday afternoon. The centerpiece of the day was a media conference with Head Coach Bob Hartley and General Manager Brad Treliving. The GM offered a rather sobering assessment of the 2015-16 campaign.
“You can’t be 30th in goals against. And that’s not just hanging out goaltenders, that’s a group stat. No question, do we need more saves? Sure. But all of us wear that. You can’t be 30th in special teams for a large majority of the season. You factor the start in, you factor those things in, you’re going to have a difficult time.”
He summed the season up rather succinctly: “We’ve failed. When you have a press conference on April [11th], your season’s been a failure.”
During the media conference, Sportsnet’s Roger Millions asked about evaluations of the coaching staff. Treliving had this response.
“You don’t have a season that we have had and not evaluate everything. Having said that, in terms of changes that you’re alluding to, that’s something I haven’t contemplated at this point but from management on down, from the general manager on down, that’ll all be evaluated here starting now.”
We’ll save you the effort, Mr. Treliving: it’s time to go in a new direction.
Let’s share some facts about Bob Hartley. He’s just finished his fourth season as the head coach of the Flames.
Hartley is third in Flames history in games coached, but only 11th in points percentage – in an era with the loser point – and of the six coaches with a worst points percentage than him, one was an interim (Charron) and the remainder coached for three seasons or fewer (Geoffrion, Page, Hay, Gilbert and Brian Sutter).
That’s not good.
Let’s dig into the rest of the numbers. Because deployments are subjective, I’m not getting into them. This is a results-based business and ultimately we’re judging the team’s results under Hartley, not the (occasionally wacky) ways he’s attempted to achieve them.
Compared to the rest of the NHL clubs, the Flames are ranked as follows:
- Second-worst in even-strength goals against (168)
- League-worst in even-strength save percentage (91.1%)
- Bottom-third (10th-last) in even-strength faceoff percentage (49.4%)
- Bottom-third (10th-last) in even-strength offensive zone starts (48.7%)
- Bottom-third (seventh-last) in high-danger scoring chances (48.1%)
- Bottom-third (ninth-worst) in even-strength Corsi differential (-293)
And despite Hartley bemoaning their club’s lack of shot-blocking this season, something needs to be pointed out… THEY WERE SECOND IN THE LEAGUE IN THAT CATEGORY (behind Colorado, another team that didn’t have the puck very much).
In terms of special teams, the power-play was middle of the road in scoring chance generation (per 60 minutes), despite being one of the league’s worst faceoff clubs with the extra man. (The bigger issue with the power-play was the team’s complete and utter inability to enter the offensive zone unless the player carrying the puck was Johnny Gaudreau.)
The penalty kill was both dead-last in the NHL in scoring chance suppression (per 60 minutes) and the team was also one of the worst faceoff groups while a man down. Despite Hartley’s assertion, there’s no evidence (league-wide) that those two factors are correlated.
And I’d rather not get into the even-strength systems for my own sanity, but “live by the stretch pass, die by the stretch pass” is an awful way of organizing an offense in an era where teams employ video and tactical coaches and are able to shut a team down. Remember the December 29 home loss to Anaheim? It was a 1-0 game, and the Ducks hung out by their own blueline and just swatted down stretch passes for 60 minutes; the Flames had zero answer for it. Anaheim was content to grind out a win, but other teams frequently hemmed the Flames into their own end and made them pay for their inability to adjust.
ALL FOUR SEASONS
Compared to the other 29 clubs, Hartley’s performance since becoming head coach in 2012-13 isn’t all that impressive either:
- League-worst in even-strength goals against (636)
- League-worst in even-strength save percentage (91.1%)
- Fourth-worst in even-strength faceoff percentage (47.8%)
- Third-worst in even-strength offensive zone starts (46.9%)
- Bottom-third (sixth-worst) in high-danger scoring chances (46.9%)
- Bottom-third (fifth-worst) in scoring chances (46.9%)
- Fourth-worst in even-strength Corsi differential (-1976)
And again: the Flames are the shot-blockingest team in the NHL under Hartley, topping the league since he’s been coach. When you consider that they have the puck significantly less than the rest of the league AND give up the most goals at even-strength, it doesn’t seem to make a bit of difference.
Considering the frequency of mysterious lower-body injuries on the Flames that can be connected to shot blocks – notably T.J. Brodie’s from pre-season, for example – maybe the tactic isn’t all that smart or useful after all.
SUM IT UP
The Flames were flat in training camp.
They were awful in October.
They were bad in first periods (and not particularly great in seconds or thirds, either).
Their much-vaunted work ethic showed up infrequently in games, if ever. (And may be connected to them being one of the worst teams at holding a lead and one of the worst at coming back when trailing.)
Their special teams were consistently among the league’s worst.
You can put a lot of the blame for this season’s lack of success on the goaltenders – and let’s not mince words, they were were bad – but ultimately the success or failure of a hockey club with as much talent on it as the Flames had this season has to lay at the feet of the coaching staff. Both to start the season and to start games, the Flames weren’t prepared to play.
That’s on Hartley.
Hartley’s a fine man and has a good hockey resume. I’m sure he’d be a good fit in another NHL organization. But unfortunately, his results reflect a team that for one reason or another has plateaued under his guidance. He got the Flames through the first three seasons of a rebuild, but it’s time for a change.