The Flames need a new coach next season

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.

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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.

THIS SEASON

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.

  • McRib

    Just noticed that Pierre Luc-Dubois is ranked 1st for NA Skaters in final Central Scouting List. *pats self on back*

    I just want to say one thing, I think the Flames would be making an absolute huge mistake to trade our top pick this June. Matthew Tkachuk, Pierre Luc-Dubois, Jakob Chychrun, Willam Nylander, Olli Juolevi worse case are all looking like long time impactful players.

    No Goalie at this stage of the rebuild is worth giving up on one of these future long-time talents. Goalies are much easier to find in later rounds of the draft or buried as found money in the minors as developmentally they emerge later than players (we also have Jon Gillies coming). Don’t disagree with the fact that we need to find some more adequate goaltending for next season, but finding a couple average starters makes a lot more sense than going all in on a top notch goaltender via trade (outside of signing a Free Agent like James Reimer).

    Look at Montreal and Carey Price. What would an elite goaltender do for us in this stage of the rebuild? He would get is to the playoffs and maybe help us win a round or two, yet without them if they were injured we still wouldn’t likely be a playoff team at this point (absolutely not a competitor for the Stanely Cup that’s for sure).

  • The Fall

    More interesting comments in Vancouver.

    The city is really down on Willie and calling for his head. But does the team really need a fourth head coach in 6 years. Best comment from an ex-player on the situation: “they just need better players”

    Relating to the Flames staff: they just need more time…

  • @OKG WHAAAAAT? Did you just say? I glossed over at “refuse to judge system based on 20 year olds” LOL.

    So we should all ignore what 20 year olds in Florida did? WHat the 20 year olds in Chicago did in 2008. Give me a break.

    Good coaches get good players to play a way that’s successful.

      • HALLALEUJAH!!! We agree>

        But who does Hartley use as hs #1 centre and who does he use as his #3 centre. He uses Monahan as #1 and Backlund as #3. Whose decision is this? HARTLEYS

        Why not use Backlund as a #1 and Monahan as #2/#3 pending on Bennett’s progression.

        You lterally just made my argument for me thank you and goodnight!

        • OKG

          I love Mikael Backlund, but he is not a #1C. He is used as a #2C and that’s what he is. Monahan is a 2C who is used as a #1C on a team that has no #1C.

          Neither is a solution as #1C. Monahan scores goals so he’s a good solutionf for Gaudreau’s line, which is a solution for a #2 line.

          Sam Bennett, Mark Jankowski, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Auston Matthews are potential solutions as #1Cs, and none of them are the solution “yet”. When the day comes one of them is as good as Barkov or Toews in their two-way game and the Flames still suck, I will be the first guy saying fire Hartley. But I suspect we’ll be a dominant team when that day comes and people will be praising my line combinations:

          Ferland-Bennett-Laine

          Monahan-Jankowski-Gaudreau

          Frolik-Backlund-Hathaway

          • There’s no question that Monahan can score.
            Personally I’m a big believer in Monahan. I think with a different coach he’s smart enough to learn the defensive side of the game. But there’s no question in my mind that Monahan is not a good enough skater to be moved to the wing nor is he good enough at carrying the puck in to the zone. He could be a very good offensive centre and a semi decent defensive player behind the puck though, he’ll never be a selke contender.

            In 3 years under Hartley now he’s not progressed behind the puck. Because Hartley is a tactical moron.
            I’m not expecting Monahan to become Bergeron. I’m okay with him being a 25+ G scorer. But his useage sometimes is mind baffling.
            Personally, I see with what we have right now in Monahan and Backlund more as 1a/1b centres’ then say a 1 and 2. If I was Hartley I’d use Backlund in the D zone, and Mony in the Ozone where you can. A little more invention with line changes would probably help to cover some of their deficiancies.

            Let’s not also forget Hudler and Gaudreau propped him a lot last year.

            @OKG your Jankowski love is delusional mate.

    • Parallex

      For real. I’m not as down on Jankowski as many are but he’s likely at least two years away from making the NHL (besides maybe a cup of coffee or two) if he makes it at all. Even then the odds are far more likely that he tops out as a complementary player not a #1C.

      I really feel like the Flames are close. If we can get a legit Starter even just a consistently average one (Reimer?), a legit bluechip (AKA jump to the show right away) top 6 forward in the draft to play with Bennett, and a more structured coach better with player usage and tactics I think we’re there.

      Guadreau-Monahan-Complementary Player

      Bluechip Pick-Bennett-Complementary Player

      Complementary Player-Backlund-Frolik

      Bouma-Stajan-Complementary Player

      The Poiriers, Jankowskis, Klimchuks, Shinkaruks, etc. etc. pay their dues in the AHL and if they pan out they graduate and replace the complementary players who we ship out for futures when they get to expensive (and the futures turn into replacements for the graduates). It’s a recipe for longterm success and we’re so close to it. Just gotta get these last few steps right. Chicago and Detroit have done it we can too.

  • The Fall

    I would actually suggest Hartley handled the PK well.

    Again, I say that experienced team will always mop the floor with the in-experienced team when it comes to the man advantage.

    With that in mind, Bob ensured the Flames were one of the most disciplined teams in the league. Which actually worked and the Flames PK (actual goals against) was trending in the right direction through the mid point of the season.

    That said… I’m fully on board with the Wideman conspiracy…

    Before Wideman hit — 2.39 shorthanded situations/game (115 in 48 games)

    After Wideman hit — 3.57 shorthanded situations/game (75 in 21 games)

    Thats an increase of 66%.

  • KACaribou

    Pike this is you at your worst. Pathetic. But I will give you one thing: you know your audience and what they like (crucifixions).

    Nobody comments on FN unless there is such. The other writers get barely a response.