I had made some basic predictions at the beginning of the
season, and this follows up on those initial estimates, so let’s begin.
The Flames’ season began under some peculiar circumstances.
The team was coming off a Cinderella season where they not only made the
playoffs but won their opening round against the rival Canucks. Yet management
was quick to suggest that this was not going to be an explicit expectation
again this season but that they would instead continue their rebuilding efforts
apace the initial timetable. Otherwise, they would let the chips fall where
Fans however, given last season’s phenomenal output and the
anticipated addition of players like Michael Frolik, Dougie Hamilton and Sam
Bennett, may have been excused for being a little more bullish on their team’s
In brief, the season was sunk early by poor goaltending and
curious lineup decisions and deployments by Bob Hartley. The Flames hit a
mid-season hot streak to elicit some excitement but otherwise the season from
that point stumbled and sputtered to a relatively ignominious end, finishing 26th
overall behind Toronto, Edmonton, Vancouver and Columbus, respectively.
To start we’ll look at some of the things I said in the
1. Backlund is a beauty…If he ever scores 45
points the league may finally stand up and take notice.
possession numbers] Listen, this is a serious problem that the team is going to
have to fix. They were the 7th worst team in the NHL two years ago and the 4th
worst team the year after. Last year was phenomenal, but it was precisely that,
a phenomenon. The link between a positive possession metric and long-term success
has been well-established, and Travis Yost recently ran an article looking at
teams who had outstanding seasons despite poor possession numbers. It showed an
almost ironclad trend of teams having serious corrections the following year.
3. [Gaudreau]’s not going to face the same
competition this year. Other teams are going to be gunning for him and treat
him as a legitimate offensive threat rather than just the NHL’s version of an
internet meme. I’d bet he adjusts after a short while, but I’m uncertain yet as
to where he lands. I’ve got him tied with Monahan because those two are going
to be joined at the hip at evens and on the powerplay. As goes one, so will the
4. I’ve got [Bennett] pegged for 28 points this
year and I think that’s reasonable for 60 games played. That’d make him a 0.46
ppg player in his rookie season.
5. [Wideman] has two more years on his contract
with a cap hit of $5.25 million, a full NMC and an owed salary of $6 million.
This trade deadline would be an ideal time to move him with salary and cap
retained…I’m anticipating a drop in his sh% and if he struggles at all on the
powerplay Hamilton, Giordano and Russell will all be available to pick up the
6. I’ve estimated the Flames blueliners scoring
40 goals, or 17.9% of the estimated total. (47 goals, 20%) I think the blueline
is plenty good, but we have to wait and see how it all comes together. So many
things went off-script last season that we have to have patience to see what
Hartley does this time around and how the players execute.
7. 9th in the West and missing the playoffs by
fewer than four points sounds like a reasonable bet at this time…I think that
may be fairly optimistic.
Here are my responses:
Backlund scored 47 points and some of the
perennial criticism seems to have abated. Not quite the sit-up-and-take-notice
response I was hoping for, but in the NHL media landscape I’ll take what I can
The Flames finished 22nd overall in
Score Adjusted Fenwick percentage (48.2%), and 27th overall in Corsi
Against (56.8), and 27th overall in High Danger Scoring Chances
Against ahead of only Vancouver, Colorado and Edmonton. Not a good
neighbourhood to be seen in.
Gaudreau outstripped Monahan’s offensive output
and showed that he is a true NHL player capable of elite playmaking and
scoring. The remaining concern now comes from his surprising home-away splits
this year. He scored 71% of his points at home, suggesting that away from
favourable match-ups he was a more limited offensive player. On the flip side,
if this is his version of a sophomore slump, I don’t think Flames fans need to
concern themselves with anything other than the details of his next contract.
Bennett finished with 36 points over 77 games
for a 0.46 ppg pace. This is a perfect hit and a nod to GMoney for developing
his refined NHLE.
Wideman struggled this season for myriad reasons.
His contract is one that I suspect Treliving will be aggressively looking to
move this summer. With the salary cap expected to be either flat or no higher
than $74 million the buyers will be few and far between. Trading that
player/contract and not taking anything back, if it happens, would count as a
major victory for Treliving.
The Flames got 20% of their offense from the
blueline this season with 47 goals of a team-wide 231. That is astonishingly
high and suggests that if they’d had the goaltending and at least one of their
depth forwards contributing more regularly the playoffs might have at least
been a consideration. This 20% number has to come down, right? Right? Hartley
did some strange deployments on his blueline this year with Hamilton, Giordano,
Engelland, Wideman and Brodie. Some of this was presumably seeing if he could
break up Giordano and Brodie and put a lefty-righty combination together with
Hamilton. As the season wore on it became clear that Hamilton provides a nice
bookend to the Giordano/Brodie pairing, as the captain ages and Brodie becomes
firmly implanted in his prime, Hamilton is poised to come along playing some sheltered
minutes as he goes. Listen, I’m an avowed Oilers fan and have no love
whatsoever for the Flames, but Dougie (please alert me when we can call him
Doug or Douglas, this Dougie thing is kind of grating) Hamilton is one heck of
a nice player and should be appreciated by Flames fans.
Flames finished 5th in their division
ahead of the Oilers and Canucks, twelfth in the conference and missed the
playoffs by 10 points. The Coyotes had a bounce-back season and Colorado
continues to defy their fate even against their own delusional expectations.
Definitely missed here, but again, the collapse of their goaltending seemed to
come out of nowhere and sunk the Flames early. Does league average goaltending get
them 5 more points? 6?
Players By The Numbers
We’ll have a look at the player performance predictions. I
try to ballpark the number of games we can expect a player to play in a season,
use a general trend of points per game to establish what might be a reasonable
line in the sand for the coming year, balance that against how the coach may
(or may not) deploy them, and figure out what their approximate scoring rate
could be for the year.
This isn’t a science, but an informed estimate based on all
things being equal, that is, injury history in keeping with recent history and
production more or less in line with their history and their career trajectory.
Granlund, Hudler, Jones and Russell all had their stats
frozen at the time of the trade, so the games played and points are off, but
the ppg pace is the best measure, and by which we can see that Russell and
Hudler were more or less on target while Jones and Granlund were struggling
I’ve highlighted those players whose ppg pace was off by
greater than 0.1, either exceeding or below.
You can see that Backlund, Colborne, Gaudreau, Monahan,
Brodie, Engelland, and Giordano all had strong to excellent offensive seasons.
With Colborne, Gaudreau and Monahan all heading into contract negotiations this
summer this is an extra detail to follow.
Meanwhile, Jooris, Raymond, Stajan, Smid and Wideman all
struggled for a variety of reasons including injury, games played, and
regression from career highs.
I’ll come back to Gaudreau’s season a little later on, but
that estimated ppg pace was already high-end, the one he posted is some elite
NHL company. The home-road splits are concerning, but he’s overcome every
hurdle put in his way thus far, so it might be time to start giving him the
benefit of the doubt.
Essentially this process was effective in predicting the
approximate offensive production of Bennett, Ferland, Hudler, Hamilton,
Russell, and Wotherspoon as all were within a reasonable range of variance.
Overall the roster put together a fairly strong season
performance-wise. From my perspective two things sunk this team: goaltending
and Bob Hartley’s coaching schemes and deployment. If goaltending is fixed this
off-season (there have been some good articles here on that subject, if you
haven’t read them yet) you can expect the Flames to climb closer to the playoff
cut line. If they replace Bob Hartley with a more reasonable and flexible coach
who embraces a closer possession game and is willing to tailor his schemes to
the strengths of the roster, again, I would expect a team that gets closer to
the playoffs. If the Flames address both these issues this offseason? I see no
reason why this team couldn’t unseat a team like the Wild for a playoff spot.
Looking Into the Numbers
The following are some graphs that illustrate some of the
statistical categories I tracked for the Flames this season. I’ve broken them
down into month-by-month segments and have added a general trendline to the
graph to indicate an approximate direction. For the most part, this team looks
headed in a good direction, albeit they are coming from a long way back.
The goal differential was beginning to climb out of a deep
hole dug in the beginning of the season and the score adjusted fenwick
percentages, the best long-term measure for future success was trending
upwards, albeit from a fairly significant deficit.
Hiller’s save percentage was atrocious and more or less
flatlined over the course of the year. I don’t blame Hartley for losing faith
in this goaltender by the end of the year.
Ortio and Ramo showed improvement, although I would suggest
that Ramo is best suited to being an NHL backup and Ortio may or may not become
an NHL goalie on a regular basis, even if as a backup, but has shown enough
that if the Flames don’t keep him another team wouldn’t be wrong to try him out
as an AHL regular and NHL call-up.
The Flames were relatively fortunate with regards to their
injury status this season. Overall there were two significant injuries that
impacted the season: the Brodie injury early on that saw him lose approximately
12 games, and the Ramo season-ending knee injury that derailed the team’s
trade-deadline playoff push.
Now, in hindsight I believe fans may come to appreciate that
Ramo injury for two reasons. It has helped to bring into sharp focus the
perilous goaltending position of the organization if and until Jon Gillies is
NHL-ready. As well, it is unlikely the Flames would have made the playoff
cutoff line and I do not believe it would have helped the organization to be in
a position where they would draft 10th overall. So, barring another
trade of a 1st round pick for an available roster-ready young player
(a possibility but not one to invest heavily in), finishing lower, improving
the odds of moving up at the draft, and at the very least maximizing the team’s
draft position may turn out to offer the best outcome.
Hero Of the Season
Johnny Gaudreau. There’s no need to write any more than
Story For the Off-season
It begins with signing Gaudreau, Monahan and Colborne, then
moves on to goaltending. There are some other knots on this roster that need
attending, specifically what to do with regards to Ladislav Smid, Derek
Engelland and Dennis Wideman. Brandon Bollig is a favourite whipping-horse of
the fans, and while Hartley does use him too often and his contract expensive
for someone who is essentially a 4th line player, he is a UFA at the
end of next season and is an expiring asset that can be moved at the deadline.
I’d normally suggest a change in coaching is required here,
but Brad Treliving has stated that he will give Hartley another season at the
helm to set things right. I believe that he will be true to his word but that a
coaching change will ultimately come sometime between November and January as
the Flames struggle with the early results of another poor possession season.
It isn’t that I have a personal issue with Hartley but
rather I believe he is not a good candidate to coach an NHL team in the current
I’d like to point something out here though. I’ve mentioned
it before but I believe it bears repeating.
Bob Hartley was hired as Flames’ coach on May 31st,
The following season the team finished 24th
overall with the 6th worst possession metrics (Score Adjusted Corsi
For%) in the league.
2013-2014, the Flames finished 27th overall with
the 4th worst possession metrics in the league.
2014-2015, the Flames finished 15th overall, made
the playoffs, but had the 3rd worst possession metrics in the
2015-2016, the Flames have finished 26th overall with the 8th
worst possession metrics in the league.
Virtually any other coach in the league would have been
fired at this point, but last season’s playoff appearance and the Jack Adams
award that followed it helped unnecessarily perpetuate what had already become
a failed coaching hire.
Bob Hartley remaining at the helm of the Calgary Flames may
be the biggest story of the summer for this team precisely because it will not
be a story.
Earlier I had said that if the team improved their
goaltending OR replaced the coach they might climb closer to the playoffs. That
is true to some extent because scoring forwards and good goaltending can paper
over a number of strategic sins. But good coaching goes further and longer than
any performance streak a single player or group of players can offer.
Therefore, until that is rectified, I would suggest that we
will continue to see from the Flames more of the same.
Why This Song?
I promise this isn’t me trolling Flames fans.
Last year was a fantastic season to be a Flames’ fan.
Everything went right and the team had a nice playoff run into the 2nd
round when everyone figured they’d be left for dead at the beginning of the
season. In fact, the Flames were not only playing playoff hockey while the Los
Angeles Kings were setting up tee times, but got to kick the Vancouver Canucks
out of the post-season along the way.
That has to feel good.
And although it’s
you still can find some room.
Where broken hearted lovers
do cry away their gloom.
But it was fleeting and after Lady Luck found a new beau the
Flames found themselves crashing back down to Earth this season – with a twist.
Virtually the entire Canadian division of the NHL finds itself at the bottom of
the standings and for the first time in NHL history outside of the Crosby draft
lottery, every Canadian fan base is watching the lottery this year while
harbouring dreams of picking 1st overall.
Toronto (30th), Edmonton (29th),
Vancouver (28th), Calgary (26th), Winnipeg (25th),
Montreal (22nd), and Ottawa (19th). For a fan base that
feels failure at hockey so acutely, for Canadian hockey fans this is indeed
Hey now, if your baby
and you got a tale to tell.
Just take a walk down lonely street
to Heartbreak Hotel.
This concludes my review of the Canucks, Oilers and Flames.
Thank you all for reading and posting comments, it is always appreciated.