The 2016 offseason report card


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The Calgary Flames have turned the 2016 offseason into a bit of a turnstile. Specifically up front and between the pipes, the Flames have undergone a dramatic overhaul as they try to improve on their rather dreadful 2015-16 campaign. But with all this deckchair shuffling, is Calgary actually poised to be a better team? I think they are for one specific reason.

I was going to make this a series going position by position, but I figured that would be blatantly and gratuitously stretching content to fulfill writing requirements. That’s not how I roll, although I wonder if it should be. Also, more report card articles mean more awful photoshop jobs, so you’re welcome. 

So, as Ari pointed out last week, it’s been a busy offseason. Let’s find out how much better the Flames have gotten.

Goaltenders

In: Brian Elliott (trade with St. Louis), Chad Johnson (UFA via Buffalo)

Out: Jonas Hiller (Swiss League), Karri Ramo (UFA), Joni Ortio (UFA)

This one is a no-brainer: the Flames have gotten significantly better in net this summer. Going from a trio of Hiller, Ramo, and Ortio to a duo of Elliott and Johnson should see the team improve by a handful of wins simply by default. You may remember Calgary boasted the NHL’s worst goaltending last year, so even small improvement was going to be significant.

Luckily, adding Elliott and Johnson qualifies as more than small improvement. Taking a look at everyone’s numbers from last season paints that picture fairly clearly. Charted below for the five goalies in question is their save percentage totals (overall and even strength) and their 2015-16 workloads.

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On different teams, Elliott and Johnson combined for 78 starts last year with an average save percentage of around 0.925. That combined save percentage is about 34 points higher than what we saw from Calgary’s trio last season. A save percentage in and around that range last year would have easily accounted for at least five more wins, if not more.

Now, there’s no guarantee things translate from team to team so smoothly. Elliott’s teams in St. Louis, for instance, have finished top five in goals against for the last three years running, which is down to more than just goaltending. On the other hand, the Flames have been one of the NHL’s worst possession teams for the last three years running. If we don’t see improvement in that area, Elliott and Johnson are bound to see their totals drop a little.

Workload is a question, too. Elliott has never started more than 48 games in a season and thus has never proven to be a number one over the course of a full season. The same is true for Johnson; the 40 starts he made last year is by far the highest total of his career. I have fewer questions about Johnson, though, mainly because he wasn’t brought in to be Calgary’s number one. Elliott was and until he sustains a high level of play over 55 starts, it’s going to be a question mark.

Evaluation: Significantly better. You just can’t argue how much better the Flames should be in net for the coming season. Even if both Elliott and Johnson take steps back, Calgary should still be well ahead of where they were through 2015-16. Goaltending is the single largest reason why I think the Flames are an improved team from one year to the next.

Defencemen

In: No additions

Out: Jakub Nakladal (UFA), Ladislav Smid (potential LTIR)

The Flames haven’t done much at all on their blueline this summer, which is just fine. Calgary happens to employ one of the deeper group of defencemen in the league, at least when it comes to their top three. As such, they weren’t in need of a major back end overhaul. Even without changes, though, I still think the Flames have the potential to take a step forward on their blueline this season.

My main reason for that is Dougie Hamilton. I’m fully expecting a much better Hamilton in year two with Calgary after witnessing his rapid improvement in year one. Hamilton struggled in his first couple months with the Flames, but it was a much different story for the remainder of the season. The evidence of that is below.

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Hamilton was the first to admit it was a challenge to adapt to a new team and a new style of play. Now with a new coaching staff focused on offensive possession, Hamilton should excel even more. Let’s also not forget how poorly Hamilton was used for much of last season. He was clearly the third best defenceman on the team, yet he was being used like a number four or five. I’m somewhat confident that’s going to change come October.

Jyrki Jokipakka is in a similar boat. He’ll enter his first training camp with Calgary this fall after being acquired from Dallas at the trade deadline in the Kris Russell deal. I liked Jokipakka in the 18 games he played with the Flames and I still think there’s a ceiling he’s yet to reach. Jokipakka will be 25 to start the season and a full camp with his new team should be nothing but a good thing.

Calgary may still have a move or two up their sleeve on the blueline. As Kent Wilson wrote recently, a trade involving Dennis Wideman isn’t out of the question as there are realistic spots for him to land. If the Flames are willing to eat some salary, moving Wideman becomes even more feasible. Furthermore, GM Brad Treliving has talked openly about his desire to maybe add one more piece on the back end. I still think they should bring back Nakladal, but I’m not sure that’s in the cards.

Evaluation: Slightly better. Calgary has yet to augment their blueline this offseason so it’ll be tough for them to take a huge step forward. But with a better second year from Hamilton, a full season for Jokipakka, and continued improvement from TJ Brodie, I think this group has a good chance of being a little better than last year.

Forwards

In: Troy Brouwer (UFA via St. Louis), Alex Chiasson (trade with Ottawa), Linden Vey (UFA via Vancouver)

Out: Joe Colborne (Colorado), Josh Jooris (New York Rangers), Mason Raymond (buyout), Derek Grant (Buffalo)

The Flames have overhauled their group of forwards more than any other position this summer. They made a splash in free agency with Brouwer, made a couple of minor deals for Chiasson and Vey, and were content to let a number of other players walk away. I didn’t even list the likes of Bill Arnold, Drew Shore, and Kenny Agostino above; much like Colborne and Jooris, they weren’t qualified and became UFA’s at the beginning of the month.

I’m just not certain how much better the Flames have gotten up front.

Let’s look at Brouwer to start, as he’s been a pretty consistent performer since 2009-10. Over those seven seasons, Brouwer has never posted fewer than 17 goals and 33 points; he’s gone as high as 22 goals and 43 points. He’s also been extremely durable, missing just six games combined over that same span.

But Brouwer also turns 31 next month and has never really made a meaningful impact on how his team generates offence. Brouwer’s possession numbers have been relatively average in his stops with Chicago, Washington, and most recently St. Louis. In a lot of ways, I look at him and Colborne as almost a straight swap from one year to the next with the reasoning below.

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Brouwer and Colborne made very similar impacts on their teams last year. Now, Brouwer has a much longer track record of production than Colborne does, so there’s a better chance for similar results this season. From one year to the next, though, it’s not like going from Colborne to Brouwer is going to be a massive step. Yes, Brouwer and Colborne are different players, but from a strictly offensive perspective, there’s not a huge difference.

Further down the depth chart, I actually think the Flames might have taken a step back. The loss of Jooris is not ideal and I’m not sure who steps in to fill the reliable, effective role he’s played the last two years. I don’t think Garnet Hathaway is ready, I don’t think Lance Bouma is capable, so I guess we look to Chiasson and/or Vey. Let’s compare their 2015-16 seasons.

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For my money, Jooris was the most effective player of the bunch. If Calgary deploys Chiasson in a similar manner there might not be much of a drop. But if they decide to use Chiasson a little further up the depth chart, then I think they take a step back going from Jooris to Vey or anyone else. Regardless, I think the bottom six group of forwards has stayed flat at the very best.

Evaluation: Better. From a player for player standpoint, I don’t think Calgary has gotten better here. Their additions probably balance out their deletions, but they haven’t taken an appreciable step forward up front, at least for me. So then why am I rating them better? Well, with continued steps forward taken by Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, and Sam Bennett, the Flames should naturally get better up front. I just don’t think the fairly dramatic overhaul is going to make a major difference, good or bad.

Overall evaluation: Better

Personnel changes have made the Flames significantly better in net. The hope is natural progression takes its course and we see improvement on the blueline and up front, too. While nothing is a guarantee and games aren’t played on paper, Calgary should be a much more competitive team in 2016-17.

I’m not ready to say it’ll be enough to lock down a playoff spot, but they should be a whole lot closer. in 2014-15, the Flames made the playoffs by a few points. Two years later, I’m expecting things to be very similar; I think Calgary finishes the season a few points in or a few points out of a postseason berth.

  • wot96

    Thanks, Pat.

    Maybe it’s just too speculative at this point, but any thought about a systems comparison based on the history of GG and the other new members of the coaching staff? A systems change could easily result in a better goals against outcome above and beyond the assumed improvement in goaltending.

    • piscera.infada

      I think the best time to evaluate coaching systems will be around the mid-point of the season. Gulutzan is what, three years removed from his last head coaching gig? He says he’s learned a lot. I imagine we need to give him some time to figure out his lineup and how to best use his players.

      That’s not to say there should or will be a justifiable “slow start” to the season, but moreso that effective coaching is more about changing and adapting your strategies and systems than it is about having good strategies and systems–something Hartley ultimately failed to understand.

      • wot96

        And there’s the issue.

        If the systems are… inadequate, the personnel changes won’t help as much as they should and the Flames will be left in the dust early – which may be insuperable.

        A lot is riding on GG getting the system right from the outset. I’m just not sure he is going to have time to figure it out and adjust.

        • piscera.infada

          Not really the point I’m making. It’s largely a fools errand to look at what systems Gulutzan ran as a rookie head coach in Dallas three years ago with a different set of assistants, and assume that it will stay at all static.

          I agree, there are inadequate approaches to the game–Hartley again, was an example. I also agree that a poor start will hurt the team. However, I’m not naive to the fact that it’s going to take time. In all likelihood, we’ll see a team sit around .500 for awhile until things are fine-tuned. I’m quite content with that. There’s enough skill on the roster to have a better start then that, even while the kinks are being ironed out.

          For the record, I like the Gulutzan hiring, and I honestly feel that it will be a boon to the organisation in the long-run. Patience does need to be exercised though, as with all new things. I’m definitely not of the “all-or-nothing” mindset some appear to be regarding this season. Yes, this team absolutely needs to take a step forward, but just the same, all good things were not created in a day (or an offseason, in this case).

          • T&A4Flames

            Agreed. I expect, in all honesty, a slow start to the season while the players adapt to the new systems in all areas (ES, PP, PK). By mid-season, hopefully sooner, I think we’ll see a surge by the team that gets them back in the game. From there, it’ll be a battle with the bottom/bubble teams to get into the PO’s

          • cberg

            While I agree it likely will take some time to adjust to all new coach and systems, I believe the team will get off to a hot start due to the high number of rookies trying to make the team and playing lights out, and the new guys trying to impress, along with a relatively weak early schedule. Hopefully they will be in a playoff spot come New Years and advance from there.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    Pat, I largely agree with your assessment, but I’m a bit more optimistic because of the coaching change. Like him or hate him, Hartley outstayed his welcome from a player perspective. By my eye, his message was going to continue to fall on deaf ears.

    The forward improvement has been largely sideways so far, but I like your assessment on Colborne/Brouwer.
    “From one year to the next, though, it’s not like going from Colborne to Brouwer is going to be a massive step”.

    I like Brouwer better (contract notwithstanding) he does what few Flames did last season in driving to the net. This skill and style of play will provide better dividends for his linemates.

    As for the defense, it was upgraded with Russles departure.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    I am thrilled with the changes in net.

    Not so happy about the forwards. I think I would have preferred Coloborne at 2.5 for 2 years to Brouwer at 4.5 for 4. Brouwer is older and has more chance of decline. Colborne should still at least maintain for several more years. I understand Colborne had high shooting % etc but factor in the difference in salary and he was still the better bet in my mind. Not happy about Jooris either.

    The defence – if only we could unload Wideman and sign Nak, then I would say improved.

    All that being said, next off-season is the year to take a bigger step forward in the standings when all the bad money comes off.

    • mattyc

      Agree on Colborne/Brouwer. Brouwer is the better player right now, and Colborne’s 18 goals last year are likely not indicative of his current talent. But the difference is less when you consider age and contract.

      • Bean-counting cowboy

        Plus, having Colborne instead of Brouwer gives you more options for next off-season if you decide you want a higher priced/better RW option. Committing to Brouwer is committing 4 years to him and him alone as a one of our top two RW options (with Frolik). In other words, paying Brouwer and Frolik 4 mil each reduces the chance of landing a 6 or 7 million dollar winger in the next few years.

    • T&A4Flames

      Regardless whether you believe Colborne would have sustained his output from last year or not, Brouwer will add more of a physical and intimidation factor than Colborne. Theoretically, he’ll open open up more space to the guys that really matter in Mony, Johnny or Bennett.

      Besides, if you want to improve, you can’t remain status quo from a season that saw you finish bottom 3rd in the league. BT made big changes and perhaps the shake up alone will help improve things.

  • I wouldn’t say that I have no expectations of Gulutzan this season, but 2017/18 is the real sink-or-swim time. As long as I see development from the top line as well as Bennet, improvement on the special teams, and intelligent deployment of the top 3 D then I’ll be happy. This time next year the team will have shed a ton of bad salary, found a good fit at the #4 D (in house or out), and hopefully acquired a top-shelf RW to play on the first line. We’ll have a coach that’s comfortable with his personnel and players comfortable with new systems. Then comes the time for expectations and pressure.

  • T&A4Flames

    “Let’s look at Brouwer to start, as he’s been a pretty consistent performer since 2009-10”

    The only sentence and stat that is needed re: Brouwer.

  • freethe flames

    I would give BT and incomplete at this time. Until he has Johnny and Monny signed his work is not complete, Until he moves Wideman his wrok is incomplete.

  • PrairieStew

    I get that the piece is offseason changes, but I think some mention of whether or not the team has improved has to consider those players that left towards the end of the year. In my mind Brower, Vey and Chiasson are also part of the replacments for Hudler and Jones. When seen through that lens it is very hard to think that the forwards have improved. Brouwer may or may not be an adequate replacement for Colborne, but in terms of offense he’s nowhere near replacing even the struggling Hudler we had last year. Similarly, Jones’ contributions have to be replace by Vey and Chiasson, to say nothing of replacing Jooris.

    To be better at forward, there still needs to be a first line RW to replace Hudler and push those other guys down the lineup.

  • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

    Two things Calgary needed to do #1 shore up goaltending…Done.#2 Add size and grit… Added Brouwer but lost Colbourne. Brouwer brings grit but as for building a bigger more truculent team…Not done…. Yet!

    • ChinookArchYYC

      Colborne is the smallest 6’5″ NHLer I’ve ever seen, so he never counted s size.

      Jokipakka is 6’3″, 215 lbs

      Chiasson is 6’3″, 208 lbs
      Vey is 6′, 200 lbs.

      You already mentioned Brouwer.

      • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

        You think those players are grit? They may not even make your team..how about some size in your top 9?

        Jokipakka is a Dman Vey is 190 and a fourth liner? That doesn’t convince me that you’ve added some grit in your top 9.Sorry.

          • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

            I think you misunderstood what I said . Brouwer for Colbourne is an upgrade in the physical department. Colbourne was not the toughest guy for his size but used his size and skating ability well to get in deep on the forecheck and used his size to shield the puck from opposing players. Colbourne was an effective player but Brouwer is tougher.
            The addition of Vey , Jokipakka, and Chiassion are not going to help you with toughness and size in your top 9 where you need it most to match up against the size of San Jose,Anaheim, La, or St Louis. Edmonton as well is no longer considered a small team with the additions that they have made to thier forward group in the last year.
            I said goaltending has been a definite upgrade but I thought they could have done more to upgrade toughness and size . Every team in the league has a gritty , tough fourth line, that’s a given , but it’s not as easy to add that in your top six without giving up skill.

          • piscera.infada

            Colbourne was not the toughest guy for his size but used his size and skating ability well to get in deep on the forecheck and used his size to shield the puck from opposing players.

            Except for the fact that he didn’t.

            Also, for the last time, spell names correctly. Colborne is quite literally spelled in the comment you quoted. It’s not that difficult–I’m sure even Looceech can do it…

          • piscera.infada

            Also, your entire argument presupposes that I agree with you that size in the top-9 is a requisite to be successful. It isn’t. Numbers flesh that out. So list all the teams you’d like, but the simple fact is, most of those teams are actually getting smaller and quicker–not bigger… It’s about trends, not past epochs.

            If you are seriously going to make the argument that “size” is part of the reason the Oilers have been so poor for the last 5 or so years, than I’m not sure what to tell you.

          • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

            Other than Chicago in the west the best teams are still the teams that have the best combination of skill and size. Pittsburghs top players are not small Crosby has good size and Malkin is 6’3″ and 220. Toews and Hossa are big as well.You still need to be able to match up with the best teams that have that combination of size and skill.
            San Jose ,la,St.louis, Anaheim, are still best in the west and by no means are they considered small. All things being equal you always take the team with size.
            Don’t get so defensive about your team , all I’m saying is that they could still use some size up front.

            Who are the teams in the west that you say are “trending” towards getting smaller?

          • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

            Sorry but size, toughness and managements inability to do something about it is one of the primary reasons they have been as bad as they have . The first thing Lucic said was that the Oilers were too small and easy to push around, but that is not the case anymore and in the west you need size to compete with the top teams.
            Again tell me who are these teams in the west that are ” trending” towards getting smaller?

          • Kevin R

            Besides Lucic, what has really changed? What if Lucic is injured or suspended? You suddenly have the same team with less talent. Lucic is a hot head & most teams have a Bollig that can get under his skin & induce a bad decision on the ice. But I do agree, you guys needed to do something & I think Chiarelli is going to systematically purge all of your #1 over-alls (except McDavid) & get you guys competing for wild cards. He’ll make sure top 5 picks are a thing of the past, not sure whether he’ll get you playoff success before he effectively puts you in Cap hell.

          • Danomitee

            Not the case anymore? I’m sorry did I blink and miss half of the season? The season hasn’t started yet, so just because Lord Lucic said something doesn’t mean it’s going to come true. You Oilers fans regurgitate anything you hear from your holier than thou team and hold it as fact, only to look like dummies by the time the seasons up.

          • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

            I was hoping someone could give me evidence of the western conference trending towards smaller teams? Like I said before the top teams in the west are loaded with big talented tough forwards.

          • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

            They don’t get pushed around. Kassian plays a gritty north south game . Maroon plays tough and has great size and good skill and Darnell Nurse slapped the piss out of a few guys last year. Then they add a premier power forward in Lucic.
            So ya they don’t get pushed around and Calgary could still use some size in the forward positions.

          • So was Lucic right when he said “the Oilers were too small and easy to push around”? After citing that as the improvement they needed, you claim “they DON’T get pushed around” because of Kassian, Maroon, and Nurse. Which is it?

          • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

            Listen Heinz . He said over the last years . He didn’t say since they got Kassian , maroon , nurse. Those 3 just joined the team in the last year. Ask Hunter smith or Polak or that kid from Ottawa how fun it was to knuckle up with that 21 year old Nurse.

          • Oh okay, so when Lucic said the Oilers were small and easy to push around, he meant historically speaking. Not the most recent season. Gotcha. Thanks for clearing that up.

            You should attend all the Oiler pressers next season and translate.

          • jupiter

            Darnell Nurse has yet to prove that he can think at NHL speed. Also continuing to punch a guy after he’s down should put him on track for many more suspensions.

          • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

            He’s 21 years old. He’s gonna be fine . And btw Polak was looking for it and he got his ass handed to him by a kid who is not even fully physically developed. More of that to come for the flames this year!!
            Just got my tickets for the opening game to witness it first hand!!

        • Hockeyfan

          yah, that’s what we need, lessons from a fan of the worst team to ever put on skates in a decade. have fun with your new playoff futility record. I sure hope the oil have their PK in order this year, you will need it.
          in simply addding Chiasson and Brouwer and deleting JC, there is more “grit”. Oil rebuild experiment #4 = more grit? Thx for the advice sparky.