Okay, so this wasn’t the start we were all hoping for. Going 0-3* against the Oilers and Canucks definitely sours the start of the Glen Gulutzan era somewhat.
*(0-2-1 technically, but 0-3 feels more honest)
Still, this is no time to panic. Starting the year off poorly was almost inevitable given what the club was facing: an entirely new coaching staff, new additions to the roster and a top line that didn’t skate together once before the puck dropped. Playing three games in four nights – all of them home openers – likely didn’t help things either.
There are a lot of moving parts here, so it’s understandable if the Flames don’t quite have their feet under them yet. I figure it can take a new coach up to 20 games to really begin to understand what he has in his roster, but Gulutzan has already begun to make the proper adjustments after stubbing his toe on opening night.
It’s a tough pill to swallow after an off-season of anticipation and optimism, but it’ll get better. In today’s mailbag, we talk about Brian Elliott and what the Flames have to do to take the next step.
— kingcambie (@kingcambie) October 14, 2016
@Kent_Wilson have you enjoyed the ‘elliot has had one bad game therefore he must be worse than hiller’ narrative I saw on twitter yesterday?
— AFK til 20/10 (@CausyOnFire) October 14, 2016
Brian Elliott certainly struggled in his first two appearances, but he was hung out to dry by his teammates to a non-trivial degree. By my completely unofficial count, the Flames gave up north of five breakaways to the Oilers in just two contests, to say nothing of multiple odd-man rushes and PP opportunities. Something of a trial by fire for Elliott.
Of course, no matter how good a goalie is, he’s going to have stretches where he struggles. Even if you dig through generational type talents in net, you will find periods where they put up sub-average save rates.
For example, here’s a rolling average plot for Henrik Lundqvist over the last two seasons.
As you can see, he’s usually above board, even though there’s quite a bit of volatility. Notice, though, January 2016 where things take a plunge. That doesn’t mean Lundqvist suddenly became late stage Jonas Hiller – it’s just that human performance varies.
Speaking of which, Lundqvist has played two games so far this season, allowing six goals against and a SV% of .870. Given what we know about King Henrik, we can assume his results will improve drastically.
Same with Elliott.
— hunter (@HunterMurphy101) October 14, 2016
We’re getting there. Hamilton has been a staple on the Flames’ first PP unit, where he belongs, and his ice time has steadily increased since the baffling first game deployment. Against Edmonton in Calgary, Hamilton’s ice time grew to over 19 minutes and then up again to 21:37 in Vancouver.
I’m confident he will eventually settle in third behind T.J. Brodie and Mark Giordano in terms of ice time on the blueline.
— Irreverant (@ChinookArchYYC) October 14, 2016
The biggest single step I saw in that investigation was the Chicago Blackhawks, who jumped from a 50.2% possession (barely average) club to a 56.2% (league-leading) in a single season. Because of that leap, they went from a bottom third team by this metric to a top three club inside just two years.
More typical was a jump of 3-4% per season for the big gainers I looked at. If the Flames can do that this year, they’ll jump from about 48% to 51%, which would move them from below average to solidly mediocre. Remember that the magic number is a team corsi of 52% – over 70% of teams that manage a 52% possession rate make the playoffs.
— WAIVE GROSSman (@jayrlocked) October 14, 2016
I don’t know if you can prescribe a given number of steps, be it one, three or 10, but Brad Treliving has a couple of clear obstacles left:
1.) Clean up the bottom end of the roster. There’s too much money tied in players who aren’t worth their deals. When Deryk Engelland, Dennis Wideman, Brandon Bollig and Matt Stajan come off the books, Treliving has to avoid the cluttering the budget with bad money again.
2.) Related, the team needs to figure out how to identify and retain cheap, quality support players in order to adequately support the organization’s core. Paul Byron, David Schlemko and Jakub Nakladal are all decent, inexpensive, middle rotation options who have passed through the organization recently. Collectively this year they are making $3.87M, which is only marginally more than Matt Stajan’s cap hit.
Of course, this also assumes Treliving has picked the right coaching staff to get this roster to the next level. If Gulutzan and crew aren’t capable of guiding the ship, everything else is shuffling deck chairs.