FN Mailbag – October 17, 2016

Mailbag

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.

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. 

Lundqvist_SV

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.

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.

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. 

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. 

  • Craig

    It’s easy to overreact at this point in the season, everyone is excited, and there aren’t any positives to fall back on like if this kind of slump hit in the middle of the season.

    That being said, I think that there are a lot of positives, we can see some really good carry ins by Backlund, Bennett, Johnny and some of the D.

    First line in Vancouver had 4-5 really good scoring chances that they just looked a little out of sync on.

    And Kevin and Hamilton looked really good as a pair, they killed it possession wise, and were generating some shots themselves.

    I think there will be some pain over the first quarter of the season, however I’m confident that the team will find it’s stride and start to look really good.

  • aflame13

    Nice analysis Kent. I think a lot of people have read too much into the results of the team so far. I haven’t been able to watch much since I live on the east coast, but judging a team’s season from the first 3 games just doesn’t make sense, especially given the circumstances (new coaches, teammates, traveling, etc).

    If we go 15 games and nothing changes, people can put their hand on the panic button.

  • knappsacked

    So far the biggest bright spots for me has been kevins play. He has been really, really solid. He takes his man out of the play but he make good passes too. I think he is a legit #4 defender and he should stick with dougie.

    Brouwer also seems to be worth the money so far but lets see how long he keeps this level of play up.

  • Backburner

    Definitely looking forward to the bad contracts coming off the books this year.

    It won’t be long before the Flames will have that 4th D who can actually support Hamilton.

    Kulak, Jokipakka look not bad, and I’m sure one of (Kylinton, Andersson, Fox or Hickey) can play that role soon.

  • Parallex

    Yeah, we’re all disappointed with the start so far but I take some solace in my belief that it will turn around. I hate to make excuses but the Flames had a poor training camp due to external matters: No Monahan (Due to injury), No Guadreau (Due to no contract), No Versteeg (Due to him being at another camp). Our top line is essentially in preseason mode and will (I believe) eventually right itself.

    I’m a little concerned about Elliot… yeah the team hung him out to dry in his two starts but legit #1 goalies are legit #1 goalies by virtue of their ability to keep teams in games they have no business being in. It’s a small sample so maybe what we’re seeing is just an unfortunately timed dip.

    Also now wondering about Tkachuk’s ability to stick this season. Watching him these past three games I find myself asking “would the team be worse off with Shinkaruk in that spot?” And so far the answer is “no”. That’s not a good place to be in when the team has an incentive to not keep you on the roster (Delaying the ELC & free agency).

    • calgaryfan

      Tkachuk should go back to junior, and work on his skating. Shinkaruk is a better option now.
      The coach needs to keep Wideman and Grossman in the press box as long as possible. Monahan needs to pick up the pace, looks like he is not in game shape.

        • piscera.infada

          Or that he’s not in “game shape”. Let’s be honest here, anyone who has dealt with a back injury knows full-well how little you can actually do until it’s right. That means no cardio, no strength training, quite literally nothing but rehab. It’s unfortunate that it happened. Hope he’s right, and will get his conditioning under him in short order.

          I will say that the fist line looked dangerous against Vancouver. They could have easily had a three goal night, but were off by hair here and there. It looks bad on the scoresheet, but I think they’re primed for a big game soon.

          • Rockmorton65

            Game shape and being 100% go hand in hand. Both of these, plus him not having practised with Johnny more than once or twice kinda gives Monny a trifecta of things to work through. He’ll be fine.

            I think Johnny’s ready for a breakout. The second half of the Vancouver game he had a couple of great chances, but his timing was a tad off. I expect him to have a big game in the next couple.

  • SickFloBro

    Yeah – I’ll chime in on the back thing. I had back spasms for the first time earlier this year, and aside from being incredibly painful, it’s an injury that lingers.

    I don’t know if Monahan had “back spasms” specifically, or if it was some other kind of injury… but anything to do with your back impacts everything you do. Plus it’s easy to set yourself back if you push too hard too soon. Not 100% or not in game shape… I’d guess both are true to some extent.

    • Captain Ron

      I’ve injured my back more times than I care to remember. Exercise during rehab can be very limited especially if there is a soft tissue injury. It can be weeks or even months before you are back to 100% healthy.

  • Burns14

    Whenever a new coach is put into place, there will be some growing pains. As hard as that is to hear, progress will be made each and every game. Baby steps here.

  • Nighteyes

    I am a devoted Backlund fan as many others are here, but I am seriously impressed by him so far. He’s really increased offensive aggression and confidence holding on to the puck with zone carry-ins, especially on the PK. He seems to have worked on his hands too. Love the guy..and Frolik.

    • Captain Ron

      I’ve noticed this too. If you look back at the latter part of last season it was starting to show there as well. He’s become a fantasy player option now. One of the best deals in the NHL. I hope he continues to improve his scoring. He’s so reliable his coaches must love him.

  • everton fc

    My “thoughts” on our beloved team:

    Backlund – thankfully we didn’t trade him.

    Defence: Gio/Brodie; Hamilton/Jokipaaka; Kulak/Engelland. Run with this group. Send Grossmann to the “A”. Do anything to move Wideman.

    Offence: Play Chiasson more. Maybe w/Gaudreau and Monahan. What do we have to lose? Our first line is not producing. I get this sense Monahan will have chronic back issues. I’d also like to see a line with Gaudreau/Bennett/Brouwer, and perhaps a second line of Tkachuk(Ferland or Shinkaruk if Tkachuk goes back to London)/Monahan/Versteeg or Chiasson. One of Chiasson or Versteeg needs to be the regular 4th line RW. Which one? One of Ferland/Shinkaruk or Tkachuk should be w/Backlund and Frolik – not Bouma. 4th line should be Bouma/Stajan/Chaisson or Versteeg.

    We are painfully thin when it comes to forwards. Perhaps Jankowksi centres a 4th line w/Stajan on LW, Chiasson or Versteeg on the RW, with Bouma in the press box??

    Goaltending: I have no worries here. Elliott will be fine. Johnson looks steady.

    • Parallex

      “Offence: Play Chiasson more. Maybe w/Gaudreau and Monahan. What do we have to lose?”

      Well for starters, given that I believe the top line struggles are in large part due to not having had enough practice time together, what we have to lose is the time the three of them have put in already going to waste and having to start over again from scratch.

      The forward lines we have are fine. In fact the only one I’m unsure of is Tkachuk (and even he is placed properly within the line-up… the only question is whether he should go back to development in the OHL).

  • KH44

    Flames will be fine. They are starting to drive play, and the new coaching staff has already started making the adjustments Hartley always took forever to make. Scratching Wideman, for example, instead of the young guys and putting the right D pairs together, with appropriate ice team, very quickly after the initial misstep. I was expecting to see a much longer period of sticking to what Hartley did while the staff makes their own internal evaluations, but this is good to see. So far, so good in terms of play, the results aren’t there yet but they are coming.

  • RedMan

    The best part of dropping the first two games is that all of a sudden oiler fans are thinking they’ll get 110 pts on the season. Always enjoy watching the oiler fans crash back into reality