There was some optimism coming off a decent 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks last week. That was immediately quashed by a humiliating 5-0 loss at the hands of Kings a couple of nights later. Los Angeles completely dominated play from start to finish despite half of their roster sitting in the infirmary. This article was written before Calgary’s follow-up in Anaheim Sunday night, but we can usually predict how that’s going to go… [ed. – How did he know?!]
Though the Flames had seemingly taken a few steps forward recently, their play in L.A. was reminiscent of their very worst performances to start the season. What’s especially worrying is that none of the Flames’ struggling stars have shows signs of sustained improvement – Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, T.J. Brodie, Dougie Hamilton and Mark Giordano are more often liabilities than assets at the moment.
I’ve seen great players struggle for stretches during my time as a Flames fan, but I’ve never seen all of a team’s stars stink collectively to this degree for this long ever before. The Flames are now bottom five in the league in almost every important measure you can name as a result.
As fans, it’s waiting time. We have to wait to see if the stars pull out of this terrible dry spell. We have to wait to see if the coaching staff can salvage what will rapidly become a lost season if this level of play keeps up. Fingers crossed for now.
Today we talk about Monahan, defensive deployments and power play problems.
— Jesse (@JT_FlamesFan_17) November 4, 2016
— Cameron Hilton (@cameron_hilton) November 4, 2016
@Kent_Wilson yo kent, is sean monahan really this bad? has he overachieved for the last two years, or is he underachieving now?
— Peanut Butter Jones (@ohheydad) November 4, 2016
It’s hard to overstate just how bad Monahan’s start the season has been. He’s put up awful results from every angle – scoring, possession, shot generation, scoring chances, etc. There isn’t anything he’s even been mediocre at so far. His scoring rates and underlying numbers are reminiscent of replacement level grinders.
The only good news is there’s almost no chance Monahan has suddenly gone from an effective sniping C to a below replacement level scrub at 22 years old. Whatever malaise or confusion has infected the rest of the club’s difference makers has seemingly hit Monahan the worst of all. Whether that’s because he’s still not 100% after off-season back problems, or because he missed training camp, or because he’s struggling under the weight of his new deal, or combination of the three.
Whatever it is, it’s more likely to be temporary than permanent.
For now, the coaching staff has moved him down the rotation to the third line to see if he can play himself of this funk [ed. Well, they did for one game]. A night or two in stands may be the next step if he continues to struggle.
— Spencer (@sathome14) November 4, 2016
My bet is Tyler Wotherspoon given his age and experience, though the Flames may give Oliver Kylington or Rasmus Andersson a shot if they are more interested to see what they are capable of at the next level. Honestly, Wotherspoon is probably as good or better than Grossmann right now, but with eight NHL defenders on staff it’s going to be a long wait for any of the kids to get some time in the show.
— Ricky-Bobby McHockey (@icedawg_42) November 4, 2016
We knew that having Dennis Wideman on the roster was going to cause problems in the offseason. At this stage in his career, he’s a slow-footed, defensive liability. Glen Gulutzan’s challenge is: the club can’t rightly play him with Deryk Engelland on the third pair and Hamilton isn’t defensively good enough to cover up for him (plus both of those guys are RH shots).
So that leaves the staff with the option of scratching Wideman and his $5.25M deal or putting him up with Giordano or Brodie. Brodie has had problems acclimating to the left side, so Giordano it is.
Of course, the problem is that none of the big guns on the backend are playing well enough to carry an anchor like Wideman around at even strength.
In an ideal world, the Flames would only have one of Engelland or Wideman on the roster as third pairing RD. So until he’s traded, injured or finally leaves as a free agent, the club is going to keep making less than ideal deployment decisions when he’s around.
— Southern_point (@Southern_point1) November 4, 2016
Brett Kulak has been one of the few bright spots this year so far. That said, you always have to take a tiny sample like this in a sheltered role with a big heaping of salt – until we see this level of play over a more sustained period of time, and against better players, we should probably hold off on any Brodie comparisons.
For those unaware, Kulak has positive underlying numbers across the board this season: 56% CF (corsi) and 65% SCF (scoring chances), some of the best on the club.
At the very least, the numbers suggest he should have a consistent spot in the lineup. If they keep up by game 30 or 40, he should be moved up the rotation. Then we can start talking about comparing him to a guy like Brodie.
— Brent Robinson (@Okotokslawyer) November 5, 2016
The Flames don’t have have much in the way of cap room or assets to swing a deal.
In addition, with the entire roster’s stars struggling to make a pass or take a shot, there isn’t a player in the league who is going to be able to step in and make any sort of difference for the Flames right now.
Might as well let the big guns and coach figure things out, because any sort of panic trade won’t fix things as they stand.
— Kat (@ktcant) November 6, 2016
The Flames’ stars playing terrible hockey is partially muddying our evaluation of the PP. While I think the systems I’ve seen so far are staid and predictable, in the end we can’t really say much until Gaudreau and company rediscover their mojo. After all, any system is going to look bad when your highest paid players aren’t executing.
If by mid-year the stars are firing on all cylinders but the club still can’t gain the zone, win puck battles or generate high quality chances, then we can really turn the microscope on Dave Cameron. That said, if the Flames stars still aren’t right 40 games in, the attention is going to turn to Gulutzan (and the staff as a whole) instead.