FN Mailbag – November 7, 2016


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. 

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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. 

    • Avalain

      I heard that he’s only going to be eligible if he plays something like 49 games this season? If that is the case, expect him to sit a bunch this season so that we don’t lose him for nothing.

      • deantheraven

        If that’s true then unfortunately, he should sit or get sent down to Stockton again and rotate another one or two in, especially after the trade deadline (hopefully, some of the dead weight/expiring contracts will have enough value to warrant a trade or two)

    • Juan Valdez

      The only two defensemen I would protect are Brodie and Kulak. I think Brodie would thrive under the right coach. Gio doesn’t look as sharp as he used to.

      EDIT: I would also protect Jokipakka

  • Jakethesnail

    You said it right the stars of this team are the problem ( Brodie,Monahan,Gaudreau,Hamilton,(not Freddie) and Giordano.

    Not one of them has played well enough to justify their salary.

      • T&A4Flames

        Hate to say it but he’s right. The bottom 6 have carried the games (and wins) for us so far. Englland as looked like one of the few D man that has improved or at the very least has maintained a steady game. And Johnson has been the better goalie so far i would have to say.

  • prendrefeu

    Yet we still don’t know wtf this coaching staff’s ‘system’ actually is.

    If I recall in recent years we had a few reports from practice (Ryan Pike?) giving us fans a summary of how practices were going. I may be wrong, however… maybe I imagined those? Anyway, some reports on practice would be helpful if available. Do they even practice? What exactly are they practicing?

    • jupiter

      Well one thing they are not practising is having a defenseman carry the puck over the offensive blue line Our defense are making quick short passes up to the forwards. Problem is only Backlund and Stajan have had success getting over the line. The games we’ve won this year have included a involved defense.

      That’s my take anyway.

  • The core skaters should know and be comfortable with Gukutzan’s systems by now. It’s hard to accept missing training camp as a legitimate excuse for Monahan and Gaudreau after 10 games into the season.

  • dontcryWOLF88

    Take this for whaetever its worth.

    During the World Cup, Mike Babcock was being praised for his “systems” as Canada dominated the tournament. Babcock, to his credit, scoffed this off. He said something very close to, “these are the same systems I use in Toronto, I just have better players here.”

    I agree with Mr. Wilson. Its difficult to put a teams troubles on the coach and his systems at an early stage like this. …but I dunno, its definitely possible thats whats wrong…or at least a contributor. My tendency, however, is to put performance issues mostly on the players.

    • Derzie

      “better players” includes matching the players to systems. Babcock takes players that he knows match well with what he is doing (e.g. no Subban, who is good but does not match). We have a coach that has a system that does not seem to match the players he has. To us that means this year is a ‘let’s see who matches’ year. Problem is if our best players are the ones who don’t match, we’re screwed. That’s the likely scenario given the results to date. Recovery from that is either jettisoning a coach in year 1 of 3 or jettisoning players in year one of 6. Not good options.

    • jupiter

      When you have 3 defenseman who are very good at carrying the puck over the offensive blue line, but that falls outside the coach’s system as he doesn’t want one of his forwards dropping back to cover,it’s an issue.

      It’s a performance issue that our forwards aren’t getting the job done.

      It’s a coaching issue that we are stifling our talented defense.

  • Derzie

    FN Mailbag? More like F’N Mailbag. Amirite? Every game ends and I vow to not watch the next one. Yet it comes and there I am. These mailbag therapy sessions help.

  • Juan Valdez

    The top line should be Tkachuk, Backlund, and Frolik. Gaudreau and Monahan haven’t earned first line minutes and yet Gulutzan keeps rewarding them with ice time. Doesn’t make sense…

  • dontcryWOLF88

    My point is simple, im not even saying this applies to GG.

    Sometimes you can have an amazing coach, ie Mike Babcock, but still suck. You’ll recall that Toronto finished 30th last year…

    Ultimately, its the players who need to go on that ice and get the puck into the net. The coach can only do so much.

    • everton fc

      Another team, like the Flames… With lousy people in the front office over the years.

      Flames – Six times to the playoffs in past 19 seasons.
      Oilers – Seven times to the playoffs in the past 19 seasons.
      Leafs – Seven times to the playoffs in the past 19 seasons.

      Bad management. Bad decisions. Bad trades. Bad drafting. Bad scouting. Need I continue?

      It gets old reading about “hope” here. We need to gut the “brains” of this organization. If Shanahan proves the wrong hire, having Babcock behind the bench and Matthews on the ice won’t matter much. But Babcock’s got them above .500.

      Tampa Bay hires Jon Cooper. Look at his resume. Not a big name. Yzerman makes shrewd moves. New owner 2010. Brings in Yzerman. Yzerman brings in Cooper…

      Haven’t missed the playoffs since, in the Finals 2015.

      This is the kind of bold change we need. May I submit Jason Botterill as one guy I’d like to see GM this team, if “BT” is cut loose.

      • FISTO Siltanen

        TBay had a good run in 2011, Yzermans first with the team. They missed the playoffs in 2012 and were a bottom 3 team in 2013 (see: Jonathan Drouin).

        So, no, they haven’t been the picture of perfection. They have nothing to be ashamed of…but they did have two really bad seasons in there.

    • DeadRedRedemption

      Well, your not wrong.

      But as you said, this doesn’t apply to GG. He has proven players. Gio, Brodie, Monahan and Gaudreau are established point getters in the NHL.

      The way GG wants his team to play simply does not allow them to play to their strengths.

  • everton fc

    Can we please move up the org chart at those who hired GG (after “long” discussions and “discernment”), and those who hired BB?

    We’ve been inept coming up on two decades… Same story every season, basically. Especially since Darryl was moved from behind the bench…

  • BlueMoonNigel

    Flames have got to make a pitch for Kadri. Look what how he wound up McDingleberry and absolutely destroyed the twin and did so with the league’s blessing no less.

    Kadri’s got grit and that’s exactly how the Flames can take down skilled teams like the Oilers and big teams like the Kings and Ducks.

    Kadri’s inspired play will make everyone on the team better.

    Get’er done, Tre.

      • BlueMoonNigel

        I think I know you. You’re the dude in the Civic with the “9/11 Was an Inside Job” bumper sticker I see every morning.

        Yeah, there is a whole lot of sugar in Edmonton for Kadri these days and Vancouver has already forgiven Kadri in light of his “I’d do it again” remark.

        Kadri is exactly the kind of SD the Flames need.

  • L13

    “So that leaves the staff with the option of scratching Wideman and his $5.25M deal or putting him up with Giordano or Brodie.”

    So… scratch him! The fact you made a mistake does not mean you *must* keep making mistakes. The original mistake is irreversible. You’re making things worse for nothing.

    I swear the sunk cost fallacy is NHL GMs’ favourite form of stupidity.