Stars 4, Flames 2 post-game embers: The future is… soon?

Let’s face facts here.

The Flames are 5-9-1. Two teams in the west have fewer points than they do, and they’ve played two or three fewer games each. Even when they appear borderline decent for stretches – and mind, this is against a team that’s suffering a fair share of injury troubles, worse than losing Kris Versteeg – they still aren’t getting it done.

It’s time to throw out any expectations for this season. It’s not happening. And trust me, you’ll be much happier watching this team if you don’t go in expecting them to win. You can’t be disappointed, but you can be pleasantly surprised.

Is there any mental fortitude?

I am not a psychologist. I do not know any of the players personally. This is pure speculation.

But it seems as though the second anything goes wrong for this team, they shut down.

Outplay the opposition to start the game, have a couple of fantastic cycling shifts in the offensive zone, but fail to score? That’s it, you’re never scoring, oh look the other team just caught a break and scored, well now you’re going to lose, that’s it, time to pack it in.

The Flames have not been the ones to get the bounces this year, but the second another team does, they quit doing everything they did that made them look good and just disappear.

Tie the game off the back of a rookie defenceman who should have been in the lineup every day from the beginning and the guy who’s supposed to be your top offensive player. Get it going again. Kill a couple of penalties. Give up one powerplay goal, as teams that aren’t the Flames tend to score with the man advantage at some point; suddenly it’s hopeless and over.

I think the 2014-15 team was much more lucky than anything else, but with luck comes confidence. The last time these guys had anything go right for them it was Matthew Tkachuk playing in his 10th game; the last time before that it was because they were facing a completely green goaltender. That’s not a lot. So it kind of turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

… Is there any identity?

Well, part of it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. These guys can’t win so they have no confidence so they give up so they can’t win, and on the cycle goes. That’s part of the story.

The rest is that when I watch this team, I have no clue what it is I’m supposed to be watching.

Are they a possession team? Not really, they don’t control the puck. Are they a physical team? Not particularly, though as the season gets increasingly bleaker we are seeing more physical fights out of these guys. Are they a team that makes a stupid mistake – say, a turnover – and then that one stupid mistake goes against them after a dominating shift? Yeah, that sounds about right.

That’s not an identity. If anything, that’s a lack of one. And I don’t particularly care what “Flames Hockey” is supposed to mean, but if these guys don’t know – or if they do know but can’t execute on it – then that explains what we’ve been watching 15 games into the season now.

A meaningless mess.

Brett Kulak is a top four defenceman

Brett Kulak played 20:32 last night, the second 20-minute game of his career. He was the catalyst for the Flames’ two goals and was compensated with two assists as a result (a little to the right and he could’ve had his first goal). He has stepped right in, he has looked better than just about everybody else, and there is no turning back from him at this point.

Shame about that whole expansion draft thing then, eh?

So listen. While I get that Kulak and Engelland have been working great together – and Engelland himself has been one of the better stories on this team this year (did you see that goal?!) – everything needs to be about the future at this point. Everything.

Kulak is the future. Engelland, 34 years old, is not. And that’s not a slight on him. That’s just how aging works.

Dougie Hamilton is six months older than Kulak.

And I recognize he has not been super fantastic as of late. He was not super fantastic in this game. He is six months older than Kulak, he has played 259 more games than he has, he has 129 more points, and that is not something you throw in the towel on, because, again, he is only six months older and this is about the future.

I would not be giving up on a 23-year-old who is going to hit 300 NHL games this season. He wasn’t a passenger in Boston, he was their leading defensive scorer when he left. At 21.

Everything has to be about the future now.

So put Kulak with Hamilton and see what they can do. The only things left to lose are 67 more games, and who cares at this point? But there could be a lot to gain.

If you go by points per game, then they’re actually now numbers two and three in defencemen scoring. (Number one is Dennis Wideman, but that ship has sailed.) Both can skate. It’s definitely worth exploring.

Fun with point totals

I’m sure nobody really cares at this point, but I would like to note that with his two goals, Johnny Gaudreau has tied Michael Frolik for the lead in team scoring with 10 points. With four goals now to his name, he is tied with Sean Monahan and Troy Brouwer for the second most goals on the team (again, behind Frolik, but at least he got like 43 seconds of powerplay time? The man is only your leading scorer, why would you use him in the situation specifically geared towards you scoring anyway? Mysteries).

(It is kinda funny how people were questioning whether Gaudreau’s contract was getting to his head, but Monahan has six points in 15 games and nobody is wondering the same about him? But I digress.)

Fifteen games into the season, and two players have only just hit double digits in scoring. Mikael Backlund, Sam Bennett, and Brouwer are all at seven, though outside of a small flurry of activity – one that coincided with the Flames looking like an actual hockey team for a moment – Bennett has been quiet and floundering. (As Bennett goes, so do the Flames?) 

There are a bunch of guys with four points each, but Alex Chiasson is the only one who has recently moved up into said category; everyone else’s numbers came when we were wondering what the hell happened to the top players, but at least the depth guys were producing. We’re past that now.

So what’s next?

Assuming nobody gets fired any time soon, I think getting Bennett back on track has to be the number one priority. Not necessarily for the sake of this season, but because he is 20 years old and everything has to be about the future now.

I would note that Monahan’s line got 100% offensive zone starts at 5v5, while Bennett’s line saw the worst of the bunch. Maybe Bennett needs some lightening up on his starts for the time being; that’s what Matt Stajan and Backlund should be there for, especially now.

  • Trevy

    I’d love to see a coaching change as much as anyone else. The core of this team clearly cannot grasp GG’s system and the result is the worst special teams, no identity, the defense running around aimlessly and seeing their confidence get shattered as soon as the other team scores. But at this stage in the season, what do you do? If you fire GG, who goes in? More than likely someone on the interim for the rest of the year. BT’s biggest mistake was not giving Boudreau a blank cheque and instead, taking a chance on a potential “today’s game” type of coach. Or do you attempt to trade a significant piece to jump start the team, while other teams knowingly see you at your weakest.

    There really isn’t any logical solution at this juncture that I believe will suddenly turn things around, barring some minor tweaks. Kulak is a great example of that and if we can make a couple more of these tweaks in the forward group, you never know. By bringing in the likes of Shinkaruk and Vey, we’re slowly seeing what we have in the system. I think the next step is actually sitting some core players and seeing what others can do.

    • everton fc

      Vey’s never going to be much more than Jooris, or Chiasson, or Freddie.

      Shinkaruk has potential – if they show it off and can’t protect him… If they leave him be for one more season, then give him a real chance…

      The only forwards on the farm that give me hope are Jankowski, Mangiapane, Hathaway, Kilmchuk. “We’ll see”, in terms of Poirier and Pribyl. If we’re all “intellectual honest” here, we ain’t that deep, when it comes to forward prospects. Thankfully, Tkachuk is the real deal.

      Currently, we can’t score, can’t defend, can’t take advantage of the PP, and aren’t too great on the PK. And our goaltending is getting no help. The only positives I’ve seen:

      1. Ferland.
      2. Kulak.
      3. Tkachuk.
      4. The emergence of Backlund as a potential captain.
      5. Stajan’s hustle, for an aging vet.
      6. Frolik’s willingness to play hard every shift.

      Everyone else has been “bland”, at best. Poor, in many cases. Coaching staff gets an “F”.

  • RedMan

    the upside is, i am getting a lot more sleep as i rarely watch past the first period anymore.

    in fact, this season i am PVR’ing quite a few games and catching them later if it is worth it – which it hasn’t been. when one reaches a place where they are no longer emotionally attached to the team, it is actually a good thing.

    i used to need to watch ever game, and would be bothered by things like this – now i can look on with a curious but unaffected detachment. yay! go flames!

    • maimster

      Ha, I usually am not able to start watching until the 3rd period – I’ve seen a lot of empty net goals this year (but the TV goes off just as the puck crosses the goal line!)

  • everton fc

    GG will get a chance to right the ship until at least the new year. So let’s stop the bets on when he goes. BT/BB are not going to make their hiring decision look as bad as it appears to be, particularly w/the possible missed opportunity to bring Boudreau now looking so daft (I actually called out Jon Cooper prior to Harltey’s hiring. Alas…)

    This is BT’s first job as GM. Never forget this…