Here we are friends, presumably some sort of new low that the Calgary Flames have sunk to. It’s not pretty, it’s not fun, and it’s certainly not the end of the world – though the intrepid nature of sportswriters looking to find any opportunity to strike it rich with fervent hyperbole in a super-reactionary world of sports fans would like you to believe so.
Don’t worry though, there is some hyperbole here.
That said, we can all believe with varying degrees of certainty that the season that we’re witnessing now probably could have started better based on things said in the offseason. So how do you right the wrongs? How do you turn this around?
Glen Gulutzan – An Enigma Wrapped in a Suit
Strictly from a personal standpoint in the summer, I was hesitant, but welcoming to Glen Gulutzan as head coach. At the time of the hiring everything was said that seemed to fall perfectly into the ears of fans. A commitment to being a puck possession team (something that they’ve tried to adhere to), that they would play a different style (certainly true to varied degrees), and that this would be a new Calgary Flames team.
Not only that but the book on this guy screamed, “Hey, maybe this will work out? Maybe something new is a good thing!“
But at the moment – strictly as a fan and strictly from a personal perspective – it feels like the doing of a snake oil salesman, doesn’t it? This isn’t appearing to be what was sold, right? Not every bend becomes a break, but many bends this team has had have resulted in breaks.
Player usage, but primarily player evaluation is an obvious one. Why Alex Chiasson on the top line? Why specific defensive pairings with specific forward lines? How come Nicklas Grossmann played as many games as he did? Why are the defense not carrying the puck through the neutral zone? Etc., etc., etc.
There is little questioning of these things. Most of which are honest questions that need honest answers.
Demanding that Gulutuzan be fired doesn’t guarantee anything. Demanding the return of Bob Hartley, a purely asinine attempt at capturing PDO magic in a bottle from 2014-15 isn’t going to help because that’s the past. The point here is this: it’s easy to believe things won’t get better when everything around your favourite team seems to suck.
However, we’re approaching the 20 games played mark which is usually a good indicator [at times] of things to come. Some teams do – anecdotally at least – take roughly that long to adapt to a new coach, new system, the shedding of old behaviors, and the adoption of new concepts. But unless this team magically wakes up and does what a lot of folks think they’re capable of doing then fans may be in for a long season.
Just keep in mind that rash, illogical, and questionable decision making will impact this team’s existing window to improve and start to compete. If Gulutzan were to be fired hypothetically, who do you replace him with? The last thing this franchise needs is an Oilers-esque era of coaching where a new coach is inserted every season or so until a fit is finally found.
Chiapet? Chainsaw? Chia-eh-san? Who Cares Anymore.
Alex Chiasson can seemingly do no wrong in the eyes of Gulutzan. He was rewarded with 19:33 of ice time, 3:14 of that gifted on the Dave Cameron’s Brexit-esque power play. Even if he finished the night with an impressive 70.97% CF at 5v5 riding shotgun to a slowly reawakening Johnny Gaudreau and despondent Sean Monahan he isn’t the right fit there.
The question that should be asked – not specific to Chiasson’s outputs and measurable results – is this: does he provide any actual value to the game, in his current usage that another forward could do, but better? It’s easy to draw attention to little things here and there, but this shift is an honest to god representation of his season so far:
Great work breaking up the pass, but the right opportunity to pass was before you stop up because Johnny was moving at full-speed. Kevin Klein read this play perfectly and recovered nicely.
All of this is to say that Chiasson, as a player, with his requisite skill set isn’t suited for the role he is being played in because he doesn’t create enough individually or positively impact his linemates to move the game in the Flames’ favor. And when he tries to – like in the video above – it doesn’t result in much because he is stifled.
Maximizing the talent, with correct usage of the top line, is a priority and it’s really the only way this team moves forward positively. Others on this roster deserve new opportunities up there on the top line. Do it, Glen; try to right this wrong and try something different for more than a game or two.
Best 5v5 Shift of The Game
Just before the Jimmy Vesey goal in the second period, the Flames played probably the best even strength shift in the game. A lot of it factored in various elements that in the past have worked: possessing the puck, using an actual offensive zone formation, being opportunistic, generating shots, and most of all scoring chances.
The opportunity to capitalize and try to strike because Nick Holden’s stick broke is key to the entire shift and it factored in some perplexing puck movement that saw Mark Giordano in the high slot while Michael Frolik covered for him on the point. Giordano, Gaudreau, Frolik, Mikael Backlund, and even Dennis Wideman all tried to make it a one goal game at that point.
Louie DeBrusk said this earlier in the broadcast: “You hear Glen Gulutzan talk about puck management a lot and what that means is making sure you’re doing the right things when you get the puck.” And we saw that on the shift, even if it didn’t result in a goal. It did show a glimmer of hope however.
Oh, Hey… A Power Play Goal By Ferland?
Let’s end on something positive: a power play goal by Micheal Ferland. Listen, Ferland has been working his butt off this season, putting up some stellar shot metrics, but he has struggled to get consistent opportunities to showcase himself beyond his existing usage. He got burned earlier in the night and made up for it by cleaning up in close.
The season that Ferland is putting up deserves more attention and obviously when he isn’t putting up traditional stats like points it’s harder for the casual fan to remember how capable of a forward he is. One of the best things Gulutzan has done this year is finally use him more as a left wing option.
There are two key points to this which are: handedness, and who he can play with.
The handedness factor has been a dire concern in Ferland’s game dating back to last season, specifically with entering the zone on the right side and having to make forehand passes to his centre or the left wing. This would result in two predominately common outcomes: the play was broken up, or the pass was intercepted and play went back up ice.
Moving to the left wing gives him an opportunity to play more on his forehand, but also gives the team a legitimate option to play with a variety of centres. As much as it would be nice to have more options on both sides with accompanied handedness, it’s still fantastic that he can play with Sam Bennett, Backlund, or elder statesman Matt Stajan.
Micheal Ferland is a good forward who shot abysmally last season and there are legitimate hopes he can become a regular secondary contributor. He’s on the right track shooting the puck as frequently as he does so lets hope it results in more goals.