FN Mailbag – December 5, 2017

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Mailbag

The holiday season is here and with it comes a faint glimmer of hope. The Flames have put together a respectable run recently, in no small part due to some heroic goaltending from Chad Johnson. That said, the skaters seem to be a bit less… chaotic in front him these days as well. 

December has been something of a swing month for the Flames in the past. In 2007-08 under Mike Keenan, for instance, the Flames started the season poorly and were a handful of games under .500 heading into the final month of the calendar year. On top of that, they were scheduled for a killer Eastern road swing that promised to put them out of their misery. 

But that didn’t happen. In fact, the Flames won every game on the road trip, reeling off six victories in a row, including an astounding 9-6 victory over the Lightning in Tampa Bay. The outburst helped get them back in the playoff picture, where they stayed for the rest of the year. 

The club experienced an even more dramatic turn around under Darryl Sutter in 2003-04, the year they went to the Cup final. Prior to December, it looked like it was going to be another disappointing season for the Flames franchise; they’d won nine of their first 20 games and seemed to be facing insurmountable odds as an underdog battling against big spenders in a pre-cap NHL.

Nevertheless, the D. Sutter Flames more than doubled their season’s win totals that December, winning 10 of 13 en route to their Cinderella season. 

So there’s still a chance. Calgary likely can’t recover from another bad or even mediocre month, but they can greatly improve their postseason probability with a few big win streaks.

With that in mind, we talk about the Flames’ continued PP woes, the defense pairings and the expansion draft in the latest edition of the mailbag. 

I have to say, this is the first time in writing about the Flames for over 10 years where an assistant coach has generated this much vitriol in the fan base. I guess a a league worst PP and reputation for bad special teams work doesn’t help. Not to mention the fact the current regime cited special teams as a reason to clean house in the summer.

I’m going to be fair to Cameron – the Flames’ PP is mediocre at best from an underlying numbers perspective (ninth worst in the league at generating shots on net), but they’ve also been pretty unlucky so far with an 8.26 SH%. That’s worse than some teams have managed at even strength so far and likely as much to do with fickle randomness than actual ability. At some point, pucks will start to go in with greater regularity as a matter of course. [ed. – This is where I’ll note the mailbag was written before the Flames scored two powerplay goals against the Ducks.]

That sounds like a convenient answer, but I’ve looked at the Flames’ shot chart on the PP and it’s not altogether poor. Here’s how the shot distribution has looked for them at 5on4:

CGY_rinkview

A lot of scattered shots outside of the prime scoring areas, but also a decent concentration inside as well. In contrast, here is the Montreal Canadiens’ rink view (they have league leading a SH% of 17.81 at 5on4):

MTL_rinkview

Yuck. Almost no shots inside the home plate scoring area. In fact, 10 of their 15 PPG pictured here have come from the point or outside the face-off dots. If you look at the Flames plot again, you’ll see Calgary doesn’t have a single marker that is significantly outside the high quality chance area. 

So yeah, the PP has looked anemic this year and I think it still has some severe faults (zone entry and effective set-up)… but at least part of terrible success rate is bad luck.

There is evidence that a defender playing on his natural shooting side has real benefits over playing on the wrong side.

That said, it may not be a point of statistical principle with Gulutzan. The Flames bench boss may just be playing the hand he’s dealt – of his options of the right side in Dougie Hamilton, Deryk Engelland and Dennis Wideman, you don’t really want any of them playing on their offside in the defensive zone (particularly the latter two). In addition, Gulutzan needs a strong LH defender to try to help carry one of those two guys on the second pairing, so you have T.J. Brodie dragging around Wideman for now.

Nah. It makes less than zero sense for the Flames to trade Hamilton. He has the best results on Calgary’s blueline so far this year (both in terms of underlying and counting stats), is still developing at 23 years old and is their only worthwhile right-shooting defender.

There’s an article by Mark Spector out right now that suggests NHL pro scouts aren’t that impressed with Hamilton since he’s become a Flame, but none of the criticisms look substantial to me. 

“He’s good but not great at anything!” (He’s an above average driver of shots and one of the elite blueline point getters at ES in the league.) “He’s not physical enough!” (This is a subjective complaint about style of play, not really of performance. Also, how do we determine physical “enough”), etc. Maybe the Flames feel the same way, but in my view it would be crazy to give too much weight to these sorts of observations at this point. There’s talk about Hamilton only playing “second pairing minutes” in Calgary so far, but that’s because he’s been under-utilized to this point. Remember, Hartley preferred to run Russell/Wideman and even Engelland over Hamilton for a large part of last season. 

Hamilton struggled at the onset of his time in Calgary, but his results over the longer time span as a Flame – as well as his career as a whole – suggest a well above average defenceman who drives offense and shot attempts to a non-trivial degree. 

Incidentally, it’s surprising to see this sort of trade and scouting chatter regarding Hamilton, when practically all of the same claims can be levelled at Sean Monahan – who has struggled much, much more than the former Bruin has this year.  

Speaking of which…

I don’t really see a logjam down the middle myself. Matt Stajan is about a year away from leaving via free agency (or being claimed by Vegas in the expansion draft) and we still can’t be sure Sam Bennett is going to stick as a pivot at the NHL level. Outside of those guys is Mikael Backlund, the aforementioned Monahan and hopefuls like Freddie Hamilton, Linden Vey, Daniel Pribyl and Mark Jankowski.

As such, the only reason for the Flames to even consider trading Monahan is if they seriously doubt he can live up to his new contract. The 22-year-old has had a really hard time this year, both with and without Gaudreau, and his progress in practically all aspects of the game has basically stalled.

Monahan was given his deal in part due to his great counting stats through his last couple of seasons, but also because the organization no doubt expected him to continue to grow and develop into a solid all-around top line C. If they don’t think that will happen by the end of this year, then they may have consider shopping him.

That said, he’s young and has the rest of the season to find his way under the new coaching staff. 

My guess is we’ll see a veteran like Stajan or Lance Bouma get plucked, although one of the Flames’ decent young fringe guys may get nabbed instead (think Hunter Shinkaruk or Brett Kulak). Either way, I don’t expect it to be a major blow to the club. 

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  • kid presentable

    always enjoy reading these.

    made this point in another thread, but why exactly is hamilton being utilized like a 2nd pairing defender? he’s been our best defenseman this season and is playing the best hockey of his career. he’s been getting less time than either wideman or engelland.

  • Kevin R

    I saw that article on what the scouts said about Hamilton & it’s a bunch BS. I wouldn’t have traded Hamilton for Larsson in a million years & Oilers traded Taylor Hall. I think Spector should stick with the Oilers & ask scouts what they think of their blue line .

    People need to be patient, so many things are going to change on our backend going into next year & we won’t be afraid to get a decent 2nd pairing for fear of losing them in the expansion draft. Even Wideman looked ok last night, he keeps that up & we may get a Glencross/Hudler type of return at the TDL.

  • ronipedia

    Hamilton has been on the first pairing for at least the last three games, I think Gulutzan has figured it out.

    Dougie Hamilton is second among defensemen in hits, behind Engelland. Also 2nd in PIM, also to Engelland. Of course there’s pros and cons to those things, but they’re the only stats I can think of to use to measure how “physical” a guy is. So I guess I think anybody saying he’s not “physical” enough is talking out of their butt.

    (of course there are more important things, it’s just kind of frustrating to read)

    • Torchy

      Fully agree, it’s a stupid piece. Maple Leafs Media Travelling Circus makes a stop in Calgary and Brian Burke tees off on them regarding the same sort of speculative nonsense they stir up on a weekly basis. Somehow it is “telling” that the teams are pro scouting each other, despite the fact that this happens all the time and THEY ARE PLAYING EACH OTHER LATER IN THE WEEK. Also, the Leafs demote their 13th forward so naturally a trade is brewing.

      Controversy sells, so now an Oilers beat writer reaches out to five guys with zero stake in how the club performs and they make some arbitrary guesses as to why the Flames might be disappointed in Dougie Hamilton’s play. Seems like the sort of article that might appeal to the less critically-thinking segments of the Oilers and Leafs fan base, doesn’t it?

      Garbage in, garbage out.

      As a fan, I am glad that the Flames organization is more focused on winning than ensuring Dougie Hamilton gets more ice time than Josh Gorges.

  • Baalzamon

    Re: the expansion draft I think at this point, if it were up to me, I’d protect Ferland and Versteeg (provided he can be re-signed to a reasonable deal) and hope Vegas prefers Brouwer over Shinkaruk. Though it does feel a little off to me to abandon Brouwer after one year. Still, he doesn’t have a NMC, so he must be aware that exposure in the expansion draft is a possibility (if a remote one).

    • Ole YELLEr

      If both Calgary and Versteeg want him on the Flames next season wouldn’t a gentleman’s agreement that they’ll sign him day 1 of free agency make the most sense? That way they can protect 1 more forward whom ever that may be. If Chiasson sticks with Johnny and Benny and puts up some points I wonder if he catches Vegas’ eye. I’m not sure what his contract status is like if that affects things.

  • flamesburn89

    “There’s an article by Mark Spector out right now that suggests NHL pro scouts aren’t that impressed with Hamilton since he’s become a Flame, but none of the criticisms look substantial to me.”

    Pretty sure Spector would piss himself if the Oilers were to acquire Dougie Hamilton. I remember reading an article where he loved the Reinhart acquisition by EDM. The dude is just a bitter Oiler fanboy who writes about the team.

    EDIT: Here’s the article Spector wrote about Reinhart btw –> http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/oilers-draft-night-moves-prove-future-is-now/