Christmas has come early in Calgary.
After almost two months of bad play, bad bounces and bad special teams, the Flames have gone on an unholy tear to vault themselves back up the league standings. Almost everything that wasn’t working to start the season is on overdrive right now – the PP, the PK, the goaltending, offense, etc.
The resurgence came in the nick of time. Another month or so of middling or worse results would have consigned the club to jockeying for position in the draft lottery for another year. Instead we can start talk to about competing for a playoff spot again. Happy holidays everyone!
In this edition of the mailbag we look at Chad Johnson’s continued excellence, potential trade additions and who has been pulling the wagons during the turnaround.
— Ben Thielmann (@BenThielmann41) December 9, 2016
This was the topic of discussion in the latest WWYD Wednesday article. I didn’t share a personal opinion in that piece, so I’ll say that I would wait until the end of the season before seriously talking about an extension with Johnson.
Generally it is a bad idea to re-sign players when they are in the midst of a career best stretch, because those perceptions anchor the negotiations and expectations moving forward. Right now it seems like Johnson is never going come back down to earth, but in fact it’s a safe assumption the hot streak is going to end at some point. That’s not a jab at the player, it’s just based on years of data suggesting he probably isn’t Henrik Lundqvist or Carey Price.
Goalies also tend to be the least predictable players in hockey. For example, the Flames entered the season with Brian Elliott tabbed as the putative saviour in net (for good reason – he had multiple seasons of top-end results under his belt) and right now it’s a 30-year-old career backup who is saving the season instead.
All of which is to say waiting it out is the best approach. If Johnson ends the season as the starter and a top five NHL goalie, then maybe think about an extension.
— Ryan Gee (@redricardo) December 9, 2016
If we look at the last three seasons for both players, including this year, Elliott still has the slight edge at even strength, with a SV% of 92.82 vs 92.23 for Johnson. Here’s how the two goalies’ careers compare across various categories according to SAVE:
Again, Elliott is superior by almost every measure (aside from low danger SV%, oddly). Prior to his recent run, Johnson was below average at stopping mid to high danger chances in the league, while Elliott was well above average.
That hasn’t been the case this year for whatever reason, so we need to hold out for more data at the very least.
Let’s put it another way… Heading into the year we would have been about 80% sure Elliott was an above average goaltender and the better choice over the two. The current run should definitely shift, but not totally upend our evaluation of each guy’s true talent level.
As a result, I’d append things to 65%-70% chance that Elliott is still actually the better player. If Johnson continues to dominate and Elliott continues to struggle, maybe we get down to 50-50 or to some ratio in favour of Johnson instead.
— Southern_point (@Southern_point1) December 9, 2016
Unfortunately, above average RWers tend to be in short supply. That’s why the Flames had to pay too much for too long to get a rather average RWer this summer in Troy Brouwer. Technically he was supposed to be the gap filler for the right side, but that was always a bad bet.
There’s no promotion option available for the Flames currently. None of the RWers on the farm are close to playing a top six role in the show.
The list of quality UFA RWers next summer is also very short. There’s Alex Radulov, who will probably stick in Montreal if he decides to stay in North America, and T.J. Oshie. That’s it. As for trades, we can only speculate, but I haven’t heard of any really good wingers on the market recently.
Shorter answer: I don’t know. Kris Versteeg has been a nice stand-in when healthy, but he seems to be made of glass at this point in his career. Maybe the Flames will have to convert Micheal Ferland to a RW or something.
— Austin Lowry (@AustinCLowry) December 9, 2016
There’s a couple of candidates for this.
The addition of Matthew Tkachuk to the Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik duo has taken that line to another level. They have the best relative possession rates on the team, they face the toughest competition amongst forwards and they have an offensive zone start ratio lower than 40%. Those are crazy good results.
There’s also Ferland, who has already matched his goal total from last year and is on pace to score around 30-32 points despite playing in a bottom six role. Ferland is also a positive possession and scoring chance player, despite rarely playing with guys of the Backlund/Frolik quality.
I think I have to give this award to Dougie Hamilton though. Since the emergence of those trade rumours the former Bruin has taken things to another level.
Hamilton came into the season as the team’s “third best” defensemen, but he currently leads the Flames blueline in just about every category you can name: goals, points, relative possession, relative scoring chances, etc. In fact, after his recent three point evening Hamilton is tied for second in team scoring with Sean Monahan and is on pace for career highs in goals and points.
Yeah, I think we can safely ignore those trade rumours.
— Ryan Gee (@redricardo) December 9, 2016
There’s only a handful of guys who haven’t done much during the recent upswing.
The first who springs to mind for me is Brouwer. He has four points in his last nine games, which is okay, but has continued to sink to the bottom of the roster when it comes to underlying numbers (even though the coach has been giving him the high road most nights).
Amongst regular Flames forwards, only Garnet Hathaway has worse relative possession or scoring chance ratios that Brouwer (-5.17% and -9.75% respectively). Which means no one on the team currently gets outshot or outchanced more than Brouwer, aside from a replacement level grinder. Yuck.
The other guy who has continued to struggle is T.J. Brodie. While Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton have pulled out of the nosedive together, Brodie continues to flounder with Dennis Wideman in a second pairing role.
Whether that’s due to the quality of his partner or having to adjust to playing on the other side of the ice (or both), I fully expect Brodie to figure things out at some point this year given what we know about him.
— Atchur Service (@wmpdll) December 9, 2016
— john (@rocktown_9) December 9, 2016
Move on everyone. Jarome’s never coming back.
— Leah Kessel? (@leahflame) December 9, 2016
I’d say it will come down to Lance Bouma or Hathaway. Although maybe Brouwer could use a night in the stands as well… (no, this won’t happen).