FN Mailbag – December 12, 2016

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Mailbag

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.

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.

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:

Dashboard 1-19

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. 

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. 

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.

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.  

Move on everyone. Jarome’s never coming back.

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).

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    • Bean-counting cowboy

      Let it go… everything the Flames are and represent wouldn’t have happened were it not for Iggy moving on. He’s not the same player now. Time to move on.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    If Brouwer plays this way the remainder of the year I’m inclined to expose him in the expansion draft in favour of protecting a Shinkaruk or Poirer.

    Although he has shone in the playoffs before… so maybe see how that goes.

  • Derzie

    Bottom of the heap for me is Chiasson & Brouwer. Elliott in the conversation as well. Brodie is being played on his off side with an incompatible partner, so that’s on the coach, not him. BT moves that have yet to be above water (GG playing Brodie on the wrong side is indirectly BT hiring GG and not burying Wideman).

    • Parallex

      In fairness to Wideman he was partnered with Russell (not like he was the sole weak link there). It is a shame he’s bringing down Brodie so much. Really Brodie is a victim of Gulutzan’s L-R blindspot… if he (Gulutzan) didn’t have that then Kulak or Jokipakka could have gotten some reps in on the second pairing but it seems that only Engellend & Wideman will get that for the time being.

      Fortunately, barring any (mis)adventures in free agency this offseason that problem should fix itself.

  • Scary Gary

    I’m no Brouwer apologist, when he signed I expected his contract to be OK for this year and possible next year then very questionable after that. That being said he’s close to his career 0.48 points per game pace at 0.42 this year. His possession numbers aren’t where they have been despite his most offensive zone starts since 2010/11 but those should improve as well.

    Let’s see what we have after 82 games, I suspect he’ll be close to 0.45 points per game and 50 CF%, which is really all we can expect from him (this is the player management signed).

    • Kevin R

      Agree, it’s way too early on the Brouwer witch hunt. This guy is a decent hockey player, he has size & he will be invaluable if we make the playoffs. There are guys like this on most teams where they just shine better in playoffs versus the season grind. I really like the thought of a healthy Ferland & a healthy Brouwer going into a 7 game series with the likes of the Kings or Ducks or even Oilers for that matter. Tough crowd in the mailbag today.

  • flamesburn89

    Iginla really crapped the bed signing with Colorado. Smart play would’ve just been going to Chicago or another powerhouse and getting a shot at a Cup.

    As an aside, Brodie does not look like the same player this year. I know Wideman sucks and has dragged him down, but Brodie managed to carry Engelland the year that Gio went down with injury. Really hoping he can get back on track over the next little stretch.

  • TurkeyLips

    How about that Joe Colborne in Colorado. Hat trick in his first game, and one paltry assist in the 23 games since. Was worried this lad would find his stride on the Avs, but it’s clear now that he has but little value and we were lucky to get rid of him.

  • Newbietwo

    First did everyone hear they tranches Ferlands slap shot at 103mph!!! Kid has upside and is growing!

    Second I’d trade Brouwer to either Dallas for Nischuskin or Detroit for Mantha for Arizona for Crouse..

    Third and don’t shoot me but if Brodie has reached a ceiling trade him to Winnipeg for Trouba or Vancouver for Gubranson? Will balance out left and rigt shots and bring another element to the team

    Last but not least.. Sign Johnson!!! He is good period and I do. Or believe for a minute this is by fluke.. he is as calm in the net as any elite goalie I have seen and he is younger than Elliot pure and simple I like him and thinks he is our guy

  • PlacidSeanMonahan

    But seriously, I think Backlund is just so frustrating because with the chances he creates, he really should be a .75 ppg player, but he just cannot finish.

    It’s a shame really, but a fact.

    I still think he would get us a top line RW in trade.

    Backlund to NYI for Strome and a first in 2017.