The Halfway Home Roundtable

The Calgary Flames have completed 41 games of their 2016-17 regular season. (Well, 42, but these questions were answered when it was at 41.) Keeping with tradition, we have convened the illustrious FlamesNation roundtable to grouse about their results thus far and prognosticate how the remainder of the season shall go.

Participating this round are every managing editor we’ve ever had (Kent Wilson, Ari Yanover and myself), along with good content boy Mike Fail and prospect pundit Christian Tiberi.

Which player is the biggest surprise of the first half of the season?

Kent: I think it’s just how good Matthew Tkachuk has been as an 18-year-old.

Ari: Matthew Tkachuk. Coming into the season, we weren’t even sure if he was going to go beyond the nine-game mark; now, not only is he one of the Flames’ top scorers, but he has some of the best underlying numbers in the NHL. Nobody saw this coming; certainly not from a teenager.

Christian T.: Matthew Tkachuk because he’s so dang good.

Mike: Matthew Tkachuk. That boy just gets [most nights] what is required to play at the NHL level and produce exceptionally for his age.

Ryan: Everyone else went Tkachuk, so I’m gonna be different and say Matt Stajan. He’s been a consistent positive contributor almost every game and has scored a shockingly large amount thus far.

Which player is the biggest disappointment of the first half of the season?

Kent: Sean Monahan taking a big step back after getting a giant raise. Monahan’s offense has been relatively modest, but his two-way game seems to have stalled or worsened somehow. It’s made Glen Gulutzan’s life much more difficult than it should be.

Ari: Brian Elliott. Everything we knew about him heading into this season screamed number one goaltender, and not just a product of St. Louis’ defence, but someone who could legitimately handle the job on his own merits. He’s had his moments, but his penchant for bizarre goals to keep going against him has really hurt.

Christian T.: Sean Monahan. His flaws have been on full display this season which is scary because he just signed a seven year deal.

Mike: Sean Monahan – There hasn’t been much growth in his game at all and it’s sort of gone flat. I get the hype folks still have for him because he can score goals, but much of this season has been reminiscent of his rookie season.

Ryan: Have we had a good or dominant game from either Sean Monahan or Johnny Gaudreau this season? The Flames big guns have largely been silent so far.

Has the first half changed your opinion of Glen Gulutzan as a head coach?

Kent: I haven’t really formed an opinion yet, though I was initially rather down on the hire given how the team played out of the gate. He’s gotten back to zero basically with the rebound, so we’ll see how the second half goes.

Ari: I’d say so, yeah. You know you have to be patient with a new hire, but I don’t think it can be understated just how bad the Flames were to start the season. There’s bad, and then there’s just being completely unwatchable, which is exactly what they were. It was like – I can’t waste my time waiting for this to work out. There’s no enjoyment derived from this. Surely there must be better things to do with my time. But of course, as patience was necessary, it’s looking like it’s paid off. Firing Gulutzan immediately wouldn’t have made sense to begin with; now, it’s a hell of a lot easier to be optimistic for next season.

Christian T.: I didn’t really have much of an opinion on him to start because a) it’s still a team that is half crap so he gets a bit of lenience and b) because things take time. He’s quit a lot of the bad habits that hampered the team early in the year, but his usage with regards to certain players is still odd.

Mike: Yeah it has. I think that any time we come in with preexisting information about a coach it’s easy to build up a portrait of them with biases and unrealistic expectations. He’s made a lot of heinous mistakes in terms of player usage early on, but he’s adapted and found things that work. Not all of it is perfect, but he’s a country mile better than his predecessor in terms of finding things that work.

Ryan: I was a bit wary at first, but Gulutzan’s made a bunch of adjustments in the first half. The team’s still a bit too reliant on special teams for success for my taste, but I like what he’s done.

Do you expect the Flames to make the playoffs?

Kent: I think it’s a coin flip at this point. A major injury or cold spell in the second half will doom them, but if they can continue to improve and tinker, then they should have a shot.

Ari: Yes. It’ll be close, but yes.

Christian T.: Playoffs sound fun so sure why not.

Mike: I don’t know if it’s reasonable given the wild card situation in the west. I picked this team to be a bubble team at best, but I do love burning half my paycheck on playoff tickets so sure why not.

Ryan: It’s still going to be an uphill battle, but it’s doable. Think of it this way: they’ve clawed their way into the mix with Monahan, Gaudreau, Bennett and Brodie largely absent from the course of most games. If one or more of those guys wake up and the bottom six group keeps performing consistently, this team could actually make some noise.

  • freethe flames

    1. My two biggest positive players have been Tkachuk for obvious reasons. I was concerned about his skating but it has been fine; his hockey iq is excellent.
    The other guy who has impressed me has been Stajan who I will admit I was one of those who wanted him gone. He has had a very good bounce back year. Honourable mention to Chaisson he gets ripped here but he has also had a good bounce back year.
    2. Lot’s of guys I have been disappointed in. Elliot for sure, Brouwer disappoints me with his nightly effort, Bennett I expected more grit an offence on a nightly basis and while both Johnny and Monny have shown some progress they have been inconsistent.
    4. To be a play off team all of the guys listed in number 2 have to play much better than they have. Also with as tight as it is in the west and in the Pacific they need to win almost each of their seasons series with all of the bubble teams.

  • Newbietwo

    What has been strange thus far is the average and below play of our previous reliables such as Brodie, Monahan, in cases Mr Hockey himself and then you see the uptick in play of players like Backlund, Stajan and Engelland. Johnson has been a good surprise as well but one has to wonder if it’s the player more than the system.

    One thing is for sure play offs or not if our reliables don’t start catching their game we won’t do much in the play offs!

    In addition Ferland needs to start finding his touch and prove he is more than a fourth liner.. he needs to better receive passes and find ways to finish..

  • Toofun

    Here are a few more questions for the crowd:

    1. Do you trade Wideman at the deadline and if so do you add a prospect to get back a rental for this year or do you grab a pick for next year?

    2. Is it time to try Bennett on the wing for a while, maybe with Johnny and Monny or is he just fine where he is?

    3. In addition to number 1 above what other moves would you like to see at the trade deadline.

    • T&A4Flames

      #1- Absolutely trade him. We have good young depth and they need PO experience. Stay away from moving youth for a rental. I don’t think we are there yet.

      #2- Keep Bennett at C. He’s only 20. The organization needs to remain patient and continue to work with him and find him suitable linemates. Versteeg and Ferland are good starts but why are they both playing on their off wings?

      #3- Find a legit top line RW to play with Mony or Bennett and Johnny. We need to add size to the top 6 as well that have skill. Not easy but with the pending expansion draft maybe Tre. An make something happen. With an expected weak draft coming up, maybe we can move this years 1st + a decent prospect to add a legit RW with term. MIN seems to have needs that way. Maybe others.

      • freethe flames

        Absolutely agree with you that we are not in a position to trade prospects for a playoff run; however if we can move expiring contracts for either assets or short term immediate help that is okay. Who do you see as the ideal RW that we might be able to acquire?

      • FlamesFanOtherCity

        Wideman has been playing better, but I don’t see him being the reason we are winning. You trade him for whatever you can get. Move Brodie back to RD and fill the void internally. Kevin may not be a star, but he provides as much toughness as Wideman, and plays mostly error free. Leaves you the option of Kulak or Wotherspoon on the 3rd pairing.

        Bennett is fine. He will get the proper line mates sometime. I would lean towards moving Chaisson down to his RW and using Ferland on LW. Move Versteeg to the Monahan line. Shades of Hudler.

        If you can get a RD for a reasonable cost, then do it. The only issue is that you then have 4D and can only protect 3. The bigger need is a top 6 RW. Might have to wait till the off-season and overpay.

    • Ari Yanover

      1. You trade Wideman if at all possible, but you don’t give up anything to get rid of him. Not worth losing any asset when at that point all you have to do is swallow the remaining two months of his contract. If you can somehow get something, though…

      2. I think he’s fine where he is. Moving him to the wing doesn’t exactly solve anything.

      3. If there are any takers, sell off any other expiring contracts, i.e. Engelland’s, maaaaaybe one of the goalies. Do not buy. Do not give up any future assets, just try to acquire them. Approach it like 2014-15.

      • Toofun

        Thanks for your comments Ari and T&A4Flames.

        I agree that we have to trade Wideman. He has actually been good this year which is great because I think he’ll be valuable to several teams at the deadline. For Calgary though, it’s addition by subtraction, it builds for the future and it hopefully kills the Wideman effect and our penalty differential returns to league average.

        I disagree on Bennett though. He’s underperforming and there is a huge opportunity to change things up right now while Brouwer is out. Promote him to the top line. Tell him that we need a RW, that we need a skilled energy guy on that line, that we need him to protect Johnny. Tell him that we need him and that this is a promotion. He needs to get his swagger back and if it works and Calgary spins off a few wins then when Brouwer comes back he can have his own line again.

  • JKG

    Brouwer and Elliott have been disappointments.

    Backlund, Johnson, Tkachuk and Ferland(?) have been positives.

    Pretty much everyone else has been painfully average.

  • Lucky 13

    Biggest surprise first half of the season?

    Tkachuk, Tkachuk, Tkachuk.. if you repeat his name fast enough your mouth guard falls out!

    Biggest disappointment first half of the season?

    I’m going out on a limb here but for me it was Brodie.
    Don’t fire bullets yet. Yes he was mysteriously used at times, but Brodie is a world class skater and his defensive play was not typical of what we have seen in him the past few years. (+/ – yikes) I absolutely love Brodie, but he was the biggest surprise in drop off. Glad last 4-5 games he’s coming back to form!

    First half changed opinion of coach Gulutzan?

    I’m not going to lie. I was not happy with him when he took over the bench. Bias for sure.
    Maybe frustrated with his usage of players (still I’m fighting it) but I must say I’m happy with him overall. I’ve noticed he’s trying to make things work and what I respect is that he’s not too stubborn to make adjustments. He wants to win and seems as if the players have bought in.

    Do you expect the Flames to make the playoffs?

    The million dollar question… yes..
    Our Conference is not the strongest this year and I expect our next 40 to be as good as our last 25 games, maybe not points wise but competitively.
    At present we sit at 46 points. Another 48-52 may just get us in this year, I hope and I believe we will achieve that.

  • T&A4Flames

    #1- Tkachuk obviously. But also, Backlund. His game is just meant to play on a system like GG’s. Johnson. I knew he was good as he took a terrible Buffalo team last year and played solidly and had solid #’s. But he’s been fantastic. Honourable mention to Sranan as some others mentioned and Engelland. Maybe it’s coincidence that his contract is up this year but he’s been good this year in his role.

    #2- Elliott. I thought he’d come out hot with the excitement of being a legit starter for once. But more so the $14 mil boys in Mony and Johnny. Bennett as well. I’ll still be patient as they are all young (especially Bennett). Brodie as well has been less tan mediocre.

    #3- My opinion hasn’t changed because it didn’t need to. New system and an entirely new coaching staff and some roster turn over. It was always going to take time and it did and not things are taking hold. Good on the org for remaining patient. That includes the players.

    #4- I always believed they would battle for a PO spot until the end. That hasn’t changed. However, they are still working on the new systems and by the 3/4 mark if he season, I can see them getting really hot. I also expect the aforementioned young guys like JH, Mony, Bennett and Brodie to pick it up. Not to even mention Elliott.

  • OKG

    As far as Gulutzan goes, I feel as if his emphasis on exits and entries is great, his de-emphasis on defensemen joining the cycle not so much. Haven’t had a forward spot a D in the slot all season.

  • Könniek

    For me, i am slightly disappointed by Bennett just by how he seems to be running in place this season. He has shown flashes in dominance and ability to drive play, but really hasn’t put it together which is slightly frustrating.

  • kittensandcookies

    Jebus, Bennett is 20.

    Does anybody remember the Sedins at 20?

    Did you know they played in the 03-04 playoff series against Calgary? They were 22! And almost completely irrelevant.

    I know as Flames fans it’s been like 30 years since we’ve had draft picks actually pan out, so a little patience is in order.

    • freethe flames

      Just because he is young does not mean that one can’t be disappointed with him. Just because one is disappointed with does not mean that you have given up on him. Maybe my and many others expectations are just too high and too soon. It’s not the results that bother me the most it’s the intangibles that I have seen in him that seem to have disappeared. I still think he will be fine the sooner the better for the team and this season’s chances to make the playoffs.

  • The GREAT WW

    Bobby Ryan misteriously missed yesterday’s game. Neither the GM or Ryan would address the “issue”….

    He is a top line RW isn’t he?

    What could we offer up to get him out of Ottawa?

    WW

  • RealMcHockeyReturns

    Flames need to make a bold move to get the right RW after this season. LA may have expansion draft issues protecting forwards so get Toffoli for 2nd plus prospects or if needed, 1st (weak draft) and single prospect. Second choice: Sign Radulov…finally he grew up….
    but will cost more than Toffoli

  • everton fc

    Bennett, Brodie, Monahan and Elliott have all been major disappointments. I expected more offence from Ferland, but he may be a life-long Kirk Maltby-type player, in terms of production, though not the same exact role. I can live with that. And I’d say Gaudreau has been a bit of a disappointment, for me.

    Tkachuk and Backlund are the biggest surprises. Johnson, Stajan and Versteeg secondary surprises.

    I like the idea of Bennett on the wing, but who centres him? Does moving Bennett to LW mean Jankowski gets a shot? I see it rather that Stajan plays centre, Bennett LW, Versteeg RW. That might be the answer to Bennett’s poor #’s.

    • KiLLKiND

      I don’t think Brodie has been a disappointment, he was learning to play defense of the opposite side which is investing in the future as he should be better off playing on the left. He has also been dragging around Engelland or Wideman every night and doing a decent job of it. He looks to be making big strides lately in his shift from right to left. When he has a better defense partner and is fully adapted to playing on the left this transition period will be forgiven and well worth the benefits.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    For me the biggest disappointment is the lack of chemistry on our forward lines.
    The 3M line is a revelation but the othe lines do not seem to be clicking. Johnny and Versteeg have good chemistry but rarely get to play together. The lines that make up the PP seem to have really good chemistry. I am really confident in our PK and the PP is now enjoyable to watch….5 on 5 not so much.

  • King Quong

    I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed yet but I’m definitely impatient when it comes to Bennett the kid has all the tools to be a star and I believe he will be but It sucks waiting for it to happen. I personally think Sam will end up being not only captain of the team but the best player. Can’t wait to shut the Coiler Fans up about Draisatl being better than him.

  • smatic10

    I’ll be honest, I’m not so optimistic about us being a playoff team this season. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I feel we lack something that can get us there this year. I certainly hope I’m wrong. Doesn’t help that the Soilers are riding the McDavid train and actually doing well this year.

    But man, we’re still in the mix with Monahan, Bennett, Brodie, Elliott, and to a lesser extent Gaudreau all not really playing their best. If they can turn it on and 3M keeps up the amazing play…….and Hathaway is a permanent fixture…..who knows?