The January nightmare is mercifully over.
The 3-2 OT win over the Senators was of the “skin of your teeth” variety, but you could almost feel a collective sigh of relief roll over the Flames bench. After a week of miserable results (and month of relative disappointment), the team badly needed the victory, even if was in extra time. Furthermore, limping into the all-star weekend having lost five straight would have set the players and decision makers on edge. In contrast, ending the slump allows everyone to reflect rather than panic over the break.
Nevertheless, there remains some clear pain points and notes of anxiety inflicting the roster. Today we talk about many of them, including the Flames’ goaltending, the deployment of Sam Bennett and what to do with Troy Brouwer.
— Clark (@lucas_flames) January 27, 2017
As I’ve said before, goaltending is voodoo. What I mean by that is goaltending is really hard to predict. Brad Treliving made two solid bets on Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson in the summer – Elliott led the league in SV% in 2015-16 – but the Flames are once again struggling to get consistently competent netminding.
Which illustrates how hard this issue would be to fix. The other two guys who were rumoured to be connected to the Flames this past offseason were MA Fleury and Ben Bishop and neither of them has been worth a damn this year either (Fleury .904 SV%, Bishop .905 SV%). You know who else has been pretty bad so far? Henrik Lundqvist (.907 SV%). I’m throwing these names out to show that it’s entirely possible for the Flames to make a trade for another netminder – and for that guy to stink as well. Even if he arrives with a great resume.
Sometimes this just happens with goalies. Certainly, it’s more likely to happen with bad goalies, but the line between good and bad in the NHL is very small in absolute terms. Consider, an elite goalie stops about 93% of the pucks he sees at ES, while a lousy one stops about 90%. That’s quite the grading curve. Imagine if in school 93% was an A+ while 90% was a D.
As for Jon Gillies, he hasn’t even been noteworthy at the AHL level this year, unfortunately (.907 SV%), so it would be unwise to pin the team’s hopes on him at this juncture.
So while it may not seem like much of a plan, Calgary’s best course of action in net right now is to wait and hope at least one Johnson or Elliott rediscovers his form.
— Jeff (@nhlflamesfan) January 27, 2017
I don’t think this can be predicted yet. We need to see if either of the two guys in question can grab the reins for the rest of the year and then keep an eye on what happens in the goalie trade and pending UFA markets. The upcoming expansion draft is an extra variable throwing things into turmoil, so there’s a chance a pretty good puck stopper could squirt free for pennies on the dollar.
We previously investigated the constellation of options regarding Johnson and Elliott here. Nothing much has changed in the interim, but perhaps the rest of the season could provide more clarity.
— Uncle Poc (@TheRealPoc) January 27, 2017
It will be as simple as signing a marginal, draft-eligible guy for peanuts, similar to what the Flames did with goaltender Tom McCollum in the AHL. Maybe they re-ink Jyrki Jokipakka for a year and slot him in as the team’s seventh defender if he doesn’t get picked up?
@Kent_Wilson Should the Flames move Bennett to the wing? Jump start him by putting him with tkachuk and backs?
— James Foster (@YKJFosterYYC) January 27, 2017
I’d definitely consider moving Bennett to the wing at this point, given the degree to which he has struggled this year up the middle. Part of the problem is the team can’t give Bennett a true play driving winger when he’s playing pivot and the kid just can’t drive the bus on his own at this point in his career.
One combination I’ve played around with is bumping Bennett to LW with Mikael Backlund and moving Matthew Tkachuk to play with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. Something like this:
- Gaudreau – Monahan – Tkachuk
- Bennett – Backlund – Frolik
Tkachuk can play with the kids and do the dirty work down low so they can concentrate more on finishing, while Bennett gets to rediscover his mojo with Backlund and Frolik.
— Ron (@ronipedia) January 27, 2017
They should absolutely expose Brouwer in the expansion draft. And I’m next to certain they won’t do it.
We went over the problems Brouwer has had this season here. Incredibly, his numbers across the board have worsened since that investigation – his point production at even strength has fallen into defender territory (0.84 ESP/60) and he owns the worst relative outshooting/possession rates amongst regular forwards on the team.
Let’s clarify things with a comparison:
During his time in Calgary, Mason Raymond’s relative CF% was -1.94 and he scored 1.63 even strength points per 60 minutes of ice. Troy Brouwer’s relative CF% is currently -7.04 and, as mentioned, he scores just 0.84 ESP/60. Raymond’s relative expected goal for ratio (XGF%) was -7.07 as a Flame. Brouwer? -11.83.
Remember, the Flames bought Raymond out of his $3.15M deal last summer and he’s no longer in the league.
Which means the expansion draft is a potential get out of jail free card for Treliving. The problem is, GMs usually need something else to go wrong in order to bail out of a contract like this so quickly – a dressing room clash, a clearly disgruntled player, obvious antipathy from the coaching staff, etc. This is, in part, what happened to Raymond – Bob Hartley didn’t like the player and Raymond responded by not like the situation/org. His performance wasn’t good enough for the team to live through the off-ice disruption.
Brouwer, on the other hand, is known for being a good teammate and the club has shown no indications they don’t like him. On the contrary – he still gets more ice time than his performance warrants (fourth most amongst Flames forwards currently).
The expansion draft is potentially a golden opportunity for the Flames to wiggle out of a bad bet. But it will take a sort of clear-eyed, ruthless efficiency on the part of the executives to do it.
— Cameron Hilton (@cameron_hilton) January 28, 2017
Serious enough that he’ll probably end up on some ballots, but not to the degree he’ll actually win the thing.
The Selke is, in part, a reputational award, because a solid portion of the PHWA doesn’t really know how to evaluate defensive efficiency in players. That’s why the Selke (and to some degree the Norris) is usually tied to points production to a non-trivial degree: counting up point totals is a lot easier than determining goal and shot suppression.
As such, guys need to be “known” as elite defensive forwards for a few seasons before they actually float to the top of the Selke list. To be fair, usually many of the best of the biz end up as winners or finalists through this process (Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar, and Pavel Datsyuk, for example), so it’s hard to complain too loudly.
— indifferent (@ChinookArchYYC) January 27, 2017
I think the Flames can upgrade their forward ranks without any fear. Up front, they only have five clear protection priorities: Monahan, Gaudreau, Michael Frolik, Backlund and Bennett. After that, they can choose from Micheal Ferland, Matt Stajan, Lance Bouma, Freddie Hamilton, Brouwer etc., meaning they potentially have two free slots.
On the backend, things are tougher. Dougie Hamilton, Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie are the obvious candidates. If the Flames do upgrade on the blueline, it will likely be little more than a low-cost rental.