FN Mailbag: January 30, 2017

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Mailbag

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.

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.

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.

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?

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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  • ComeOn

    Sorry but I can’t resist, while I know the all star game isn’t exactly full of guys putting out 100% it is striking where Johnny Hockey’s performance sat within that group.

    I get, to some extent, the more mature philosophy that Gully’s style represents as compared to Hartley’s run and gun ‘get me through the toughest part of the rebuild with exciting higher risk play’.

    But, I think the style packs all the defenders up and leaves virtually zero chance for higher skill players to have the space to generate significant opportunity.

    Is it not possible to coach a style that actually allows your team’s talent to shine? These guys aren’t idiots, they’ve played hockey their whole life and know how to responsibly take chances.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      I’m not sure I get what you are saying about the All Star game; wasn’t Johnny one of the most explosive players in the games? He had multiple breakaways, passes that weren’t finished, but also didn’t have any glaring mistakes out there.

      The other part about Gully’s low risk play benefiting the less skilled players is true. But the manner in which the breakout is done with Brodie concerns me. The PP breakout with him is duplicated every time. Skate almost to the O-zone, then bump back to Johnny and let him try to enter the zone with all the other players standing still. I think Brodie would be a better fit for Backlund’s PP unit at this point. More of a possession style.

      • ComeOn

        That’s exactly what I was saying about Johnny, its obvious just how high he sits even within the group of all stars that was assembled.

        Atop all of that I don’t question his motivation or drive whatsoever, the guy seems legitimately self motivated, not to mention frustrated by the situation.

        I never made the point that you raise, but we are so disturbingly predictable that the only variable in whether something works out is whether you or the opposition make more mistakes.

        When you’ve got a game breaker like Johnny and not using him to positive effect I think the coaches have some questions to answer.

        To clarify, I don’t think we can go back to Hartley’s run and gun style, but I don’t think we need to play the same game for all four lines for 60 minutes of every game for 82 games a year. There needs to be a few different approaches that the team can respond with and adapt as the coaches make the request. There isn’t.

        • FlamesFanOtherCity

          I think we were saying the same thing about lack of offense, just different takes on it. I do not want to go back to Hartley coaching, but there should also be some moderation of the game plan. Hartley used the ame plan Y1 and Y2, even when it became obvious it oculd be sustained and other teams had adapted to us.

          Seeing all the trolls in here, it’s hard to tell when a person is being genuine or sarcastic. I agree he stood out as one of the top players on the Pacific.

        • Ogie Oglethorp

          Making judgements from the ASG is silly. It was like 11pm pick up out there.

          Unfortunately the real games aren’t 3 on 3, and there is hitting, slashing, holding and hooking. Sure JG looked great, but the harlem globetrotters look great in a gimmick game as well.

          Blaming coaches for why Johnny is struggling in real hockey versus excelling in a sideshow non contact 3 on 3 stunt is pretty far stretched.

          Did you notice Crosby in the ASG? Not really. The correlation between trick show and NHL hockey is weak at best.

          That said, I do think its embarrassing how the league lets their stars get held/slashed/hooked and mugged during real NHL play. But that isn’t going to change. Johnny needs to figure out how to battle through it.

          • ComeOn

            I agree he has to work through it, but when our break out-back pass routine packs all five of their guys up onto their blue line it doesn’t leave any room for anyone to get through without the slashing and wacking.

            I’m not sure when, if or how the NHL will address it, but I know our coaching staff could pursue different modes of offense that focus less on entry and grinding and more about stretching out a team’s defensive structure to create some room.

    • cjc

      I just don’t see the evidence that Gaudreau is being cramped by Gulutzan’s style. His shot rates haven’t dropped, and he is still creating almost every night.

      My take:
      1) He’s been unlucky. He is not at 9.5% shooter
      2) His running mate has struggled mightily,
      3) They haven’t found a fit on RW
      4) He faces other team’s best competition

      If there is one complaint, it might be how JG is being used on the power play.

      • ComeOn

        Possible, also possible are:

        His scoring chances are poorer from setup offence than off the rush thus creating the shooting percentage

        His running mate hasn’t had a streaking playmaking player pushing rushes deep so that he has some room and space from which to take better shots

        He didn’t have a fit on rw all year last year either…or the year before for that matter

        Increasingly the 3M line is the one to watch out for, so, compared to last year I would say this is more of a two or three horse race as compared to last year’s one trick pony.

      • Jumping Jack Flash

        I am not going to read too much into the ASG but Johnny was put on the Fourth line with 2 of the less sexy players in Horvat and Fowler and still was one of the most dangerous players. It shows that Johnny can produce with quality skilled linemates.

        QI would bet that Johnny played the games in his old hockey gloves without the added protection. Johnny showed that given time to get his shot off he he is still one of the biggest threats. Keepers have figured out his moves in tight but he has far more in his arsenal than he has shown.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    @ Kent Wilson

    Gaudreau – Monahan – Tkachuk

    Bennett – Backlund – Frolik

    I like these 2 line combinations a lot, and one big benefit is pushing Chiasson down to a bottom 6 role, a place he’s better suited to succeed.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      I have been singing this tune for months. It addresses several of my beliefs. First, The Flames are better than their record, they have a lot of the right pieces in the wrong places. Second, Bennett needs to be moved back to wing because it would simplify his game. He has a great burst of speed and can win the board battles.

      Bennett’s best games last year were playing wing with Backland. Finally, Tkachuk is the grit that Johnny and Monny need on their line. He goes to the front of the net and opposing players are so interested in evening the score that his linemates are given ample space to create scoring.

      I would also be fine putting Johnny with Backland and Frolik which would leave Bennett with Tkachuk. I stopped watching when GG refused to make changes. IMO keeping the 3m line together negatively impacted the top 2 lines. Johnny is still the straw that stirs the drink but Tkachuk is the greasy burger that completes the meal.

  • Eggs Bennett

    Just a note with your assessment of goaltender ratings: perhaps we shouldn’t look at it as differences in Sv% (which there is only a marginal difference between 0.93 and 0.90 goalie as mentioned), but rather as GA%. In this case, a 0.93 goalie GA% is 0.07, which is 30% lower than a 0.90 goalie with a GA% OF 0.10. This is a better comparison when the margins are so small.

    Agreed with your point though that no matter what metric is used, goalie performance is difficult to predict. For those that said Elliott rode a strong Blues defense during the last 5 years, I’d like to point at Allen’s 0.897 sv% with virtually the same D-core. I think we should be a little more patient with Elliot and give him a few more starts.

    • Hat

      GAA is an awful stat to judge goalies by. They have almost zero influence in the number of shots against, so a team that has a porous defence will tend to make a goaltender look worse. Works like confirmation bias; All of the good teams have good goalies, all of the bad ones have bad goalies.

      • PlacidSeanMonahan

        He didn’t say GAA, he said GA%.

        And to quote Eggs Bennett “a 0.93 goalie GA% is 0.07, which is 30% lower than a 0.90 goalie with a GA% OF 0.10. This is a better comparison when the margins are so small.”

        I agree with Eggs, that when you use the inverse percentage it does a better job illustrating the difference between goalies save %.

  • Derzie

    The Brouwer to Raymond comparison is eye opening. Shows how much rope being a ‘good guy’ gets you. I always like reading Kent’s pieces. Nice combo of logic and syntax. Gets the points across nicely.

  • Dale Denton

    Seeing as we have “2” potential open spots to protect on forward, are there any players we should be targeting as an upgrade? I know Anaheim has some tough decisions at forward, despite being rivals maybe we can offer a pick and a prospect? Maybe there are other teams to keep an eye on….?

  • Xcameron

    I’m still a fan of exposing Gio. I understand his value to the team and it would be a shame to lose him. That said I worry about that contract and how many more years Gio has at this level. In one way that contract is protection of its own – not sure LVGN take it on regardless. However, if we can get our heads around exposing him then it frees us up now to add a true 4D and take our chances.

    • Kevin R

      Jesus, give your head a shake. So you want to give away one of our top pairing assets & then trade a bunch of assets for a #4 D. Gio is a #3 D on most NHL teams in the league, yeah ok, lets just give away that asset. I can almost understand trading him if you are really so scared of paying his salary, but just stop on this give away thing please. Who is available that you think we can slot right in & replace Gio’s minutes & be able to acquire that player?

      • Xcameron

        I get your point and to answer you I would say Shattenkirk. I think you have missed my real point is that in the not so distant future Gio’s salary will potentially be another boat anchor.

  • Not a First Tier Fan

    Elliott is a better netminder than he’s shown this year so far. I imagine the rest of this year and the start of next season he’ll feel he has something to prove.. When that coin flips then I would bet a shiny toonie that we’ll see some goal-tending clinics get put on…

      • Not a First Tier Fan

        No trolling intended. Is it so hard to believe that some of us just want to add to the conversation?

        For the record I didn’t bring up the Oil… you did.

        Meant what I said. Elliott’s having an off year. He’ll turn it around for you guys.

        • FlamesFanOtherCity

          It’s all good bud. The shiny twoonie part is what looked to be a sarcastic response. My response was to suggest that you can’t look at 1/2 a season as a predictor of the outcome. Was the case for Talbot. Should be the case for most high-level goalies.

  • Flaymin Frank

    I hope Tyler Parson’s path to The Show gets expedited in the next year or two. I’d like to see the Flames give the young goalie some NHL experience without shattering him. Buying hired gun net minders year after year is not paying dividends.

    I believe Elliott still can pull his game together but the season is coming to a fast halt, there’s not much time to find the fix.

    He was sitting way too far back in his crease on the 2nd goal against Ottawa. You’re not gonna make a moving stop for those blue line lasers unless you’re playing maximum angles. Its like he’s scared to over commit to the shot, or doesn’t want to expose his flanks to the close up opponents. He’s gotta trust his defence more.

    GFG

  • Nummin

    Just curious as to why Sigalet’s position as goalie coach never comes under fire for the Flames poor netminding?

    It looks like the best SV% under him was Dan Taylor in his 1st/2nd year with Abbotsford, then Ortio’s second year in the AHL.

    Small sample size in the NHL but Hiller’s and Ramo’s SV%’s in 14-15 were the best under him (league average combined). Next year they were garbage and this year there has been nothing good with Johnson or Elliot despite a hot streak by Johnson. It seems nobody’s performance gets better under him.

    Could Treliving’s staffing decisions be what’s holding up an extension?

  • dontcryWOLF88

    Shattenkirk isn’t doing great this year. Neither is Jake Allen for that matter, speaking of good goalies having bad years.

    It’s really kind of odd actually. We got elliot and Brower from the blues and they are having a bad year, just like the team they left.

    Btw I loved the Kent wilson analogy of .93 vs .90 goalies (A+/D+). It’s the same sort of thing for forwards. Last year gaudreau was almost always in the top 15 in the NHL for points. 13 more points and he would be there now. Considering he has 9 less GP than possible. Let’s say if 6 of his 116 shots went in, vs m8ssing, that’s only 5% of his shots going the wrong way. I don’t know about you guys, but if my performance at work varied 5% nobody would even notice.

    So factor in missing games, contract crap, his linemates struggling, not having a decent RW all year long, fitting into a new coaching system..etc. I think JH is the same thing as before.

    I’ll chalk it up to a weird year so far. who knows where it goes from here.

    • Kevin R

      Sometimes years just don’t go the way you expect or hope.Flames are having that kind of year. Next year, most of these guys may have rock star seasons. Welcome to parity in the NHL.