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FN Mailbag – March 20, 2017

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It’s been a very up and down season for the Flames, but one thing has been consistently good for them so far: health. Aside from Johnny Gaudreau’s broken finger, the Flames have mostly sidestepped serious injury this year. The only other players to miss significant time to date are Lance Bouma (shoulder), Troy Brouwer (finger), Kris Versteeg (various) and Ladislav SMID (LTIR). Versteeg arguable, but the rest of the guys on that list are “support players” (at best).

Aside from playing for home ice down the stretch, Calgary’s other objective should be to stay as healthy as possible heading into the postseason (and please, no mumps). It would only take a handful of key injuries to severely hamper the Flames’ chances of winning in the first round.

In the mailbag today we talk about Lazar and Brouwer, the Brodie-Stone pairing the org’s goaltending options next year.

It’s hard to predict what the coaches are thinking and this likely this comes down to an injury anyways (UPDATE – yup, this is what happened). For now, let’s go with the currentĀ level of performance.

It should be Brouwer. It’s hard to argue he’s been anything but the worst forward over the Flames’ current 10-game stretch. He has just two points during that period and every underlying number of importance – from possession to scoring chances to expected goals – is below 40% (!!). That’s the sort of performance you might get out of below replacement level enforcer.

As a result, almost of his numbers are worst or near-worst amongstĀ regular Calgary forwards this year. He has the worst relative corsi (-6.66%) and the second worst relative expected goals (-7.58%) and scoring chances (-9.85%) ratios. Even Bouma is well ahead of Brouwer by these measures (his XGF%, for instance, is just -1.23%).

Brouwer is a disaster. His various underlying numbers are team worst, he drags down everyone he plays with and he has just four points in his last 29 games. If he was also anyone besides the big free agent signing, he would have taken a seat already.

Things have changed drastically since these questions were asked, which illustrates the pitfall of small samples. Michael Stone got crushed against the Dallas Stars the other night, which was enough to drag the Stone/Brodie pairing down to a negative relative possession rateĀ (prior to last night’s game). That said, the pair still has a good relative scoring chance rate compared to the Brodie/Wideman pairing, but that will likely come down to earth over time, particularly if their possession rate continues to be mediocre.

Stone had good underlying numbers in Arizona when he was playing with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, but not really with anyone else (and Stone was awful this season prior to arriving in Calgary). Because OEL is one of the elite defenders in this league, it’s possible he was dragging Stone along for the ride.

We still really don’t know what he is in Calgary since he has only played 136 minutes with Brodie so far. For now, Calgary’s brass needs to proceed with extreme caution with Stone, given what we know about him, his level of performance this year prior to arriving, and the potential for the correlation between his arrival and Calgary’s (almost entirely unrelated) hot run to skew perceptions of him.

That’s the long way of saying I wouldn’t even try to guess his next contract’s cap hit. I don’t even know if the Flames should consider re-signing him yet.

I think Mary Ann could take Ginger. The quiet ones tend to have the most pent up rage. We’re talking about who would win in a fight, right?

Although his awful first half of the season warrants some skepticism, Brian Elliott has about five years of near-elite level performance for us to bank on. We obviously can’t assume he’s going to run this hot forever, but I think it’s fair to think he’s still an above-average starter who simply had a rough run to start his time here.

Based on what we’ve seen in Stockton this year, we can guess that Brett Kulak, Rasmus Andersson, David RittichĀ (assuming he’s retained), and Mark Jankowski will be knocking on the door next season. The team will give Jon Gillies every chance to take the next step as well, but he’s going to have to have a better year in the minors for that to happen.

A wildcard will be rookie Brandon Hickey, whom the organization is very high on.

I think it’s possible, especially if the player is okay being retained as a backup again. That said, the Calgary Flames have a pending goaltender logjam in the organization.

If the club re-signs Rittich, they’ll have him and Gillies in the AHL, Tom McCollum (expansion draft fodder) and Mason McDonald in the ECHL, as well as Nick Schneider and, potentially, Tyler Parsons turning pro. That’s a lot of puck stoppers and not a lot of spaces.

The team’s other option is to sign a seasoned starter (Elliott?) and move up one of Rittich or Gillies to be his backup. It’s risky since neither guy is proven at the NHL level, but at some point, they have fish or cut bait with some of these netminders.

Rittich is an interesting option here. He’s 24 years old and has the third best SV% in the AHL this season, (0.924, tied with Jaroslav Halak) and the best SV% amongst AHL rookies. That said, he’s only appeared in 25 games on North American ice, a tiny sliver of time when it comes to evaluating goalies.

Brouwer is the only guy who *should* be moved by Brad Treliving, but it’s not a sell high situation.

Aside from that, I don’t think there’s an asset like that on this roster currently. Almost every guy having a noteworthy campaign this year is a guy you’d want to keep long term: Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik, Matthew Tkachuk, Dougie Hamilton, etc.

I don’t know, but if it’s not Dougie, you can be sure he would photobomb the moment.

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  • Jumping Jack Flash

    Stockton had a great season going prior to Christmas, then hit a major skid. It was difficult for the team to crawl out of the hole on the backs of the same rookies that were leading the way before the Christmas break. I don’t see Huska coming out of this with his job.

    At some point, NHL teams need to lean on its prospects in the spirit of player advancement and cap fiscal responsibility. If they need to find room for Parsons and Hickey, then Kulak, Andersson, Rittiich, and Janko need to crack the Flames line up.

    • Parallex

      You don’t see Huska coming out of this with his job? Based on what?

      The worst team in the AHL last year was the Iowa Wild… their head coach is now in the NHL. He was the head coach for 64 of their games the year before… when they were again last in the league. Year before that It was the Portland Pirates, their coach?… he was back the next year. Year before that was the Hamilton Bulldogs coming in last, their coach? Still there (there being the Habs AHL affiliate which has moved but the coach is the same).

      … So clearly a leading indicator of whether an AHL coach keeps his job isn’t the W/L record. Even if it were the Heat have a winning record in regulation and a positive goal differential. Ryan Huska is a fine coach and the Flames would be foolish to not keep him around.

  • Backburner

    It’s amazing what a hot goaltender can do, and Elliot is getting hot at the right time. If the Flames keep this up they could go a few rounds in the playoffs this year.