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FN Mailbag – April 3, 2017

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So they made it.

A terrible first quarter led to a lot of questions and second-guessing. The new coach didn’t seem to know what he was doing. The revamped goaltending was as leaky as the old batch. And all of the young stars with new, big money deals had seemingly forgotten how to score.

The club has come a long way in just a few months. Brad Treliving still doesn’t have a new contract, but I imagine making the postseason with a week or so left in the year should help.

All that’s left now is jockeying for position to determine who the Flames’ first round opponent will be. Oh, and maybe ironing out a few tweaks like the special teams.

In the mailbag this week, we look at Calgary’s PP, the importance of stars vs depth, Michael Stone’s performance so far and, of course, a note on CalgaryNext.

I’d argue that even strength play tends to dominate in the playoffs given how often the refs “put the whistles away”. However, it’s always better to have good rather than bad special teams.

In terms of underlying numbers, Calgary’s PP has settled into the middle of the pack this year. If we look at total attempted shots, shots on net, expected goals and scoring chances per 60 minutes, the Flames are usually between 15th and 20th in the league. That’s at least an improvement over the ghastly first six weeks or so.

On the ice, the primary issue seems to be the first unit of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Kris Versteeg, and T.J. Brodie (plus one of Troy Brouwer or Micheal Ferland). Although this group is good enough to score off the rush from time-to-time, the set-up and zone play seems predictable and stale. They have recently experimented with Gaudreau back to his off-wing near the point to shake things up. It will be interesting to see if that continues and what the effect is. (And of course this unit scored twice last night, so who maybe this is all moot – ed.)

The other change I’d like to see at some point is Dougie Hamilton as the lone D-man on the first unit over Brodie. I’m a big Brodie fan, but Hamilton is a far more dangerous offensive player. Right now, the opposition doesn’t have to respect a shot from the point to any great degree, leaving them free to fan out and cover the wings or box out the guys in the slot or in front of the net.

Move Hamilton up and reunite Brodie with Giordano on the second unit. In that configuration, I’d have Brodie acting as more of a “roamer” or fourth forward a la Scott Niedermayer from back in the day, potentially confusing defensive schemes and leaving Giordano as the shot threat from the point.

No, I don’t think so. As mentioned in the last mailbag, there’s a big middle class in the West this year, of which Calgary is a part. I wouldn’t consider them serious underdogs or favourites in any of the matchups listed here.

Although we were sensibly promised more consistent goaltending this season, it didn’t really work out that way. The good news is after several months of below average puck stopping, the recent uptick by Brian Elliott has pulled the Flames to 21st in the league at even strength (.921).

That doesn’t sound great, but remember Calgary had the worst netminding in the league last year at .912. So even with Chad Johnson and Elliott putting up below average save rates relative to their careers, the Flames have seen a nine-point improvement in the crease.

The truly good news here is they are trending strongly upwards. Over the last two months, Calgary has enjoyed .930 goaltending at even strength, which is more in line with Brian Elliott’s level of performance than his start in Calgary.

If that level of play continues into the playoffs, it gives the Flames a much higher chance of success.

Here’s hoping if the Ducks turn out to be the Flames’ first round matchup. The Flames are a much better team this time around and the Ducks aren’t quite as good, so this would be as good a time as any to break the curse.

I’d maybe consider keeping Stone around as a depth option, but I’d be very wary about a long-term deal.

The impressive early returns for the Brodie/Stone pairing have come crashing down to earth over the last few weeks. Together, they are now a below average possession (47.7% corsi) and expected goals (48.95%) pairing that are being floated by a PDO of 106.

We’ll see where things settle at the end of the year and through the playoffs, but unless things improve none of that screams “long term” deal to me. In the NHL, under a salary cap, you can bleed yourself dry very quickly committing too much to too long for guys who are fairly replaceable.

  1. Stars
  2. Goaltending
  3. Depth

The only way depth really comes into play is if the other factors cancel each other out (ie; are evenly matched).

Let’s be fair to all involved here.

It’s Ken King’s job to get a new arena deal done for the CSEC ownership group. His main purpose in the organization is to get the best possible deal for the guys signing his cheques. Right now he is reading from a well-worn playbook for professional sports franchises in North America – all of the tactics you see being deployed here have worked, to one degree or another, to extract public subsidies from other municipalities in the NFL, MLB, and NHL.

As for the FAN960, they are the Flames rights holders and also stand to benefit from a new arena deal. There would be absolutely no benefit to Rob Kerr or anyone else on the station to try to grill King on the arena issue. All the incentives in this situation run counter to them acting like hard hitting, investigative journalists.

The guys in question are doing their jobs, such as they are. It is our jobs as citizens to be skeptical in the face of the demands being made in regards to public subsidies for a new arena. It is our city council’s job not to knuckle under to vague threats, fuzzy benefits, or bad economic reasoning.

This is the wrong frame to approach this issue. I’m a Flames fan. I do want a new facility. But not at any cost. 

The question that should be asked, but rarely comes up, is: if the Flames are so desperate for a new arena, why doesn’t the ownership plan to pay for it themselves through private financing? As far as I can tell, King has only dismissed this inquiry as “non-feasible”. Translation: they only “need” a new arena insofar as they can stick the public with the bad end of the costs and risks.

Private profit and public risks is a terrible way to run a city (or any government, for that matter). It represents a transfer of wealth from joe public to billionaires and is the very definition of a moral hazard.

As Flames fans, we support the club by going to games, watching on TV, buying their merchandise, and elevating their status in the community. We do not “owe” them public subsidies for their operations.

An arena is a team’s primary revenue generating asset (outside of the players). Paying for and operating stadiums should be the natural cost of doing business for any pro sports team. Can you imagine if every profit-seeking entity in Calgary approached the city and said, “Hey, you need to pay for a majority of our building costs. We’ll operate the building and take all the profits, but we’re not going to pay property tax on it or anything. Also, we’ll need another building in 20 or 30 years”?

As a municipality, the way we support businesses is to create as favourable an environment as possible: through quality infrastructure, a solid tax base, sustainable civic growth, etc. A reminder: the best way to do this is not to build stadiums for sports teams:

Stacks of independent research over many decades have shown that building a stadium or luring a new franchise does little for a city’s economy. They typically don’t generate significant new tax dollars, jobs or growth. In most cases, the money would be more wisely spent on badly needed public infrastructure, such as roads, transit or schools.

As an entity, the city’s “duty” towards the Flames is to create, as much as possible,  general conditions in which the team can potentially succeed. It is not to specifically subsidize their operations at the expense of their citizens.

If the Flames want to approach the city and public as an investor – i.e.; if they want to start talking about ROI, loan structures, a share of revenues or equity – that’s a different conversation than the one we’ve had so far.

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  • FlamesFan27

    I’m glad the general consensus in Calgary is to not subsidize billionaires and millionaires with taxpayer money. Calgary is taking a stand that should have been taken long ago in many cities. Unfortunately, up here in Edmonton, we are stuck paying the bill. We have a fancy new arena, but the sidewalk in front on my house is in horrible shape. Priorities are completely upside down here.

      • FlamesFan27

        I don’t live on 96th st. In fact, I live in a pretty nice, but older part of town. But your comment pretty much says everything that is wrong with the priorities, when you think one area is more “worthy” of having decent infrastructure as compared to another.

  • class1div1

    Agree that taxpayers should not pay the bill.I also can’t see businessman investing, there money only, for a arena with a population base of 1.3 million.It will be interesting.

  • Gord Kearney

    I hate the billionaire owners and millionaire player comments that is crap. The arena and football stadiums are for the benefit of the public. The owners are not getting rich off the hockey team and football team. They own teams for the benefit of the community and made their money in the private sector and could make a lot more money doing the same thing rather then owners of sports teams. The NHL is not the NFL where the owners make tons of money. We have the oldest arena and the football stadium was built in 1960 and is a piece of crap. We are losing concerts to Edmonton already Garth Brooks did 10 concerts there and none in Calgary. The hockey fans who are against a new arena will be the first ones to complain if the Flames are no longer a cap team. Edmonton had crappy roads before the new arena was built. Politician waste money on all kinds of useless crap, at least a world class sports facility would be something the city could be proud of.

    • Brodano12

      The Flames are currently the 10th highest profiting team in the league, despite being one of the smallest metro populations. The owners make a ton of money off the Flames. Do we need a new arena? Yes. Will some public money go into it? Probably, since at least part of the arena (concerts, etc) are for public benefit (assuming there is a revenue sharing agreement). However, Calgary Next is an unfeasible project that would cost every man woman and child in this city almost $1000 on average. We need a fieldhouse and a better stadium, but we need to help our homeless and rising unemployment numbers far more.

  • Rita

    Kent and all the nation. Don’t you realize that the west village needs to be cleaned up. Why not have world class facilities that we all can be proud of. Myself and all you tax payers should realize that we in Calgary are paying for edmontons CRL on the “ice district’. I believe there’s a solution and whining from people who have NO vision does nothing. Kings looking for the best he can get that’s all. A mayor with any sort of vision should use this opportunity to make Calgary one of the best cities in the world. A user ticket tax is not a problem….if you don’t go to a game you don’t pay. I work in the east village, if you buy a condo or open up a business you pay a CRL on your property tax. I say the solution is have the city donate the land. The flames pay for the cleanup of the creosote in exchange for no property tax, which justifies the land/tax deal, and the province finance the crl (that gets paid back) just like they did for Edmonton. Again if Nenshi and King put down there egos there is a deal that all calgarian’s can be proud of with little tax increase. Face it and remember that the creosote is leaking into the bow and needs to be cleaned up asap.

    • Burning Ring of Fire

      It’s tough to put an accurate price tag on such a large remediation project. This is an unknown cost which I, if I was an owner, would not risk to incur. Government funds will be used for remediation. That said, the west village site is a crappy location where the facilities would be squeezed in, parking will be limited, and transportation corridors would require huge upgrades.

    • Derzie

      Read Kent’s summary. Again. We all want the benefits and problems fixed (e.g. creosote) BUT with everyone paying their fair share. If you or I could see what profits the owners take at the expense of the public, we would be disgusted. Meanwhile, ride the train and look at the lives of those paying for it. Balance. Benefits are super easy to justify. Costs are super hard.

      • Newbietwo

        Profits? Hahaha it’s a professional sports team it’s not a business to be in to make money or look at the bottom line!
        Bottom line is our current stadium barely allow the flames to break even and they are a cap spending team.. imagine if they were like the ducks or Ottawa.. come on man stop saying you feel jerked because of what the flames are asking of the city and look at the benefits long term

        • CMG30

          Since the Flames haven’t opened their books profits are conjecture, but Forbes magazine puts the Flames smack in the middle of the league when it comes to profits. That means at least a dozen other teams could abandon their shiny new arenas and move into the ‘dome tomorrow for a massive boost to their bottom line.

        • Greatsave

          So… you’re seriously suggesting that professional sports teams operate to lose money for the dream of “winning championships”? That must be why the league has had stoppages due to labour disputes twice in the span of a decade. Because civic pride, community service, and a shiny cup is more important than the bottom line.

          • Newbietwo

            It’s about a individual legacy.. that is why owners get involved in this.. they have consultants that suggest outcomes.. when you have money you don’t go into sports in order to make it.. you do it for philanthropic reasons

          • Greatsave

            Oh yes, such benevolence. Individual legacy paid for with public dollars. It’s so easy to be philanthropic with somebody else’s money.

            BTW, FN, please deal with this issue where threading runs out after a certain level of replies.

  • Scary Gary

    The Edmonton arena feasibility study was done in April 2007 and construction started March 2014. These things take time, we shouldn’t be rushed, manipulated or bullied into putting too much public money into this just to get it done; patience.

  • Burning Ring of Fire

    At some point within the next 10 or so years I think one can safely say the the Saddledome will need to be replaced. Everyone wants the Flames to be here – the NHL, owners, the City, Calgarians etc. A new rink will be given the green light at some point and it will be interesting to see how the costs are allocated. I expect that funding will come from a variety of sources (including ownership).

    • CMG30

      It’s not safe to say that at all. The ‘dome will be an adequate facility for decades to come with routine maintenance and the occasional facelift costing fractions of what the Flames are demanding for the NEXT project. Even if we gave them a new arena tomorrow, they will be back at city hall in 20 years demanding another one.
      A new arena would be a net negative for all but the wealthiest fans as it will result in fewer but dramatically more expensive seats and steep increases in the price of food and beverages. But hey, the concourses will probably be wider.

  • Rudy27

    Kent, I fully agree with the idea of pairing Brodie with Gio on the PP, and have expressed that opinion several times on FN. Replacing Brodie with Hamilton on the first unit gives the Flames a power shot from the point on both units. Sometimes it looks like Brodie is passing instead of shooting from the point because even he thinks he doesn’t have a strong enough point shot. From my view point, it looks like Versteeg currently has the best point shot on the first PP unit.

    • Justthateasy

      Agreed Rudy. I have they been asking myself all your why doesn’t Brodie shoot? And of note, Bart is not afraid to shoot. Kent, thanks for putting this Arena business in perspective. Private enterprise, take your own risks, spend your own money and enjoy your gains. Calgarians love this team too much for you to ever lose money. Stop asking me, the taxpayer for a subsidy.
      Old smooth-talking Ken King left Abbotsford holding the bag with an empty arena. The man has no shame. Sad to say.

  • Newbietwo

    Why don’t you stick to writing and keep the finance structures to the guys that know what they are doing and taking about!

    Your comment about shifting money from tax payers to billionaires is a joke.. the flames won’t own the facility and other than deferred debt packages which are recouped within terms and nullifies the cities risk there are no lost cost in the existing structure as it is.. the flames main ask from the flames is that the province and city pay for the clean up of the land.. the additional funds are recouped

  • Avalain

    I definitely agree that we shouldn’t just hand the Flames a blank cheque for building a new stadium. I don’t actually mind if the city builds the building, as long as we get a lease out of the Flames which will actually pay for it. Of course, having the millionaires pay more than a token is currently off the table. Then again, moving the team is off the table also. Where would they even move to? Seattle? Quebec city? I guess that they can go back to Atlanta since other franchises have worked out so well there.

  • Parallex

    Here’s the way it should be done…

    The city is in the process of developing the east end of downtown it’s silly to create competition to your own development by simultaneously developing the west village so Arena (sans football stadium/faux fieldhouse) goes in Victoria Park. We dispense with weaselly language about who pays for it… the City does, all of it… 100%. It then recoups that investment via rent payed by the operator (AKA The Flames) over the course of a 30 year ironclad (and I mean IRONCLAD) lease with the remainder coming via a user fee. Done. Fair deal for all parties concerned.

    • Greatsave

      Nothing is “ironclad” unless it’s cold hard cash forked over yesterday. The Flames can buy their own lot, build their own arena, mortgage it if they have to.

      • Parallex

        Well yes, that would be the ideal outcome (CS&E funding and building their own arena). I’m looking for the middle ground that doesn’t see taxpayers take a bath on some billionaires vanity project since that ideal is highly unlikely to happen.

  • Hamburgler

    The city should only contribute what they get back in revenue from a new arena. There is a reason Murray Edwards and Clay Riddell, both multi billionaires, aren’t paying for this thing on their own. If the Flames want to generate new income from hosting 9 Garth Brooks concerts, then pay for it out of your own damn pocket book or find some private investors.

  • calgaryfan

    It is really hard to believe that there are posters on here that believe the Flames do not make money! The salary cap is at 71 million, started at 39 million. The cap goes up if revenue goes up and the owners take their share just like the players.

  • Burning Ring of Fire

    People get so worked up about a new arena. The Flames owners are Calgarian businessmen who call Calgary home for a reason. They will play the game to try to get the best deal possible, but at the end of the day a fair deal will be made for all parties. Will they push the envelope – yes. Will the City push back – yes.

  • BendingCorners

    The Flames’ owners are sharp businessmen. They make money in their main businesses and they make money from the Flames. They won’t make a deal that hurts their bottom line unless they are forced into it, and they will protect their own interests at the expense of their counterparties’ interests. They’re not evil, they’re just sharp.
    They don’t really need a new arena, but it would improve their profit margin. Getting someone else to pay for it, the way the Saddledome was paid for by others, also helps their bottom line.
    As a taxpayer, I’ve no interest in helping them. As a fan, letting my neighbours’ taxes or the new arena’s neighbours’ taxes pay for the arena suits me fine. But in fairness, the only sensible way to pay for it is to start charging a ticket tax now, collect it in a trust that invest passively in a range of ETFs, and when it accumulates 70-80 percent of the cost of a new arena, break ground. By the time it’s completed five years later, it will be paid for. The Flames’ owners will have reduced revenue growth for a few years, made up for later, the trust will own the building and collect a portion of future revenue to be contributed towards civic projects. It will take a few years for it all to start generating anything useful but since there is really no rush, why not set up a long term method of dealing with the issue?

  • I find it interesting that very few team owners have the stones, ambition and capital resources to have a go at owning the building. Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft in the NFL being notable deviants. Given that, does anyone have a link that may indicate if they are using that monopolistic position to push the boundaries of price elasticity as it relates to ticket pricing or concessions?
    As a seat holder in both Yeg and YYC the value per ticket dollar firmly lies with YYC. Rogers Place pricing, places the entire experience in a very elitist place. Projecting forward I wonder if that hose the customer mentality will manifest itself rationally or if the hearty abuse tolerance of the Oilers fan base shall prevail as it has through the decade of darkness.
    http://www.fieldofschemes.com/2017/04/03/12299/flames-ceo-threatens-to-move-team-denies-hes-threatening-to-move-team-universe-explodes/