Photo Credit: Sergei Belski / USA Today Sports

What did the Flames’ usage look like throughout the season?

When Glen Gulutzan first took the Flames’ reins, he didn’t know exactly what he was getting. That much was evident in some of his early lineup choices alone. But as the season went on, he figured out what he wanted to do. It showed in part in the Flames’ improved play; it also shows in the team’s overall season usage chart.

Via Corsica. Click for full-sized image.

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For those new to usage charts: the top left indicates a player faced top opposition and had very few offensive zone starts. It’s the most difficult circumstance to play in. The bottom right reflects the easiest situations: weak competition and a lot of offensive zone starts. The bluer one’s circle, the greater his corsi (the more he drove play north without it going back against him). The redder, the worse. The bigger, the more ice time he had.

Let’s follow this left to right:

  • The 3M line stands out here in all the best ways. Not only were they the best corsi players on the Flames, but they did it in the toughest circumstances anyone on the team faced.
  • Matt Stajan was notably better than all of the other fourth liners. Freddie Hamilton was a bit better than Lance Bouma.
  • The Flames’ top three defencemen – Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, and T.J. Brodie – are all rather obvious, while the team’s usage chart is really curious as to why Brett Kulak was never given a shot with them.
  • Brodie was clearly better than his partners, who were either sheltered (Dennis Wideman) or had a tougher time, but still didn’t perform optimally (Michael Stone).
  • Jyrki Jokipakka and Matt Bartkowski were basically interchangeable in terms of not being all that good.
  • Micheal Ferland didn’t play in tough circumstances, but overall, he had it rougher than the rest of the non-3M top nine – and kept his head above water in doing so.
  • Troy Brouwer is isolated in his own little zone of being terrible. Garnet Hathaway is the only Flame who had a worse corsi than him, and Brouwer actually got offensive zone starts. Nobody else on the team, all circumstances taken into account, was as bad as Brouwer was.
  • Alex Chiasson stands a bit apart from Kris Versteeg and Sam Bennett. Perhaps totally coincidentally, Chiasson spent no time with Brouwer this past season, while Versteeg and Bennett spent hundreds of 5v5 minutes with him each.
  • It’s no surprise to see Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau get so many offensive zone starts: they’re the Flames’ best weapons, and were put in position to score.

The standouts are really obvious in a usage chart, both positive and negative. The 3M line and the top defence pairing were lauded for their efforts all season long, and it’s especially easy to see why when it’s laid out like this. If any of their teammates can get on their level – i.e. Brodie and his future defence partner, Monahan and Gaudreau, and maybe even Ferland or Bennett – then the Flames will be extremely well-positioned for the near future.

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Meanwhile, Brouwer basically had the performance of a fourth liner – or worse – throughout the entire season, all the while being treated as a top six offensive player. If the Flames can manage to avoid picking up any more players like him, all the while having a bottom defence pairing that’s actually serviceable, then they’ll have depth they can trust, too.

    • BendingCorners

      Dennis started the season well and then faded. He looked worse than he is because he was so obviously weaker than TJ, and TJ isn’t the kind of player that elevates his partner’s game. I would have preferred Dennis over Deryk for third pair but GG liked Deryk’s style of play. No matter. They are both hopefully gone now.
      Next year, maybe Mike Stone will be better, or his replacement. And we have three AHL players that can fill out the defence: Tyler, Oliver and Rasmus. Oliver would mostly be a #7 spare because his game isn’t entirely there yet, but he’s close. Rasmus is ready, and Tyler was ready last year. I’m wondering if he was buried in Stockton simply to keep him out of George’s view, and dangling Brett for the same reason.

      • class1div1

        Tylers agent had him sign a real cheap deal this year in hopes that another team would pluck him off waivers. That didn’t happen. I could be wrong but get the impression Tyler and the Flames are done after this year.

      • Pyroflatulence

        The top 3 D are safe but the rest can be replaced. The Ducks roled with a young D group and I don’t see why we can’t graduate at least 2 prospects to the show.

        The 4th line should be gone by the trade deadline, hopefully sooner.

  • BendingCorners

    I don’t think it’s enough to avoid picking up another player like Troy; I think they have to move him. Unless he’s better than Curtis, the other option for press-box winger?
    If they can trade or release or otherwise bury Lance and Troy and Freddie (who isn’t bad but is too marginal to be worth hanging on to) and keep the other forwards, then if Matt Stajan and Curtis are the spares, we have enough AHL players ready to fill in all but one spot, that being RW for Johnny and Sean. I know Micheal is filling that role now and that’s great, but I think he’d be even a better fit on Sam’s left, with either Kris or (if he stays healthy and shows well in camp) Daniel Pribyl on the right. Add Mark J as fourth line center and the team really only needs a top line winger and a second pair defenceman to complete and maybe go deep next year. Of course, if all the guys in the AHL turn out to be duds, then we’re going nowhere.

    • Ari Yanover

      I agree they need to get rid of Brouwer; just trying to be realistic. Hard to see anyone picking up a replacement-level player when his contract is a $4.5 million cap hit for another three years.

      • Pyroflatulence

        Agreed. As much as I hate to say this, if they cannot move him it might be best for the team to bury him in the AHL or buy him out. This is the most extreme case of poor asset management but he is in the way of up-and-coming players who are more valuable to the team in the short- and long-term.

      • BendingCorners

        I’m not sure there’s room for Troy next season. If Brad improves their depth that implies some top nine players will be spending time on the fourth line. With players in the AHL looking ready to move up it’s possible Troy ends up in Stockton.

  • sathome

    Any chance Brouwer was battling through some nagging injury all season? I know I’m grasping at straws, but I don’t see the Flames managing to divest themselves of his contract anytime soon.

  • jakethesnail

    GG’s love affair with Chiasson on the first line still bugs me…How far further ahead would Ferley be now if he started the season on the first line instead?