Flames’ special teams should be better in 2017-18

The Calgary Flames should be poised for a better start to their 2017-18 season – and with just a couple of wins and a handful of loser points keeping them from having home ice advantage in the playoffs, that better start could end up making a pretty big difference in the long run. Games in October are worth just as much as games in March, after all.

I addressed a specific reason for optimism in the linked piece above: the Flames won’t have to adjust to Glen Gulutzan as the season starts. This time, the majority of roster players will enter the year knowing exactly what’s expected of them and exactly what their roles are.

There’s a specific subject that wasn’t addressed above, though, and it was one that contributed a fair bit to the Flames’ early season miseries: special teams.

At the quarter mark of the 2016-17 season, the Flames were fifth in their division and near the bottom of the Western Conference. (The Colorado Avalanche were actually ahead of them in the standings then, and we all know how that turned out.) It was a very bad start, and extremely poor special teams played a part in that.

Back then, I determined the Flames had suffered about eight losses due to abhorrent special teams, particularly their powerplay. (Remember when it had a below 10% success rate?) It’s theoretical whether they could have won any of those games even with improved special teams, but even cutting their failures in half results in eight additional points, which would have left them one point shy of home ice advantage in the playoffs.

So yeah – that bad powerplay the Flames started with might have ended up really costing them.

In the end, Calgary resurrected its powerplay, finishing the season with a 20.2% success rate – tied for the 10th best in the NHL. Their penalty kill, which suffered a below 80% clip for some time, too, jumped up to 81.6% – 12th in the NHL. The special teams revitalization ended up playing a big part in the Flames’ turnaround from among the NHL’s worst to the playoffs.

But just as the Flames should expect to get off to a better start this upcoming season because they already know their coach, their special teams shouldn’t struggle nearly as much out of the gate, either.

Here’s just how bad things were to start 2016-17, compared to how good they got:

First 21 games 8.5 72.7
Last 61 games 24.7 85.0

Those are dramatic improvements in both areas, but especially on the man advantage. And while it’s true 61 games is a much greater sample size than 21, we are focusing on the particularly dismal start the Flames had, and the herculean effort it took to climb out of that (something most teams in the same position were unable to do).

And it’s not as though the final 61 games were all sunshine and roses. There was that dismal stretch in January, there were extended periods of time again in which the Flames couldn’t score a powerplay goal to save their lives – and they still clocked in much improved percentages.

This isn’t to say to expect the Flames to score on 24.7% of their powerplay attempts next season. That number, last season, would be first in the NHL. Ditto for an 85.0% penalty kill, which would be the third best penalty kill over the entire 2016-17 season. Their special teams probably aren’t going to be among the absolute best in the NHL over the course of a full 82 games, and there will almost certainly be duds and games in which poor special teams cost them.

But there’s very little reason to think they’ll put in a performance as bad as they did to start the previous season. Not at even strength, and not when it comes to special teams. Quite simply, they should have, by any reasonable account, grown beyond a disaster period that extensive. The bad stretch to start the 2016-17 season was very bad, but we know why it happened: and after the Flames adapted to their new coaching staff, they got very good. It’s just that in a professional league, you can’t expect to waste away one-fourth of the year and have it not hurt you in some way.

So when the Flames lost maybe an estimated eight points solely due to poor special teams to start the season? Those might be eight points they get in their 2017-18.

By season’s end, it all adds up, and this is just another area to take into account: one in which the Flames should take an overall step forward, and one which should result in a better overall record.

  • freethe flames

    Having both Hamonic and Stone for the PK should allow it to better.Our top 5 defenders alone should make it so. The question about the PP depends a great deal on how GG deploys his units. I will not be surprised to see Brouwer still on the PP even though he might not earn it.

    The PK forwards could be interesting; who will replace Chaisson on the PK? (Of all the FA resigning him for his ability to play PK and his knowledge of the team’s systems seems to make some sense but then again it blocks the development of the prospects) What about Bouma’s PK minutes?

    • OKG

      We have no shortage of PKers. Frolik, Backlund, Bennett, Jankowski, Stajan, Brouwer, Hathaway, Lazar, maybe even Ferland/Tkachuk/Foo get a look on the PK.

      I contend the biggest need is to improve the third line’s offensive output.

      • Lucky 13

        I concur with you OKG.
        Plenty of PK’ers on the squad.

        Just having Ferland over Brouwer on the PP will make us more effective.

        I like what Carl mentioned in one of his threads… using Ferland for a one timer on his off wing, he has a wicked shot and can get it off quickly…

        Our 3rd line needs some scoring touch as you suggested, who fits the bill? Tkachuk, Bennett and ?

        It will be interesting in pre- season to see what combinations GG uses. We already know his affinity for handedness.

        • hulkingloooooob

          JG — SM — ??
          ?? — MB — MF
          ?? — ??(SB) — KV (or?)

          ?? = SB, MT, MF

          The idea is you try to develop as much positive chemistry between the top three lines, moving SB, MT, MF around the lineup. There’s also a fourth ?? If you take SB out of the 3C position so you can slot in your JNKS or LZR type players or give other prospects an audition on a decent line.

          This gives you all your favourite line combinations and more. 3M, BLT, Chuck on top, Janko with the Mikes, etc…

          Come playoffs, we might need a MT on the top line Policing the famed hand slashers JG has to deal with. Or the 3M line might need to be reunited to shut down the opposition. Whatever chemistry develops, we can use to be malleable during the playoffs. Flexibility is the key to neutralizing tough matchups in the playoffs.

          And they’re all bulls so it’s just a matter of which bull in which China shop.

          • HOCKEY83

            you also have to hope Gaudreau doesn’t play like the scared little boy he did in the playoffs against Anaheim. Hopefully the league follows through with the new slashing rule.

        • Jumping Jack Flash

          From what I have seen, Ferland’s wrist shot is more potent than his slap shot. I was surprised that his slapshot was not in the same category. Now, Stone has a great slapshot but I am not sure how much PP time he will get. I still think this teams lacks a player with a great one timer…. Like OV or Nylander. Perhaps Tkachuk or Bennett could be that player.

      • freethe flames

        I agree that creating O out of the other two lines is essential and have advocated for a while now trying the Sandwich line: BLT and putting Janko with the the Backs/Frolik (it could still be called the 3M line) but many people are very opposed to breaking up Tkachuk with Backs/Frolik. How to make the 4th line more effective? Versteeg/Stajan/Hathaway? Later in the season hopefully either Janko or Lazar can be an upgrade over Stajan at center a 4th line.

        • Carl the tooth

          As far as points ? I’d say a successful top line should average 60+ points .secondline 40-50 points (per player) .third line 25-30 points .forth line 15-20 points .as far as points go . It seems the NHL average contract is about 100,000.00 per point . So if a guy puts up 60-70 points per year his contract is 6-7 mill .
          So Connor has to put up 120 points every season now lololol

        • OKG

          Last year Bennett’s line had <50CF/60 and <2.00 GF/60 which is inadequate. I would like to see that line get up to

          53+ corsi for/60 (Kulak/Stone shpuld help)
          2.5+ Goals For/60

          • OKG

            The Leafs’ JVR-Bozak-Marner line would be a gold standard for a 3rd line offensively IMO:

            3.49 Goals For/60
            63.57 Corsi For/60

            However it is probably optimistic to expect this of a third line. Bozak, JVR, and eventually Marner will all have been considered first liners at one point in their careers. Still, Tkachuk-Bennett-Versteeg has some potential.

    • piscera.infada

      I actually liked him working from the point last year–I did advocate for it early in the season (so perhaps I’m biased that way, though). With the ‘umbrella’-type setup they were using in the last-half of last year, he’ll end up on the half-boards anyway, albeit a bit higher. It should give him more space to operate and create passing lanes.

      The big thing for me is: Hamilton (not Brodie) as the lone point-man on that PP1. Quite simply, Brodie doesn’t shoot enough to justify being the high man in that kind of setup. I mean, I like how he moves the puck as much as the next guy, but if you’re going to effectively play that style of powerplay, you need a trigger man off the wall (Versteeg), and the threat to shoot from the point.

      • Atomic Clown

        I wholeheartedly agree with the Hamilton over Brodie point. I’m a big fan of 4 forwards and 1 dman for the PP, however given the offensive level of our top 3, I’d like Hilton to run his own unit, one with Gaudreau, Monahan, Versteeg and Tkachuk. Gio and Brodie take the second unit, with Ferland, Bennett, and Backlund

      • TriPPiNvdUb

        I actually understand the rational behind having Brodie on the on the point, they want to use his skating ability to enter the zone and set the power play up, by having Dougie and Gio and the 2nd unit you add a little more fire and are able to spread out the power scoring a fair bit. Now weather or not that is the right move, there is olny one way to find out but right or wrong I can definitely see why he is on the 1st unit over Dougie.

        • piscera.infada

          Is the assumption there that Brodie is better at entering the zone than Hamilton? I haven’t seen any stats, but to the best of my recollection, Hamilton does not struggle with bringing the puck into the zone. I also seem to recall Gaudreau and Versteeg doing vast majority of carry-ins on the powerplay.

          After looking over simple shot numbers on the powerplay. Brodie played the most powerplay time on the team (227:03), and finished with 15 shots–for reference, Wideman played just 59:46 and had 19 shots. Hamilton led the entire defense with 41 shots in 183:31, and Giordano had 39 shots in 209:42.

          I understand the argument, and sure, if it’s proven that Brodie is better at gaining the zone than Hamilton, then perhaps I can see the justification. The Flames do however, need to generate more in all situations. Hamilton drives that.

          • Jessemadnote

            The only factor I would include is the handedness. However I’d like to see Gio up on the top powerplay for all of your reasoning while keeping the righty/lefty thing going

      • Jumping Jack Flash

        Agreed, Brodie does not have many deficiencies in his game but his shot is one of them. This includes his power,accuracy, and shot selection… It is far too easy to defend a PP when 2 of the 5 players prefer to pass.

  • Thunder1

    Wed, Oct 4 @ Oilers 8:00 PM
    Sat, Oct 7 vs Jets 8:00 PM
    Mon, Oct 9 @ Ducks 8:00 PM
    Wed, Oct 11@ Kings 8:30 PM
    Fri, Oct 13 vs Senators 7:00 PM
    Sat, Oct 14 @ Canucks

    Tale of the tape, right there Ari. Four out of six on the road, five of six against teams we need to beat to make the playoffs. The schedulers didn’t make it easy on us, but I’m still thinking we take four of those games and get out of the gate faster than last year.

    • Kevin R

      Might help if we don’t get the beach ball goaltending to start the year either, in the goalie can’t stop a beach ball save percentages consistently under .900. How Smith comes out of the gate is really gonna set the tone.

      • Carl the tooth

        Hopefully trevling doesn’t call up grossman again either lolol ferlund on topline over Brouwer looking forward to oct 4 😒 Only like 64 days to go lol holy withdrawals

      • HOCKEY83

        The bad start last season was the fault of the entire team not just the goalies. The D were playing like they were the worst in the league…Brodie was pathetic. The forwards looked like they’d never scored a goal before.

        • Carl the tooth

          Lol I agree if we give mcdavid 3 breakaways a game flames will get swept again lol what goalie could you blame . They whole team looked slow but first year coach new system .miny and Johnny two of our top forwards with no camp .johnny contract . Wideman sit . Then Johnny getting his finger broke flames were kinda set up for a rocky start to the season .no more excuses!! I feel way more confident going into this season than last that’s foresure . Now flames are set up for success . If not coach may get fired hmmmm 20 game leash?

    • JMK

      Penticton all stars tournie is on 8th to 11th of Sep, so I assume rookie camp will have started the week of 8th and main camp will be 12th/13th. First preseason game is 18th too.

      • Stu Cazz

        You are correct. The decision of where players play, amount of ice time etc can also involve the GM who could have trade discussions underway and is trying to keep asset value high. After all it is a business as well as a sport.

  • Eggs Bennett

    I don’t think it’s fair to say “Flames should have gotten those extra _____pts because _____ has changed”, as I’ve seen that type of analysis time and time again. The reality is that there were plenty of games where the Flames narrowly beat the opposition due to some little inadequacy on the other team’s part. The realty is that next year is a brand new year with a much more optimistic outlook. Some players will outperform and some will underperform. Overall, we should be looking at challenging for home ice advantage come playoff time and that is my expectation this year. What happens with the PP, PK, 5v5 stats, etc. are all subject to too many variables to predict with certainty.

  • madjam

    Flames fortunes will be riding on Brouwer , Bennett , Hamonic and Smith having banner seasons , and not being weak links on the team . If not , then Flames will struggle/falter once again .

    • piscera.infada

      So basically (and please, correct me if I’m wrong here…), “for the Flames to have success this season, the Flames’ players will need to play well”. Solid take.

    • wot96

      No. Smith needs to do what he has done -consistent, puck moving goaltending. Bennett needs to approach his potential. Hamonic regressed to the mean by avoiding injury. Brouwer eats popcorn.

    • Carl the tooth

      We are not riding on Brouwer what so ever if he plays better it will be a bonus but I think his leash will be very short . Bennets gonna have a good year and a great career. I think we have prospects on defence that can make an impact if haminoc or any other defenceman faulter or get injured . Same with our forward depth and goalies if smith is hurt and or lack is the lack of Carolina. Rittich and gillies are the plan c They were both on the possibility as our backups anyway . So the lack trade just a bonus it didn’t really cost us anything and both goalies will likely be better and even have career years behind this defence. If tkAchuk hits another level and or bennet we are more likely to battle for top of the western conference.not sure what you mean by faulter again I’d say flames got the blueprints to a rebuild now .we didn’t need any first overalls either . How good was edm under there first year with McLennan I believe it was 77 points and a pukejarvi pick later lol . Flames will be fine no matter what

    • Carl the tooth

      I would say every team relies on there best players …..core players……. the most important players the Blackhawks don’t rely on there constant intergration of new players it’s there core every year .

  • Carl the tooth

    If jankowski and or foo make the team do they see any power play time? Jankowski looked solid in his 1 NHL game just 1 game but he did not look out of place at all
    Another capable two way pivot .

  • Nick24

    As for the top unit on the PK, Backlund and Frolik are the staples on the unit, but i hope the coaching staff gives Hamilton a larger role on the 1st or 2nd unit with Gio or Brodie. There is something of a void in the 2nd PK unit next to Bennett, but Marek Hrivik seemingly good results with the Rangers. If you want to get creative, it would be really interesting to see what Johnny Gaudreau could potentially do, even Matthew Tkachuk should get a shot.

    With how poor Stone, Brouwer, Stajan, and Lazar showed on the PK last year, they should be looking for a meaningful solution.

  • Just.Visiting

    If Ferland continues to build on his dynamic with Gaudreau and Monahan, I leave him there on the first unit PP and do not continue to use Brouwer there. I load up the first PP unit on the backend by moving Hamilton and Gio there. While Versteeg added some points, I thought that the Monahan and Gaudreau production declined on the PP. On the second unit, I go with Brodie and Stone, so that there’s someone with a big shot out there.

    On the PK, Dougie is my fifth Dman, so I move Stone up to top four minutes over him on the PK. He makes better choices, knows how to use the lanes, offers functional toughness and doesn’t panic with the puck With Hamonic and Stone, we have a huge upgrade this year on the defensive side of things.

    • Skylardog

      Ferland was the top rated Flame on the PP based on Points per 60 Minutes of PP Time. He should be out every PP.
      Dougie is at best the 5th PK DMan. I suspect Kulak will prove to be better at killing penalties than Dougie. He should see 1st line PP minutes though. I couldn’t figure out why he sat on the bench at the start of a powerplay at the end of last season.

  • Fan the Flames

    With the same core and the same staff the special teams should start better. The Flames should not be one of the highest penalized teams this yr without Wideman so there is reason for optimism.

  • madjam

    MADJAM”S Power Rankings for this season : Pacific – Anaheim , Edmonton, Calgary , L.A., S.Jose, Arizona , Vanc., Las Vegas .

    Central- Dallas , Minn., Nash., Chicago , Winn., St.Louis , Colorado .

    Metro – N.Y.Rangers , Wash., Columbus, Pitt., Phil., N.Y.I., N.Jersey, Carolina .

    Atlantic- Tampa Bay , Toronto, Ottawa, Bost., Mont., Buffalo, Florida, Detroit .

    • TheoForever

      Theo says:
      Pacific – Anaheim , Calgary , S.Jose, Edmonton, L.A., Arizona , Van., Las Vegas . top 3 make playoffs
      Central- Dallas , Nash, St.Louis, Chicago , Minn, Winn, Colorado. top 5 make playoff
      Metro – Wash, N.Y.Rangers , Columbus, Pitt., Phil., N.Y.I., Carolina, N.Jersey, . top 4 make playoff
      Atlantic- Tampa Bay , Toronto, Boston, Ottawa, Mont., Buffalo, Florida, Detroit . top 4 make playoff

      • Newbietwo

        I’ll save my predictions till after pre season thanks.. too many variables but i will say this.. i for some reason don’t think edmontons gonna fair so well this year as last.. why? Simply look at the pacific division they got Tommie points from us.. 8 points! That ain’t gonna happen.. LA will score a bit more and quick they didn’t have all last season, Arizona will setup much better so they will lose significant points.. I say Edmonton actually catches a wildcard spot in the West TBH.. I’m biased sure but I see it as Anaheim, Calgary, SJ, LA with Edmonton the wildcard.. Edmonton will be down -30 in goals for and down +25 goals against for an average of 7 less wins or 14 points.. Edmonton still has the same issue and that is without McDavid and Drai they have no scoring depth.. and I guarantee you McDavid is not getting 100 points next year

        • Newbietwo

          And frankly Anaheim is a question mark.. Getslaf had a miserable start to last season and Perry simply couldn’t score so they could either trend up or down

        • TheoForever

          I love the way you think. I think they will be in the battle for 8 to the end and come short, finishing 9.
          When I’m picking oilers to do worse, I’m not doing it just to tick them off.
          I’m basing it on pretty solid facts and figures:
          – last year Talbot stood on his head. Can he keep it up?
          – defense allowed a lot of high danger and 2ndary chances, they weren’t very good.
          – weaker defense with Sekera out, in fact that is a huge hole and they don’t have anyone to step in
          – weaker offense on account of Ebsy being traded for a very poor player in Strome
          – schedule last year was very sweet for oil with lots of favorable back to backs
          – they had no significant injuries, and they don’t have the depth up front or the back,
          – they got some free points from us, it will be tougher this time around
          – their record against Pacific was too good to be sustainable, something we did 3 years ago

        • madjam

          I expect Oilers goals for will be up again this season just like it was despite losing Hall the year before . Emergence of Puljujarvi , Strome and Jokinen should more than adequately cover the loss of Eberle and Pouliot from last year . Plus , it gives Oilers more size , speed and grit . Internal growth of Slepyshev , Cagguila , Khaira and other youth will probably add to their totals as well . Oilers already have some decent secondary scoring in Lucic , Maroon , and Hopkins . Defensively it is hard to predict how Oilers will fair without Sekara , but I doubt it will be very significant in the overall picture . Oilers depth on their blueline is under rated with some impressive youth also on the way like Bear, Jones and Mantha . Oilers overall will be better this year than last with more size and speed . Oilers basically shed 2 underperforming players in Eberle and Pouliot , and thus I feel Oilers are now going to be stronger and bigger overall than last season .

          • Newbietwo

            Maroon will not have another best ever season.. Lucic will hit 40 points but nothing major.. there is no way Edmonton scores more goals next year non and even if that is the case their goals against will be a killer

          • TheoForever

            All of your assumption are blind hope, nice you can be positive, even if not objective.
            Every move, every setback with you guys is always a win. If there is a negative when comes to your team, all you guys scream that you are strong in that area too. This is exactly the attitude you guys had for 10 years prior to making the playoffs.
            Emergence of Pulju, he was a disaster in his first try, what you are hoping is that he can be in NHL.
            Strome is a perimeter player, on an offensive down slide, had to go to AHL just couple years ago, not though, takes stupid penalties. Jokinen could be a good pickup then again he may just be over the hill, cheap so a good try.
            All your guys are just going to score and score, and nobody will slide, everyone will get better, sure.
            Sekera gone, not a problem, sure more hope. What depth on d, the reason they get no respect because they are no good. That youth is far and away, and none of them are A prospects, in our system nobody would be going nuts over them. We will see in 2 months.

          • oilcanboyd

            How can Pullyou help the oil playing in the AHL? Goals against will go up without Sekera and the young guys on your D will make more mistakes when pressured.

      • Carl the tooth

        Pacific- top 3 make playoffs Calgary,Edmonton,Anaheim,San Jose,La,Arizona.las Vegas

        Central top 5 make playoffs -Nash -chi-Dal-min-st-loius-Winn-Colorado I’d almost put Winnipeg over st loius as a bit of a surprise maybe and Arizona over la as a possible surprise there.

  • RedMan

    the resident trolls here are so predictable and immature, you’d think after this much time it would sink in how pathetic and silly they are in their attention seeking neediness.