Let’s follow up on the special teams aspect. While the powerplay and penalty kill performances rebounded from horrific starts the previous season, this upcoming season offers what should be new looks to the units. With a modified roster – or at the very least, one whose players the coaches know a lot more about going into this year – it could be a case for a more effective group.
The Flames have lost a handful of players to the expansion draft, buyouts, and free agency, and that includes players who were often a part of special teams.
Or, well, rather, the penalty kill. Eleven Flames suited up for the Flames for at least 100 powerplay minutes in 2016-17, give or take a minute or two; every single one of those guys is back with the team. From the 3M line to Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau to the top three defencemen, the usual suspects are present. So is, of course, Troy Brouwer, who will hopefully either rebound or receive a lesser powerplay role; so, too, is Sam Bennett, who will hopefully get more of a chance.
And then there’s Kris Versteeg, who was thankfully retained. He turned into a bit of a powerplay specialist with the Flames – 16 of his 37 points came on the man advantage – but he was also one of the Flames’ top powerplay scorers and took the most shots on the man advantage, so his sticking around is very ideal.
But what of the penalty kill? That’s where the Flames have lost some of their most prominent players:
- Deryk Engelland, 261:14 shorthanded, second most Flames ice time in 2016-17
- Dennis Wideman, 123:18 shorthanded, seventh most Flames ice time in 2016-17
- Lance Bouma, 97:20 shorthanded, ninth most Flames ice time in 2016-17
Engelland obviously creates the biggest hole here, but the Flames are still down another defenceman and a forward. The other prominent penalty killers hovering well above or at least around 100 minutes of shorthanded ice time – Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik, Matt Stajan, Brouwer and Bennett – likely won’t be going anywhere, although some may see further reduced roles, regardless.
This offseason, the only skater of prominence the Flames have really added is Travis Hamonic. We can include Michael Stone in this group too, however, as he only joined the Flames in the final quarter of the 2016-17 season.
This fits in perfectly with what special team units may end up looking like. No new prominent scorers have been added, but the Flames haven’t lost anybody who should be a mainstay on their powerplay. Meanwhile, they’ve upgraded their defensive contributions, as Hamonic and Stone should be a superior duo over Engelland and Wideman: they’re younger and have more diverse skill sets that should see them contribute at a higher level all across the ice, the penalty kill being just a part of it. (And this is ignoring the potential of perhaps having Dougie Hamilton step up and take a bigger role, too.)
Bouma’s absence isn’t exactly being addressed here, but it seems doubtful he’ll be too difficult to replace; after all, he shouldn’t even be in the regular lineup. Curtis Lazar could be an answer, and Monahan was the next most frequent forward played on the kill still with the team.
Going by shorthanded corsi, according to Puckalytics, Engelland’s absence is a good one. He had a CA60 of 101.21, which was the third worst on the Flames in 2016-17, behind just Stajan and Stone. (However, if we’re holding out hope for Stone to rebound from the worst season of his career, then that applies to special teams, too, and there’s probably more hope for him than there is for Engelland at this point.) Bouma (CA60 of 98.53) and Wideman (CA60 of 80.72) were sixth and 11th on the Flames (out of 13 penalty killers with at least 50 shorthanded minutes played), so their absence isn’t likely to benefit the Flames as much as Engelland’s, but then again, Engelland played a lot more on the kill than just about everybody else (Giordano, who was up there with him, had a shorthanded CA60 of 98.62). CA60 isn’t the best way of judging a penalty killer, but preventing shots is preferable to allowing them, so it’s still a worthy statistic to look at.
So knowing what we know about the Flames’ personnel after a full season under Glen Gulutzan – with a few names swapped here and there – what do you think the special team units should look like?
I would say the first powerplay unit should consist of:
|Matthew Tkachuk||Sean Monahan||Kris Versteeg|
|Johnny Gaudreau||Dougie Hamilton|
This features the Flames’ top two scorers, the all-important right shot who was akin to a powerplay specialist this past season, a rookie with a ton of offensive potential, and by far the best offensive defenceman the Flames have available to them. It’s a loaded unit that should be able to play well with one another and keep the puck in the zone – and if there’s a concern about giving the puck up, Hamilton has shown prowess in retrieving the puck and advancing it back up the ice.
As for the second unit:
|Sam Bennett?||Mikael Backlund||Michael Frolik?|
|Mark Giordano||T.J. Brodie?||Micheal Ferland?|
I have six players and four question marks here because the way I see it, there are four players fighting for three spots. Backlund and Giordano are givens, as they’re two of the top players on the team to begin with, and both excelled on the powerplay.
As for the others, Frolik is a high volume shooter who undeniably works well with Backlund, but he always seems to be passed over on the powerplay for some reason. If Bennett is going to reach his offensive potential, then he’ll definitely need man advantage time in order to do it. Ferland is still a question mark offensively – like a lower caliber Bennett – but he may prove he deserves a chance, too. And while Brodie isn’t known for his offence, he’s a good transition player and he does get assists, and if the Flames don’t want to go with two four-forward one-defenceman units, then he’s the most logical pick to fill that last slot.
What about the penalty kill?
For the first penalty kill unit, I would suggest:
|Mikael Backlund||Michael Frolik|
|Mark Giordano||Travis Hamonic|
We already know Backlund and Frolik are an elite penalty killing unit – and that’s without the occasional shorthanded goals. Meanwhile, Giordano gets a partner upgrade in Hamonic, who is a better bet than Engelland at this stage of their respective careers, easily.
The second unit:
|Sam Bennett||Matt Stajan?|
|T.J. Brodie||Michael Stone|
I would rather see Hamilton higher up on the penalty kill list, but with his reputation as an offensive defenceman, it doesn’t seem as likely we’ll see him used in such a purely defensive situation, unless one of the other defencemen takes a penalty. Brodie is a given, and this way, the first two units have left-right defencemen partners.
Bennett was actually one of the best penalty killers the Flames had by both CA60 and GA60 metrics, but his partner – Alex Chiasson – is gone, so that leaves a question mark as to who should replace him. I have Stajan slotted in there for now because he was a prominent penalty killer this past season, but he also had pretty bad numbers – whether from his own merit or from playing with Bouma – so he could easily have his job replaced by someone else (Ferland? Lazar? … Monahan?).
By the third unit we’re getting wonky, so I’m going to go full blown nuts on this one:
|Matthew Tkachuk||Sean Monahan|
|Mark Giordano||Dougie Hamilton|
Giordano is a workhorse and the best all-around defenceman the Flames have, and Hamilton deserves a bit of time, too; plus, as regular partners, they should be able to work well on the kill together.
Monahan has been used on the kill on occasion, so he could take some of the leftover minutes (in a little over 40 minutes of shorthanded ice time this past season, he actually had one of the bed CA60s on the team – so if that keeps up, maybe bump him up to the second unit after all). And as for Tkachuk, well, he was a contributing member of the 3M line and had great underlyings all season, so who’s to say he can’t translate that to the penalty kill? It’s certainly worth a shot.
These are all, of course, just possibilities, and we’ll probably see some other players used (I mean, Brouwer is still a Flame, so). But I believe that the Flames could really make something of their special teams units – especially now that a fair bit of dead weight is now gone from the roster.