The 2016 Flames organizational review

It’s that time again. Another year has gone by, another ring has been added to the trees, and we’re all a little wiser. The year 2016 in itself was a tale of two Calgary Flames teams: a team exiting one era under a now-former coach and a team entering the next phase of their rebuild. The entirety of 2016 itself for Brad Treliving had a number of highs, wins both small and large, and some lows.

It’s a year where we can attempt to benchmark Treliving, management, and ownership for things he has done that hopefully pay off in the future rather than become negatives in the short and long runs.

Coaching

Moving on from Bob Hartley was a necessary decision. It’s easy to look back with rose-tinted glasses about the 2014-15 PDO bender that culminated with two rounds of postseason hockey. It’s easy to look back and say, “Wow, Bob really made them work hard.”

It’s also extremely easy to look back and see the way the team was trending at times, specifically in controlling play, generating shots, and dumbfounding player usage and deployment that was not going to cut it. The team is better off than they were under Hartley and doubting it would be the equivalent of sticking your head in sand.

Hiring Glen Gulutzan created some strong (positive) reactions post-hiring, with some disastrous calls for his head for the team’s slow start. Slowly but surely the team has been getting on track to what they can be. Gulutzan’s system is starting to take hold, and hiring Paul Jerrard from Utica (AHL) has taken hold on a very active Flames penalty kill, which is now paying off.

Now if Glen could find a way to stop playing Alex Chiasson in a role he isn’t suited for then things could get better.

Treliving Rating: 5/5 Trelivings

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The kids’ contracts

Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan needed contracts this summer. Monahan’s deal seemingly went through without a hitch: seven years at $6.375M AAV. Some felt leading up to the contract, post-signing, and currently that it is an overpay. Outside of the slump Monahan scores goals and that’s about it. His struggles at driving play are noted and a reasonable concern.

Still, the cap hit is manageable at this point so long as he continues to score goals.

Gaudreau on the other hand – to say the least it took time and it came down to the wire. There is literally no denying the offensive prowess that Gaudreau possesses. The league – and the world for that matter – saw that at the World Cup. He does things that most players are incapable of. Initial reports were north of $8M AAV, then north of $7M AAV, and he finally settled at $6.75M AAV.

Even with his slow start (like the rest of the team) and a broken finger, the pint-sized point-producing terror on skates has 25 points in 29 games this season. He’s only 23 and he is arguably the most vital part of this organization.

Treliving Rating: 5/5 Trelivings

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The draft

When it came to the draft in June, the Flames management team delivered again. Matthew Tkachuk was passed over which allowed the Flames to draft the feisty ball of hate sixth overall. His rookie season has been visible as he’s inserted himself nicely onto the Flames’ best line, producing some fantastic results.

Add in Dillon Dube at 56th overall (second round), Tyler Parsons 54th overall, a steal in Adam Fox at 66th overall (third round), Eetu Tuulola at 156th overall (sixth round), the diminutive but talented Matthew Phillips at 166th overall, and you’ve got yourself a draft full of smart picks.

Two years in a row the Flames have drafted quite well. Let’s hope this trend continues in the summer.

Treliving Rating: 4.5/5 Trelivings

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Goaltending

Besides gaps on the blueline and on the wing, the biggest question mark this summer was goaltending. In the span of a week the Flames acquired Brian Elliott and signed free agent Chad Johnson to a one-year deal. Johnson has been fantastic this season while Elliott has struggled but is slowly coming back to form.

Acquiring both of them has been a low-cost option to bridging the gap until other goalies in the system are ready. In this season, Johnson has a .922 SV% (all situations) and a 5v5 SV% of .927 while Elliott is sporting a .890 SV% (all situations) and .907 at 5v5.

The only questions now are: who do you sign? And who do you ride for the rest of the year?

Treliving Rating: 4.5/5 Trelivings

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The Kris Russell trade

Trading Kris Russell was long overdue. The small shot-blocking defensemen garnered a warrior narrative for his aforementioned prowess. Contrasting that was the constant acknowledgement of his deficiencies in his game. That contrasting discussion is still ongoing for Russell as a member of the Edmonton Oilers. Regardless, at the time the Flames received an acceptable package from the Dallas Stars: Jyrki Jokipakka, prospect Brett Pollock, and a conditional pick (Dube) added to the Flames’ cupboard.

Jokipakka hasn’t manifested much beyond, well, a third pairing guy at this point. Pollock is in the ECHL currently with the Adirondack Thunder with 11 points in 24 games played. Dube, however, is more of the cornerstone at this point of the deal. An injury at Flames training camp sidelined him for much of the season to start, but he was named to Team Canada’s WJC squad and has looked great so far.

Treliving Rating: 4/5 Trelivings

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Welcome, Kris Versteeg

I wrote back in September that signing Kris Versteeg to a professional tryout would be a smart idea. Versteeg was coming off a very underrated year with Carolina and Los Angeles which initially led to zero substantial offers during the summer. His insurance situation prevented him from heading to the Swiss League so he signed a PTO with Edmonton.

Which he then leveraged at the end of training camp into a one-year deal with the Flames. Even though he’s fragile and likely requires some sort of World of Warcraft armor set to keep him alive, Versteeg has been a great addition to this team on the cheap. These low-risk, high-reward deals are what make depth signings so vital to NHL teams now

Through 28 games played, Versteeg’s 17 points is good for ninth in team scoring for $950K, which is significantly cheaper than a certain UFA signing from this summer.

Treliving Rating: 4.5/5 Trelivings

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Farewell, Jiri Hudler

Parting ways with pending UFA Jiri Hudler was necessary as well. At the time, Hudler had seemingly priced himself higher than what Calgary was capable of offering. Prior to the deadline, the Flames shipped Hudler off to Florida for a second round pick (which became Tyler Parsons) and a 2018 fourth round pick.

Hudler put up 11 points in 19 games with the Panthers in the regular season along with a single assist in six playoff games. Eventually Hudler signed with Dallas on a modest one-year deal worth $2M where he’s struggled to get into the lineup regularly due to illness.

Treliving Rating: 4/5 Trelivings

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Farewell, Brandon Bollig

Burying Brandon Bollig in the AHL with Stockton could have happened last October but that’s a long-documented tale. It’s a good thing it finally happened and there’s no denying it given his on-ice impacts and the limited skill set he possesses.

On the other hand, looking back at the sacrificial lamb that Paul Byron was in hindsight is nauseating. At the time it was easy to be befuddled by the logic going into that decision. Byron now has 12 goals and is having a career year in Montreal with the team that made the smart decision to claim him.

Treliving Rating: 5/5 Trelivings

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The salary cap

The salary cap is still a mess and there wasn’t much done about it this summer with the signing of Troy Brouwer. The results produced so far by Brouwer at this point are hard to justify at that salary, let alone for that term. Players take a measurable step backward with Brouwer on the ice; he isn’t a significant driver of player or shot suppressor among other things.

Make the case for leadership, grit, and all those things that contribute to what makes a player but at the end of the day it’s about driving results. The outputs available currently bode well for Brouwer and the red flags that were around when he was signed still exist to this day.

Brouwer does possess attributes that are appealing, but his body of work in itself (specifically past performance) has created unquestionable and unfathomable belief in his future results. This is the most striking point about Brouwer. It’s not what he’s done, it’s what WILL he do for you in the future? Will he hurt you? Can you shelter him to hide those weaknesses to maximize as much as you can? Or at this point can fans hope he is claimed by Vegas in the expansion draft?

With 17 points in 36 games this season, it’s cashing in on the power play padding those numbers (eight) which is nice. That said, the bulk of his TOI is on the PP currently (51.51%) and you can’t guarantee he’ll continue to dine out while on the man advantage; especially as he ages.

Treliving Rating: 2.5/5 Trelivings

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The powerplay

The Flames’ PP was something of great concern coming into the 2016-17 season. The man tasked with that was former Ottawa Senators head coach Dave Cameron, a man with a questionable track record of, well… running a successful power play

And really, for the first few months of this season the power play was the worst in the league. Decision making, player usage concerns, system issues, and just about everything else you could think of was at fault here. Fortunately, over the last stretch it’s been acceptable – if not among some of the better teams in the league.

How much of that is Cameron’s work and system versus player personnel decisions, player skill, or immeasurable facets remains to be determined, but it’s working. Still, the major crux exists: Dougie Hamilton’s PP TOI. It’s something that needs to be utilized and it’s among the best assets on this team.

Treliving Rating: 3/5 Trelivings

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Dennis Wideman

Dennis Wideman, and well, the entire Dennis Wideman saga in 2016 is a two – if not three – fold problem. The first and foremost problem is the diminished (positive) results from Wideman on-ice continued in 2016. At this point Wideman’s game is extremely one-dimensional. He can be used sparsely on special teams and as part of a capable PK2 pairing with T.J. Brodie. Beyond that, at 5v5 he’s a massive liability when played.

He’s also a $5.25M cap hit this season, on the final year of his five-year deal which feels like it’s next to impossible to move. The opportunity to buy him out has passed by several times and the chance of doing so this past summer was an optimal time.

This third and final part of the Wideman problem is the obvious situation with linesman Don Henderson, whose career may very well be over. The entire saga of being suspended indefinitely, being given a 20 game suspension, appealing it and having it upheld by Gary Bettman, going to a neutral arbitrator, having that delayed, having the suspension cut down to 10 games (after he served 19), and the post-suspension repercussions or Wideman Effect.

The Wideman Effect, as it’s been dubbed, is the belief that the referees and in-game officials are out to get Calgary. How much of that is fact is really undetermined, but there’s a perception from the fan perspective that it could be an issue. There’s no hiding the team’s penalty woes this calendar year – specifically right now in this season.

The reality is this: the team has likely tried to move Wideman in the past and the all-encompassing package that is Dennis Wideman is a financial burden given his regression at this stage in his career. Not capitalizing on the ability to waive him or buy him out hasn’t helped the team one bit. The Henderson situation only compounds this and unfortunately, the optics of doing any of this post-suspension wouldn’t have been easy.

Treliving Rating: 2/5 Trelivings

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Summing it all up

Besides a few hiccups along the way, the organization did make some great decisions over the past calendar year. Another notable thing was the overhauling of the farm in Stockton with a mass exodus of players from the previous regime. It’s worked out so far as Ryan Huska’s Stockton Heat are playing quite well (16-9-3-1) so far and it’s promising for the future.

The organization has a decent future ahead of itself right now, so long as they continue to offset below average decisions with smart signings, good drafting, and continue to foster stronger optics on talent evaluation. This season right now is a year the team should take a step forward, so let’s hope it happens in 2017.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    Mike,

    This is a very good analysis.

    Trelliving should have scored bonus points for outmaneuvering Chiarelli twice. The Hamilton trade was excellent, and forcing Chiarelli to trade for Rienhardt was better. The best move was signing Versteeg right under his nose, after the Oilers made it clear they were interested post PTO with them. Pure comedic gold.

  • Gfountyyc

    Although I am happy with the direction the organization is trending, I do don’t think management should be given a free pass for the bryon mistake. Additionally the grossman experiment I think cost us the first 2 games against Edmonton. Not only did that cost us 4 valuable points, but we had the chance to ruin the grand opening festivities at rogers place.

  • McRib

    One reason I am really warming up to Glen Gulutzen is our preparedness before games, especially playing against weaker opponents. Under Bob Hartley we never won the “easy games” always failing to show up when nothing was on the line, which was a major indication of players responding to daily coaching methods (rather than just the odd response to screaming and yelling before a big game). We aren’t a good team yet in this stage of the rebuild (go watch Pittsburgh, etc if you think differently), but if we make the playoffs it will be because we got maximum points against weaker opponents, winning the games you “should win”.

    • Derzie

      It doesn’t ‘seem’ anything. It’s flat out wrong and the point where reading further is wasted effort. Every player other than the 3M line is underperforming. If you ignore that weakness and rate the coaching on the players you worship (Backlund & the Corsi gang), the coaches are geniuses. For the rest of us, GG is doing a poor job. Still. 2 Trelivings. One for each of the assistants. A coaches job is to win by maximizing his assets. Wins only come when the 3M line sparkles or the goalie shines. The other assets are tarnishing in a closet.

  • OKG

    They’re lucky Byron falls under the year 2015, because Byron is on pace for 27G and 51P while being a possession monster and the focal point of Montreal’s PP zone entries, and of course an elite, elite PKer. The guy Brad Treliving waived in order to protect that Brandon Bollig that got him a 5/5 Trelivings for waiving. At this point I’m not even sure Johnny has outplayed Byron holistically.

    The Brouwer signing is also looking bad. I would much rather that salary go to Versteeg, who we will probably lose to a cap squeeze unless we bridge Bennett (which comes with its own problematic future implications)

    • MontanaMan

      Anyone who says they predicted this level of production out of Byron is full of it. Yes he provided a need for the Flames but the offensive production was never there and not predictable.

      • Brodano12

        You may say I’m full of it but I was advocating that Byron had ~40+ point potential when he was here. He was just under 0.5 PPG with us already and I knew there was no way he could keep missing those breakaways. I would call him the best bottom 6 winger in the league, and I believed he was the perfect player to play as a complementary player on a top 6 line.

        Waiving him was Treliving’s biggest mistake by far. Thing is, all GMs makes mistakes all the time. It’s the nature of the business.

        Keepong Bollig over Byron was never a good decision, not at the time and definitely not in hindsight. But drafting Dube imo makes up for it, because he looks like a bigger, more skilled Byron.

      • OKG

        Over the long term, results follow process. Byron was the ultimate process player. Byron was great as a Flame, even if the results lagged. Could the exact results be predicted? No but the tools were there. Backlund is another example. Right now Ferland, Bennett and Kulak are also similar to a young Byron, the process is there, they just need the opportunity to dial it together and patience. Monahan is the opposite, results are there but the process is overwhelmingly sketchy. By the way Byron put up incredible scoring numbers in the AHL. He was a better prospect than Mangiapane at one point. Adjusting from AHL goalies to NHL goalies can take time.

        • Baalzamon

          By the way Byron put up incredible scoring numbers in the AHL. He was a better prospect than Mangiapane at one point.

          20 year old Byron: 57 games, 33 points (.58 PPG — 0.63 PPG career)

          20 year old Mangiapane: 28 games, 22 points (.79 PPG)

          I understand the point you’re making with Byron, but he was not, at any point, a better prospect than Mangiapane. Mangiapane’s current season is equivalent to the production Byron posted when he was a full year older, and that year was a significant outlier compared to the rest of Byron’s AHL career.

          • OKG

            I was referring to Junior. Byron led his Junior team in scoring as a 19YO by 17 points, Mangiapane did not, trailing LeBanc by 21 points. He was also drafted in his first eligible year whereas Mangiapane went undrafted his first go around. It’s safe to say a drafted 17 year old is a better prospect than an undraft 17 year old undersized prospect.

          • Stan

            Um, what?

            1) You say you were referring to junior, but you clearly said “AHL” in your post.

            2) Byrons last season in junior he had 99 points in 64 games. Mangiapanes last season in junior he had 106 points in 59 games. Who cares how far ahead/behind of their teammates they were? Mangiapane has the better numbers.

            3) Who cares where a player goes in the draft? That should have no effect on talent analysis.

            4) It’s hilarious that refer to mangiapane as undersized when Byron is listed at 5’8″ and 158 lbs at age 27 and mangiapane is listed at 5’10” and 182 at age 20…

            In summary, your post is full of BS.

        • cberg

          Not true at all, but remember its not that we traded him, I think BT thought he would go through. That aside, Byron was an inconsistent player in and out of the line-up that wowed you with his speed then made you shudder with his stone hands. He was very inconsistent that never really found his role here, and only did so in Montreal once he started converting his many glorious breakaway chances.

    • Guest

      It’s painfully evident that Bollig (and most likely Engelland) are Burke driven signings. His public comments regarding both of them plus his obsession with big bodies give that away. I’m somewhat certain Brouwer was in part influenced by Burke. I’ve heard Brouwer is a pretty good guy – let’s hope he has a positive influence on the younger kids. Of course Backlund and Frolik are both supposed to be good guys too…

      It’s too bad about Byron, especially since many here advocated keeping him (breakaway shooting percentage included).

      Can’t get Wideman out of here fast enough.