FN Mailbag – January 9, 2017

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Mailbag

Just over a week into the new year and the Flames have crested an important threshold: they’re a break even shot attempt team. 

As of today according to Corsica Hockey, the Flames’ corsi ratio is 50.39, good for 13th in the league. This is a big step forward from the Hartley era, a fact our own Ryan Pike illustrated recently on Twitter:

The image shows the Flames’ cumulative shot attempt differential over the course of each of the last three seasons (including this one). As you can see, the new Glen Gulutzan era has managed to keep things more of less even (despite a terrible start to the year), which is encouraging for both fans and management. 

Which isn’t to say the Flames still don’t have real issues and gaps to explore. However, Getting back to treading water possession-wise was a primary goal for the club. If they can keep this up for the rest of the season, I think Brad Treliving and the rest of the management group can consider this year a real step forward, even if the roster is still far from perfect. 

In the mailbag today we talk about trade targets, the trade deadline and why the PP is suddenly so much better.

It will depend on the market in terms of asking price and who is available. 

That said, I’ve gone on record before saying I’d almost always be a “seller” at the trade deadline as a GM, regardless of my team’s position. Because of the escalated demand for players, there are usually opportunities to sell high on lesser assets. 

For example, years ago the San Jose Sharks were in a solid playoff position heading into the deadline, but they traded a doddering Doug Murray to the Penguins for a couple of second round picks. If that kind of deal crops up for Dreyk Engelland, Dennis Wideman or Lance Bouma, for instance, Treliving should take the money and run. 

On the other side, Calgary has some very clear needs, so if they can potentially fill them for cheap (or with a long-term acquisition), then it’s worth looking at. For instance, the Sabres may sell off Cody Franson for cheap, which would give the Flames a chance to audition him before considering him as a UFA signing in the summer. 

What I would absolutely not do is pay a premium for a rental player. Calgary is still a ways away from being a true contender, so giving up worthwhile assets for a short term solution should be a non-starter. 

I’d say at least two players – another capable top four defender and another above average possession forward. 

Right now, the Flames are making hay with a handful of players. The Backlund line up front is the only one in the black at even strength. On the backend, it’s Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton and T.J. Brodie dragging Dennis Wideman around. 

The Flames could be an above average possession/even strength team if they could get at least one more unit pushing play. Right now, Sam Bennett, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Troy Brouwer, Kris Versteeg, etc. are underwater despite mostly favourable circumstances. This makes the Flames vulnerable to injury (what if Backlund gets injured?) and it means on any given night at least one of their top three forward units is yielding a lot of shots and chances against. 

If a team wants to be elite, that has to change. The Flames can wait to see if Monahan or Bennett will eventually become worthwhile two-way pivots, or they can try to acquire someone to help them out.

Last week we explored what it might take to get either guy. The rumour is Matt Duchene would be more expensive than Gabriel Landeskog, but for now we’ll go with what we looked at previously: some combination of Flames’ quality young defenders/defensive prospects. Think Brodie and/or Adam Fox, Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington. And maybe a pick on top of that. 

It’s tough to pick a favourite. Landeskog is slightly less gifted offensively but a better possession player. He’s also a LW, whereas the Flames really need another possession C or RW (maybe he can switch sides?).

Duchene is an excellent scorer, good at generating shots, but lousy at preventing them. A slightly better version of Monahan if you will. Here’s how they compare:

Story 1-26

So if Landeskog can play the RW as well as he does the LW, he’s actually my preference. 

It’s a bit of a fool’s errand to try to predict this kind of stuff. All sorts of things can happen over the next three years which we can’t possibly guess at now. 

All I can say is I think the Flames will have at least two of the Brodie, Hamilton, Giordano trio still around and I’m hoping at least one of Andersson, Kylington, Hickey or Fox are capable regulars (or at least promising rookies/sophomores) by that time. Beyond that? Who knows.

It’s been quite a rollercoaster this year for the Flames special teams. 

The Flames’ PP bottomed out sometime in November, when their five-game rolling average for shots for at 5on4 was at just 26.42. At the time, the club looked completely disorganized on the ice: they couldn’t gain the zone and when they did, the play consisted of a lot of perimeter passing and point shots. 

By the end of November, start of December things had begun to swing the other way. The club’s shots for/60 with the man advantage had climbed up to 53.4. This seems to be a combination of the Flames players and coaches starting to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

Recently, the team has had its best shot generation run for the year (aided by that big game against the Canucks in Vancouver). Their five-game running average crested at 66.07 SF/60, almost triple the shots rate they were managing at the start of November. Something else that might be helping this is the Backlund line getting more time as the Flames’ second PP unit.

Finally, the Flames also saw their luck swing from negative to positive. I mentioned in a mailbag just over a month ago that pucks were just not going in for Calgary for whatever reason on the man advantage. At the time, their shooting percentage was just over 8% on the PP. It has since climbed to over 13%.

Short version: they started to gain the zone more, get more shots and the puck started going in more to boot. 

This year, it’s much more important for the Flames to sneak into the playoffs I’d say. It would be a huge blow to the viability of the rebuild to see the club back in the draft lottery. 

Also, if Calgary can maintain their current level of even strength and special teams play for the rest of the year, they are certainly deserving of at least a shot at the postseason.  

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  • I know i’d porbably get committed for even suggesting this but if Flames bring in landeskog and lets just say for arguments sake Landeskog really doesn’t adjust to playing the RW at all. I mean maybe he’d surprise us all and be great there but just playing what if…

    I’d almost rather for the sake of balance see something like (and get ready to yell shout and trash and dunk – breaking up the 3M line.

    What if:
    Gaudreau – Backlund – Tkachuk (as it might be easier to adjust Tkachuk to the right wing). /

    Landeskog – Bennett – Versteeg /

    Ferland – Monahan – Frolik /

    Anyone – Stajan – Brouwer (when healthy)/anyone else

  • dontcryWOLF88

    In regards to the article, id just like to point out the irony of the Corsi/Fenwick/ advanced stats loving FN writers saying that Brodie is getting dragged down by Wideman, once again. Compare those stats and youll see that Wideman is actually on top of Brodie is almost every category. Wideman has two fewer point, but also 7 less games played (240 minutes).

    My point is not that Wideman is a better player. However, its still an interesting situation to have this site that places such high regard in Corsi etc finding it so possible to ignore Corsi etc when talking about players like Brodie or Wideman.

    Thats a key flaw with Corsi though. Was looking at the top 10 corsi players this year btw. The world famous superstar Torey Krug (from Boston, if youve never heard of him) is currently leading the league with a CF% of 64.2. Is he the best player in the NHL? hmm. It seems shooting a ton doesnt automatically make a player great.

    Tkachuk is at #9 in the league for CF% ,though. Thats cool.

  • Derzie

    As long as our stars under-perform en-masse, the coaching is wrong. The system requires elite 2-way forwards, and they don’t grow on trees. It also stifles mobile/skilled D. All of our stars are having below normal production. A good coach would adjust to what we actually have on the roster. If Tre picks GG over the players prepare for trades of the likes of Johnny, Monny, Sam, Dougie, Brodie, Gio (ie. our core).

    • Lucky 13

      I’m sorry Derzie but that really doesn’t make much sense at all.

      Not liking Gully is one thing, however “en masse” under performance of our stars, core isn’t what I see. At all. Am I missing something?

      I know you love the Bob era of hockey, sure was fun (for one year) but unsustainable, as we witnessed last year.

      I’m pretty sure there’s no conspiracy..Gully vs players statistical game.
      If you were expecting our star(s) core to match or exceed last years totals, then perhaps the expectations are misguided?

      You can’t really believe that with a new coach who was given the mandate to be a better possession team that suddenly everything would fall into place overnight? To create a new habit, you unlearn old ones and work on retraining your mind and body to resurrect new habits.

      I don’t know about you, but that takes time for me, let alone playing a game at full speed and making millisecond decisions when doing so.

      Treliving will not begin a fire sale as you’ve indicated.
      If anything he will be patient and acquire as able. If he sells it will not be core.

      Sorry to burst your bubble.

      • Baalzamon

        Not liking Gully is one thing, however “en masse” under performance of our stars, core isn’t what I see. At all. Am I missing something?

        You’re not. Derzie is.

        The most obvious thing being that Hamilton is on pace for a career best season.

  • redwhiteblack

    Chaisson is a capable 3rd, 4th line winger. I like him there. The fact he is on PP and top 6 is a sign of the gap we need to fill.

    Bennett should help fill that gap. He was our best drafted position ever! Maybe later in the year he starts to show more confidence and produce more. I hope its just a matter of time. He has looked great in a few games but mostly invisible so far this year. Still has the potential to be elite.

  • cjc

    Assuming they don’t make the conference finals, would Calgary’s draft position be all that different? They’ll likely wind up somewhere in the 14-22 range regardless – there’s not usually a lot separating picks in that range, so may as well make the playoffs.

  • Rad

    As for the PP, zone entries have been big. I was lukewarm on TJ being out there ahead of Gio or Dougie, but he’s been really, really good. For the first while it was too predictable that he would bump back to Johnny. Now he’s making really solid decisions to either bump it, continue to carry, or a quick dish to one of the wingers, and as a result of his decision making they’re getting excellent zone entries. That, combined with Johnny and Versteeg on either wing has given them a lot of options and they’re moving the puck brilliantly. Finally, TJ’s such a mobile and savvy defender that it allows them to play four forwards without fear.

    Same story with the second (?) unit as Backs has been a monster entering the zone. Plus, the two units give a much different look as Dougie and Gio create more shooting opportunities from the blueline.

    I would think Cameron has suddenly morphed into some sort of PP genius, except Chiasson ahead of Ferland or Bennett makes zero sense.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      I like Brodie as another passing option out there on the PP, but I think it’s too much finesse out there. Perhaps you could switch Brodie/Chaisson with Gio/Hamilton, giving you some different looks. A heavy shot from the point with Johnny/Monahan/Versteeg down low for secondary shots. Backlund gets a pair of point players that can maintain possession. Chaisson is pretty fast and would help if the puck gets out.

      My problem with having Brodie out there with Johnny is that he will never shoot. Shots are going to come from Versteeg only. That’s fine, but I think Versteeg is better down low, ready to get a silky pass to one of the other forwards.

      • flames2015

        1st PP unit has been excellent and I wouldn’t change it. Brodie doesn’t shoot as much as anyone would like, but he’s excellent at keeping the puck in the zone and moving it quickly. And if there’s an odd man rush, he has that foot speed to get back and break it up.

        I’m fine with Chiasson on that first unit for now, he’s a big body thats been doing well in the blue paint and battles hard along the boards.

        The two units work and give us two different looks, why change what’s working.

  • Parallex

    The team could always just bump up Stajan (of course that comes with the downside of having to move Bennett to wing). His possession stats are fairly decent relative to zone starts (Not sure about rel qual. comp.).

    • Kevin R

      I think it’s time to experiment & move Bennett or Monahan to RW & play Gaudreau/Monahan/Bennett for awhile. The emergence of the 3M line has made this a possibility to consider. What has GG got to lose? Chaisson & Versteeg should not be watering down our top 6, they are both 3rd line forwards at best.

    • Parallex

      Well… you can only seek an “upgrade” at C if you’re willing to abandon the thought of Bennett as a C. Otherwise you’re locked in with Backlund, Monahan, and Bennett as your top 9 C. Upgrading your top 4 defencemen shouldn’t be hard at all… I mean all you have to do is find someone better then Wideman (that shouldn’t be hard).

      • calgaryfan

        Not looking for someone better than Wideman, looking for a solid NHL defenceman. Not sure I would consider the flames a Stanley Cup contender with the 3 centers you have listed.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    I absolutely agree with you and the Flames needing to get into the playoffs at this point. Acquiring talent through the draft is the GM and scouting staff’s job, not the players. Frankly, it’s the player’s and coaching staff’s job to make that work as hard as possible.