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FlamesNation Mailbag: No worries

The Flames have picked up five of their last six, have started to find their goal scoring, and have slowly been turning into one of the better teams in the NHL. Sure, it’s November, but it’s better than previous seasons where they find themselves on the outside looking in.

Perhaps it’s the long weekend, perhaps there’s only been two games since we last spoke, but there’s a bit of calm from Flames Nation in this week’s mailbag.

I’ve been promising it for some time, but yes, it appears to be coming.

The Jankowski-Bennett combo has been heavily sheltered, but they remain in the black with regards to shot attempts. They look better and more comfortable with every passing game and if they can bump up their shot production (only 28 SF/60)  they could be deadly.

The addition of Jaromir Jagr might be the final piece that gets that line going. Although they have had bad possession results together (<40 CF%, heavily skewed by a bad game against Detroit), it seems uncharacteristic that they stay that bad, and given that they’ve only been together for 16 minutes over two games, it’s likely a sample size issue.

They’ll be fine. It’s hard to be patient, but when they rebound from their terrible SH%, they’ll be golden.

I feel he’ll get another start shortly.

Mike Smith has been one of the stories of the season, but he’s slowly slipping. He’s allowed 12 goals in his last three games, rocking an all situations SV% of 0.871 and a 0.887 SV% at 5v5 (in all other games: all situations 0.936 SV%, 5v5 0.953 SV%). The lasting critique of Smith during his career is his inability to remain consistent. He’ll have 10 good games, 10 atrocious games. We are likely in an atrocious stretch.

Thankfully, the team in front of him is capable of scoring goals, and the Flames’ highest offensive outputs of the season luckily correlate with Smith’s worst performances. I feel one game, it’s not going to be that way. We’ll likely see Eddie Lack soon, accordingly.

Also: the Flames have been blessed with schedule weirdness so far this season. A five-day break, a seven-game home stand lasting around three weeks, and only one back-to-back. There’s four of those on the road in the remainder of November and December. We’re going to see more Lack heading forward.

It’s looking possible.

The Flames are third in the Pacific in 5v5 CF%, only 0.43% behind the San Jose Sharks, but a faraways behind the Oilers. If the Flames can keep it up, being better than the rest of the division in the CF% category is likely predictive of where they will finish later in the year.

Thankfully, the Oilers’ terrible start to the season leaves them with a big hole to climb out of. We can certainly expect the Vancouver Canucks and leading scorer Derek Dorsett to fall apart in short order (but not before they re-sign Jim Benning), and same with the Vegas Golden Knights. L.A. seems to be a persistent threat to the division crown, but we can likely expect their goaltending to crumble, as it usually does, and Anaheim is battling through the worst injury luck. That’s over half of the division in big trouble looking forward.

As we get into the thick of things, we can likely expect the Pacific race to be between Calgary and San Jose. They’re two of the deepest teams in the Pacific and have the talent to keep the competition at bay. They both have the numbers backing them up, helped by a strong start to the season.

Of course, the Flames aren’t off the hook either. As mentioned, Smith’s SV% has been otherworldly until recently and will likely continue crashing for a few more games. They’ve managed to skirt by without any major injuries. The Oilers, despite early struggles, are still a threat to surge back with Connor McDavid in the lineup. If Anaheim ever gets healthy, they could also get themselves involved in the conversation. The Flames are in a good position already, but it isn’t as easy as it looks.

It might be a mixture of both personnel and system.

Outside of Dougie Hamilton and Mark Giordano, every other defender is allowing over 31 SA/60 at 5v5. That’s not good. T.J. Brodie is allowing career worst numbers in that category, with nearly seven more shots per 60 (albeit, with career highs in SF/60), ditto for Travis Hamonic. Matt Bartkowski is at his worst ever, nearly three more shots per 60 than his previous worst. Michael Stone isn’t as radically underperforming as the others, but he’s still at his worst ever.

Perhaps some of that is systemic. Brodie has had a radically different role than what he’s been doing in previous years, and it shows in his play. I can’t speak for the zone defence (no data available), but there does appear to be a non-aggressive approach to defending the blueline. I have to agree with the notion that Flames defenders are more likely to back up than to challenge oncoming forwards. I’m sure the data, when it comes out, will support that point.

There’s also the problem of Glen Gulutzan playing the dominant Giordano-Hamilton pairing even less than the Brodie-Hamonic at 5v5. That’s not an effective use of time. Kent Wilson wrote about this in depth on the Athletic, but if you aren’t putting your best defencemen out the most out of all your defencemen, you’re wasting an opportunity.

Some of this is on the players, no doubt. But the coach can do better, as our comment section likes to point out.

Probably never.

There’s no real need for Garnet Hathaway. He played in the season debut against the Oilers because Jagr wasn’t ready to go, no one else on the farm was impressive enough to earn a spot, and it was going to be a rough rivalry game. They needed him for one game and that was it.

Since then, it’s hard to see any reason to call him up. The Flames have been rolling four truculence-free lines recently and it’s hard to see why they’d go back to Hathaway now. He doesn’t offer much. The team probably likes him, but only as an energy guy. When you don’t have an energy line (and why do they need one with the way the roster is constructed right now?), what purpose does an energy guy serve?

There’s also practical reasons. You’d have to force someone out of the lineup, but it’s hard to say who that someone is. Kris Versteeg? He’s on the PP1 and has actually been a useful asset this year. Curtis Lazar? He needs playing time, and if he’s out, it means that Matt Stajan’s in because Hathaway doesn’t play centre. Troy Brouwer? They’re never going to scratch him, and they probably wouldn’t for someone who will likely produce the same.

Sure, he’s been lighting up the AHL. He’s also shooting 30%, and playing with two players (Andrew Mangiapane, Marek Hrivik, and Mark Jankowski before) who could likely play well on an NHL fourth line. At 26, he probably hasn’t turned a corner. If he gets called up to the NHL, expect Lance Bouma style play and production.

On the topic of the fourth line RW spot.

I have to say yes, it happens. His second chance has been rough so far. Even if he’s playing slightly better than he was the year before (no, seriously), it’s unlikely he can translate that to more meaningful situations (i.e: the powerplay and non-fourth line areas).

Given that the Flames will have a boatload of talent knocking at the door (Dillon Dube, Matthew Phillips, Mangiapane), they’re probably going to want to ditch the clearly ineffective Brouwer. He’s the least important piece on the roster, and it’s likely more cost effective to buy him out and play three kids on ELCs than it is to keep him around.

There’s quite a bit to unpack here, so bear with me.

It’s too early to say definitively. Rasmus Andersson had one pretty good game in sheltered minutes. It’s one game, but it was promising.

Knowing what the average NHL career trajectory looks like, you have to think Stone is on the downturn while Andersson will be headed the opposite direction. One is young and fresh while the other is older and has suffered a major injury. I’m not sure what others were expecting of Andersson, but him being in conversation for a legit 3RHD spot is very unexpected in his age 20 season.

The baffling part of Stone’s contract extension this offseason was that it lasts three years. The Flames knew they had Andersson close by (remember that they kept him on the roster from early March to the end of the season just because) and Adam Fox rushing up through the pipeline, and still signed Stone to that contract. I understand being patient with prospects, but they made a mistake by adding years during a timeframe where it was likely he could be replaced on the cheap.

They probably aren’t even thinking of trading him, though. He’s been a loyal soldier and an alright depth guy. The Flames have their faults, and loyalty is one of them. That’s one of the reasons they got him in the first place: Brad Treliving knew him from Arizona.

However, they can certainly trade him, and certainly trade him for value. Right-handed defenders are a premium in the NHL and often have overblown value. It helps that Stone is under 30 and has a digestible contract. Look at Vegas taking Deryk Engelland, a 35-year-old RHD who was going to sign there anyways, when they could’ve had any other of the Flames’ exposed players. The Oilers threw away Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson, a trade that is still hilarious to this day. Even the price paid for Hamonic was a bit steep. Stone can find a market just because of how he holds his stick, and the Flames can certainly find a deal for him.

To wrap up these questions, no, they probably can’t get Mitch Marner for Stone. That would be a deal you pull the trigger on immediately if offered to you, but it’s not happening. In my opinion, the Marner rumours are likely just another Toronto media freakout. It’s not as annoying as legitimate voices who should know better wondering out loud if Dougie Hamilton could be traded for Peter Holland, but it’s still annoying. I think nothing comes of it.

  • TurkeyLips

    I wouldn’t write off California so easily when it comes to battling for the division. Their persistent success is annoying, but every one of the Cali teams feels like a threat, and winning top seed will be as challenging as ever in the Pacific.

    A lot of our potential success comes from the ability of Lack to play his position well and not lose us games. That is all he needs to do. If the third line can pot some points on the regular then this team is cruisin’

    • HOCKEY83

      Agree. He had better quality ice time of late…got a point has been a plus over the last 3 games but he had much more and better quality ice time in Arizona which resulted in more points. He’s getting paid to be ok with a limited role on the flames d corps and expected to be the go to guy if someone gets hurt.

  • Puckhead

    Christian,

    If Stone stays, as you suggest, who goes between this season and the next? I am making the assumption that Ras will be ready next season, which I can’t see why he shouldn’t be. I can’t see our D prospects wallowing in Stockton for another two seasons as they wait for the Hamonic and Stone deals to expire.

    • Scary Gary

      Wallowing or developing? Andersson is 20 while Fox and Valimaki are 19. If they force your hand with strong play you trade Hamonic and or Stone in 2019 or 2020. Both right handed shots who will be around 29 or 30, that’s a good problem to have.

  • Jessemadnote

    Thanks for acknowledging the marner proposal was incredibly silly. Basically if you want to put together a trade to pick up Marner just think: would I trade Tkachuk for the same thing?

    I love hathaway, I think he brings something that outweighs a couple corsi events per 60. He draws penalties with the best of them and provides pushback that is missing from this roster.

  • MWflames

    I would say the flames will probably pull the trigger on the brouwer buyout after this year.

    Stone contract is tradeable. Especially after this year is done… This isn’t Anderson’s year. He’ll get the odd game to cover injuries, or maybe an extended stay to cover a long term injury. But the flames have their lineup, and that includes have Andersson playing a big role with the heat… I think there will be some turnover after this year to allow for the youth movement:

    Kulak and Andersson will probably be penciled in.

    Openings on the fourth line (stajan and brouwer maybe) will open up competition for the young forwards with actual obtainable spots available.

    Flames will be in the market for RW depth, they also need to start thinking about who will take over from frolik? Maybe he’s resigned? A stone trade could facilitate this…

    Lack will likely not be retained, opening up a bottle for the backup position.

    Mostly good problems to have other than brouwer.

  • The Fall

    Why would anyone trade Stone? He seamlessly plays up and down the line up. He allows the third pair to play meaningful minutes which limits excess miles on Gio. He has an absolute bomb of a shot. And he isn’t a total liability in his own zone.

    Ras will slot in as injuries happen for the next two seasons. The kid is only 20.

    • Zalapski

      The Fall nailed Stones durability as an up and down type of player. The man could play on the PP and be successful as well. The depth of the defense especially after the Hamonic trade shouldn’t be the reason we don’t get behind Stone. It’s a good problem to have.

  • The Sultan

    The Stone deal would look a lot better if it was for one less year at one million dollars less. He was signed to be an effective third pairing defender with the ability to move up or (if he’s here in a couple years) down the lineup aka the pressbox, plus he already has some familiarity with the team, goalie, and GM.

    Stone is here for the same reason Lack is – veteran experience barring injury. Case in point Hamonic. Not that I’m advocating for Lack’s signing, but I could see how the team would want that insurance there. Imagine if we went with one of Smith and Rittich/Gillies, and Smith got injured for an extended period of time?

    Anyways I don’t think Stone will play the full three years of his contract here.

  • Off the wall

    It’s weird, because I’ve never felt at ease with this team yet.

    My mindset is changing, not due to the writers or comments from FN. It’s more of a familiarity with what I believe we are capable of. I believe we have (just) started to gel as a team.

    Yes, we have some concerns, however I’m feeling a quiet confidence in this team. It may not be reflected in the standings, but it’s coming along…

    This is

    I can’t place my finger on it, other than I have good thoughts about this squad.

  • HOCKEY83

    “The lasting critique of Smith during his career is his inability to remain consistent. He’ll have 10 good games, 10 atrocious games. We are likely in an atrocious stretch”

    Imagine not being consistent on one of the worst teams in the league over the last 6 years…shocker. If this is a bad stretch for Smith it’s considerably better than our goalies at their best over the previous 5 years since kipper retired.

  • HOCKEY83

    You can blame the Toronto rumors on guys like Kypreos and Freidman. Rather than report rumors with any credibility they tend to make them up regarding Toronto and then sit back and watch it explode online. Instigators both of them.

    • Off the wall

      Isn’t that the truth. Anything that involves Kypreos or Dreger isn’t worth reading or explaining.

      I give Friedman a pass, he’s been hanging out with HNIC crew and obviously has been tainted by Kypreos and his Oreo cookie ways.

      Plus I still enjoy reading Freidman’s 31 thoughts. Kypreos couldn’t come up with 3 thoughts … and I’m being generous.

  • OYYC

    “The baffling part of Stone’s contract extension this offseason was that it lasts three years.”

    That was the absolute minimum that Treliving could have re-signed Stone. The player and his family wanted to stay here, and Stone was re-signed the day before he hit free agency. Stone would never have accepted a two year deal, and for sure another team would have offered him a Russell type deal of $4M x 4 years (if not more) and placed him on their second pairing.

    Stone is a useful player, a RHS on the Flames 3rd pairing that can play up the lineup if needed. He might seem like a bit of an overpay on term and dollars, but Treliving got the best contract he could under the circumstances.

    If he didn’t sign Stone, the Flames are left with Kulak and Andersson as the bottom pairing. That looks good on paper, but very little in the way of NHL experience. Kulak looks to be the real deal for sure this year, but when there is the inevitable injury on the back end, players would be playing up the line up and possibly over their heads.

    Signing Stone was an insurance policy that the team could afford. Stone’s signing really let Brodie get back to his usual self last season, and this year Hamonic plays the same role. Now Stone gets to help Kulak shine this year, the kid has all the tools. Michael Stone might not play out his full contract here, but Treliving will cross that bridge when he comes to it, and you can never have enough defensive depth.

    • The Beej

      I agree 100%. One thing that i think the writers and commenters on this site forget is development of prospects and our development model. Especially with defensemen.

      We are all so impatient to see Jank and Kulak play games that we are kind of blind to the idea that it is important to place prospects in a position to succeed. Exactly what they are doing with Kulak. Rather than just throwing him to the wolves they are making sure he has enough practice time and knows the system. Then once he is in you start small and gradually increase minutes.

      With Janko the same. Of course many on this site have made a good case that based on merit he should have started game 1. But that is not the best approach to ensure success so you put him in the AHL and let him play 20 minutes a night and really get going. Then you also make sure that when you do bring him up you place him in an optimal position where he will succeed. Rather than just throw him on the 4th line because he is better than Lazar.

      Same with Ras. Based on merit is he good enough to be on the team. Of course. But with a 20 year old player development should still be a priority over the needs of the big club. Playing prime minutes in the A this year with call up duty is a good development plan.

      Have patience. If you look at what GG is doing it is basically what the writers and fans here want. It is just happening slower than many would like. The Flames have development plans in place that they dont want to deviate from. Thats a big part of how Detroit has had so much success. Treliving even indicated in a recent interview that everything with regard to kulak was by design and that patience was beginning to pay off.

      Think about the alternative. Thats the oilers. Throw in their prospects into key roles because they dont have established NHLers ( Stone for example). Is that really what you fans want. Some posters here have basically been advocating the Oilers development model.

      • OYYC

        Treliving definitely prefers to take things slow, as in the Detroit model, like you said. He also tends to avoid long term contracts if at all possible. In every way he’s a better Team Manager, under salary cap rules, than the coconut up north. Once Chiarelli decides that a player is not in his plans, he doesn’t seem to care what he gets back in return.

        Starting next year, the Oilers are paying 2 players 21M. The only way that can work is if you have a deep pipeline of prospects that can fill in at minimal cost. You also need to hit a cheap free agent homerun basically every year. Chiarelli simply doesn’t have it in him.

    • If your choice is between “three year contract” and “not signing at all” you always pick the latter. There’s no reason to sign a 3RHD (which they knew he would be when they signed him) to that contract, and if someone wants to offer them more, let them have it. Treliving got a pretty poor contract (what circumstances forced him to sign this contract?) that he’s likely going to have to trade for pennies on the dollar in the future.

      If you want insurance, you could’ve signed Cody Franson, who is currently playing second pairing minutes for Chicago for a cool $1M/1 year contract. He was always the better option and is actually disposable.

      • OYYC

        Absolutes of three years or not at all shouldn’t really be in the conversation. The upcoming free agent market for right-handed defencemen was lousy. Treliving knew exactly what he had in Stone, and where he slotted into the lineup. Nobody forced Treliving to sign the contract, but the circumstances dictated that the player would not have signed a 2 year deal. Stone and his family might love Calgary, and want to stay here, but to walk away from a potential 4+ year deal for a 2 year deal to play here was probably a non-starter in the Stone household.

        Another thing, you go from being able to “trade him for value”, and that it should be relatively easy “to find a deal for him” to being a player that’s only going to get you pennies on the dollar in return. Ideally Treliving probably would have wanted Stone on a two year deal, but that just wasn’t going to happen. If Treliving wanted him back, he had to pony up for that third year.

        As for Cody Franson, he’s almost been passed over twice already once he hit free agency. He waited a long time before Buffalo gave him a contract, and this time around nobody seemed to want him until Chicago offered him a PTO. There might be a pretty simple reason for that – he can’t skate. He’s a big, lumbering defenceman with mobility issues. He’s exactly the kind of d-man that Treliving and Gulutzan are not looking for.

        Somehow Franson is still a darling to the analytics crew, as he has been for years. There is no way anyone could have known before July 1st what Franson’s value really was. I highly doubt Treliving would have wanted him anyway, but for Franson to sign a $1M contract for 1 year should be setting off red flags all over the place. That’s not a value contract; it is a sucking-the-last-fumes-out-of-player contract.

        Cody Franson has already been a healthy scratch a few times this year for the ‘Hawks, so he’s hardly a godsend on their second line. Chicago might already be regretting signing him to that perceived bargain deal.