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.
do we finally see scoring from the 3rd line now?
— Sasha's Conference (@konnie7889) November 12, 2017
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.
Will Eddie lack be allowed to play hockey again?
— Emir Kazic (@Emir_Kazic) November 12, 2017
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.
Will our guys push for the division title?
— Nick Adams (@T0Y_L0VE) November 12, 2017
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.
IMO the defensemen aren't pressuring enough on the break-ins and letting the opposition carry-in far too often.
— Kyle Lentz (@kyleslentz) November 12, 2017
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.
When do we get Hathaway back up?
— Nigel B SnoRyder (@Stripey_pants) November 12, 2017
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.
Chances the Flames buyout Brouwers contract at the end of the year?
— Tyler Leduke (@TylerLeduke) November 12, 2017
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.
What’s Stones trade value if he is? As Slack Sunday could the Flames setup a package for Marner and would it be worth it?
— Tyler Leduke (@TylerLeduke) November 12, 2017
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.