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The Calgary Flames, one quarter through the 2017-18 season

Before the season started, Glen Gulutzan speculated that his team could have a 100-point season. Now, 21 games in, the Flames are on pace for roughly 98 points.

So far, so good. How else have things fared for the club roughly a quarter into the year?

The adage is that if you’re in a playoff spot by American Thanksgiving, you’ll probably be in a playoff spot by the end of the season. Last year, they bucked that trend (RIP L.A.); this year, they’ll be hoping they don’t, as they sit third in the Pacific Division. Not a comfortable third, mind you – the sixth-place team is only two points back from them – but also, they’re only two points out of first place.

It’s a tight race so far in the West, with only Arizona and Edmonton looking out of it. But the Flames, for their part, have played well.

They:

  • Are 10th league-wide in points percentage (.595), second in their division.
  • Are 23rd league-wide in goals for (60), tied for 16th in goals per game (2.68).
  • Are tied for 18th league-wide in goals against (64), tied for 19th in goals against per game (3.05).
  • Are tied for the 11th best powerplay league-wide (21.6%).
  • Have the league’s worst penalty kill (72.6%).
  • Have the eighth best 5v5 CF% in the NHL (51.79%).
  • Have the sixth highest 5v5 CF/60 in the league (62.6).
  • Have the 16th best 5v5 CA/60 in the league (58.28).
  • Have the 11th highest 5v5 SF/60 in the league (32.01).
  • Have the 20th best 5v5 SA/60 in the league (32.38).
  • Are sixth in the NHL in 5v5 SCF/60 (30.77).
  • Are 15th in the NHL in 5v5 SCA/60 (27.44).
  • Are 17th in the NHL in shooting percentage, at 8.97% (27th in 5v5 shooting percentage, at 6.74%).
  • Are 14th in the NHL in save percentage, at 90.79% (fourth in 5v5 save percentage, at 93.52%).
  • Have a .998 PDO in all situations (1.003 at 5v5 play).

In other words, the Flames have fared better on the offensive side of the puck than the defensive. The major discrepancies here are that their shooting percentage remains a little low – their recent success on the powerplay has done wonders for it, though – and that Mike Smith has been stellar, except when called upon to perform during the league’s worst penalty kill.

The Flames have also put themselves in an extremely good position to make the playoffs, collecting points more often than walking away empty handed. And their underlying numbers suggest this is sustainable, with excellent possession numbers and no totally egregious percentages suggesting a crash any time soon (barring Smith, who has thrived through the first quarter of the season, but even then it’s possible he simply keeps this up).

Speaking of Smith, he’s been one of the top goalies in the NHL so far this season. (All stats from the “Seriously, Mike Smith” header remain the same due to no games on Thursday.)

Speaking of Flames standouts, Johnny Gaudreau is right alongside Smith in making a case to be the team MVP. While Smith has kept the Flames in some games they perhaps didn’t deserve to be in, Gaudreau has done the bulk of the team’s scoring. With 31 points in 21 games, he’s been in on just over half of the Flames’ total offence at the season’s quartermark.

He’s also still third in NHL scoring, and of the five players with 30+ points so far this season – Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Jaden Schwartz, and Brayden Schenn – he’s the only one to not have a teammate up there with him. Sean Monahan, with 22 points in 21 games, is tied for 20th league-wide in scoring.

Courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, here’s how each individual Flame has fared so far this season. All stats are at 5v5, and the table is ordered by ice time:

Player TOI CF% HDCF% OZS%
T.J. Brodie 376:43 48.93 45.74 49.54
Dougie Hamilton 349:42 57.43 59.68 52.87
Mark Giordano 349:01 56.95 60.63 52.24
Travis Hamonic 298:04 48.43 42.31 50.00
Johnny Gaudreau 292:30 53.72 56.69 61.75
Michael Stone 289:27 47.44 54.29 45.95
Michael Frolik 288:21 57.66 54.17 39.60
Mikael Backlund 272:42 58.23 55.06 38.78
Sean Monahan 269:28 54.53 57.66 63.43
Matthew Tkachuk 261:22 59.23 52.94 40.21
Micheal Ferland 251:07 51.72 58.06 60.61
Sam Bennett 232:22 46.31 47.06 62.31
Troy Brouwer 198:43 45.84 45.45 36.70
Kris Versteeg 198:43 46.67 48.15 46.55
Brett Kulak 161:51 50.49 57.81 50.57
Mark Jankowski 152:01 47.21 53.85 67.90
Curtis Lazar 148:48 46.44 50.91 58.67
Jaromir Jagr 128:25 51.31 54.17 67.57
Matt Stajan 127:48 47.52 51.22 33.78
Matt Bartkowski 109:34 44.08 36.84 50.94
Tanner Glass 55:48 40.98 40.00 33.33
Freddie Hamilton 27:40 41.07 50.00 50.00
Rasmus Andersson 13:55 54.84 60.00 71.43
Garnet Hathaway 10:19 39.13 20.00 50.00

Most of the Flames’ most-used players are also their top corsi players. The exceptions are T.J. Brodie, Travis Hamonic, and Michael Stone – the middling defencemen, if you will – and Sam Bennett, who kind of acts as a halfway marker between most and least played. On the other end, the exceptions are Brett Kulak (took some time to establish himself as a regular), Jaromir Jagr (previously injured), and Rasmus Andersson (one game call-up, but looked pretty good in said game).

Players who see a greater difference between their regular corsi percentages and high danger ones include Hamonic (worse in high danger scenarios), Stone (better), Matthew Tkachuk (worse), Micheal Ferland (better), Kulak (better), Mark Jankowski (better, from below 50% to above), Matt Stajan (ditto), Matt Bartkowski (worse), and Freddie Hamilton (better).

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the 3M line continues to have the toughest zone starts, as does Troy Brouwer, for some reason. Gaudreau, Monahan, Ferland, Jankowski, and Jagr all have the easiest zone starts, which makes sense: they’re either top offensive talents, playing on the top line, or a rookie.

League-wide, among players with at least 200 5v5 minutes played, Tkachuk is the NHL’s top corsi player. Mikael Backlund ranks eighth, Michael Frolik 10th, Dougie Hamilton 14th, and Mark Giordano just misses the top 20, at 21st overall. The Carolina Hurricanes are the only other team with four players in the top 20 at the quartermark, while the San Jose Sharks have three.

As for the powerplay, again ordered by TOI, players with minimal time excluded:

Player TOI iCF/60 iSCF/60 Points
Monahan 73:49 27.63 26 7
Gaudreau 73:22 27.8 13.9 11
Brodie 71:10 16.02 11.8 7
Versteeg 67:58 34.42 12.36 4
Giordano 49:01 20.81 11.02 3
D. Hamilton 47:43 33.94 12.57 2
Tkachuk 45:00 10.67 8 4
Backlund 44:49 12.04 5.35 3
Ferland 35:13 25.54 18.73 3
Brouwer 24:43 7.28 7.28 0
Bennett 22:10 8.12 5.41 0
Jagr 20:42 8.7 8.7 1
Frolik 13:27 4.46 4.46 0

Ferland really looks like he belongs on the man advantage. The top unit would really be firing on all cylinders if Hamilton replaced Brodie. There’s a noticeable gap between the pucks the first unit gets compared to the second, though.

And penalty kill:

Player TOI FA/60
Giordano 69:07 89.41
Stone 60:06 86.86
Frolik 56:10 94.01
Backlund 55:00 89.45
Hamonic 46:13 84.35
Brouwer 41:58 80.03
Brodie 41:19 81.29
Stajan 22:45 87.03
Bennett 19:45 97.22
D. Hamilton 12:21 97.17
Monahan 10:51 82.95

Brouwer is actually doing relatively well as a penalty killer. Meanwhile, I know Monahan gets a lot of ice time already, but it may be worth it to try him out on the kill a little more often – he might just have a knack for it.

  • cjc

    This is a great run-down Ari! The only real glaring usage issue that remains is Hamilton’s use on the second PP unit. What stands out is that the second unit seems to be running everything through Hamilton. Given his underwhelming possession stats, is Versteeg turning into a PP specialist? It’s also interesting that Stone, while losing the overall possession battle, is winning in terms of high danger chances despite getting the smallest percentage of OZ starts for defensemen.

  • buts

    Good article, yet where would this team be with better player usage? Considering the goaltending we have, I hope BT addresses the coach’s about the worst PK in the league. The PP is doing good but again where would it be if Ferland was used earlier and his favorite Brouwer wasn’t. This coaching is unacceptable with the personnel we have. The line between the success and failure we have this season so far has been drawn by Smith.

  • Derzie

    Being league worst in PK means the next PK should have a different look & personnel. If not, the PK coach (Jerrard?) carries 90% of the blame and the head coach the rest. Utilize the players better and/or tell your GM what you need. My take is we need a coaching replacement, PK at the very least.

  • Off the wall

    Thanks for digesting all of this for us Ari.

    1/4 season gone and we have only had a handful of games played with a solid effort from top to bottom.

    We can be thankful we are talking about playoffs at this point. Thank you Mike Smith!

    I’m impressed with Kulak.

    Still trying to figure out when Bennett is going to strike the iron. I’m actually concerned that he’s not going to be anything more than a 3rd liner. I know, I shouldn’t have said it.
    However, there’s no way he eventually usurps Tkachuk, Byng is king.
    Bennett has lost his centre man duties and is still struggling.
    I just wish he would pass more, he hangs onto the puck way too long entering the O zone.

    If you look at all those stats, you realize Brodie is being used a ton. Perhaps GG should ease of his ice time a bit. Take Brodie off the PP and allow him to rest.

    Hamilton makes sense being used on the 1st unit PP. He’s a shooter and we could use his abilities to get the puck on net.

    Penalty kill? Yikes

    On to Dallas we go.
    Dallas has been allowing a lot of goals lately, time for Gaudreau to start a new point streak.

    • Flames Fan in Edmonchuck

      I am feeling the same way about Bennett…. even if he improves, then what? Where would he fit? Can he displace Ferland? Maybe… can he (re)establish himself as a Center? Maybe, but with Monahan and (hopefully) Backlund and now Janko in the mix, again… where does he fit? I hate to say it but if we can leverage his draft pedigree and reasonable contract into a trade that makes sense.. we do that no?

      • Off the wall

        It’s quite possible he may be traded in the future. There is plenty of teams interested in Bennett.

        I don’t think Treliving is easily swayed one way or another. If we are contenders near the end of this season, perhaps Treliving acquires some additional depth on wing to make a playoff push.

        Bennett would probably be the first player in this category to be offered. As you mentioned, his fit here is a bit concerning. He’s not going to replace Gaudreau,Tkachuk or even Ferland.
        He’s basically a 3rd line player here. Maybe a team wants to gamble on him being a top 6 guy?

        Pure speculation, however it could happen.

        • Jumping Jack Flash

          I am worried that if Jagr can’t help Bennett get out of his funk who can? Playing with Jagr on your line would be like having a tutor.. It should be an advantage but Bennett seems to jump the play too much.

        • Flames Fan in Edmonchuck

          Agreed on all points save the “plenty of teams interested” part, I’m not sure there are, or rather I am not sure they are interested such that they would actually offer something of value in return. We look at Bennett with our “he has potential” glasses on, but other GM’s look at him in terms of actual accomplishments….unfortunately, he hasn’t accomplished much thus far.

  • Greg

    The team is surprisingly top heavy compared to what I expected at the start of the season. Hamonic not bouncing back strong and Bennet not (finally) breaking out has been a real drag on the depth. Thankfully Smith has exceeded expectations so on balance they are still in a good spot. They definitely need some of the depth players on the team to step up as the season goes on if they want to be a legit contender heading into the playoffs.

  • Skylardog

    When Smith has not started, we are 0-2. In those 2 games we have given up 13 goals against, 6.50 GAA. Questions regarding the back ups are going to be with us for much of the season.

    How many points Smith has single handedly put on the board for us is up for debate. It would be easy to argue that he was the difference in games we won against the Ducks (a 43 shot shutout), the Kings (45 shots against and a 933 Sv% in an OT win), the Predators (933 Sv% in a SO win), the Capitals in the first game (968 Sv%), and the Pens (977 Sv% in an OT win). That’s 5 wins that we can directly account for Smith being in Calgary. Given 3 were won in OT and a SO, and 1 was a one goal regulation win, that is 8 to 9 points directly attributable to Smith. (We probably get the 2 against Anaheim even if they score 2).

    On top of that, Smith was the difference in the comebacks against Winnipeg and Philadelphia, and held us in early or at critical times against New Jersey and in the second game against Washington.

    It would be fair to say that Smith has been worth 10 points this season at the very least. Here is the scary part of those numbers. Take 10 points off the board and we sit at 15 points for the season, 14th out of 15 in the West, and 29th overall.

    We are five 10-bell saves by Smith away from being in the bottom of the league with a very different view of the first 21 games. Would we feel different about this team if we were 7-12-1? The answer is clearly yes.

    I would argue also, that we are 5 saves made by Smith away from GG not being the head coach of this team. It is a fine line we have been walking. And MVP start by the netminder.

    We have all been excited about the last 11 games or so, going 7-3-1, but I would like to remind everyone, that we played only 4 teams in those 11 games against teams that sit in playoff spots based on win percentages, New Jersey, Pitt, St Louis, and Columbus. We also faced backups in 5 of the 11 games, including against New Jersey (Kincaid) and Pitt (Jarry). It looks like a god run, and it is, but it is also a fragile run we have been on. Columbus exposed us, and Smith once again was the difference.
    Add in the stolen point against CBJ and now we could easily be at 14 points on the season.

    Not to say there are not good things happening. We have 5 wins against teams in the top 9 (we were 10th when I did the work on this). We have beaten St Louis, NJ, Winnipeg, Nashville, and LA. A darn good effort. On the flip side, we are only 5-5 vs teams that currently sit outside of a playoff spot based on win %, and that includes 2 wins against Washington. We need to be better against weaker teams. Often, we are not ready to play when the puck is dropped.

    The OT/SO Dilemma

    I will leave you with a thought that I heard before the Washington game on Monday. Chicago lost to Nashville in 4 straight in round one during the playoffs last year. When asked about it, Patrick Kane said that it was not as big a surprise as most people think.

    Much like the Flames, the Blackhawks are very good 3v3 in overtime and in the shootout. Nashville, not so much. When you look at the regulation wins teams had during the season, the Hawks and Preds were almost even. In the playoffs, there is no 3v3 and there are no shootouts. Teams that take advantage of the post regulation 3v3 and shootouts lose their advantage in the playoffs.

    Calgary is a prime example. So far this season, the Flames are 5-0 in OT and SO’s. And our regulation decision record? We are 7-8. It is a tremendous advantage during the season, but relying on extra time 3v3 and shootouts is not something that we can depend on when it becomes playoff time. The regulation record, is a far better predictor of playoff success than the overall record.

    A scary thought is that in games decided in regulation, the Flames in the GG era, are 2 games below 500 at 39-41. The Flames were the ONLY team to make the playoffs in 2016/17 that were below 500 at 32-33, and ALL other teams that made the playoffs were at least 6 games over 500. 2 teams were over 500 and did not make the playoffs, both in the East.

    The Ducks at 40-23 in regulation were 17 games over 500, and had 8 more wins than us in regulation. It is a stat that Kane believed was extremely important. That’s from a guy with 3 Cup Rings. We were gone 4 straight.

    The Flames have work to do.

    • Eggs Bennett

      Agreed that the Flames have work to do. Your comment about the OT stats also very enlightening.

      However I am tired of hearing people doing what-if scenarios to see how many points a team would have if they didn’t have this or that (you used Mike Smith as the example). The truth is that the Flames have a PDO of around 1.000, which is as good an indicator of puck luck and sustainable success as anything. Smith has been lights out, but you can’t just take the games that he was 1st star away and say this is where the team would be without him in this alternate universe. Truth is you would never know. How do you know we wouldn’t have shot at a higher percentage? Or the PK would’ve been better? Or the Lack bouncing back after giving a few more games? Or any number of variables in a hypothetical what-if world. Just my two cents.

      • Skylardog

        PDO is considered a luck factor by many, and in the short term it is. In the long term it is a measure of skill; how good your players are at putting the puck in the net, and how good your goalie is at keeping it out of the net.

        Shooting percentage early is bad luck, it is gradually becoming a trend and concerning, especially for the 3rd and 4th lines. If shooting% is a long term trend (not sure it is long term yet), and if Smith has played above his long term stats, then the PDO is likely to fall over time. The book on most of the 3rd and 4th line guys is either not long enough to relate this year to their history, or, in the case of Brouwer, Jagr, and Stajan, they are on the decline due to age. Lazar, Bennett, and Freddie have short histories that say they are not scorers. Janko is the light in the bottom 6 to pull up the shooting percentage significantly.

        I agree on the what ifs being hypothetical. But I chose 5 games that had clear implications due to exceptional, even above exceptional God-like outings by Smith. These are games where one mistake by Smith and the puck is in the net, and the outcome is most likely a regulation loss, not an OT or SO win. It should not be allowed to cloud BT’s judgement of what this team really is. A sub 500 team in regulation with a record of 7-8-6.

    • Off the wall

      Nice summary Skylar.

      It’s apparent we are walking the fine line between what we perceive as success vs that which the game stats are telling us. I think you’re actually ‘bang on’ with your assessments.

      Great post, I like all the details you provided.

      • Skylardog

        Thanks OTW.

        I like that we have been on the right side of that line, Edmonton on the other hand has been on the wrong side.

        Edmonton is ranked 2nd in Corsi at 54.32 and have been near the top all season. They have the same secondary scoring problems we have. But Talbot has stunk, and their season is sunk.

        We are more alike them this season than we would like to admit.

  • freethe flames

    If the Flams are ever to move beyond a 3rd place bubble team three significant things need to happen: Brodie and Hamonic have to live up to their potential(this will help the PK), the third line needs to score on a consistent basis (almost scoring is not good enough) and finally the team needs more quickness up front.