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Photo Credit: via @SammyHudes on Twitter

Another 2017 Calgary Flames Christmas wish list

If you’re celebrating this weekend, the FlamesNation crew would love to wish you a very Merry Christmas. Things haven’t been perfect in Flames land through the first three months of the season, so to get into the holiday spirit, I thought I’d present a spin on a somewhat annual tradition.

From a legend’s health to a massive contract extension, let’s see how greedy we can be with our 2017 wish list.

Jaromir Jagr’s health

While opinions differ on the effectiveness of the smiling man above, we can all agree he hasn’t been able to stay healthy in his first season with Calgary. I made my opinion known earlier this month: Jagr makes this team better when he’s in the lineup. Unfortunately, that just hasn’t happened anywhere near enough, so let’s wish for the nagging lower body injury plaguing him to clear up in short order.

CF% Rank HDCF% Rank P60 Rank
54.0 8th 63.9 1st 1.74 7th

Possession, high danger scoring chances, and scoring rates at five-on-five all tell a similar story about Jagr’s effectiveness. He’s a top eight player when looking at shot rate and points-per-60 and, most impressively, he’s been on the ice for the greatest percentage of high danger scoring chances on the team.

At this point, it seems like Jagr’s lower body ailment might need some extended rest before he can be an everyday player again. That’s okay, though, because an unimpaired Jagr down the stretch is something that could really help this team. He makes the team better, but he can only do so if he’s healthy.

A win over Edmonton

How many Flames fans would love to make sure we don’t see any more of that image? While Santa probably can’t ensure Calgary never loses to Edmonton again, we can at the very least ask for no more losses the rest of this season.

The Battle of Alberta has taken a cruel turn for fans in southern Alberta over the last two seasons. Since the start of the 2016-17 campaign, the Flames have lost six straight games to the Oilers, including a 7-5 debacle earlier this month. Calgary has been outscored 30-16 during that span and has only been in a position to win once (a 2-1 shootout loss in January of 2017).

No one in this city denies how dangerous the Oilers are capable of being, and a true BOA means both teams have to be competitive. However, to see Edmonton win six straight games with relative ease is a little hard to take for most Flames fans.

A Mikael Backlund extension

While I don’t think there’s any reason to worry about the long-term future of Calgary’s top two-way centre, getting a deal done in the near future is a realistic wish this holiday season. I think the team and Backlund will get a deal done, but what is that contract going to look like?

Backlund has been just as important to the Flames this season as he was last year when he ended up fourth in Selke Trophy voting. Backlund is doing typical Backlund things: he’s fifth on the team in possession (57.3 CF%), has the third lowest offensive zone start ratio (43.6%), and is still taking on the top opposition every single night. Backlund’s offensive totals remains solid, too; he’s on pace for a third straight season with 45 or more points.

Whenever I think about Backlund’s next deal, I also think Frans Nielsen and his contract in Detroit. Nielsen signed a six-year, $31.5 million contract as an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2016. Knowing the two players are virtually identical in so many ways, you have to think Backlund’s camp is asking for something in that neighbourhood, at the very least.

It’s pretty simple for me when it comes to Backlund. If the Flames truly want to be a high end team while their window is open for the next few years, Backlund has to be part of the equation. And, after signing team friendly deals in the past, I don’t think Calgary is keeping Backlund without making a long-term investment.

More AHL recalls

Brett Kulak, Mark Jankowski, Garnet Hathaway, and David Rittich all have something in common. All four players have never been NHL regulars prior to this season, and yet all four have also surpassed veterans on the depth chart to earn their spot. If we’ve seen it four times already this season, why not wish for more of the same?

Jankowski and Hathaway have moved past players like Matt Stajan, Troy Brouwer, Curtis Lazar, and Freddie Hamilton. Kulak, on the other hand, has left Matt Bartkowski in his dust while Rittich has relegated Eddie Lack to an AHL backup. It’s fair to think history could repeat itself before this season comes to an end.

Names like Andrew Mangiapane and Marek Hrivik come to mind immediately in this conversation. First off, both are having strong seasons in Stockton. But the Flames also have vulnerable players at the bottom of their roster right now.

Lazar and Hamilton are replacement level forwards, while it’s hard to make a strong argument for Stajan and Brouwer being legit everyday players. Why not try Hrivik or Mangiapane or both, and see if they can follow the same path as the players referenced above?

Powerplay goals

For the first time since Dec. 6 in Toronto, Calgary scored a meaningful powerplay goal in their final game before Christmas. So many things are trending positively for this team right now, but the powerplay is a glaring exception.

Using the loss of Kris Versteeg as an excuse for recent woes on the man advantage is both accurate and frustrating. There’s no doubt the Flames have been significantly less effective on the powerplay since Versteeg went down with a hip injury. But the loss of a player of Versteeg’s stature also shouldn’t have the detrimental effect it has.

GP PP%
Oct. 4 – Nov. 24 22 22.1
Nov. 25 – Dec. 24 14 10.2

Friday’s loss in Montreal notwithstanding, Calgary has been doing a lot of good work at five-on-five of late. But for them to make a sizeable move in the Western Conference standings, the Flames are going to need to figure out their powerplay in short order. With what we’ve seen lately, maybe Santa is the only real answer.

More David Rittich starts

Calgary’s backup goaltender is hard not to like. He’s easygoing, always smiling, very affordable, and most importantly, wins games when Mike Smith needs a night off. For those reasons, and for the residual effect, I think it’s fair to wish to see Rittich a little more after Christmas.

Rittich is crushing it at the plate right now, because he’s three for three. In his first trio of NHL starts, Rittich has yet to post a loss (he does have a loss on his record when relieving Smith). While expecting that winning clip to continue is unrealistic, Rittich has proven he can give Calgary a chance to win from the backup position. Lack was not doing that earlier in the year, to put it lightly.

The residual benefit is decreasing Smith’s heavy workload, which theoretically would keep him fresher for the playoffs (if they get there). With 31 starts already, Smith is tied for the league lead in that category and is on pace for around 70 this season.

Sixty seems like a far more ideal number, which means Rittich would need 17 more starts between now and the end of the season. Even if 65 is a more realistic total for Smith, that still means 12 more Rittich nods. With the way the Czech product has played, increasing his playing frequency doesn’t seem like the scariest thought.

  • The GREAT WW

    Good stuff Pat.

    The only issue I have is the Backlund extension.
    Let’s learn our lessons from Bouma and Stajan. Don’t overpay these type of players.
    I don’t mind extending Backlund, but anything over $4 million for a 3C is outrageous…..

    WW

      • The GREAT WW

        He is on track for 16 goals this year.
        For those of you who think he is a good defensive C; he is currently a minus 5…..
        He raises his Corsi by shooting as soon as he enters the zone from terrible scoring positions.

        He had one good season (like Bouma) riding generational player Byng’s coat tails……

        Pay him for what he is; a decent 3C….

        WW

        • Cfan in Van

          His points per game were very similar from ’13-’16 (.51-.57). Then playing with Byng he’s .65 last season. I’d say that’s extremely consistent, considering he’s gone from propping up the Colbornes and Boumas of the world, to playing with Byng.

          He’s way more useful through out the lineup than Bouma, better in all aspects of the game beside hitting people.

          I don’t think he’s at all comparable to the Bouma situation, especially considering his current point totals will probably negate the high point he reached last season.

          • The GREAT WW

            For most of the season his line mates (Backlund and Frolik) have been terrible.

            When Byng has been on the ice with good offensive players he has shown his skill.

            Set him free from the Mikes…..

            WW

          • MontanaMan

            I agree Walt. The Flames need to get Tkachuk away from Backlund and Frolik and team him up with players who can provide offence. I would like to see him on a line with Bennett or on the top line with Monahan and JG. Tre cannot be happy with what he’s witnessed over the first half of the year and will need to pull the trigger quickly in the new year to keep the Flames competitive for a playoff spot. And Tre is not afraid to make a big deal – stay tuned.

        • Skylardog

          All of this is 5v5.

          Backlund and Frolik have played 49:33 together but away from Tkachuk this season and have not been on the ice for a single goal for in those minutes, with 4 goals against.

          By contrast Backs and Tkachuk have 4 GF in 26:39, and Frolik and Tkachuk have 2 GF in 13:34.

          Backs has been on for 0 GF without Fro and Tkachuk in 16:45. Frolik away from Backs and Tkachuk has been on for 4 goals for in 46:01.

          It does appear that Backs is riding Byng’s coattails statistically. He has not been on the ice for a single goal for without Tkachuk all season in 66:18 of play.

        • Broken

          Toughest zone starts on team, and toughest competition. Backlund is worth more than $4 million. The 3M line has been plagued by lousy shooting percentage and lousy save percentage. Plus/minus stats are useless in this case. Well +/- stats are useless in most cases, but in particular this case.

  • BringtheFire 2.0

    It’s Xmas eve, so…

    Ari, Ryan, rest-of-gang, merry Christmas and all the best to you and your families. Thank you for the work you do.

    To fellow commenters, the same. Enjoy some peace and love with family and friends this season, especially Skylar and OTW. For real.

    Here’s to streaking in the new year!!!!

    • Off the wall

      Thanks BTF2, I only give you a hard time because I know you are capable of being much better than who you portray.

      Many of us have been following the Flames since they were the Atlanta Flames. I’m guessing it’s before you were born, but I’m making assumptions.

      We’ve seen this team through every phase and just because we have strong opinions about our team, it doesn’t mean we love them less, in fact it’s just the opposite.

      I’m going out on a limb here and stating perhaps the biggest concern most long term fans have , is what makes a team a winner— we’ve witnessed it through generations of watching, learning and for some of us playing the game itself.

      Just remember we want the same thing you do. If you truly want to be a #1fan, respect that everyone is entitled to their opinions – many of us have earned the right to be indifferent towards what we perceive as success – and maybe you’re not the only true fan if you seemingly support it without questioning the results.

      With all that said, thanks for the well wishes, Merry Christmas to you BTF2!

  • ThisBigMouthIsRight

    How about the Wish for a Coaching Staff who can Effectively Line Match, Can figure Out Proper Player Usage, Including~ Earned Opportunities on the Ice when Deserved… Maybe a Coach who is Focused on Wins & Hard Work Ethic More that Corsi #’s.. Yah, That Would Be Great! Happy Holidays Everyone, Have a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year too.

  • Dougiefred

    And when you hear the coach of a team talk knowingly of sticking to the process, remember that buckets of luck and regression to the mean play an equal— if not greater— part in deciding winners – Bruce Dowbiggin.

  • Skylardog

    Merry Christmas all and may the coming year bring you health and happiness. And of coarse a Flames playoff run.

    Thank you all for your input, trashes, cheers, nasty comments, and compliments. I love the distraction that coming on here gives me, and a chance to “run some numbers” and think about all things Flames.

    Remember to attack the comments, not the comment maker, and I will try to do the same.

  • OKG

    My christmas wish list

    5) Moar PDO
    4) Monahan demoted to PP2 and generally given a reduced role because he’s such a one-dimensional player when he isn’t scoring at Teemu paces
    3) Power Play goes on a hot streak starting off with Jankowski potting a snipe as a re-do of that pass Gaudreau gave him last game where he was surprised by Gaudreau’s sublime passing skill
    2) Bennett starts scoring more consistently and dangerously as his talent level is wont to do
    1) Bennett as 1C on Gaudreau and Ferland’s line

  • With Respect

    Backlund is a UFA meaning this is his chance at a nice payday there are no more home town discounts. Behind Tavares he is the next best centerman available in 2018 free agency. I think he will get in the 6 million range like other 2/3 line centres in the league. He is free money to other teams so the Flames best sign him and not cheap out.

  • freethe flames

    Line juggling would require everyone to be healthy and at least one call up. Breaking up the 3m would create a lot of opportunities but where to play young Matthew. I’m a big fan of trying to play 4 lines and I don’t call them the traditional 4 lines that others do, so here goes with what I would do. First you need to demote FHamilton and recall either Klimchuk or Mangiapane; for arguments sake lets make it Klimchuk as he has paid his dues. Give him 10 games to show if he belongs; if not swap him out for Mangiapane. My offensive zone start line Johnny/Monny/Jagr; simply put I think they could produce as a trio and neither Jagr or Monny are fast.My defensive responsible line Klimchuk/Backs/Frolik; we all have heard that Klimchuk has a solid 2 way game and this is a chance to earn his way into the NHL. then I have 2 lines that I think can play any role; they will create opportunities for themselves and be defensively responsible as well. I leave the Janko/ Bennett/Hathaway line alone and create Tkachuk/Lazar/Ferland line; this line would create havoc and some serious mismatches for many teams. Tkachuk gets a chance to grow as a player.