Are the Flames progressing?

It can be easy to get caught up in the moment, especially with something like sports. Teams are built over the course of years and years, and there’s never any point in which case you can ever say they’re solidly “complete”. There will always be some future matter to attend to.

But the present is pretty important, too. Sports are a series of increments, and we get to watch every single moment as it unfolds in real time. So when, say, we see a team that should be exiting the rebuild stage in the midst of the playoff chase, that’s progress. But when we see, in the midst of that, them lose 5-0 to a team at the bottom of the standings… well, that really doesn’t look like it.

So. Are the Flames actually making progress?

First off, there are a couple of extremely rudimentary ways to measure this. For one thing, four of the Flames’ top five scorers are under the age of 25. This isn’t a team relying on over the hill players to #goforit, this is a team being led primarily by its youth. At absolute minimum, that points to a brighter future.

For another thing, the Flames are currently one point out of a playoff spot. Sure, they have some games in hand to thank for that, but a point out of the playoffs is a point out of the playoffs – especially when you’re contrasting it with this time a year ago, when they were eight points out. The Flames would have had to jump over four teams to get into the playoffs; this year, they need to jump over one.

This gets rather tricky with games in hand for teams on either side of the playoff chase, but the point is, this season we’re talking about who the Flames may be able to acquire at the deadline, as opposed to last season when it was all about selling. The standings this season do encourage a different frame of mind.

There are other ways to measure progress, though, that aren’t always reflected on the scoreboard. Via Corsica, here’s the Flames’ 25-game rolling average for 5v5 CF%, dating back to the 2014-15 season:

flames rolling cf%

The first segment is the back half of their 2014-15 season. The Flames were winning that year, but the collapse was imminent; out of 240 teams – each team over the course of eight years – they were the only ones to perform so poorly and go as far into the postseason as they did. You take the evidence from 239 teams over the evidence of one every single time.

The second segment is their 2015-16. They were showing some steady improvement – remember, that’s the season they added both Michael Frolik and Dougie Hamilton – but were still struggling to enter positive corsi numbers (the dotted black line is 50%).

This season – the third segment – they’ve breached it multiple times, and are currently on one of their best stretches to date. “They lost their last game 5-0” sounds bad; that they’re 3-2 this month and are even in goal differential, less so. That doesn’t mean they’re perfect or there aren’t still significant problems to address, just that the overall picture paints one of hope, not despair. And we could see this coming, even as Calgary processed through a bleak stretch.

But who cares about corsi, right? Goals matter. So here’s the Flames’ 25-game rolling average for 5v5 GF%.

flames rolling gf%

Note just how much it appears the Flames were overachieving in 2014-15, and how it looks like they’re underachieving now. The Flames’ shooting percentage in 2014-15 was 10.52%, the second highest in the NHL; in 2015-16, it was 9.55%, sixth in the NHL; this season it’s 8.65%, 20th in the NHL. 

Did they suddenly forget how to shoot when switching from Bob Hartley to Glen Gulutzan, even though they’re getting more shots on net now (and allowing fewer, for that matter)? Or at they going through a poor stretch – the opposite of their 2014-15, in which absolutely everything went in? Remember how in the first period against the Coyotes the Flames were undeniably the better team, but nothing they tried went in; Arizona got the bounces (and then a dismayed team) to work with.

This brings us to the Flames’ 25-game rolling average for 5v5 PDO, and this season, it’s not pretty.

flames rolling pdo

In 2014-15, they were rolling, perhaps undeservedly. This season, they’ve been consistently kicked in the teeth, also undeservedly. The general overall play has improved – there’s more structure and less reliance on shot-blocking, for instance – but the output doesn’t match the input.

And even then they are, at least on the scoreboard, still ahead of where they were last season.

Next season remains the one to really watch for, but there is reason to think they’re getting better. In the meantime, they have the fifth worst PDO in the NHL, better than just Colorado (who are also objectively terrible; their CF% is the fourth worst), Boston (who just enacted a pretty major change, which the Flames should probably steer clear of for the time being), Philadelphia and Carolina (two teams that are actually in very similar situations to the Flames right now). 

That’s not all on them – sometimes, that’s just what happens. The 2014-15 season was the exact opposite. Dennis Wideman scored 56 points that year and Lance Bouma 34, and cap hits aside it’s good neither are leading the Flames anymore, because they have much better options now.

So yeah, that’s progress.

  • BendingCorners

    Before the season started I thought the Flames would be where the Oilers are, and vice-versa. They are better than last year but they have too many holes too fill. It will be fun if they make the playoffs but Ari is right. We need to look forward to next year. GG has made mistakes I’m sure but every job involves continuous improvement so replacing him is not likely to help. Let’s just enjoy the rest of the season and cheer them on.

  • Skuehler

    Quick answer: no.

    In aggregate the Flames headed into the season about where they were last year. Some improvements cancelled out by some regressions. Season this far bears it out. Whole lotta change for the same result. I preferred the hardworking, team offense, never quit approach.

  • dontcryWOLF88

    Many of the prospects I’m most excited about arnt playing in Stockton. Andersson.parsons. fox. Phillips. Dube.

    From the Stockton team I’m excited for kylington and that’s about it

  • Greg

    I don’t get it. All predictions this season were that the flames would improve and might challenge for a playoff spot. That’s exactly what’s happening. Why is everyone so down and worrying that the rebuild is failing?

  • Stu Cazz

    At the end of the season when I rate the performance of the coaches I would ask if the core players have progressed under GG? If the answer is no then GG is gone. Ditto for Stockton….The lack of development by some of the key young guys is concerning for me as well.

    The rebuild continues…..I’m still a strong supporter of Treliving and believe he is still the guy to lead this for the next 3 years!

    • nikkomsgb

      GG I would give some time to…especially in light of the fact that the Flames are completely unwilling to bring in a big name at big $$$. Ahem Bruce Boudreau

      Huska, in my mind, should be gone. I don’t see what value he brings. I don’t get the sense that anyone down there is really progressing, with the exception of Jankowski.

      In fact it would be interesting to see a detailed look at the flames success in developing players. Granted they drafted poorly for years, but even this crop of prospects, which we all lauded the past few years and gone very stale.

      Huska surely needs to go.

      • Stu Cazz

        Its proven that a top quality coach breeds success…a simple look at the NHL’s top teams will confirm this. It’s time to spend some of that Oil money on a top veteran proven coach with a long term deal.

        Carey Price gave the “death stare” to his coach and he is now gone….Flames star Johnny does not appear to be comfortable under a GG system or leadership. Ditto Monahan, TJ, Giordano, Brouwer etc.

  • Newbietwo

    You can’t have Jonny and money play with a power forward grinder type player.. you need a true play maker in order for that line to hell offensively.. and Johnny needs to start playing behind the net more again also..

  • everton fc

    They are not progressing. Certain players, in fact, are regressing. Some bad contracts (Gio/Brouwer/Bouma) haven’t helped. Backlund seems like the captain, when he’s interviewed – never a downer. His line is successful because of Tkachuk, but also because of Backlund’s influence… (Waiting for WW!;))

    Chiasson has done all he is being paid to do. Brouwer will go down as one of the worst signings in years. Gio’s contract will be a millstone soon enough. Losing Byron over Jooris – the latter never had an offencive upside ever – was also a bad blunder. Byron had offence and plays a chippy, gritty game. The Hamilton signing was fine, and the drafts have been good “on paper” (any team would have taken Tkachuk)…

    Regressing, or at the very best “level”.

    • Kevin R

      Get over Byron…please! Canadiens just fired their coach, Byron couldn’t save his job & they have Pacs & Price & Weber.

      Brouwer as the worst signings in years. Cmon, he hasn’t done what we have hoped but I can name you many other Flames that haven’t done diddly squat either. Lets look at some of the signings from last summer:

      Brouwer 49 games 9 goals 10 Asst 4 year deal/4.5 mill per

      Ladd 51 games 12 goals 6 assts 7 year deal 5.5 mill per

      Backes 50 games 12 goals 14 Assts 6 year deal 6.0 mill per

      Lucic 57 games 11 goals 20 assts 7 year deal 6.0 mill per

      Okposo 56 games 18 goals 20 assts 7 year deal 6.0 mill per

      That was just from last summer, do we need to go back a few years more?
      I like to crab & complain about things too when I’m armchair GM’ing but but cmon, really, “worst signings in years”

      Let’s complain about the real damn problem here. Our roster is filled with a bunch of signed complacent professional players. How many young guys have we brought up this year to push some of these complacent guys? Seriously, start taking some of their minutes away to some young guy called up & these guys will get the hint.

      • everton fc

        I knew I’d take a beating for the Byron comment! 🙂

        I stand by the statement on Brouwer’s contract – maybe that’s how I should have worded that. Gio’s, as well, but I guess, at the time, most teams would have anted up the same.

        All the guys like Ladd, Backes, Lucic, Okposo – all bad deals. Agreed. And I agree about the real problem you point out above, but will add that the decision on the current coach may have been a bad one, given the possible character of some of these guys. We are soft, as well. My opinion.

        Unfortunately, outside Jankowski and maybe Rittich, our farm team can’t help us much.

  • Bob Cobb

    Again….THE FLAMES WERE NEVER IN A REBUILD!!!!! I remember when that term was not to be uttered in Calgary because its all about the bottom line for the Flames, making money and pleasing the fans.

    The Flames will never be a cup contender, not willing to take a chance and make a bold move, they never found Iginla a Centre to play with and wasted his career. Its always been and always will be “hope we get in and see what happens”.

    So have the Flames regressed….No, looks like its the same old! Show me otherwise Treliving!

    • Valar Morghulis

      You mean an all-star centre like Marc Savard who was shipped off for some Russian who never set foot in North America?

      And it was all-star coach at the time, ironically another GG, Greg Gilbert that wanted Savard gone was fired two weeks later anyway.

  • First Name Unidentified

    Gulutzan hiring is going to go down as one of the worst management decisions on the Flames’ history books.

    He is not only destroying the confidence of our highly skilled players, he’s also forcing them to play like a robot killing their creativity as well. You can’t just play a system where you wait for the opposing teams to make a mistake but play a very low event game for the most part.

    Flames are definitely not progressing. Not under Gulutzan. Never under Gulutzan. As long as he is behind the bench we will not only lose our star players to trades, we may have our assets ask to be traded. Because sports professionals have a shelf life and we can’t just give away years only to see that GG wasn’t the right man for the job.

    It’s a shame that we have to go through this depressing and frustrating exercise. Fire this guy so hard that he can only think about teaching calculus.

    • Stan

      This argument is so, so stupid. It’s annoying to repeatedly hear the same drivel from commenters on here about GG. It’s the easy way out to blame the system for a players struggles. Honestly, like I’m sorry but after Gaudreau came back from injury he scored at over a PPG pace for about 15 games. THATS ~20% OF THE SEASON. How can you blame the system when a player has SHOWN that he can perform in it? How come the system isn’t destroying the offence of the 3M line? How come tkachuk is thriving? How come Mony has gone on numerous goal and point scoring streaks? THIS ARGUMENT IS RIDICULOUS AND IM TIRED OF HEARING IT.

      The core of this team is SUPER young, they are going to encounter adversity and show inconsistency. It’s expected for F sake. I just honestly hope Johnny has a huge game tonight to shut commenters like you up, well, at least until he slumps again and you come back and find some reason to blame the coach instead of holding the player accountable FFS.

    • nikkomsgb

      I can’t help but agree with WW here. I mean I say the same thing damned near everyday to myself, but in reality this is the year.

      Yes the team in young and the systems are new…but at the same time, the west is weak this year and isn’t going to stay that way. Nashville, Dallas, St. Louis, Jets, etc…these are teams that aren’t going suck going forward. The Oilers are getting better and Chicago, San Jose and Anaheim are going to be decent for a while yet.

      Furthermore many of our key players have had very poor years, 3M line aside. We’re all wondering what Bennett is going forward and our farm team is really uninspiring.

      I’m not advocating for mortgaging the future, especially since I am very pessimistic about our prospects, I just think that this year’s under-performance is potentially a big missed opportunity.