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FlamesNation Mailbag: Into the bye week

Get your questions in now, because you’ll have nothing to talk about for just under one week.

I’m not sure Garnet Hathaway has that spot locked down. He came out electric, but has fallen flat over the past few games. In his first 11 games since being recalled, he was a positive corsi player seven times, but has been a sub-50% in five of his last 10. He also has seen his scoring dropped off, going from six points in those 11 games to just two in the next 10. The shine is starting to wear off.

I wouldn’t worry about an overpay, though. I think the Flames have learned from the Lance Bouma experience and know that Hathaway is likely not a long term solution. The comparison doesn’t really work all that well because Hathaway has just been okay, whereas Bouma actually looked like he turned a corner.

The team knows they have an expensive future ahead of them, so they probably don’t want to get married to depth players. He’s working now, but they can certainly upgrade that spot.

Troy Brouwer is never going to sit down. Just gotta accept it. A healthy scratch is certainly the best option given what the Flames have on the farm, but they’re going to squeeze every penny out of that contract until they can move it. Sorry.

Yes and no.

The Flames definitely got much better than they deserved against Tampa and Florida (no I’m not complaining) but they’ve gone into the third period with a two-goal lead in the last six games. That’s where score effects really play in. A two-goal deficit is pretty easy to overcome, and teams will certainly press hard during the final frame to equalize. It looks bad on the scoresheet, but it’s only indicative of the fact that the Flames got two good periods in while the other guys only got one.

The problem I see is that the Flames allow maybe too much in the third period. They’ll take their foot off the pedal completely, allowing the opposing team to press and take the lead away. I will admit that the team has become a bit better with playing with the lead (see Tampa, Carolina), but that needs to continue if they want to keep extending this winning streak.

I think in the second mailbag of the year, I pointed to Micheal Ferland as someone who could at least hang out on the first line for the time being, but pointed to Tyler Toffoli as an ideal first line RW.

Thankfully, Ferland has started playing at the level of Toffoli (Ferland is 43GP-19G-9A, while Toffoli is 43-18-12). The two are producing similarly at the underlying level too.

Data from naturalstattrick.com, at 5v5:

CF% FF% SF% P/60 OZS%
Ferland 51.62% 50.18% 49.34% 2.59 54.46%
Toffoli 51.12% 49.82% 49.59% 1.9 58.81%

The difference between the two is that Ferland shoots less, about four fewer shots per hour than Toffoli. His shooting percentage is also 20%, whereas Toffoli’s is 9%. I’m being a little facetious here, because this is a bit of a down year for Toffoli, who had CFs above 57% the past four years.

So while I think Ferland’s play is outstanding this year, he’s been a bit inflated by an otherworldly shooting percentage. That’s going to dry up, as it usually does (his goal scoring drought, and the first line’s struggles during December, were also due to his SH% plummeting). The underlyings suggest a guy who does belong in the top six, but whether or not he will stay on the first line permanently for the duration of his contract remains to be seen.

Thankfully, the Flames still have him cheap for another year. If Ferland can keep up his incredible production, no one’s complaining. I feel he would get something in the range of $5-$6M on his next contract along four or five years (debate amongst yourselves if you would pay him that) if he can keep it going. If he falls off the map, it’s okay, because he’s still only a $1.75M man for 2018-19. Then you can cut ties or keep him around on the cheap. No matter which way you cut it, there’s very little opportunity here for the Flames to come out on the losing side of his next deal.

If David Rittich continues to put up a .932 SV%, it would be the best rookie goaltending season by that measure since Tuukka Rask in 2009-10.

The caveat is that Rask played 45 games while Rittich has played six. That makes this comparison quite difficult and pointless. I kind of want to see what Rittich can do with more games (which he should see in February), but I wouldn’t be tooting the “best rookie goaltender ever” horn until he totally and definitely proves that he can be that goalie over a longer period of time.

For reference, finishing above .920 would be a top 10 rookie goaltending season.

The numbers certainly do back up that assertion. In about 357 5v5 minutes, the Kulak-Stone pairing is a 50.3 CF% pairing, which is nearly one percent higher than the Brodie-Hamonic pairing.

It’s hard to use WOWYs to determine who is the better performer, as Michael Stone’s partner without Brett Kulak is Matt Bartkowski, who is certainly a possession blackhole (for what it’s worth, however: Kulak is 55 CF% away from Stone in just under 100 minutes, while Stone is 47.5 CF% away from Kulak in 265.5 minutes). But just the difference Kulak makes should give a hint as to who’s the better player.

For minutes, I’m a bit torn. The pairing works because it is sheltered (nine minutes of 5v5 TOI per night, started more often in the neutral and offensive zones than the defensive zone). I would certainly trust them with 10-12 minutes per night, but I feel that leaning heavily on Giordano-Hamilton is the right way to go, even if it comes at the expense of lower pairings.

I actually think it’s unreal goaltending that has been the main driver of the Flames’ success. The team has had only two sub-.920 SV% performances (none below .900 SV%) during this streak, and the rest have been above .930 SV%. At 5v5, they’ve only had one sub-.920 SV% performance.

Other than goaltending, I don’t feel it’s such a black and white topic. Of course, the team as a whole has been strong throughout the seven-game streak. I think the first line getting back in gear helped a lot, but the defence settling down has been key. Dougie Hamilton seeing more ice time is a plus, Brodie-Hamonic not being a disaster is great, and the aforementioned Stone-Kulak pairing being solid also helps.

Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before: the powerplay.

They haven’t been Oilers bad, and they’ve scored a powerplay goal in each of their past three games, but they’re still a dismal 16.67% (3/18) on the powerplay in the new year. A lot of the underlying metrics haven’t changed, and it hasn’t been that much better by the eye test. You really wonder how many of the frustrating losses could’ve been put away just by a half-functional powerplay. The right players are being used, it’s just a question of systems at this point.

They’re finally starting to get their bounces at 5v5, but they can certainly earn some more by revamping their powerplay.

  • everton fc

    Perhaps Hathaway isn’t the #1 choice for 3rd line/RW. But he’s a player I’d hold onto. As a 4th line player who has now proven he can slot a line up, need be… He draws penalties… Isn’t afraid of going into the tough areas, need be… He’s a nice, inexpensive find, and much better than Bouma. In fact, I always felt he was better than Bouma. Now he’s been given his chance. And he’s made the most of it, thus far.

    • Sterls

      It will be interesting to see what the Flames will do at the end of next season if Smith and Rittich continues to be as good as they have been this year. It would make sense to give Rittich a chance along with the better of the two down in Stockton, but how do you walk away from Smith if he is playing so well. A great problem to have, but a problem none the less.

  • Skylardog

    Sometimes everything just comes together, and you go on a winning streak. Starting with the game on December 31, the first game in the streak, we have the 3rd best save%, 5th best shooting% and 4th best PDO. The PDO, at 1.065, says it is luck. That is not my take.

    We got exceptional goaltending, and stole some points to start the season. We played well leading up to Christmas and just couldn’t convert the good play into points. Now we play well, but not exceptionally well (40+ shots against on how many occasions?) and run up 7 straight. It has balanced out.

    The team as a whole, is playing the best hockey of the season. We have been great in some areas and not others earlier. It is only in the last 10 or so games that the forwards, defence, and goaltending has all come together. This is the potential. It means even when you have an off night, you can still win because the team, in all facets, is backing each other up.

  • Skylardog

    As for Ferland and the high shooting percentage, it speaks to the whole first lines ability and willingness to maintain possession, not take poor shots, and create high danger chances. If the shot isn’t there, they look to control it, and work it into the slot for a great chance.

          • cjc

            Some of it has to do with linemates – anyone will shoot better when being set up by Gaudreau. I read somewhere that you can’t really extrapolate to career shooting percentages until a player has taken ~1000 shots. Ferland is at 361 for his career, and his career SH% is 11.1. The good news is that Ferland averages over 2 shots/game, despite getting the fewest minutes of anyone in the top 6. So when his percentages drop it will be a relatively soft landing (at least compared to Bouma and Colborne).

  • Stu Cazz

    BT is smart enough to not make the Bouma mistake twice and will secure Hathaway to a reasonable number and term. If I can recall Bouma was highly productive (16 goals) in his final contract year and BT was forced to pay him market rate. Unfortunately he did not produce after that. I agree with your comments regarding Brouwer….they will continue to play him in high success situations until they can move him or perhaps buy-out in his final season.

  • Chucky

    We all know that Brouwer will get icetime and not popcorn, but is it necessary for him to have 18 minutes a game? He has not played well enough to justify the usage.
    In the last few games the third line seems to be showing a little less offensive zone time, is this because they are facing better opposition?

  • fumanchu1968

    I totally agree with you and if there was an advanced stat for making opposition players miserable Hathaway would be leading Calgary…He makes Calgary a better team.