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FlamesNation Mailbag: Only half paying attention

There’s only so many times one can answer “why is Brouwer?” without eventually becoming a Flames nihilist. You eventually will go numb and want to talk about hats, basketball, and burgers rather than fret about who’s on the third line for the umpteenth time.

So half hockey, half not. Have fun!

Hockey questions

Well it’s Mike Smith.

For a team with many inconsistencies, Smith was the one constant that could at least keep games within reaching distance. I think a large problem with these recent stretch of games without Smith is that the team collapses quickly and loses steam immediately thereafter. Smith usually could stay composed enough to remain steady in net during collapses, but David Rittich and Jon Gillies cannot.

Which is understandable for young netminders with just a bit of NHL experience, but certainly not helpful right now. The team falls behind, the goalies can’t stop them from falling behind further, the entire thing is a mess with no hope of a comeback.

I think Brady Tkachuk is getting a boost from his brother’s work, but he’s certainly still a very good player who will go top 10 in the draft. The Islanders picking him would be poetic and I’ll laugh at it. The Oilers tried to one-up Calgary by trading for Griffin Reinhart with about the same package that landed Dougie Hamilton, so maybe they try and one-up Calgary by drafting Brady and it doesn’t work out at all. That would be very funny, too. I think they (Oilers) go for defence above all, however.

On a more serious note, I think it stinks that the Flames didn’t bother to lottery protect their pick, and I don’t know if it was an oversight or intentional. Pride goeth before a fall.

I think they try, but ultimately fail. There’s not a lot the Flames should trade that other GMs would also be interested in. Would you like a forgettable Michael Stone on a bad contract, or a T.J. Brodie that must go now? The Flames will probably make some draft moves, but nothing that moves them beyond the third round.

I think Brodie’s problems aren’t originating from usage, but from the player himself. It seems more and more likely that Brodie’s issues were masked by playing with Norris-level Mark Giordano on a bad team (when you get to compare yourself to Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell, you look amazing) rather than them being a result of usage.

Our friend Kent did a great analysis last month on Brodie’s decline for the Athletic. I think it’s behind the paywall, so I’ll sum it up: Brodie’s stats have fallen across the board, and have fallen fast since 2013-14. He was one of the highest impact possession players and teammates in 2013-14, but steadily fell to middling to awful. He’s only 27, so unless he was hit with an early case of aging (you typically see these drops in production post-30), it seems more likely that he just looked much better on a bad team. Happens.

I can’t advocate breaking up pairings though. I think Gio-Dougie is one of the league’s strongest pairings, and splitting that up to help a liability may do bupkis in the long run. Who says T.J. returns to 2013-16 form just because he’s with Gio again? I don’t think a Hamilton-Hamonic pairing would be a great idea either.

I could be tempted to try Gio-Brodie, Kulak-Hamilton, Stone-Hamonic. That’s just me, though.

I don’t know if anyone has asked him about it.

My explanation is a bit roundabout, and it comes from a podcast I listen to called Real Good Show. The hosts were discussing the Maple Leafs and coach Mike Babcock’s infuriating usage of Leo Komarov, Roman Polak, and Matt Martin.

The interesting nugget that makes the most sense to me is the ideas of trust and predictability. Coaches trust these types of players. Hockey – sports in general, really – is random chaos and it’s up to the coach to control as much of it as they can. Babcock uses duds like Komarov and Polak not because he believes that they can provide as much firepower as Auston Matthews (Komarov plays, on average, two fewer minutes per night in all situations than Matthews. Comparatively, Troy Brouwer plays nearly three and half fewer minutes than Matthew Tkachuk, and six fewer minutes than Johnny Gaudreau), but because they know what to do and when to do it. It doesn’t matter if they do it poorly, they’re doing what’s expected of them and that’s good enough.

Coaches are control freaks, which is a problem in a game where there is so little you actually have control over. If they have a player who is predictable, they have control over something, and that gives them relief and something to work with. Even Babcock, widely considered one of the best all-time coaches, falls into this trap more so than Glen Gulutzan does. If you go around the league and poll all 31 NHL head coaches, all of them will prefer the reliable but less flashy veteran over the unpredictable and unknown yet higher ceiling call-up. It might be an unsatisfying, general answer, but you can look at the starting lineups of every team to confirm this bias.

To make it more Flames-centric, Brouwer and other veterans will always get the benefit of the doubt because they will always do what they do, night-in, night-out. That’s what coaches want, and you’ll be searching for a long time to find one that won’t prefer that.

No.

Dave Tippett’s name has popped up a lot, especially among fans, but he is almost certainly not the solution.

Part of the reason I think blaming the coaching staff for everything wrong with this season (a half-assed roster is the most likely culprit) is because that thinking a new head coach will instantly fix everything is delusional and shortsighted at best. As explained earlier with Babcock, many coaches have their shortcomings, and many coaches think in the same, infuriating manner. Tippett is not different, and he might be one of the worst options out there.

If you criticize Gulutzan for playing boring hockey, you’re not going to like Tippett, who has exclusively made his name from defensive hockey. If you think the Flames don’t score enough goals (certainly a major problem), only three Tippett teams have finished above 15th in the league in goals for. The man’s reputation for defence stems from having Marty Turco, Ilya Bryzgalov, and Mike Smith each having one unreal season (both Smith and Turco finished with over .930) and then never having one again. Not a great bet to make.

The highest ever producer under Tippett was Mike Riberio in 2007-08, with 83 points in 76 games. I would like to take this space to remind you that Tippett took over a Dallas Stars team with Mike Modano, Bill Guerin, Jason Arnott, Brendan Morrow, Sergei Zubov, Jere Lehtinen, and Turco and managed to crash that into the ground after one year of coaching them, scoring 195 goals over 82 games. The man should be put in hockey jail for his crimes against offence. I can certainly predict that he will not be helping a team that has struggled to put pucks in the net.

Here’s the real kicker: everyone, including myself, hates that Brouwer can play up and down the lineup regardless of performance. It’s that good veteran presence which Gulutzan loves that really makes us wish Treliving gave him the pink slip. Tippett resigned after signing a five-year extension and getting promoted to the VP of hockey ops because Coyotes ownership didn’t want to re-sign 40-year-old Shane Doan, a player who was years past his expiration date but still receiving second line minutes. Instead of playing the youth focused hockey ownership and management wanted over the one old guy, Tippett quit. How do you think he’ll treat our old veteran who wears an ‘A’?

In short: be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.

Non-hockey questions

3. Carl’s Jr’s guacamole burger. The chain is usually overpriced, but I’m a sucker for anything with guac on it. We need more guac burgers.

2. McDonald’s junior chicken burger. The value menu is the only way to go and this is the best burger on it. It’s pretty much the same thing as a McChicken, but five dollars less expensive.

1. “Sam’s burger” at Boogie’s Burgers, a local Calgary place. I’m not sure if you can consider a place with two locations “fast food” the same way you consider big chains “fast food” but it checks the box for me.

There is a really cool Burton and Starter hat that I have, but is pretty much worn out. I can’t find a picture of it.

No.

Planning? We (me) are already Raptors fans.

And if you are experiencing hockey ennui, I cannot recommend basketball enough as an escape, especially the Toronto Raptors. They’re the anti-Flames, in a sense. How would you like to trade in your underperforming, frustrating team for some better-than-expected, legit title shot, entertaining basketball? If you need something to do in April, who’s most likely going to be there for you?

The Raptors have smashed the superteam zeitgeist, winning without stars in the vein of LeBron James, Steph Curry, and Russell Westbrook. Instead, they have two of the most underrated players in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, who have quietly put this team on top of the NBA’s Eastern Conference. Also unlike the Flames, the Raptors are being aided in their playoff push with the help of their bench players and a healthy dose of youth injected at the right time. Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakim, and OG Anunoby are all recent draft picks who have all been strong coming off the bench. It’s a fun time to be a Raptors fan! Join, before it’s too late!

  • The Doctor

    Yeesh. Just looked at the Daily Faceoff line combos for tonight. Other than Jankowski, our bottom two lines are ka ka. Yes, Versteeg and Ferland’s injures played a part, but the bottom line is that the Flames coaches and management failed this year with respect to bringing up and developing more quality personnel for our bottom two lines.

      • LannyMac

        Yes they are kids but it is a big concern this hole team is so soft. They win if it stays a shinny game . If the effort requires push back or their noses to get dirty bye bye. Somebody needs to sign them to a fight club. I hate watching million dollar babies float around the ice

  • The Doctor

    Kudos for your comments on the inherent conservatism of most coaches when it comes to player usage. While understandable, it is infuriating to see. And it leads to this veteran bias, exemplified in our case by Brouwer and Stajan.

    • Skylardog

      Babcock uses icetime to drive players to play at a higher level or to realize they need to focus more on a certain aspect of their game.

      GG uses vets because he has no clue who can or is playing well. Instead of driving better play, he frustrates players that should be developing.

      Did anyone here know that Lazar still has not allowed a single goal against while killing penalties, the only player with more than 20 minutes of icetime to be able to say that? Even if he was scored on, he would still be the leader as the best GA/60 killing penalties for any player over 10 minutes of PK time.

      That alone should get him in the lineup every night. Can’t be much better than 100% effective.

      • That seems incredibly false? There’s no good reason to play Leo Komarov, an all around worse Troy Brouwer, just a bit less than you play your first overall superstar. Komarov plays more minutes in all around situations than Mitch Marner and Kasperi Kapanen, and plays just around the same amount as William Nylander and Nazem Kadri. Who exactly does this help? What are the results? If he’s trying to drive and refocus players, why is he still doing this 3/4ths into the season? Babcock thinks Komarov is a good NHL player. There’s no overarching purpose. That’s the reason.

        If you want to talk about frustrated development, the Leafs have had to trade away Nikita Soshnikov and Kerby Rychel, two promising players who saw their growth stunted because the Leafs choose to stick with veteran players. Andreas Johnsson is lighting the AHL up right now but his NHL spot is currently taken by Matt Martin, whose career post-Islanders pretty much exclusively exists because of Babcock.

        • Skylardog

          Marner is not a penalty killer, and may never be unless his game changes significantly. As such he is not used on the PK, having played only 2:31 on the PK all season, allowing 2 goals for a 23.84 GA/60.

          Komorov, is one of the Leafs best and main 2 penalty killers with a 4:36 GA/60, in 165 minutes. That is a better GA/60 than every Flames that has killed more than 20 minutes of penalties other than Lazar who is at 0.00 and can’t make the lineup. Backs, our “best” PK guy, is at 6.59 GA/60 for comparison.

          5v5, Marner far exceeds Komarov in icetime, at 12:47 (6th among forwards), while Komarov is at 12:15, 8th. But the gap is widening since the beginning of the season.

          In the last 20 games Marner has played 13:44 per games, 5th, and Komarov 11:26, 10th. Marner got the message early in the season that he had to be better in both ends of the ice, and is now being rewarded.

          Nylander is now getting more ice than even Marner at 14:05 per game in the last 20.

          Babcocks use of Komorov shows intelligence.

          Our use of Brouwer, stupidity. He gets PK and PP time despite being one of the worst in the NHL in both categories.

          Lazar can’t make the lineup despite being one of only 3 players in the NHL that has killed more than 20 minutes of penalties to not have been scored on, and one of only 6 with more than 15 minutes killed. That’s out of 457 players that qualify. Brouwer ranks 242th, Stajan 230th. Lazar, 3rd best in the NHL.

        • Skylardog

          And – by the way, Marner gets the second most icetime per game on the PP among Toronto forwards, even more than Matthews who is 4th. Komorov does get some time here, and at 5.32 has a better GF/60 number than Matthews and Marleau when out on the PP. That is a better number than Bennett, Brouwer, and Jankowski, and just below Backlund at 5.69.

          As for 5v5, lets compare Backs to Komarov.

          Backs has a GF/60 of 2.22, Komarov 1.61
          Backs GA/60 of 3.05, Komorov 2.12
          +/-/60 Backs -0.83, Komorov -0.51

          Backs gets $5 million plus, but Komorov is not an NHL player. Komorov is a better PK player, equal PP player, better 5v5 defensively and overall.

          Apparently, as Komorov shouldn’t be in the NHL, neither should Backlund based on your argument Cristian.

          • I am absolutely not sure what you’re arguing here. Backlund is absolutely a better player than Komarov, and there’s few around the NHL who disagree with that. I would never argue that Backlund is worse than Komarov.

            It’s actually your reliance on goal based metrics (plus/minus in 2018? really, man?) that has somehow lead to that obviously false conclusion. Perhaps you should do some more reading.

  • SgtRoadBlock

    Draft Day is going to be fun, what Core player will be moved for Picks? But i really think we need to move half of the so called core Roster that only play 40 of the 60 mins each game, this will be 3rd season same errors,

  • Derzie

    When did Brodie get stuck on his off side? It’s the most likely contributor to his demise (aside from actually declining, which may or may not be the case.)

    • LannyMac

      Thank you Derzie until that happens you can’t let him. Klutzan is such a &@$? He is so stuck on left is left and right is right, what a closed minded individual

  • Derzie

    “zeitgeist” – Brian Griffin, is that you? Anyway, if GG is too dumb to not play players like Troy, the GM needs to take them away. Also, because the coach needs to go, no one is implying that the team is win-ready. We just need to have a proper coaching staff that improves the utilization so we know which gaps we will fill and with what players.

  • Off the wall

    Sometimes I don’t like checking my mail. Instead of getting something I’m hoping for, I get an unexpected bill or worse.

    Thanks Christian, GG’s use of Brouwerful explains a lot. But it still wasn’t what I was hoping for.

    Brodie needs a tinted visor— like Kopitar wears. I think it will help his game. The ice is too shiny for his sensitive eyes. Plus it looks really cool.
    When Brodie scores we can play “ I wear my sunglasses at night
    So I can so I can
    Keep track of the visions in my eyes“

  • buts

    One of the key things in not getting rid of GG earlier is that with his insane player usage and system GG has brought down the trade value on the whole team. If Hamonic can get a return of 2 firsts then TJ should get at least 1 first rounder but not now because of BT’s ego. Man this teams management is sooooo frustrating.

  • Justthateasy

    I get the rational on Browers usage.
    I even get the trials of Stewart and Glass. The coach is looking for some kind of miracle from the fringe players that wasn’t exhibited before. Stewart has done nothing but at least Glass has done bit. These experienced older guys need to motivate themselves. But, overall, where the coach falls down is in his inability to motivate on a daily basis.

  • CalgaryBornandRaised

    If the Flames do fall out of the playoff picture, I would like to see the Flames bring up Foo and see what he can do against NHL competition, kid certainly has offensive skills, and we need speed and hungry forwards badly these days

  • moodyblue2

    You know, whenever we used to play LA, I had to respect Darryl. He was a very good coach. Gm. Not so much. I still think we give Darryl a shot, but remind him the nhl has changed to a young mans fast game. Gone are the Lucic’s,Maroons, etc of the world, and in are the Brayden Points, Dylan Larkins, Islanders rookie name escapes me now, Mitch Marners etc.. If mngt feels Darryl can coach to this style, bring up the young guys, trade for some speed, use our D properly, then I think other teams in our division Would be thinking oh oh, this could be a team again. Blue. Ps if Darryl thinks it is not the right way to go then as the old song goes “If you don’t happen to like me pass me by”!

  • deantheraven

    This whole mailbag is lie and a sham!

    Harvey’s burgers, made fresh, anyway you like ’em.
    I am however grateful for the posts giving props to Lazr and enlightening us to the Truth About Tippett. I’m actually of half a mind (I know) to say keep GG and fire Cameron and Jerry, along with Brouwer, Glass, Stewart. Stajan will retire and Brodie is the best trade bait. Tie GG’s hands next year and see what he does. Bring on the true rebuild!

  • Korcan

    I am not convinced there are many “good” coaches, just fortunate ones. I am, however, convinced there are many bad coaches. With a handful of exceptions, most successful coaches are so because of the team they are given, not necessarily because of anything they did, and many coaches will still manage to screw it up. Hiring a coach really is like playing the slots — pull the lever and hope for the best.

    • LannyMac

      It’s only partially true. I believe coaching is a big part of it. I liked when Gio was named captain probably pretty supportive in the dressing room but I’m beginning to think that he doesn’t call players out when they need to be. On rare occasions captains need to do that. Probably to much of a nice guy in that room