This past season, the Flames were basically Hurricanes West. Or the Hurricanes were Flames East, if you prefer. So the idea that Bill Peters – who just resigned as the Hurricanes’ head coach – may very well become the Flames’ next head coach can provoke some strong reactions, considering how Glen Gulutzan’s Flames tenure went.
Is it warranted, though? Or did Peters’ 137-138-53 record and inability to make the playoffs have more to do with his roster?
A lot of similarities
The 2017-18 Flames and the 2017-18 Hurricanes really were mirror images of one another. The Flames finished with 84 points; the Hurricanes finished with 83. The Flames had a -30 goal differential; the Hurricanes were -28. The Hurricanes were 28th with a 7.03 shooting percentage; the Flames were 29th with a 6.85 shooting percentage. The Hurricanes were first in the NHL with a 54.48% 5v5 CF; the Flames were third with a 53.50% 5v5 CF.
If you take stock in underlying numbers, then both the Flames and Hurricanes underperformed to a comical extent, and really should have at least both been playoff teams. Even if you don’t, then every other number points to the same failing: neither team could capitalize on their chances, and both were among the worst shooters in the NHL.
So then what’s the difference? Probably chief among them: Peters has never had a Johnny Gaudreau to work with.
The Flames actually have top end players
The Flames had their fair share of problems this past season, but their top players’ play wasn’t one of them. It wasn’t that Gaudreau wasn’t scoring enough so much as it was that Garnet Hathaway was regularly playing on the third line. Whenever the top end guys went cold – which is going to happen to literally every single player, no matter how good they are, at some point over a season – nobody else was able to pick up the slack.
The Hurricanes did not exactly have that option.
Of the four years Gaudreau has been in the NHL, he has been the Flames’ top scorer three times. Here’s how he’s compared to Peters’ top scorer each of his four years in Carolina:
|Season||Gaudreau’s points||Top Hurricanes scorer’s points|
|2014-15||64||54 (Eric Staal)|
|2015-16||78||51 (Jeff Skinner)|
|2016-17||61||63 (Jeff Skinner)|
|2017-18||84||65 (Sebastian Aho)|
The Hurricanes’ top scorer has only outscored Gaudreau once, and it took Gaudreau missing 10 games due to being repeatedly slashed to make it happen (Skinner played seven more games than Gaudreau did in 2016-17).
So for the first half of Peters’ tenure as the Hurricanes’ coach, his top scorer could only scratch the surface of 50 points, which, no wonder they failed to make the playoffs. In 2016-17, he had one 60-point guy and a handful of 50-pointers. This past season, he had some help in the form of Teuvo Teravainen scoring 64 points, but the Flames can counter that with Sean Monahan also having a 64-point year (in only 74 games, and while requiring four surgeries for like a solid quarter of the season).
Speaking of Monahan, let’s throw out the assists and compare each team’s top goal scorer over the past four seasons.
|Season||Flames’ top goal scorer||Hurricanes’ top goal scorer|
|2014-15||31 (Jiri Hudler, Sean Monahan)||23 (Eric Staal)|
|2015-16||30 (Johnny Gaudreau)||28 (Jeff Skinner)|
|2016-17||27 (Sean Monahan)||37 (Jeff Skinner)|
|2017-18||31 (Sean Monahan)||29 (Sebastian Aho)|
Aside from Skinner losing his mind for one season and Aho’s emergence this year (emergence: as in, this is probably only the beginning for him), Peters has had basically nothing to work with, while the Flames have managed to at least have 30-goal scorers more often than not.
Scoring goals was a problem for both teams this past season, but Peters simply didn’t have anyone as capable of putting the puck in the net as the Flames do.
Top six scorers of 2017-18
Throughout the 2017-18 season, both the Flames and Hurricanes had just six players who were able to hit the 40-point threshold.
For quick comparison’s sake, the top scoring teams of the season were the Lightning (six players with 50+ points, five with 60+ points, two with 86+ points), the Jets (six players with 45+ points, four with 60+ points, including a 91-point guy), the Leafs (seven players with 50+ points, three with 60+ points), the Golden Knights (seven players with 40+ points, two with 75+ points), and the Penguins (six players with 48+ points, three players with 89+ points). So while having depth is important, it seems as though having extremely high impact players (i.e. Gaudreau) also helps an awful lot.
|1||Johnny Gaudreau (84, 1.05 PPG)||Sebastian Aho (65, .83 PPG)|
|2||Sean Monahan (64, .86 PPG)||Teuvo Teravainen (64, .78 PPG)|
|3||Matthew Tkachuk (49, .72 PPG)||Justin Williams (51, .62 PPG)|
|4||Mikael Backlund (45, .55 PPG)||Jeff Skinner (49, .60 PPG)|
|5||Dougie Hamilton (44, .54 PPG)||Jordan Staal (46, .58 PPG)|
|6||Micheal Ferland (41, .53 PPG)||Elias Lindholm (44, .54 PPG)|
|Total||327 points||319 points|
The Hurricanes’ depth contributed a little more, but they also didn’t have any major gamebreakers the way the Flames do. The Flames’ second highest scorer had a higher point per game than the Hurricanes’ top. If they had had a Gaudreau and a Monahan, you have to think their season would have turned out differently.
(Also of interest? The Hurricanes’ top scorer from the blueline was Noah Hanifin, with 32 points. That’s as many as T.J. Brodie – the Flames’ third highest scoring defenceman – had.)
Also, keep this in mind: the Hurricanes had better scoring depth. They had 12 30-point scorers; the Flames had eight. But it’s not as though Brad Treliving is going to theoretically hire Peters and then take a nap until October. In season-ending interviews, he pointed blame at himself. He is well aware of his roster’s shortcomings, and it seems extremely unlikely the Flames will go into 2018-19 with the same forward group they have now.
Assuming the Flames hire Peters, he will already have more firepower in Calgary than he’s ever had in Carolina. And the Flames will likely be looking to add more before he even gets them on the ice.
Outshooting the other team is better than vice versa. Same goes for out-corsiing the other team. Peters’ Hurricanes teams have always been able to do that. Get him some truly high end offensive guys, and maybe he can get the results here he couldn’t in Raleigh.
Admittedly, the Flames have not had steady goaltending since Miikka Kiprusoff retired, but then again, neither have the Hurricanes; they have repeatedly gone after guys with previously good numbers, only to watch them implode.
Team save percentages via Hockey-Reference:
|Season||Flames SV%||Hurricanes SV%|
The Flames were doing really well until Mike Smith got run into the ground, injured, and both backup goalies completely forgot how to tend goal. The Hurricanes have uhh not been doing well, at all. Both teams could stand to be better in this department, but Carolina was also literally the worst in 2017-18, bottom four for the past four seasons, and I don’t think that’s entirely on Peters.
Peters isn’t the Flames’ head coach yet, though a lot of people seem to think he’s about to be. And there are a lot of striking similarities between him and Gulutzan. And his overall losing record as a head coach and zero playoff appearances doesn’t exactly inspire any confidence.
But the Flames have a lot more to offer him in terms of player personnel than the Hurricanes ever did, and ultimately, it’s up to the players to win games. In his four years as the Hurricanes’ head coach, Peters only got two 60+ point scorers once. Here, he’ll have a Gaudreau, and then some. And that’s a pretty big difference.