Did the Flames’ powerplay cost them a playoff spot in 2017-18?

A lot of things went wrong for the Flames in 2017-18, but the league’s third worst powerplay, sitting at a paltry 16.0%, was chief among them.

So, Geoff Ward to the rescue? The Flames’ new assistant coach is known as a powerplay guy, and if he can right that particular ship, the 2018-19 season could turn out much better from that alone.

Ward has been an assistant coach in the NHL for 10 seasons now, splitting his time between Boston and New Jersey, without working in the NHL during the 2014-15 season. Granted, there are always other factors involved – player personnel, other coaching decisions, just plain ol’ luck – but here’s how his teams’ powerplays performed each year.

Season Team PP% Rank
2007-08 Bruins 17.5 16
2008-09 Bruins 23.6 T-4
2009-10 Bruins 16.6 23
2010-11 Bruins 16.2 20
2011-12 Bruins 17.2 T-14
2012-13 Bruins 14.8 T-25
2013-14 Bruins 21.7 3
2015-16 Devils 19.9 9
2016-17 Devils 17.5 22
2017-18 Devils 21.4 T-9

There’s been some variance from season to season, but coming off of a recent top 10 performance – and three of his top four performances coming over this past four seasons – certainly does at least give one hope.

Earlier in the season, I posed a question: How many games had the Flames lost due to the powerplay? With the 2017-18 season over, I’d like to revisit that question, with some stricter criteria in place:

  • Multiple powerplay opportunities in the game were required.
  • A powerplay success rate under 50% per game was required to get the two-point regulation win.
  • If the sub-50% successful powerplay would have gotten them to overtime, I’ll count it as a one-point overtime loss.
  • In the case of empty netters, all powerplay opportunities had to come before the other team scored in the empty net. If the Flames’ hypothetically marginally successful powerplay tied the game before the empty netters were scored, obviously they wouldn’t have had the chance to come to pass.

Based on those metrics, I count 14 points the Flames’ powerplay cost them through the 2017-18 season: four from wins (a loser point was originally collected in each of them), and 10 loser points (which could have resulted in more, assuming a fortuitous overtime).

Fourteen additional points would have seen the Flames finish the year with 98 on the season total, which would have earned them the second wild card slot. They would have played against the Predators in the first round of the playoffs. (And how tight were things? If they had collected the overtime or shootout win in half of those hypothetical loser point games, they would have had home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.)

Just one powerplay goal in the 0-fer games listed below would have gotten the Flames another eight points alone. Eight additional points would have seen the Flames finish with 92: three points out of the final wild card spot, but with the hope that they might have played a little better down the stretch with the chance of the playoffs still in sight.

Date Opponent Final score in loss PP success rate
Oct. 21 Wild 4-2 (1 EN) 1 for 6
Dec. 12 Wild 2-1 (SO) 0 for 3
Dec. 14 Sharks 3-2 0 for 3
Dec. 16 Predators 2-0 0 for 5
Dec. 29 Ducks 2-1 0 for 3
Jan. 20 Jets 2-1 (SO) 0 for 4
Jan. 24 Kings 2-1 (OT) 0 for 5
Jan. 25 Oilers 4-3 (SO) 0 for 4
Jan. 30 Golden Knights 4-2 (1 EN) 0 for 3
Feb. 9 Rangers 4-3 1 for 6
Feb. 13 Bruins 5-2 (1 EN) 0 for 5
Feb. 27 Stars 2-0 0 for 6
Feb. 28 Avalanche 5-2 (1 EN) 0 for 5
March 19 Coyotes 5-2 (2 EN) 0 for 3

Is aiming for enough loser points to squeak into the playoffs a good strategy? No, and certainly not for a team that dealt away most of its draft picks and thought itself encroaching on contender status. The powerplay wasn’t the only thing wrong with the Flames this past season: but there is an argument that it played an extremely pivotal role in keeping the Flames from making the playoffs.

Hopefully, Ward can at least rectify this part of the Flames’ failures, because they were particularly costly.

  • WillyWonka

    the PP is definitely high on the list of fails last season, but the fact is the Flames are not yet solid top to bottom, no way they had a chance past the first round even if the power play gave them the 10 points they needed, so it is a mute point. the real issues remain:
    1) goal-tending was (and still is) a major concern. Smith looks other-worldly when he is on. when he isn’t? look out! his time needs to be closely managed.
    2) this team was soft, pushed around, often looked disengaged
    3) lacked scoring punch outside of the top performers
    4) the defensive system either never clicked, or was pure garbage even when clicking, as the team would scramble and run around in their own end if the first attempt to clear the zone failed.
    5) Power play sucked rotten eggs

    On he bright side, this team has exceptional depth at defense, and with Peters (proven defensive systems, young player development) and Huska (proven defensive player development), i expect the Flames to be in the top 5-10 defensively next year.
    as for goal-tending:
    This is possibly going to be the biggest issue. if the team gets the Smith and Rittich/Gillies numbers they had pre-injury, the team is looking good. if they get post smith-injury level tending, the season is over before it starts. the team cannot enter the season crossing their fingers and hoping for the best. they will address this issue first and formost.
    this is what i think the team prioritizes this off season:
    1) an <30 goaltender that has proven himself as a backup, and is able to take the reigns if needed (if/when Smith is injured, or drops off)
    2) toughness. ya i know, grit chart, etc, but just look at the post season play – its a different beast, and the team needs an answer to the heavy pushing around and attrition by injury. needs 'functional toughness'
    3) Top 6 winger. i know many think this is priority #1, but i disagree. with improved defensive coverage, and solid goaltending for the entire season, the team can live with the scoring depth, especially given the fact that there are a number of prospects who may be able to come up and add to the scoring – Dube, Foo, Mangiapane.
    the teams needs to allow these young people he chance, and if the defense is as good as i am thinking it will be under Peters/Huska, we will have more latitude to allow the prospects time to play.

    • SoCalFlamesFan

      I agree with everyting but the top rw thing. having a decent top RW would open up both Johnny and monny, giving more play options as well as adding another PP player. Not knocking Ferland but for his strengths he s not a 1st line winger.

    • Korcan

      I agree with everything you mention, only i would say all three needs are of equal importance. If Tre can find three players (a la T. Wilson, P. Grubauer, P. Vessel) to fill those three needs we could see a very different team next year.

    • freethe flames

      ww: I can’t say I agree with you but you have identified some areas that need development. So my question is who would you target to change this team as you described?

      Just some points to think about: both BP and BT have indicated they are fine with the Rittich/Gilles battle for back up; at least that is what they have said,
      Grit must be able to play.
      Last off season BT felt that the kids would step up and make the Flames have significant secondary scoring and it did happen. While I would love to them earn a job I doubt he goes through the off season w/o adding a significant piece or two. Hopefully a skilled RHS with a little grit or gumption to his game; there are guys out there like that.

  • Honkydonk

    Absolutely the power play hurt us. Standing around not moving and passing the puck around isn’t winning hockey.

    But my main issue comes from their overall lack of giving a crap. Many seemed unmotivated and disengaged.

    Some players really need to decide this coming season who they are going to be. That includes the like so of Ferland.

    Ferland are you a consistent Pro? Or just a player with some talent that brings it every now and then? He’s not the only one

    • Rudy27

      I’m starting to wonder if the “Not giving a crap” was primarily the team giving up on the coaches. Examples…Brouwer getting much more PP time than Ferland who just reach the 20 goal mark half way through the season ( not to mention how Ferly seemed to be the whipping boy with movement around the lines. And how did all the Brouwer and Brodie PP time affect Johnny’s perception of does this coaching staff have a clue! Maybe the loss of the “Never given always earned” philosophy got many of yhe players thinking whats the point. The coaches are going to play who they want no matter how bad they play or how hard I try.

      • piscera.infada

        Maybe the loss of the “Never given always earned” philosophy got many of yhe players thinking whats the point.

        Yeah, I’m sure that’s it. If these professional athletes need an arbitrary (and meaningless) motto to play to their potential, then the organization might as well pack it in with this bunch.

      • rusty_shakleforde

        Yeah, I agree. The players weren’t lazy, it was mutiny. They’ve now got GG gone, and they are now ready to go. The team will have good coaching now (let’s hope; and if not, at least better), and players will ideally get to play where they deserve, rather than get ousted by Brower in every situation.

  • rusty_shakleforde

    As an aside, I also hope the coaching staff will loosen up a bit on the structure side of things. I think what we are seeing with LVGK is a bit less structure, a bit more general guidelines and flow. Players like Sam Bennett would prosper from this shift, for instance. I think he is more instinctual–this doesn’t necessarily mean he’s stupid, but I think maybe there is a difference between hockey IQ/thinking the game, and instinct/feeling the game.

  • Garry T

    I think things are shaping up nicely. I would lose Sigalet because his approach is regressive. But the positives are building. If Bill instills a strong forecheck leading to turnovers from the other team’s offensive zone through our blue line and if we tighten up defensively in terms of admittance to our zone, we are going to win a serious number of games.
    If we can perform better in our zone and clear the blue paint consistently, we are going to win more. In addition there has been talk of departures. If we lost seven or eight people that were brought in that proved useless and we replaced them and built lines three and four with a combination of newcomers and prospects, we will be further ahead. I see the light in the tunnel. I see positive changes and I can see us with a chance for the playoffs and perhaps more. I would love to see a series of stealth moves to improve the club prior to the draft and free agency. Get our work started early. Go Flames Go

        • calgaryfan

          No coach could help the goalies he has been given. They have left to other teams, AHL, Europe and had other coaches but none returned to NHL as great goaltenders.

        • BendingCorners

          Irrelevant. None of the goalies that left (unlike Dubnik when he fled Edmonton) showed substantial improvement after leaving. And Smith looked the same here a she has in Arizona for the past few years – usually very good, sometimes stinky, slow to recover after an injury.
          Sigalet is at least average, so why agitate to replace him?

    • BringtheFire 2.0

      “If we lost seven or eight people that were brought in that proved useless and we replaced them and built lines three and four with a combination of newcomers and prospects, we will be further ahead.”

      You know it’s WAY easier to write that in the comments than to actually do it, right? Also, if that many players need to be replaced, were we any good to begin with?

      For me, the only thing I like is the Ward hiring. For everyone else it’s show me, don’t tell me.

      It’s all question marks, same as last year.

      • The GREAT WW

        You must be super stoked about having your favourite coach on your favourite team now!!!!!

        Why not go celebrate with your brothers and sisters on Oilers Nation?


      • BendingCorners

        It’s actually sort of easy to do. Trading Brodie and Frolik for two top six RHS will be a challenge, but after that:
        Sign D.Ryan (or equvalent) for depth
        Rotate Bennett, Jankowski, Ferland through the top six. My bet is Bennett sticks, with two good linemates he will take off, I think.
        Use Backlund on the third line.
        A bottom six of Ferland, Backlund, Foo, Jankowski, Shore and Ryan, with a spare of Mangiapane and a “Mr.Muscles” (Prout, Grenier, Cormier), is a pretty good bottom six. The fourth line would have a 38 pointer and a 25 pointer, which is very good for depth.
        It all starts at the top though. So you’re right in one sense – there are questions waiting to be resolved.

        • freethe flames

          If you add a 2 top 6 RHS the top will look stronger and so will the middle. Ryan IMO makes a lot of sense and b/c of his connection to BP and being a good face off guy makes me think it will be done.
          Mangaipane?/Ryan?/Shore or Lazar

  • Fan the Flames

    Calgary needed to win 10 more games if the PP was good they would have won 10 more games . The home record was aweful a team needs to be hard to play against especially when they are at home and this team was way too soft in the Saddledome.

  • freethe flames

    When did Dougie join the first PP unit? How many of these games did TB play on the PP ahead of either Tkachuk or Ferland? These are all on the coaching staff. I don’t want to dwell on the past but boy am I glad that GG and Cameron are gone. I am hopeful that we can find a legitimate RHF for at least one of the PP units,

  • freethe flames

    It’s so frustrating to think of what this team is missing. Brouwer was brought in to bring secondary scoring, some grit and gumption, on ice leadership and an improved PP and IMO he has been MIA ; 0/4 and it’s not like he has not been given his chance. Then I watch the Caps play and two guys I said I preferred at the time were also FA contributing; Connelly and Smith Pelly; combined they would have cost less than Brouwer and both would have been on short term deals.