How do the Flames handle their closest thing to a bonafide #1 goalie? What’s the strategy heading into trade deadline?
Noah Hanifin is failing the eye test. How’s he doing actually?
Hanifin has been a bit of a disaster the last few games. He and Travis Hamonic have been caught making lazy giveaways or puck watching on some pretty ugly goals against. It’s not necessarily a new thing either; he had some disastrous moments earlier in the year that were seemingly jitters. He bounced back, but he’s having a rough stretch right now.
The fancy stats kind of paint a good and bad picture. Hanifin sits at a 52.77 CF% at 5v5, which is right in the middle for all Flames regular defenceman. He remains in the middle when you consider per 60 rates and relative CF% (an inoffensive -0.23 CFrel%). His WOWY (with or without you data: measuring the impact of linemates on shot rates) doesn’t reveal anything shocking. No one’s carrying him to a serious extent, and vice versa.
In most regards, that’s fine. He’s receiving the toughest zone starts of all Flames defenders, for starters, so that will damage his numbers. He’s also behind Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie, and Hamonic in those departments, which is fine because they’re more experienced defenders. It’s not really that surprising that the 21-year-old (this is also key) Hanifin is not as good as the 35-year-old Norris contender, and two well-regarded 28-year-olds. Your number four defenceman is not going to be on par with your first pairing defenceman. He is, by definition, going to around or a bit below average compared to the rest of the defence.
The concern lies in whether or not he’ll fix the actual problems with his game while Juuso Valimaki, Rasmus Andersson, and Oliver Kylington are nipping at his heels. He’s not the only young defenceman on this roster, and there’s a few that are gearing up to usurp him in the coming years. The timeline for defencemen does extend a bit further than the one for forwards, but if he really can’t get his act together by the time one of the other young defencemen start getting theirs together, the Flames might have a pretty expensive #3 LHD.
Weigh the benefits of making moves at the deadline versus status quo….take the shot for all the marbles this year or stay on course with what we hope is a plan…?
— Ed Harkin, gravy officionado (@FlamesFanager) January 13, 2019
- The Flames, if they acquire the right rental piece, can bridge the gap between them and Tampa while building distance between them and the rapidly gaining San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights. The West is going to be very tough, especially considering that the top three Pacific teams might all finish at or around 100 points. At the end of that tunnel is likely one of either Nashville or Winnipeg, so having the weapons to outgun all of them is key to a Stanley Cup run.
- They can spread the scoring out and increase their flexibility. The Tkachuk-Backlund-Frolik combo is nice, but if you can find a winger that can push Frolik down the lineup, you’re adding a boost to the secondary scoring units which have been mostly quiet. You’re also buying insurance just in case the first or second lines hit a speed bump and see a dip in production.
- You aren’t going to have to rely upon AHLers and rookies in the playoffs. Maybe they’re decent enough to carry you there, but the playoffs are different.
- It will be an expensive dip into future assets for a team with very few of them. For a team that is going to be pushed up against the cap ceiling for the next few years, keeping cheap youth in the organization will be key. You can’t do that if you’re routinely drafting in the late rounds.
- The Flames are the second best team in the league. How much help do they really need right now?
- Building on that, the Flames’ window is just opening, so there’s really no need to go all-in right now. It’s certainly feasible that they reach the conference finals with the same roster they have right now. Johnny Gaudreau is having a Hart-calibre year at 25 and is somehow the oldest of their four superstar forwards. Even if the Flames don’t make the Final this year, it’s only up from here, and they’re already pretty close to the top. Why continue to spend future assets for short-term rentals when letting the team mature for another year might be a better option?
I would probably say that the Flames should hold off on it for a year. Right now is the year to figure out what they’re really made of and then see what they need to add and subtract for next season. They have the majority of the pieces already.
Is the 2nd line RW carousel finally over? Can James Neal be 3rd line RW? He is a mystery this year. Can you trade him for another struggling player with similar contract?
— KyleTkachuk (@KyleTkachuk) January 13, 2019
Yeah, the 3M line is the way to do it. I’m not sure how you can have an argument for any other combination of players. Tkachuk-Backlund-Bennett is the next best thing you can do with that line, and that was only mildly productive for a short stint of time. The 3M line continues to be one of the best in the business, and until you can actually find something tangibly better in the long term, you should stick with it.
As for Neal, the only mystery is figuring out how you get that SH% to rebound. He’s about career average in every shooting metric, both individual and on-ice, except for shooting percentage. We’ve seen time and time again how the volatility of that number can burn teams. Perhaps that switch gets flipped in the second half of the season, but you can really never guess. PDO has always been funny like that.
If the Flames wanted to trade him, that would be dead in the water. It’s hard to bail out of that contract given the length of it, and there are few dud contracts that are actually worth swapping that one for. Maybe you can look for one of those contracts for a player who is too injured to play, but what value does that give the Flames besides some LTIR room (if they even want to use it – remember that it’s not free)? That’s a major burden on the cap that they’ll rarely, if ever, get a chance to use.
What is the precedent for Rittich-like goalie performances in their first and second year? Is he likely to be a strong NHL goalie for the foreseeable future?
— Coolnnett (@PhaneronPhantom) January 13, 2019
Comparable goalies is tough for Rittich. There’s a handful of goalies who had one great season and then got paid (stay tuned for an article on that), but looking at their backgrounds, there’s a lot more hype for those goalies. Some of them had years of good production in the AHL and major European leagues. Some were high (relative to goalies) draft picks. They had a few seasons of riding pine and played in a couple of NHL games before teams really committed to them.
By comparison, Rittich only started 16 NHL games before this season. He’s kind of alone in that territory. Rittich came out of nowhere and quickly became one of the best without really acclimating to being a starter at any level of North American pro. How can you make a solid projection of what he’s going to be when his most substantial NHL sample size is this season?
All that makes guessing his future tricky, as he could be having one random great season (think Andrew Hammond). It’s certainly a worse case scenario option, but there’s no real guarantee that Rittich is going to be this great forever. Miikka Kiprusoff comparisons are tempting, but even Kiprusoff had plenty of AHL and European pro experience under his belt before coming to the Flames. There’s a reason he was worth a decently high draft pick.
To sum it up, I really don’t know. I want to, and do, believe that Rittich is going to be a long-term starter just based on how sturdy he’s been, but there’s still uncertainty. He’ll likely keep answering those questions as the season goes on, but you should really never lock him in as the long-term future right now.
Long term, bridge or 1 year deal for rittich?
— callum wheaton (@callumwheaton) January 13, 2019
I might go for two years on Rittich. Teams should approach contracts as one part paying for good past work, and one part paying for future work. Rittich brought the Flames to the playoffs, so he will get some money based on that.
As we said, future good work isn’t a certainty based on the small body of work. Rittich could have a repeat performance, he could just become mediocre. Two years gives the team enough time to determine how good Rittich is while giving them a parachute in case he’s not. If he suddenly regresses to bad next season, the team would have another year to let him bounce back or just grin and bear it.