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Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Stick TAP - Edition 2: My thoughts, analysis and predictions in response to your questions

The inaugural edition of the Stick TAP (read it here) got positive reviews and my own 'advanced stats' suggested it was well read so it's time to try this format once again and determine if it was a case of a great rookie season (see Blaine Lacher, Jim Carey) that will be followed by the equivalent of a sophomore slump -- and then quickly the end, or will this content feature be here to stay.

As a reminder, the premise of Stick TAP is much like mailbag features you read elsewhere. It's an opportunity for you -- the reader, to ask questions about the Calgary Flames, and I'll answer the question or at least share my thoughts. Where I am putting my own unique twist on the concept is every response will be broken down into three specific elements:

Thoughts - General commentary, maybe including something you hadn't considered.
Analysis - Statistic(s) or research that supports or relates to the topic.
Prediction - The dangerous part. I'll take a guess at what will happen. But no scorekeeping allowed!


The latest batch of questions came in a couple weeks ago. Thank you to those that took the time to submit one. Unfortunately, I won't be able to answer all of them today but I have selected three questions for a thorough response. From the leftovers, I selected another five that I've answered with a 'short and quick' response. Those can be found at the bottom in the appropriately named Snapshots section.

Any others will be kept for another time, if still relevant. Or, I may turn them into a future blog. Note that you can tweet your questions to me at anytime at @DarrenWHaynes and I'll put the questions in the queue for consideration for the next edition of Stick TAP.


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Q1. Which of the Flames new players is most likely to have a long career in Calgary?  
- Submitted by @ajateacher
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Thoughts

That's a tough question considering there's suddenly a nucleus of really good, young players in place here, who could stay together for a while and a couple years from now form a pretty darn good team that becomes a perennial playoff contender. Of that group, one guy that has a good chance of being here the longest is Sam Bennett and here's why.

For one, he's the highest draft pick the Calgary Flames have ever had. Drafted fourth, he was ranked first by some including the NHL's Central Scouting Service. Players of that ilk are not players you trade away. Also, he plays a position (centre) that is so important yet is so hard to fill with quality if you don't do draft and develop your own.

Secondly, he's young. In fact, he's about as young as one can be having just turned 18 prior to the draft. I don't see Bennett playing this year in the NHL. He may get in a couple of games but won't play more than nine and will eventually be sent back to Kingston. However, next season when he's still not yet AHL age-eligible, I'd fully expect him to stay in Calgary.

When that 2015-16 season begins, Bennett will have just turned 19 less than four months earlier. Based on the current CBA, he would remain under Calgary's 'control' (meaning he can't become an unrestricted free agent) for seven seasons and then be eligible to become a UFA. That means in theory, Bennett can become a UFA at age 26 -- before even reaching his prime. Obviously, the Flames won't let that happen so look for them to lock him up long term just prior to that point. So I can easily envision a scenario in which Bennett plays in Calgary for a minimum of 10-12 seasons.

Monahan should have a long career in Calgary also but he'll be two full seasons of experience ahead of Bennett and looking several years down the road, he could become expendable first as an 'older' guy -- as hard as it is today to envision Monahan as one of the Flames older players. Others like Johnny Gaudreau, already 21, may have less time in Calgary because of the way the system works and their ability to become a UFA sooner. Meanwhile, other first rounders like Emile Poirier and Morgan Klimchuk will probably have their careers in Calgary begin at an older age than Bennett so for the same reasons, may not amass the same quantity of years wearing the Flaming C.


Analysis

Historically, the seven-year mark is that magic time when players begin changing organizations. In the last seven years going back to 2008, Tyler Seguin (2nd in 2010) is the only top-four draft pick that is not with the organization that drafted him. That means 96.4 percent are still with their original team.

On the flip side, in the eight drafts prior to that (2000 through 2007), just eight top-four picks remain with the organization that drafted them. That means only 25.0 percent are still playing for their original team. Here are those eight including the year they were drafted and years remaining on their current contract:

Patrick Kane, Chi, 1st in 2007 -- 8 years left
Jonathan Toews, Chi, 3rd in 2006 -- 8 years left
Nicklas Backstrom, Wsh, 4th in 2006 -- 6 years left
Sidney Crosby, Pit, 1st in 2005 -- 11 years left
Alex Ovechkin, Wsh, 1st in 2004 -- 7 years left
Evgeni Malkin, Pit, 2nd in 2004 -- 8 years left
Marc-Andre Fleury, Pit, 1st in 2003 - 1 year left
Eric Staal, Car, 2nd in 2003 - 2 years left

That's a good looking list, especially those six from 2004 on. The bottom line is guys who are those franchise-like star players on their team -- like Bennett could turn out to be, often get locked up and for about as long as the CBA will allow.


Prediction

I fully expect Bennett to fit into this same classification. I see him playing out his current three-year ELC, signing a two-year bridge-type deal, then signing a long-term deal of 5-7 years after that. Such a scenario would see him in Calgary Flames colours for as long as 12 years, or up until age 31. If you think about it, 31 isn't very old either. We know the loyalty this organization had to Jarome Iginla, there could very well be another Calgary contract for Bennett after that.


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Q2. How long do you see Bob Hartley sticking around if the season isn't "successful"?
 - Submitted by @supermanshero17
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Thoughts

When Bob Hartley was hired on May 31, 2012, a lot of good things were said. "Bob Hartley is a winner. Bob has won at every level he has coached, from the QMJHL to the AHL to the NHL to Switzerland, and we are confident he is going to continue his winning ways in Calgary," said Flames management. "He is a tireless worker, an outstanding motivator, a great bench boss and game strategist, and a teacher at heart. Moreover, he is a great person as well."

However, those words were spoken by then general manager Jay Feaster, who is now gone. Hartley's hiring also came well before the arrival of Brian Burke as Calgary's president of hockey operations, which happened 15 months later.

Entering the 2014-15 season on the final year of a three-year contract, there certainly isn't the slightest bit of job security for Hartley. If John Tortorella can be fired with four years and $8-million remaining on a contract, Hartley can be sacked with just months to go.


Analysis

Hartley won the Stanley Cup in 2000-01 with the Colorado Avalanche. That came after he got the Avs to the conference final the two previous seasons, which were his first two years behind the Colorado bench after taking over for Marc Crawford in 1998-99.

Here are some of the key members of that Avalanche team that hoisted Lord Stanley's mug in 2001, sorted by their age that season. Included for comparison are players from the Flames organization and what their age will be five years from now.

  • Patrick Roy (34), Karri Ramo (33)
  • Ray Bourque (39), Mark Giordano (35)
  • Shjon Podein (32), Joe Colborne (29)
  • Joe Sakic (31), Mikael Backlund (30)
  • Adam Foote (29), TJ Brodie (29)
  • Peter Forsberg (27), Johnny Gaudreau (26)
  • Greg De Vries (27), Tyler Wotherspoon (26)
  • Stephane Yelle (26), Sean Monahan (24)
  • Milan Hejduk (24), Emile Poirier (24)
  • Chris Drury (24), Sam Bennett (23)
  • Alex Tanguay (20), Morgan Klimchuk (23)


First of all, let's keep this in context. This isn't meant to stir up 'Player A vs. Player B' debate. No, I'm not insinuating that Karri Ramo is a young Patrick Roy, nor am I suggesting Mikael Backlund is on the way to becoming  Joe Sakic, or Mark Giordano is the second coming of Ray Bourque.

However, what I am saying is overall -- in five years time, is it conceivable that the talent level could be close? That's certainly possible. Consider also that not included above could be another very high Flames draft pick in 2015.

My bigger point is to view this from an overall age perspective. As noted, Hartley has a proven track record of success with the age group the Flames will be in three years, and he enjoyed the ultimate success with the age group the Flames core will be in five years.

A fair question is will Hartley's voice remain fresh and motivating long enough for him to still be effective as Calgary's head coach in three years, which will be year six for him? If you look at Hartley's NHL head coaching history, in both of his two prior stints with the Avs and the Thrashers, he was fired after things started going south in year five.


Prediction

The physical style of game Hartley likes to coach is the exact style of game Burke and Treliving want the team to play. This bodes well.

While there are good coaching candidates waiting in the wings -- Dan Bylsma and Guy Boucher are two that spring to mind, you can't argue the performance Hartley got out of this team last year. Not measured merely in wins and points but more so by the club's competitiveness on a night in, night out basis, the Flames were far more competitive than anyone expected last year.

It may ultimately come down to what is the definition of "success". If Flames management is realistic with what they have looking at this roster today, I can see this year being a success even if they go backwards in terms of point total. For me, I'm defining success as the team getting better and if due to injury or trades, this team can eventually integrate some youth and start building their NHL portfolios, the team will be that much further ahead in 2015-16.

I do predict Hartley will once again get about all he can squeeze out of this group this season and will be re-signed to a new contract for another three or four years. What I won't predict is if he'll make it to the end of that deal. Even the best head coaches reach a point where the message becomes stale and the players stop listening... and as they say, you can't fire the players.


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Q3. What prospect from past years do you think Calgary gave up on too early? Marty Murray always bugged me.
- Submitted by @d_regs14
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Thoughts

When you talk about the prospects that got away, you never hear about Denis Cyr, Calgary's first ever draft pick in 1980. Cyr was selected 13th overall after a tremendous season with the QMJHL's Montreal Juniors in which he went 70-76-146 in 70 games. After scoring 14 goals in 66 games over parts of three season with the Flames, Cyr was traded at the young age of 21 to Chicago in exchange for Carey Wilson.

Of course, you never encounter anyone that laments giving up on Cyr because there were never any regrets. He never did earn himself a permanent NHL role and after short stints with Chicago and St. Louis, he retired at age 26. Same thing applies to former first round picks Jason Muzzatti, Rico FataMatt Pelech and Oleg Saprykin, all highly-touted Flames prospects at one time, who were eventually traded away or simply not re-signed, and not one of those decisions came back to haunt Calgary.

But those stories are boring. Much like fishermen would much rather talk about the big one that got away, hockey chatter over a couple of pints is more interesting when you talk about the grievous mistakes, the colossally bad moves you would have never done if you could only do it all over again.

Here are my list of the best Flames prospects the club let slip away:

1. Brett Hull
2. Martin St. Louis
3. Jean-Sebastien Giguere
4. Marc Savard
5. Brandon Prust


Analysis

So, who was to blame?  Here is a refresher on the Flames GM at the time and the circumstances in each scenario:

Brett Hull - A sixth round pick in 1984, Hull showed his potential in his first year in the minors scoring 50 goals in 67 games for the Moncton Golden Flames. The next season was 1987-88 and he was 26-24-50 in 52 games in the NHL when the 23-year-old right winger was part of a multi-player deal with St. Louis. While it's true Calgary received from the Blues two players in defenceman Rob Ramage and goaltender Rick Wamsley, who played pivotal roles in their Stanley Cup victory one year later, there is no way GM Cliff Fletcher had any idea the caliber of player Hull would become. Unlike the others, this wasn't a case of the Flames giving up on Hull but did they underestimate his value? Yes.
  • Since His Departure - In his first season in St. Louis, Hull scored 41 goals. What followed will blow the minds of the younger NHL fan, who can't fathom this type of wide open hockey. From 1989 through 1994, Hull scored 72, 86, 70, 54 and 57 goals respectively. Unbelievable. All in all, he went on to play another 1,200 NHL games, notching 717 goals and 1,340 points.

Marty St. Louis - The diminutive winger and two-time Hobey Baker finalist was not drafted. He was eventually signed by Calgary GM Al Coates and reported to the American Hockey League where his domination showed his underlying talent. In 95 games with Saint John over parts of three seasons, St. Louis amassed 58 goals and 114 points. However, after being held to 3 goals and 18 points in 56 NHL games in 1999-00, the 25-year-old was released  that summer in the first move made by incoming Flames GM Craig Button.
  • Since His Departure - St. Louis has played in nearly 1,000 regular season games, another 88 in the playoffs, he's won a Stanley Cup, he's scored over 366 goals and tallied 961 points.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere - First, the 20-year-old former 13th overall pick was acquired by GM Al Coates on Aug. 25, 1997 from the Hartford Whalers along with Andrew Cassels in a trade for Gary Roberts and Trevor Kidd. But then, they let him get away. After three seasons in the minors that included a few shorts stints with the Flames, Craig Button traded Giguere, 23, to Anaheim for a second round pick. It became staggeringly obvious later on that the club wasn't patient enough with Giguere. As we know better now, goaltenders take longer to develop.
  • Since His Departure - In his first year with the Ducks, Giguere worked his way to the NHL and took over the starting job from Guy Hebert. He kept that job for the next several years, including winning the Stanley Cup and being awarded the Conn Smyth with Anaheim in 2003. Having just recently announced his retirement, Giguere recorded 254 of his 262 career victories after leaving Calgary.

Marc Savard - Essentially stolen from the New York Rangers, who drafted him, in a trade in 1999, Savard was a talented yet moody kid. The biggest issue is he didn't get along with Calgary head coach Greg Gilbert, who was never happy with Savard's lack of commitment to defensive play. The result was the departure of a kid with tremendous offensive abilities, who initially went to Atlanta when Button traded the 25-year-old to the Thrashers in a famously awful deal for mysterious Russian Ruslan Zainullin, who never came over to North America.
  • Since His Departure - It was his third year in Atlanta (under the guidance of coach Bob Hartley) that Savard's game reached another level. That first season after the 2004-05 NHL lockout, Savard piled up career highs in goals and points going 28-69-97. As a UFA, he signed with Boston next where he was an important playmaker for three-and-a-half seasons (finishing with point totals of 96, 66 and 70) before concussion issues set in, which would eventually end his hockey career.  

Brandon Prust - What a solid, useful player Prust has become. Unfortunately, it didn't happen in Calgary. In fact, the veteran would look particularly good in a Flames uniform right now considering the rough and tumble qualities the new Flames regime have been seeking out. Calgary actually had Prust twice. First, GM Darryl Sutter drafted him in the third round in 2004. After dealing him to Phoenix as part of a package to acquire Olli Jokinen in a failed late-season push, Sutter reacquired Prust three months later in exchange for Jim Vandermeer. But, at age 25 in 2010, Sutter dealt him away again, this time shipping him to New York with Jokinen in exchange for the underwhelming duo of Chris Higgins and Ales Kotalik.

  • Since His Departure(s) - Prust turned in two excellent seasons with the Rangers in which he played all 82 games both years. In 2010-11 to go along with his usual toughness, he had a career-best 13 goals and 29 points. Prust signed as an unrestricted free agent with Montreal in the summer of 2012 and has been a key member of the Canadiens since, although he battled injury problems last season. 



Prediction

Having not had a whole lot of prospects to speak of in recent years, there haven't been any contentious deals. I still think goaltender Laurent Brossoit, shipped to the Oilers to get Ladislav Smid, has a chance to be a very good NHL goaltender so perhaps his name will be added to the above list eventually.

Looking at the organization today, the guy that you can see the team moving is Sven Baertschi, Calgary's first round pick from 2011. In this recent article in which I examined the trials and tribulations of the last couple years for Baertschi, I compared the many similarities between he and his fellow countrymen and fellow Portland Winterhawks alumni Nino Niederreiter. One big difference is Niederreiter, also a first round pick, was traded away by the team that selected him.

Maybe it's correlation or maybe it's just coincidence, but Niederreiter has gotten his career back on track with Minnesota after his career looked bleak while with the New York Islanders. Should Treliving trade away Baertschi, there will be a lot of sullen Flames fans following Baertschi's career very closely to see how it plays out as there's no arguing his talent and he's not yet 22 years old.

Personally, I still expect Baertschi to have a good NHL career as a second line winger. However, it remains to be seen if that will take place in Calgary or elsewhere.


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Snapshots

Short and quick answers to other randomly selected questions that were submitted.

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Q. Your thoughts on the Flames 'monetizing' cap space with Boston or Philly contracts? Crunch time is approaching for them.
- Submitted by @loudogYYC

It's no secret that Treliving is looking to add veteran defensive depth. Should one of those teams end up in a pinch where they need to unload a contract and there's a defenceman that is a candidate (with a maximum term left of one or two years), that could very well happen. One guy to keep an eye on is Boston's Johnny Boychuk, who is set to make $3.4-million in the final year of his deal. The Bruins would love to keep him but with Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski and Kevan Miller, it's a position of depth and you can them making such a move. Not sure Calgary gets an asset along with Boychuk but they would get an asset for him when they deal the pending UFA as they would at the trade deadline.

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Q. What is your opinion on the ceiling for Monahan? I see him as more of a Jordan Staal type. Does he have a higher scoring ceiling?.
- Submitted by @schafer_12

A. I see Monahan as a 20-25 goal scorer in his career. While he'll keep getting better, a lot of good and unsustainable things happened last year that helped contribute to his 22 goals. Twenty goals this year would be considered an excellent season. He might be someone that gets to 30 but not regularly. The Jordan Staal comparison isn't a bad one although I do see Monahan with a slightly higher offensive upside.

In time, with Monahan's size and face-off ability, I see him playing some awfully tough minutes matching up against other team's top lines and while he'll be an important player on Calgary, I don't envision him as that high-end offensive player.

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Q. Is Jack Eichel a consolation prize or a '1a' to Connor McDavid, and are the Flames even a contender for 30th?
- Submitted by @TherealThul

A. Recently, I wrote two articles, looking at this season through two very different lens. In this one, I looked at the Flames competitive second-half last year (they were legitimately a playoff team over the final three months) and ask why couldn't they be that again in 2014-15. In the other one, in probably the more realistic scenario, I look at the odds of finishing at/near the bottom and drafting McDavid or Eichel.

In reality, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle although closer to the bottom end. Everything I've seen and read indicates that Eichel is a very nice alternative to McDavid. However, I just don't see it happening. The Flames are more likely to finish 27th this season than 30th. And with the new draft lottery odds, even a 29th place finish only results in Calgary having a 1-in-3 chance at picking in the top two.

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Q. Do you think Markus Granlund and Kenny Agostino deserve a chance to prove they are NHL-ready before Johnny Hockey? Or should it be best man wins?
- Submitted by @TRattai

A. While Agostino, having done four years of college, has a year on Johnny Gaudreau and while Granlund has a full AHL season under his belt already, I don't think that gets them a seat closer to the front of the airplane.

Flames management has been preaching that players will not be given anything, they'll have to earn it. (Yes, Jay Feaster's 'meritocracy' still applies). With not many forward positions available, they'll really have to earn it this year. I think it's very much a best-man wins scenario unless it's dead even, in which case I'd defer to the player with the greater amount of pro experience -- in that case, Granlund.

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Q. Sean Monahan surpassed all reasonable expectations last season. What are the chances that Sam Bennett does the same this year?
- Submitted by @FranklinSteele

Very unlikely. In the last StickTAP, I addressed the question of how many NHL games I think Bennett will get in this year and I don't think it will be many. By no means is he a cinch to play in the nine that he can play and still be eligible to be returned to junior.

Bennett is nine months younger than Monahan was last year. Plus, he's got one year less OHL experience than Monahan had. Those factors plus the current roster situation -- not many openings, and considering everything Treliving and Burke have said about how sending a player back to junior never hurts a player's development, it's very likely that Bennett's first NHL goal will have to wait for another year.

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4 comments:


  1. I remember, all too well, when Brent Sutter was brought aboard and how he would instill a "dog pack mentality," within the team. Nothing of the sort, transpired, of course. I suppose it wasn't all Brent's fault, but he should have taken a closer look at all the under-performers the team had back then and toned down his comments somewhat.

    As for Hartley, he's done wonders, but demanding coaches seem to get tuned out, eventually. He'll have to be creative now and in the future if he's going to keep the team buying into the kind of work ethic they displayed last year.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. An advantage for Hartley is he'll be dealing with a wave of many new players over the next few years and he will be a fresh voice for them. That could work to his advantage. He's a neat guy, always has a few funny lines ready for the morning post-practice pressers. Perhaps he's mellowing in his old age? Doubt it. Watch him put the team through the exhausting 'mountain climber' drill at practice and you'll be back thinking he's a drill sargent.

      Will be an interesting year as inevitably some prospects will continue their progression and some will see their stock fall.

      Delete
  2. Hey Haynes, I would like to send a question to your Q&A, but I can't do it in 144 characters. Anyway, my twitter name is @depoisdacurva and here's my question:
    Last year some players started the year in a good position in the big club. But towards the end they lost space. Examples: Galliard, O'Brien, I would include Wideman even though he got injured.
    Who do you think could have the same fate this year?
    My guess: Colborne, Engelland and Smid.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In future you can also email your question. My email address is listed on the blog. Thank you for your question, I will add it to the list for consideration when I tackle the third edition of the Stick TAP. Thanks for reading.

      Delete