Saturday, November 29, 2014

Eight From 80 Feet: Random Musings About the Calgary Flames

Welcome to the debut of a new content feature -- Eight from 80 Feet.

Comprised of a blend of anecdotes, recaps, statistics, analysis and with some opinions or predictions sprinkled in as well, it's a round-up of random thoughts on the current goings-on with the Calgary Flames.

1. Skid Stopping

A key story line for the Flames this season has been their incredible ability to consistently bounce back with a positive result after a loss. All nine times after they've suffered a first loss, Calgary has rebounded to get at least a point in that next game going 8-0-1.

In the one instance in which they followed a regulation loss with a shootout loss, they won the next game after that so if you look at their record strictly in the games following losses, they are 9-0-1.

There are only four other teams in the NHL that have yet to lose two straight games in regulation -- Anaheim, Detroit, Nashville and Pittsburgh.

Equally, if not more impressive, has been Calgary's ability to avoid a losing streak of any substance. Dating back to last season, here is the longest stretch of games teams have gone without a three-game losing streak of any kind (made up of regulation and/or overtime/shootout losses):

1. Calgary, 56 games (dating back to Jan. 22, 2014)
2. Tampa Bay, 40 games
3. Nashville, 34 games
4. Pittsburgh, 31 games
5. Chicago, 29 games

Over the equivalent of 2/3 of a full season, the Flames have not had a single three-game losing streak and only five two-game losing streaks. For the extreme opposite, you need only look north, up the No. 2 highway. During a similar span, the Edmonton Oilers have had three three-game losing streaks to go along with droughts of four, five, six and nine games (current).

As long as Calgary continues this ability to not fall into any extended funks, they have assured themselves with their fast start that they will be in the Western Conference playoff conversation for a long time.

2. Cali Litmus Test

The cautionary note as the Flames busted out to a fast start was whoa, just wait. Hang on. Not so fast. Let's just see what happens when they play the heavyweights from the Western Conference. Wait until they play those venerable clubs from California.

Well, now they have and so far, so good.

In this recent stretch against the West that included home dates with Anaheim and Chicago, then road assignments on back-to-back nights in Anaheim and San Jose, the Flames emerged 2-2-0 (with a dramatic 5-4 comeback win over New Jersey squeezed in the middle) and gave no indication that they couldn't compete with any of these teams.
  • In the two losses, 4-3 at home to Chicago and 3-2 in Anaheim, both were by one goal and came after poor starts saw Calgary fall behind by 2-0 and 3-0 scores respectively.
  • In the two losses, the Flames outshot the Blackhawks (27-22) and Ducks (34-29)

They still have five games to go with the reigning Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings and another three to go with the red-hot Vancouver Canucks but you wonder how many tests this team is going to have to pass before people will take them seriously.

3. Monahan: Cool as Ice in the Shootout

Sean Monahan scored again in the shootout last week against the Devils. He may be a boring interview but that demeanour sure serves him well in the shootout where the enormity of the moment never seems to faze him and and he has been dominant.

Here are the NHL's top 10 active shooters in the shootout (minimum of five attempts)

1. Sean Monahan CGY, 7-for-11, 63.6%
2. Brock Nelson NYI, 3-for-5, 60.0%
3. Tyler Bozak TOR, 11-for-19, 57.9%
4. Frans Nielsen NYI, 37-for-65, 56.9%
5. Jakob Silfverberg ANA, 9-for-16, 56.2%
6. TJ Oshie STL, 27-for-50, 54.0%
7. PA Parentau MTL, 14-for-28, 50.0%
7. Matt Hendricks EDM, 9-for-18, 50.0%
7. Maxim Lapierre STL, 6-for-12, 50.0%
7. Mika Zibanejad OTT, 5-for-10, 50%

At the moment, Monahan is also ranked No. 2 all-time.

The NHL requires one to have 10 shootout attempts to be considered and the only player with a better shootout percentage than Monahan was former Minnesota Wild forward Petteri Nummelin, who from 2006 to 2008, was 8 for 10 to finish his NHL career at 80.0%.  Nummelin has played the last three seasons in Finland after four years in Switzerland.

4. American Thanksgiving Myth

There's a theory, generally attributed to Detroit general manager Ken Holland, that where you are in the NHL standings on American Thanksgiving is a good indicator of whether or not you'll be a playoff team come season's end.

For the record, on that day this year, Calgary was six points clear of the best non-playoff team, which was Minnesota (although the Wild had three games in hand, which is a key consideration).

I looked into this and it's not nearly as black and white as we're led to believe but there are some interesting observations to be had. Going back to the 2004-05 lockout, here is a list of teams that have fallen out of the playoffs or climbed into the playoffs after U.S. Thanksgiving.

In parentheses is how many points clear they were of the best non-playoff team, or how many points behind the last playoff team they were:
  • 2013-14 - Phoenix (+5) missed. Dallas (-8) made it.
  • 2012-13 - Not applicable (lockout)
  • 2011-12 - Minnesota (+5), Dallas (+2) missed. Vancouver (-1), Nashville (-0) made it.
  • 2010-11 - Columbus (+4), St. Louis (+3), Colorado (+1) missed. Nashville (-2), Anaheim (-1), Chicago (-0) made it.
  • 2009-10 - Calgary (+4), Dallas (+2) missed. Vancouver (-3), Detroit (-1) made it.
  • 2008-09 - Minnesota (+4), Nashville (+1) missed. St. Louis (-2), Columbus (-1) made it.
  • 2007-08 - Vancouver (+2), Chicago (+1) missed. Nashville (-2), Calgary (-1) made it.
  • 2006-07 - Edmonton (+3) missed. Calgary (-1) made it.
  • 2005-06 - Los Angeles (+7), Vancouver (+6) missed. San Jose (-5), Anaheim (-5) made it.

Going back to 2009-10, the Flames themselves were in a playoff position at U.S. Thanksgiving only to tumble out of it by the end of the year. It shows that Calgary hasn't clinched anything yet, but it also shows that for teams like Colorado and Dallas that got off to slow starts this season, they have an uphill climb and the odds are stacked against them.

5. Intriguing Roster Decisions Loom

Three veterans are back skating and their return to the Flames line-up is looming. Within the next couple weeks, Mason Raymond (shoulder), Joe Colborne (wrist) and Matt Stajan (knee) should all be re-joining the Flames from injured reserve.  That sets up some interesting roster decisions for general manager Brad Treliving.

The first player to go would likely be Corban Knight as the guy that was the most recent call-up.

The second player to head out is probably going to be Sven Baertschi. He hasn't had the offensive impact many thought or hoped yet most would agree in his nominal 10 minutes per game he's been averaging lately, he's been pretty good. He just can't get a goal to fall no matter what, firing a shot off the goal post on Wednesday night against the Sharks. Baertschi has not scored a goal this season in 21 games combined between the NHL (11) and AHL (10).

Ideally, Baertschi goes down to Adirondack after getting an exit meeting-message of keep doing what you're doing but do it in 18-20 minutes per night and with power play time. Then, you hope he scores some goals as he has readily admitted in the past that's what fuels his game. If he does that, he could be back in Calgary in no time.

It's the third decision that will be the most difficult.

The most likely scenario is Calgary demotes Michael Ferland. It's the easy way to go as he's a guy that is young (age 22), hasn't accumulated a whole lot of AHL experience yet (only 41 games) and he doesn't have to clear waivers. However, from what I've seen and how he is being used -- e.g. trusted on the ice late in games, he is a guy that can play in the NHL right now and brings a lot of what the Flames management wants this team to embody -- hard-hitting, big, strong, and with some skill. Ferland's best place to develop is probably in the NHL at this point, just continue to roll him out there and let him get better against the best players in the world.

In the first year of a three-year deal, the much chastised (by fans) Brandon Bollig isn't going anywhere. Maybe he ends up sitting in the press box more regularly but he'll remain on the Flames roster.

Josh Jooris and Markus Granlund appear safe to me and if they're going anywhere, it's into the equipment manager's room to get new 'traditional' numbers sewn on their jerseys. The impact they've had and the way they've been utilized makes it hard to believe either would be a candidate to be sent down.

Speedy Paul Byron has been excellent all year, doing whatever has been asked and chipping in five goals. He's not going anywhere.

The only other option as I see it and barring an injury (or a trade) making the decision not necessary, would be to do something with Brian McGrattan.

McGrattan has played just over 47 minutes this season. He's only dressed for seven games. His position on the depth chart has been made pretty clear based on how often he's been passed over when a player has been hurt with a prospect being elevated from Adirondack to play instead.

McGrattan is an immensely popular figure in the dressing room and if you're going to be sitting a guy in the press box most nights, it makes sense for it to be a guy like McGrattan given his age. The team wants its prospects to be playing -- in the NHL or in the AHL.

But the longer the Flames stay in the playoff chase, you wonder if they don't need a more serviceable option in that role of 14th forward. If McGrattan, a UFA at season's end, does end up on waivers at some point and is either claimed by another team or demoted to the AHL, I wouldn't be surprised.

We'll have see how many decisions ultimately need to be made as more injuries will be coming, it's inevitable -- especially in a scenario like this where we're counting David Jones among the healthy players.

6. From One Finn to Another

The Karri Ramo situation is an interesting one. The 28-year-old is a pending UFA compared to freshly inked Jonas Hiller, who is in the first season of a two-year deal. With Joni Ortio expected to be in Calgary next season given he'll be on a one-way contract and would need to clear waivers to be demoted to the minors, the conventional thinking would be that Ramo is the guy that could be traded prior to the trade deadline.

However, Ramo is coming off a 32-save shutout in San Jose and will get the start again Saturday night in Arizona. Given Hiller's propensity lately to surrender one bad goal per start, there is a window of opportunity for Ramo to seize the starter's job.

At four-and-a-half years younger than Hiller and with it highly unlikely that any of the other goalies in the system (Jon Gillies or Mason McDonald, in particular) will be NHL-ready for 2016-17 when Hiller could be gone, I'd suggest the better move would be to re-sign Ramo to a reasonable multi-year extension and then look to trade Hiller at the deadline or next summer.

Ramo has 22 career victories with the Flames. When fellow-Finn Miikka Kiprusoff was the same age that Ramo is today, he had only 24 wins with Calgary. Yet, by the time he retired -- and he did so early in many people's opinion, Kiprusoff had racked up 305 victories in a Flames uniform.

This is not to say Ramo would have nearly the same impact but it goes to show that while Ramo may seem old at 28, especially compared to Ortio at age 23, he could also just be getting started.

7. Dynamic Defensive Duo

Nearly eight weeks into the season, the Flames dynamic duo on defence of Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie are ranked 1st and 2nd in defencemen scoring. It is an incredible feat considering the NHL is a 30-team league.

1. Mark Giordano CGY, 24 gm, 6-18-24
2. TJ Brodie CGY, 24 gm, 5-15-20
3. Brent Burns SJ, 24 gm, 7-12-19
4. Sami Vatanen ANA, 22 gm, 5-13-18
4. Kris Letang PIT, 22 gm, 4-14-18
4. Kevin Shattenkirk STL, 23 gm, 2-16-18

Collectively, the entire Oilers defence has just 26 points (8 g, 18 a) and the Sabres blue-line has 21 points (2 g, 19 a).

It was 27 years ago and when the NHL only had 21 teams that Flames defencemen Gary Suter and Al MacInnis finished 1-2 in NHL defencemen scoring. The caveat to that season is had Paul Coffey not suffered two knee injuries, he may have finished on top as he had in previous years.  Nonetheless, it was a tremendous accomplishment for Suter and MacInnis, age 23 and 24 respectively at the time.

Of note, everyone on the above list are in the Hockey Hall of Fame except for Suter, Housley and Patrick -- all of whom played for the Flames at one point in their career. Calgary fans can only hope that is foreshadowing what's to come in the careers for No. 5 and No. 7.

8. Demise of Devin Setoguchi

As a right-hand shooting right winger -- a coveted skill set in the current NHL, Devin Setoguchi was available to anyone as an unrestricted free agent for 54 days last summer before Calgary signed him to a cheap $750,000 contract. He was again available to the NHL's 29 other teams when he was placed on waivers last Wednesday -- but nobody was interested.

As the former eighth overall draft pick prepares to ride the busses of the American Hockey League for the first time since 2007, you have to wonder if this is it for the 27-year-old, who by age should be just entering his prime.

Given the number of players above him on the depth chart including young prospects that need playing time, it's hard to envision a scenario in which he makes it back to Calgary and you have to wonder if his NHL career might not be over.

The one thing you can't say is that he never got a fair opportunity from coach Bob Hartley.
  • Had zero points in 12 games (and also zero points in five preseason games)
  • Linemates included Monahan and Curtis Glencross for a spell
  • Was on the ice for only two even-strength goals (and nine against)
  • Mustered only 12 shots on goal
  • Saw 16:35 of power play ice time. Compare that to others -- Jooris (13:12), Granlund (6:55), Baertschi (2:01)

If this ends up being it, Setoguchi will finish with the third most games played as a Flame (skaters only) without scoring a point:

Starting from the bottom of that dubious list:

1. D Mike Peluso (1997-98), 23 games
2. RW Rocky Thompson (1997-98, 1998-99), 15 games
3. RW Devin Setoguchi (2014-15), 12 games
4. RW Guillaume Desbiens (2011-12), 10 games
5. C Craig Ferguson (1995-96), 8 games

Other notables, who at least mustered one point in their time with the Flames: Rico Fata (27 gm), Sasha Lakovic (19 gm), Mike Commodore (18 gm), Dallas Eakins (17 gm), Greg Nemisz (15 gm) and Krys Kolanos (13 gm).

See you later Devin, we hardly knew you.


Recent Related Flames Reading
  • Two Ways To Look at "It's Not Sustainable" The analytics experts are out in full force these days. In their cross-hairs is the explanation-defying Calgary Flames, the should-be Connor McDavid contenders, who instead are contending for first place in the Western Conference. I explain that Calgary can't keep up it's current pace, but nor does it need to.
  • Flames Hockey Talk - The archive of my guest appearance on SiriusXM NHL Network Radio on November 19 when I joined Jim 'Boomer' Gordon and we talked about the Flames fast start and discussed that popular question: Is it sustainable?
  • Wrong Side of the Tracks, Right Side of the Standings - If the 2014-15 NHL season was an 80s movie, the Flames with Byron, Bouma and Jooris would be cast as the poor kids, up against the rich kids in Eberle, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins. So far, the poor kids are dating the gorgeous cheerleader.
  • Sweet 16: Sixteen Reasons for Flames Fans To Smile - Sixteen games into the season and the Calgary Flames are the talk of the NHL and so they should be with an improbable 9-5-2 record. Here are 16 reasons for Flames fans to enjoy this season's early success. 
  • Flames on a Roll: Buckle Up, Hang on Tight and Enjoy the Ride - Calgary is playing exciting, competitive and winning hockey. As a fan, isn't that what you signed up for? My examination of the Flames fast start includes reason for optimism, but mixed with realism. 

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