Monday, January 26, 2015

Eight From 80 Feet: Flames All-Time U21 Scoring Leaders, PP Skid Marks, and More...


It's edition five of a new content feature I cobble together every couple of weeks called Eight from 80 Feet.

Comprised of a blend of anecdotes, recaps, statistics, analysis and maybe an opinion or prediction mixed in too, it's a round-up of eight random thoughts on the current goings-on with the Calgary Flames.


1. Monahan Making His Mark

When the Flames made Sean Monahan the sixth overall pick in 2013, longtime Flames fans had some trepidation and who can blame them. Scarred by how the club's two previous sixth overall picks -- Rico Fata (1998) and Daniel Tkaczuk (1997) -- turned out, the angst was to be expected.

Well, 19 months later, safe to say nobody is worried anymore. Monahan has already racked up 37 career goals, six more than Fata and Tkaczuk amassed in their entire NHL careers.

Also, if you look at how those top six draft picks in 2013 have played this season as I did recently, it could be argued Monahan is having the best year of any of them. I would not be surprised if a decade from now, it turns out Calgary got a steal in getting Monahan at No. 6 like they did.



The impressive start to the young man's career got me thinking, where does Monahan rank in goals by a 20-year-old in Flames team history and where could he end up? If he stays healthy, he has roughly 40 games to go between this season and next before he turns 21 on October 12.

What I learned is he won't catch Dan Quinn for top spot but he will definitely finish in the top three and has a very chance at making it into second spot.

Calgary Flames History - Most Goals Prior to 21st Birthday

1. Dan Quinn (1983 to 1986) - 69
2. Kevin Lavallee (1980 to 1982) - 47
3. Robert Reichel (1990 to 1992) - 39
4. Sean Monahan (2013 to 2015) - 37
5. Jarome Iginla (1996 to 1998) - 34
6. Richard Kromm (1983 to 1985) - 31
7. Dion Phaneuf (2005-06) - 20
8. Derek Morris (1997 to 1999) - 16
9. Theoren Fleury (1988-89) - 14
9. Jim Peplinski (1980 to 1982) - 14


2. Roster Move Speculation

Calgary reduced its roster to 20 players over the all-star break by shipping Joni Ortio, Markus Granlund and Tyler Wotherspoon back to Adirondack. Proving that it was not merely a paper transaction, all three played in the baby Flames 4-1 win on Saturday night with Ortio making 35 saves and Granlund contributing a goal and an assist.

Now the question is how many of those three, if any, are already back in Calgary? We know the Flames will bump the roster back up to 22 players at a minimum so they have an extra forward and an extra defenceman. Here's a quick look at what I think could happen:

Goal

When it was announced Ortio would not be participating in the AHL all-star game, the popular theory was it was because that game was on Monday night and surely he would already be back in Calgary by then and practicing with the Flames that afternoon.

Not so fast.

Perhaps the AHL -- so they could identify a replacement goaltender if needed, prepare all-star weekend collateral, etc., simply needed to know Ortio's status sooner than the Flames were prepared to decide what their plans were for the 23-year-old Finn. One period of action in an AHL all-star game in the grand scheme would not be significant enough of a reason to force Flames management into making a hasty decision so quite possibly they erred on the side of caution and pulled him out.

Besides, with Hiller coming off a solid relief appearance (stopped 14 of 15 shots) against Anaheim and presumably in line to start on Tuesday against Buffalo, and with Karri Ramo healthy, I'd be surprised if Ortio comes back to give the team three goalies again. He's proven he can hold his own in the NHL but a return trip may have to wait for potentially a trade to happen with either Hiller or Ramo -- or, it may not even be until next season.

Defence

Why would the Flames fly Tyler Wotherspoon across the country for two ice times and and then not play him? For one, with Ladislav Smid placed on injured reserve on January 20, it was insurance in case a defenceman got hurt. Although Corey Potter could have just as easily been the call-up if they only needed a spectator. My thinking is they picked Wotherspoon in order to get him settled into the team with the intention of playing the 21-year-old prospect this week.

If they had brought him up after the NHL all-star break only, that leaves him with just one practice and one game day skate. This way, they doubled the ice times and it will result in Wotherspoon being a little more ready if he should jump into the third pairing as soon as Tuesday -- and if Smid remains sidelined.

We'll know more about Smid today but based on reports on how he may have gotten injured, there could be a concussion scare and make it possible Wotherspoon will be in town for a while and unlike when Potter joined the team at Christmas, Calgary won't be bringing up their top blue-line prospect to sit him in the press box.

Forwards

When Curtis Glencross was hurt 11 days ago, the lower body injury was deemed not very serious with the speculation being that he would not miss much time. The thinking prior to the break was that he would be ready to go after it so again, we'll find out today if he's good to be activated from the IR.

Update: It was just announced that along with Wotherspoon, Sven Baertschi and David Wolf have been recalled from Adirondack. This would be an indication that Glencross is not yet ready to go. Both players recalled are good choices. Wolf for the reasons outlined below (read on) and Baertschi because he went down after he left Calgary in early December and played well, going 5-9-14 and plus-8 (40 shots) in 18 games.

Passed over was Michael Ferland, which indicates he hasn't done enough. While I thought he'd be the first guy brought back up, to the credit of the Flames, they're walking the talk when it comes to 'always earned, never given'. Ferland was sent down around the same time as Baertschi and has gone 1-3-4 and minus-3 (42 shots) in 16 games since he returned to Glens Falls. Their shot totals would suggest Ferland has been OK and has maybe been unlucky but from the games I've seen, he hasn't been as noticeable physically as he was in October.

 I still believe Drew Shore will be up in the near future for reasons you're about to read, but I can understand the club taking the approach of making him earn it, just like Baertschi and Wolf. Consistency in how that motto is applied is the key to that and the overall team culture being authentic and successful.

If they do stick with two goalies, that leaves one more roster spot and I wonder if they don't bring back Drew Shore, who I suspect was probably here for good his first time if not for Ortio getting hot and forcing the Flames to retain his waiver-eligible status and eventually return him to the AHL to create a roster spot for Ramo when he was ruled healthy.

There are several reasons why I think it will be Shore:
  • General Manager Brad Treliving really likes him. That's why he went after him, personally scouted him, and said after the trade they think he's a player that could be in the NHL right now. From everything they liked about him, nothing in his 12:26 of ice time in his debut would have changed their mind as he was perfectly fine in his first game in a Calgary uniform.
  • If the plan all along with his first recall was to just give him a one game audition, why would they have unnecessarily rushed him into that one appearance after just one practice and one game-day skate? Don't forget he also skated at the next practice and next game-day skate, taking line rushes like he was about to play a second game, only to be curiously pulled out last minute. It was as if the brass did some roster projections and realized the looming numbers predicament they were going to face if Ortio remained hot and stuck around.
  • They gave him jersey No. 22.  Josh Jooris, who has essentially been with the club all season and has been told he will be here the rest of the year is No. 86. Again, just my gut feeling, but I don't see them issuing Shore that so-called traditional number unless they had already committed in their own minds to having him with Calgary the rest of the season -- or most of the rest of the season.
  • Shore gives the team more positional versatility than Granlund. He can play centre if the club wants to sit out Jooris for a game or slide him to the wing. But he can also play right wing, which opens up many other possibilities for how he could slot into the line-up. Also, they might be keen to try a right-handed shooter on the struggling power play (more on this below).

With Shore currently at the AHL all-star festivities, perhaps the Flames stick to a 22-man roster for now or they bring up someone else for a while, but I would be surprised if we don't see Shore back in the NHL sooner than later.


3. Johnny B. Polite

Since moving to Calgary, the only Flames player to ever win the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy was Joe Mullen, who won it twice in a three-year span -- first in 1986-87 and then again in 1988-89. Those two seasons, Mullen had 14 and 16 penalty minutes respectively.

Named in honour of avid hockey fan Marie Evelyn Moreton (Lady Byng), wife of Viscount Byng of Vimy, who was a Vimy Ridge war hero and later became the Governor General of Canada, the Lady Byng trophy donated to the NHL in 1925 is awarded to the player "adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability".

It's pretty much assured that Johnny Gaudreau will at least be in the conversation for this one.

  • He has 35 points (13 goals, 22 assists) so "high standard of playing ability"? Check
  • He has 0 penalty minutes in 46 games so "sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct"? Check


I did some digging and if you go back to Gaudreau's last year at Boston College, he has only taken one minor penalty in his last 80 games (25 college games, 8 World Championship games, 47 NHL games). That is a staggering statistic.

Considering the size disparity he continually faces and how often he steals pucks, that run of innocence is mighty impressive. Interestingly, his one penalty in that span -- last May with the U.S. in a World Championships game against the Czech Republic, he didn't even put his team down a man as his hooking penalty was part of coincidental minors.

In Flames team history, only twice has a player played 60-or-more games and had single digit penalty minutes. One, interestingly enough, was his teammate Sean Monahan last season (8 PIM in 75 gm). The other was Tommy Albelin in 1998-99 (8 PIM in 60 gm).

Note that with only two minor penalties so far this season, Monahan is on pace to finish in single digit penalty minutes once again. Monahan and Gaudreau certainly aren't going to be nicknamed the 'Brat Pack'.

Calgary Flames History - Fewest PIMs, Prorated for 82 games (minimum 60 games)

1. Sean Monahan 2013-14, 8.7 (8 PIM in 75 gm)
2. Kent Nilsson 1982-83, 10.3 (10 PIM in 82 gm)
3. Tommy Albelin 1998-99, 10.9 (8 PIM in 60 gm)
4. Dustin Boyd 2008-09, 11.5 (10 PIM in 71 gm)
5. Mike Sullivan 1996-97, 12.2 (10 PIM in 67 gm)
6. Jonas Hoglund 1996-97, 14.5 (12 PIM in 68 gm)
7. Joe Mullen 1986-87, 14.5 (14 PIM in 79 gm) * Won Lady Byng
8. Hakan Loob 1984-85, 14.7 (14 PIM in 78 gm)
9. Kent Nilsson 1984-85, 14.9 (14 PIM in 77 gm)
10. Guy Chouinard 1981-82, 15.4 (12 PIM in 64 gm)


Included in the above list was some pretty impressive offensive seasons too. Most prolific was Kent Nilsson in 1982-83 when he was 46-58-104 to finish ninth in the NHL scoring race. However, Mike Bossy (60-58-118, 20 PIM) won the Lady Byng that year.


4. Power Play Misery

The Flames power play is broken.

Calgary can consider themselves very fortunate to have won four of five games on that difficult Pacific Divison road trip given they took a bagel on the man advantage all five games, finishing the trip 0-for-14.

Go all the way back to December 12 and the Flames are four for their last 57 during that 17-game span. That's a meager 7.0 percent and not very good.

Here are some dubious notes about the current power play woes:

  • Those 57 man advantages add up to exactly 109 minutes. That's nearly five-and-a-half periods of being on the power play with only four goals to show for it.
  • Gaudreau has been on the ice for over half of the power play time -- 57:08, and as hard as it is to believe, he hasn't been on the ice for a single goal.
  • The defence pairing of Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie were on the ice for just one of the four goals. Leading scorer Jiri Hudler has also only been on the ice for one of the four goals.
  • The breakdown is 1-for-27 on the road and 3-for-30 at home
  • Going into the December 12 game with Pittsburgh, the Flames ranked 8th in the NHL on the power play. Over these last six weeks, they've fallen 15 spots and are now ranked 23rd.

Something Calgary may want to address is their lack of a right-handed shooting forward on the power play, which can limit their ability for one-timers from one side of the ice. Jooris and David Jones are the team's only right-handed shooting forwards right now. Maybe Shore is someone they want to try on the power play. Let's not forget he has been an offensive player throughout his career and has 31 points (9 goals, 22 assists) in 37 AHL games this season.

One way or another, Calgary needs to get this issue resolved as special teams will either win them or cost them games in the next couple months and if they hope to end their five-year playoff drought, they'll need it to be much better than it's been.


5. Prospecting for Prospects

Here's a quick look at two players that are Flames property, who have been heating it up lately.
  • Playing goal for Charlottetown (QMJHL), 2014 second round pick Mason McDonald has reeled off three straight wins and has stopped 82 of 85 shots over that span for a .965 save percentage. Enjoying his best month of the season in January, McDonald has elevated his season save percentage to .905, which ranks him third in the league.
  • David Wolf, the rugged 6-foot-2 winger from Duesseldorf, Germany, has caught fire with Adirondack (AHL). The 25-year-old, who was signed as a free agent last summer, took a while to adjust to his first taste of pro hockey in North America, only scoring six times in his first 31 games. However, he's doubled his goal output in the last four games and the Arnold Schwarzenegger sound-a-like is suddenly tied with Emile Poirier and Ben Hanowski for the team lead with 12 goals. To go with his current four-game goals streak, Wolf also has a six-game points streak (7 goals, 2 assists) with 21 shots over that span. 

In terms of his arrival date, McDonald remains a long way off. Expect him to play at least one more year of junior and maybe two and then spend plenty of time in the AHL. 

Wolf, on the other hand, is an intriguing situation. Only signed to a one-year deal, Calgary may be curious to take a closer look at what they have and try him at the NHL level at some point in the second half. Considering his play recently, maybe that chance will come sooner rather than later. He would certainly bring some physicality and size to the line-up.


6. Young Stars of 2015... and 2016

While Calgary's record this season and unexpected playoff push gives Flames fans reason for optimism that the rebuild will be a short one, a bigger factor is the play of two of its brightest prospects -- Gaudreau and Monahan.

In a fun undertaking earlier in the season, I went back over the history of the Flames and looked back at the young forward cores that we've watched. For this exercise, I added in Sam Bennett and I looked specifically at how this trio stacks up against young trios from past years. That feature can be read here.

Meanwhile, Gaudreau and Monahan -- currently on a four-game goal streak, continue to make an impact as two of the best young stars in the NHL today.

NHL - Most Goals, 21 years-of-age and under

1. Nikita Kucherov TB, 17
2. Filip Forsberg NSH, 15
2. Sean Monahan CGY, 15
4. Johnny Gaudreau CGY, 13
4. Zemgus Girgensons BUF, 13
6. Alex Galchenyuk MTL, 12
6. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins EDM, 12
8. Mika Zibanejad OTT, 11
9. Nathan MacKinnon COL, 9
10. (Four players tied with 8)


NHL - Most Points, 21 years-of-age and under

1. Nikita Kucherov TB, 17-26-43
2. Filip Forsberg NSH, 15-25-40
3. Johnny Gaudreau CGY, 13-22-35
4. Ryan Strome NYI, 8-25-33
5. Alex Galchenyuk MTL, 12-19-31
6. Sean Monahan CGY, 15-15-30
7. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins EDM, 12-17-29
8. Nathan MacKinnon COL, 9-18-27
9. Dougie Hamilton BOS, 8-18-26
9. Mark Scheifele WPG, 7-19-26


The announcement over the weekend of the 2016 World Cup and the participation of a North American U23 team is also interesting as Monahan and Gaudreau would both be eligible for that team and would surely be locks. Heck, Bennett could be in the mix also if he plays in the NHL next year and has a good rookie season.


7. What a Difference a Year Makes

Exactly one year ago today on January 26, 2014, Calgary sat 28th overall and were 18 points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Today, the Flames are in a playoff spot. It's been a remarkable turnaround.

Looking back at where this club was a year ago, here are some comparisons.
  • The Flames are 12 rungs higher in the overall standings. The three teams that have made a bigger jump are the New York Islanders (22 spots), Nashville (20) and Winnipeg (15).
  • In five less games, Calgary is 10 points better this season. That increase in points is third to the New York Islanders (14 points) and Nashville (11).
  • In five less games, the Flames have scored 17 more goals. That jump in goals is tops in the NHL. Second is Detroit (up 8 goals) and third is Tampa Bay and Nashville (up 6 goals).
  • Calgary has seen the third biggest improvement in goals against (down 37 goals against). That's the third biggest improvement behind Nashville (down 48) and the New York Islanders (down 43).
  • The Flames are tied with the Predators for the biggest improvement in goals for/against differential. Calgary and Nashville are plus 54. Third is the New York Islanders (plus 43) and fourth, a long way back, is the New York Rangers (plus 29).


8. It's 'Get Busy' Time on the Schedule

The next dozen games present an interesting challenge for the Flames. Ten of them are home dates meaning over the next month, Calgary's only trip out of town is a two-game jaunt back to California for dates in San Jose and Los Angeles (but not Anaheim -- insert euphoric applause here).

The homestretch begins with three games to wrap up January against teams below Calgary in the standings. Sandwiched in-between dates with league cellar dwellers Buffalo and Edmonton, is a meeting with Minnesota, which is scuffling along at 2-6-2 in their last 10.

To put themselves in a good spot for the final quarter of the season, which begins late February with a grueling seven-game Eastern road trip while the Saddledome plays host to The Brier, the Flames need to pile up a bunch of wins right now while they're at home, chillin' at the Dome. 

To put themselves in a good spot to make the post-season, I'd suggest eight wins in these next dozen games will be a must. But it's not going to be easy either because after this relaxed month of January in which the team plays only 11 games, they'll play 12 in February and then 15 in a very hectic March that includes three sets of back-to-backs.

Calgary has 35 games left. Of those games, 18 are against teams below them in the standings. This is overly-simplistic math but if they beat the teams below them in regulation but lose to the teams above them, they'll finish the season with 89 points. That won't get it done.

Thus, Calgary has to not only take care of business by beating the teams under them, they have to also mix in a handful of upsets along the way also (or at least get a point with some overtime losses). Every time the Flames are knocked off by a team below them in the standings, they'll need to make that up by beating a team ahead of them.

Being in a playoff spot at American Thanksgiving was nice but being there at the all-star break with the season that much further along is far more meaningful. 

The return of spring hockey in Calgary is still far from a certainty but while it's lot to ask, it's not an impossible task. However, the wins must start piling up this week.


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2 comments:

  1. Excellent !
    Also noted today that the Flames have 15 players with 10 or more points !
    Only equaled in this Division by the Kings !

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Scoring by committee. That was always going to be the way this team was going to have success without a single superstar goal scorer. It's a formula that can be more slump-resistant also.

      Delete