Monday, March 30, 2015

Eight From 80 Feet: Hudler No. 1 in the League, Bouma's Big Impact, Red-Hot Rookies and More

It's time for another edition of Eight from 80 Feet, a regular content feature I started this season that typically comes out every one or two weeks.

Comprised of a blend of anecdotes, team reaction, 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. Familiar Name Among NHL's Leading Scorers

Note: This section (No. 1) was updated after the Flames win on Monday in Dallas so is accurate going into games on Tuesday, March 31.

Jiri Hudler is not winning the NHL scoring race, but he is in the top 10. As of Tueday morning, he's tied for seventh with 71 points. That, in itself, is quite the accomplishment.

However it gets more impressive from there.

Look strictly at even-strength scoring -- and it could be argued five-on-five play is most important of all, and there is Hudler alone in top spot in the league with 55 points. That's right -- Sidney CrosbyJohn TavaresJakub VoracekAlex Ovechkin -- none of them have as many even-strength points as Hudler. In fact, the closest of that group is Crosby with 48.

NHL Even-Strength Scoring Leaders:

1. Jiri Hudler CGY, 23-32-55
2. Ryan Getzlaf ANA, 21-32-53
2. Tyler Johnson TB, 19-34-53
2. Vladimir Tarasenko STL, 28-25-53
5. Max Pacioretty MTL, 27-24-51
6. Rick Nash NYR, 31-19-50
6. Jamie Benn DAL, 18-32-50
8. Ondrej Palat TB, 12-37-49
9. Mike Ribeiro NSH, 14-34-48
9. Sidney Crosby PIT, 15-33-48
9. Nikita Kucherov TB, 26-22-48

Looking at his recent body of work, I'd be surprised if Hudler has had a better month of hockey in his career than this March. He's leading the NHL in scoring and it's not even close. He's surely a lock for one of the NHL's three stars of the month that will be announced on Wednesday morning.  Here's a run-down of what No. 24 has accomplished so far this month:
  • 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) in 15 games.
  • Nine multi-point games
  • Helped Calgary to a 9-3-3 record

NHL Scoring Leaders for March:

1. Jiri Hudler CGY, 14 gm, 10-13-23
2. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins EDM, 12 gm, 7-10-17
2. Sidney Crosby PIT, 14 gm, 5-12-17
2. Ryan O'Reilly COL, 14 gm, 5-12-17
5. Sean Monahan CGY, 15 gm, 8-8-16
5. Radim Vrbata VAN, 14 gm, 8-8-16
5. Johnny Gaudreau CGY, 15 gm, 7-9-16
5. Jordan Eberle EDM, 12 gm, 7-9-16
5. Jonathan Huberdeau FLA, 14 gm, 4-12-16


2. Super-Strength at Even-Strength

Lance Bouma scored two more goals on Sunday giving him 16 on the season. It's been a remarkable year offensively considering he entered the season with six goals in 121 career games. More impressively is every goal has come even-strength. How much time has Bouma spent on the power play? A grand total of 4:17 or the exact length of The Police hit Every Breath You Take.

Every breath you take,
Every move you make,
Every bond you break,
Every step you take,
I'll be watching you.

Safe to say a lot of fans are, indeed, watching Bouma's every move these days considering with two weeks to go in the season, his 16 goals at even-strength are one more than NHL scoring leader Sidney Crosby. Now try and wrap your head around that. This season, Bouma is making $775,000 while Crosby is making $12-million. Wow. Just wow.

Bouma is tied for 49th in the NHL in even-strength goals and shares that spot with notable stars such as Pavel Datsyuk, Mike Cammalleri, Alex Steen, Jeff Carter, Nick Foligno, Phil Kessel, Ryan Johansen and Jordan Eberle.

Fun facts about Bouma's 16 goals:
  • Top playmakers have been:  1. David Jones (6 assists), 2. Mikael Backlund (5), 3. Dennis Wideman (4).
  • Most times on the ice: 1. Kris Russell (10), 2. Dennis Wideman (9), Mikael Backlund (9)
  • Johnny Gaudreau or Sean Monahan have not been on the ice for any of Bouma's goals. (Jiri Hudler has been on for two and assisted on both).
  • 12 of his 16 goals have come in the third period. (Two in the first, two in the second)
  • All the goals have come at five-on-five
  • Sunday's was the first goal into an empty net.

Bouma was one of the last restricted free agents to sign last summer and when he did, I was surprised it was only a one-year deal. While it's hard to critique a GM for taking a 'show me more and I'll pay you more' approach as too often term is handed out and then regretted, this is one instance where it will come back to haunt GM Brad Treliving. Bouma is a RFA again this summer and my goodness, he'll be in line for a pretty hefty pay hike that's for certain.


3. Red-Hot Rookies

Michael Ferland's first NHL goal on Sunday was the 40th goal by a Flames rookie this season. He joins Gaudreau (21), Josh Jooris (12) and Markus Granlund (6) as first-year players that have lit the lamp this year.

That's the most since since 1996-97 when the Flames got 50 -- Iginla 21, Jonas Hoglund 19, Joel Bouchard 4, Chris O'Sullivan 2, Todd Simpson 1, Cale Hulse 1, Dale McTavish 1 and Hnat Domenichelli 1.

Do you want another reason why Calgary may not be in line for the big drop-off next year as many skeptics suggest, consider that rookies have produced 18 percent of Calgary's 220 goals this season. Add in goals by sophomores Monahan and Joe Colborne and 35 percent of the Flames offence has come from first or second-year players.

Next year, the rookie total could be even bigger with the talented Sam Bennett and Emile Poirier likely in the line-up. It bodes well for the future success of this hockey club.

Overall in the NHL, Calgary has gotten the second-most production from rookies this season. The top five in goals from rookies are:

1. Ottawa, 53
2. Calgary, 40
3. Nashville, 30
4. Carolina, 29
5. Vancouver, 26
5. Boston, 26


4. Gillies Off to Frozen Four

Flames prospect Jon Gillies, 21, who Calgary selected in the third round of the 2012 NHL Draft, is off to the NCAA's Frozen Four, which will be held at the TD Garden in Boston. The 6-foot-5 goaltender made 23 saves on Sunday to help Providence College to a 4-1 win over Denver University. It's the first appearance for PC in the Frozen Four in 30 years. Their next game is a semi-final against Nebraska-Omaha on Thursday April 9. A win would send the Friars to the final on Saturday.

What's next for Gillies is uncertain. However, after three standout seasons at Providence, I would bet on the Hockey East goaltender of the year turning pro when his season ends by signing with Calgary. Leaving school after his junior season is the exact scenario that unfolded with Gaudreau last year. In fact, Gaudreau signed with Calgary right after Boston College got knocked out in the Frozen Four semi-final.

Those that follow NCAA hockey closely say Providence's recruiting would suggest they're fully expecting Gillies to be gone next season. The Flames goaltending situation would also suggest they expect to have Gillies in their system.

Joni Ortio (high ankle sprain) is injured at the moment but he was the organization's No. 1 goalie this year in the AHL. Next year, however, Ortio will move to the NHL as his contract reverts to a one-way deal starting in 2015-16 and he will also be waiver eligible by then. That leaves a void in the crease in the AHL and that would be the perfect scenario for Gillies to move in and start learning the pro game.


5. Rolling Four Lines

While I think Brandon Bollig has been playing better for the Flames over the latter half of the season, there's a discernible difference to how Bob Hartley can deploy his lines when Bollig is not in the starting dozen and we saw that on Sunday in Nashville.

In terms of offensive zone time and all-round effective and dynamic play, it was one of the best games of the season from the bottom six forwards. The Matt Stajan-Drew Shore-Michael Ferland line were continuously buzzing around the net and working the puck deep in the Predators zone.  The Mason Raymond-Josh Jooris-Joe Colborne trio also had a strong night.

A combination of their effective play and the Flames being able to open up a 4-1 lead halfway through the game afforded Hartley the luxury of rolling all four lines and the ice times by the end of the night reflected this.

No player was under 10 minutes in ice time with Shore the low man at 10:05. No forward was over 19 minutes with Monahan the leader at 18:16 (or 17:00 even-strength). In fact, 11 of the 12 forwards played over 11:30. It may have been the most equally divided ice times we've seen all year and that's important for a few reasons:

  • When you're playing the next day as was Calgary's situation -- playing in Dallas tonight, it keeps everyone fresher, especially that top line, which has been logging a ton of ice time lately.
  • More rest between shifts helps the team sustain their high tempo style throughout the game, which makes them so much more effective. The Flames are at their best when they're relentlessly buzzing in on the forecheck and breaking out of their own zone on quick transitions.
  • Getting 13 minutes of ice time instead of eight or nine is a huge difference for guys down in the line-up and often can result in them playing better as we saw Sunday with Jooris, Raymond, Stajan, Ferland and Shore all having solid games.


6. History: Most Points to Miss Playoffs

It seems people want to paint a target on somebody specifically. Is it Los Angeles? Maybe it's Vancouver. What about Winnipeg? Inquiring fans want to know, who is Calgary battling with to try and secure its first playoff spot in six seasons.

Well, the way I see it, who cares. You'll only drive yourself crazy trying to hone in on one specific team because as soon as you focus on a single target, that team inevitably gets hot. Instead, the approach to take is not get too fussed about the eb and flow of surrounding bubble teams and instead just know that if the Flames can win four of their final six games, that's 97 points and that surely gets you into the playoffs. After all, no one has ever missed with even 96 points before.

However, if there's a risk with this season, it's that Arizona and Edmonton have both been so poor all year. Edmonton has hardly beaten anyone in the West and the only team the Coyotes have cleaned up against in the West has been the Oilers. Because of this, that's inflated the point totals of all the other teams to the point where maybe this is the first season where 96 or 97 points doesn't get you in.

On Friday in this piece, I attached percentages to each of the bubble teams in terms of how likely it was that each of them would be the one team that ends up missing. As of this morning, not a whole lot has changed. I'd probably move Calgary and Minnesota up a bit based on the last 36 hours, drop Winnipeg and Los Angeles down a little bit, but that's about the extent of the changes for now.

Most Points to Miss the Playoffs:

95 - Dallas, 2010-11 (2 pts back in West)
95 - Colorado, 2006-07 (1 pt back in West)
94 - Calgary, 2010-11 (3 pts back in West)
93 - Florida, 2008-09 (0 pts back in East)
92 - Carolina, 2007-08 (2 pts back in East)
92 - Vancouver, 2005-06 (3 pts back in West)
92 - Edmonton, 2001-02 (2 pts back in West)


7. Tie-Breaker Scenarios  

With 13 days to go, it's still very much conceivable that the Flames could finish tied with any of the other three teams on the bubble -- whether it's with Vancouver or Los Angeles in the Pacific Division or with Winnipeg for a wildcard spot. Here is a look at how Calgary is positioned in respect to the end-of-season standings tie-breaking criteria.

Vancouver - Slight Edge Canucks
  • First tie-breaker criteria is regulation/overtime wins (ROW) and at the moment, the Canucks are on pace to finish with one more than Calgary.
  • If Vancouver ends up with a shootout win in their final games and the Flames can avoid that, edge would revert to Calgary as they won the season series with the Canucks and that's tie-breaker No. 2.

Los Angeles - Edge Flames
  • Calgary is on pace to have two more ROW. 
  • If the ROW fell apart, the Flames hold a 4-3 edge in points in the season series (which excludes the first game, as it only counts the last two games in each team's building) with one game left between them on April 9.

Winnipeg - Flames Own Tie-Breaker
  • Calgary is on pace to have six more ROW.


8. Stanley Cup Playoffs Lite

This time last year, the out-of-town games that mattered involved the Edmonton Oilers, Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes. In short, they were awful games to watch. While for Flames fans, hoping this season to see the Kings, Jets, Wild and Canucks lose hasn't been any more successful than last year hoping to see the Oilers, Sabres and Hurricanes win, the games are so much more compelling to watch when teams are battling for playoff spots, not draft lottery spots.

Whether the Flames make the Stanley Cup playoffs this season or not remains to be seen, but what they've already delivered has been playoff-like intensity for much of the year and especially the past month.

Following the exploits of Calgary, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Devan Dubnyk and the Wild, the crazy crowds at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, every night has made for some great action and about as entertaining as non-playoff hockey can get.

Playoff starter kit, playoffs lite, however you want to describe it, this Western Conference playoff race has been fantastic. Learning how to play in meaningful games down the stretch with the pressure that continues to build will only pay off in future seasons for the young core of the Flames.

I've been covering the Calgary Flames for The Canadian Press dating back to the 1989-90 season. In my 25 years, I've seen some really good Calgary teams -- especially those first few years after winning the Cup, but they often won games by three or four goals. There hasn't been a team in all those years that has played this many entertaining, one-goal games. It's been a joy to watch and follow and whenever the ride finally comes to an end, it's going to be a sad day. Although spoiler alert, I wouldn't be surprised if next year offers much of the same.


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Recent Related Flames Reading
  • Flames Improbable Playoff Chase Comes Down to the WireSo close. So damn close. So tantalizingly, excruciatingly, mouth-wateringly close. With two weeks to go in the season, the Flames are right there in the playoff race, within striking distance of a playoff spot. I try to put this crazy, improbable season and all they've accomplished into some perspective.
  • 15 Signs You're a Flames Fan Caught up in the Playoff Race - This playful piece will hit close to home for Calgary fans, who have been riding the emotional roller coaster all season. It's a light-hearted look at 15 obvious signs that you have Flames playoff chase fever.
  • Johnny Gaudreau: Making a Case for the Best Flames Rookie Season Ever - In terms of points, Johnny Gaudreau is having the best season by a Calgary rookie in 25 years. But dig deeper and a case could be made that Gaudreau is having as good of a rookie season, and maybe even better than Joe Nieuwendyk when the Flames great scored 51 goals in 1987-88.
  • Eight from 80 Feet: Sean Monahan Edition - How impressive has Sean Monahan's sophomore season been? I put his year into a number of different contexts -- vs 2013 draft class, top 10 picks lately with least goal variance in jump from major junior to the NHL, best sophomore season, comparison to Joe Nieuwendyk. Spoiler Alert - It's darn impressive. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Final Countdown: Flames Improbable Playoff Chase Will Come Down to the Wire

Sixteen days to go, one point out of a playoff spot.

So close. So damn close. So tantalizingly, excruciatingly, mouth-wateringly close.

It's like one of those dreams where you're having a fantastic time but then your eyes slowly begin to open and you see your bedroom walls, the clothes piled on your dresser, the angry stare of your alarm clock and you realize you were dreaming but you don't want it to end, you don't want to wake up, it's not time yet. You desperately clench your eyes shut again in a futile attempt to drift back into dream mode.

This wasn't how it was supposed to happen.

Well, it was -- in 2015-16 maybe, in 2016-17 hopefully, in 2017-18 probably. But no, not this year, it's too soon, it's way, way too soon.

If you look down the tracks, you can still a glimmer of the train leaving town just two years ago with Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay, Jay Bouwmeester and Miikka Kiprusoff on board.

How did the Calgary Flames get to this strange but wonderful place? This place where scoreboard-watching can spark so much fury, where their own games are so nerve-wracking, where terms like 'draft lottery', 'McEichel' and 'tanking' are absent from the vocabulary.


Surviving the Loss of Giordano

It was the most damaging empty-net goal in franchise history and it occurred on February 25. TJ Brodie sails the puck 180 feet down the ice at the Prudential Center to clinch a 3-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils.

Picking up an assist, but now wreathing in pain way back behind the Calgary net is Mark Giordano, the heart and soul of this hockey club.

And it would turn out to be everybody's worst nightmare. A torn biceps tendon that would require surgery and a 4-5 month recovery. His season was done and surely this was the case for the Flames season too. On a team that had overachieved for five months, you don't survive the removal of a legitimate Norris candidate as top defenceman and a potential Hart candidate as the player judged most valuable to his team.

This is the type of devastating loss you just don't overcome. This was an injury that a team doesn't just shrug off. This isn't fiction, this is real life. It's cold, it's harsh but it's reality. This guy was the heart of the Flames, the captain, the Mr. Everything -- shut-down defenceman, the igniter of the offence. He was Superman without the cape.

When the post-Giordano portion of the season began on February 27 with a road game against the New York Islanders, here is snapshot of how the Western Conference standings looked. At that time, Calgary was on the outside looking in.

The Flames were even in points with Los Angeles but were behind because they had played one additional game. Calgary trailed the second wildcard spot by one point -- even in games with Minnesota.



In the first game without their captain, it took until 21 seconds remaining in the game to finally score a goal in a 2-1 setback to the New York Islanders. It was a predictable result although not as lopsided as many feared in missing Giordano's reliable 25 minutes of ice time.

Then, the unthinkable happened.

Three straight road victories in Philadelphia, Boston and Detroit -- three road barns where victories are earned, not given. Then, a stirring four-goal third period comeback in Ottawa to pick up a loser point against the Senators. Then, two more wins against Anaheim and Toronto upon returning home.


Treading Water

Fast forward to today, one month later, and the Flames -- despite going an impressive 7-3-3 without their best player, find themselves nearly in the identical spot.

They still trail the Kings for third place in the Pacific but by one point now -- and even in games. Calgary sits three points back of the second wildcard but they have a game in hand.

Here's a look at the West heading into Friday's games.



You can't blame the Flames for feeling a bit chagrined today. After all, you could not have expected them to fare any better in Giordano's absence yet they're stuck in nearly the identical situation.

We're talking just three regulation-time losses in 13 games and two of those by a single goal. With the twice-released-this-year David Schlemko in the line-up in place of Giordano and third pairing inhabitant Deryk Engelland averaging 19:08 in average ice time per night instead of his usual 12:25. What they've done in going 7-3-3 is in all practicality the equivalent of running the table. Yet, cruelly they've somehow lost ground on nearly everybody else during that time.

Record While Giordano Has Been Out:

1. Minnesota, 13 gm, 10-3-0 for 20 pts
2. Los Angeles, 14 gm, 8-4-2 for 18 pts
3. Vancouver, 13 gm, 8-4-1 for 17 pts
4. Calgary, 13 gm, 7-3-3 for 17 pts
5. Winnipeg, 12 gm, 8-4-0 for 16 pts


How good has this group of five West bubble teams been playing lately? Really, really good.

Take their combined results of 66 games, a 42-18-6 record for 90 points, and extrapolate that out over an 82-game season and you get a record of 52-22-8 for 112 points. That's 30 games above .500. That's a near Presidents Trophy-like pace. Only one team in the NHL is projected to finish the season with more than 112 points and that's the New York Rangers, who are currently on pace for 113.


Comfortable Road

If you look at this upcoming road trip for the Flames, it looks harrowing. The red-hot Wild to begin and Devan Dubnyk's 33rd straight start for Minnesota. I'd have to look it up but I believe he's also going for his 33rd consecutive shutout. Or, so it seems.

Then Calgary heads into Nashville, who most of the season has owned the best home record in the NHL. Next up is Dallas, who just beat you and has won seven of their last eight. Lastly, you get the Blues, who ran over the Flames like a freight train 10 days ago.

The modus operandi if you're the Flames is to somehow find a way to split these first four games. If they can get four points of those four stops, then win the next two in Edmonton and home to Arizona, then they have a chance. Calgary would be sitting at 95 points heading into the much-anticipated final two games of the season -- home to Los Angeles on Thursday, April 9, and a Saturday matinee at the noisy MTS Centre in Winnipeg to wrap up the year.

Winning two of the first four and three games in total is the only way to look at this trip because if you start off thinking you have to win all five games, you're going to be so afraid to make a mistake that it would be like paralysis.

The good news for Calgary is they've had a superb year away from home. This is the fifth road trip of five games or longer and they've returned home above .500 each time.
  • October 9-19 (six games), 4-2-0
  • November 2-10 (five games), 3-2-0
  • January 10-21 (six games), 4-1-0
  • February 24- March 8 (seven games), 4-2-1

That's a combined record 15-7-1. Speaking of playing at a President's Trophy-worthy clip, that record extrapolated over 82 games breaks down to 111 points, two back of the New York Rangers pace.


Handicapping the Horses

As we sit here today, two weeks and two days from the finish line, here is my very subjective (and very non-Sports Club Stats) look at the percentage chance for each of the five bubble teams that come the end of the season, they will be the team that ends up missing out.

Los Angeles - 5 percent
  • Pro - Playing very good right now, just finished a methodical sweep of all three New York teams, still have the Oilers on their schedule twice.
  • Con - Nothing is clinched yet, they are still barely in, and as reigning Stanley Cup champs, everyone is gunning to play spoiler and knock them out.

Minnesota - 10 percent
  • Pro - They have a cushion. Also, this is not a fluke. The Wild played well early in the year too but weren't getting any saves, now Devan Dubnyk has been lights out.
  • Con - Have the toughest schedule. They open a arduous five-game homestand against Calgary then close the season with a difficult road trip to Chicago, Nashville and St. Louis.

Winnipeg - 20 percent
  • Pro - Played through injuries all year and now have Dustin Byfuglien back and Bryan Little's return is close. Also, Ondrej Pavelec has been outstanding lately.
  • Con - The Jets also have a tough schedule. They also have a bad ROW total so they can't finish tied, they need to finish ahead of other teams.

Vancouver - 25 percent
  • Pro - Have built up a cushion, a high ROW total gives them the edge in tie-breaker scenarios, and they wrap up the season with games against Arizona and Edmonton.
  • Con - Playing very inconsistent lately and now begin a stretch of six tough games in a row including a four-game Central road trip.

Calgary - 40 percent
  • Pro - Chasing multiple teams means options to get in if they look after their own business. Own tie-breaker with the Kings/Jets if they can stay within striking distance of them prior to those final match-ups. 
  • Con - Do they have another gear? Surviving without Giordano surely has a shelf life. Can the goaltending be good enough?


Conclusion

Nobody expected the Flames to make the playoffs, but now they're so close they can taste it. As one can glean from the intensity of the scoreboard-watching going on right now, Calgary is a playoffs-starved city desperate to see it happen.

The prevailing attitude on the streets seems to be give me one round, even if it's a four-game sweep, I just want to taste it again, the rivalry-building emotion of playing the same team over and over again, the dissecting of every coaching move, intently scrutinizing the games. You've teased me all year, please don't let me down now.

The consolation if it should not pan out is this push has a way different feel from those older fringe Flames teams in past years. This team is young and only going to get better. Future building blocks like Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and TJ Brodie are gaining invaluable experience right now that will only help them next year and beyond.

Speaking of next season, while some point to 'lucky' teams of the past like the Avalanche and Leafs and assume a giant drop-off is Calgary's destiny next year, they seem to conveniently overlook the fact more young talent is on the way in the form of Sam Bennett, Emile Poirier and surely Tyler Wotherspoon will be ripe by then.

If the Flames don't make the playoffs, will there be disappointment in Flames nation? There better be. As I always told my son's hockey teams when I was coaching minor hockey. If you're not disappointed when you lose, then you haven't invested enough emotionally to really enjoy and cherish the wins.


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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

15 Obvious Signs You're a Calgary Flames Fan Caught up in the Playoff Race

The NHL season is 167 days old and today is the 121st day the Calgary Flames have woken up in a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

However, as has been the case the entire time they have found themselves in this position, they could be back on the outside in no time as the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings trail Calgary by only two points.

Fans of the Flames have been riding an emotional roller coaster all season and with 19 days to go in the regular season, there are no indications that this harrowing ride will come to an end anytime soon. Instead, tighten up that seatbelt as the speed and intensity is about to go up even more.


15 Signs You're a Flames Fan Caught up in the Playoff Race:

15. You've already been to the bottle depot four times this month.

14. You wake up in the middle of the night thinking about Deryk Engelland.

13. Everywhere you look -- the price of gas (95.9), the FM station you're listening to (96.9), what you actually see is the projected point total Calgary will need to make the playoffs.

12. You've cancelled your weekend camping reservations for all of May.

11. You couldn't care less about Connor McDavid.

10. You're looking forward to watching the Minnesota Wild play on a Tuesday.

9. You spend more time on NHL GameCenter than on Facebook.

8. You've replaced the Nieuwendyk name bar on your No. 25 Flames jersey with Bollig.

7. Your lotto 649 numbers this week are 4, 7, 13, 17, 23, 24

6. You can't remember your wedding anniversary but without hesitation can recite the remaining schedules for the Kings, Jets, Wild and Canucks.

5. You're agitated, emotionally unstable, sleep deprived and your nerves are shot... and that's the good news.

4. The last five entries in your Google search history are:
  • Torn biceps tendon recovery time
  • Kingston Frontenacs playoff schedule
  • Hotels near Rogers Arena
  • Where to buy a fire helmet
  • Has Devan Dubnyk ever had the mumps

3. You're cheering for the Edmonton Oilers.

2. You understand Pat Steinberg's Flames magic number and can also explain it to others.

1. You can't get Evanescence out of your head.
    (Flames intro song, circa 2004 playoffs)



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Recent Related Flames Reading
  • Johnny Gaudreau: Making a Case for the Best Flames Rookie Season Ever - In terms of points, Johnny Gaudreau is having the best season by a Calgary rookie in 25 years. But dig deeper and a case could be made that Gaudreau is having as good of a rookie season, and maybe even better than Joe Nieuwendyk when the Flames great scored 51 goals in 1987-88.
  • Eight from 80 Feet: Sean Monahan Edition - How impressive has Sean Monahan's sophomore season been? I put his year into a number of different contexts -- vs 2013 draft class, top 10 picks lately with least goal variance in jump from major junior to the NHL, best sophomore season, comparison to Joe Nieuwendyk. Spoiler Alert - It's darn impressive. 
  • Who Cares What the Analytics Say! Five Reasons to Just Enjoy the Ride - Winning games the Flames have no business winning is driving the advanced stats extremists crazy. Don't get hung up on what the analytics say, here are five reasons why Calgary's advanced stats need not concern you at this time.
  • The Schlemko: Flames Win Again and in the most Calgary Way Imaginable - A playful look at that special moment Thursday night in Boston that turned NHL journeyman defenceman David Schlemko into a cult hero. 
  • Eight from 80 Feet: Trade Deadline Edition - Final thoughts on Sven Baertschi, the 411 on the four recall rule, and some neat thoughts directly from Brad Treliving on how much more comfortable he felt making moves at the deadline compared to when he first arrived last year and was faced with making a trade at the deadline and some summer signings.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Johnny Gaudreau: Making a Case for the Best Flames Rookie Season Ever

In terms of raw point production, Johnny Gaudreau is having the best season by a Calgary rookie in 25 years and one of the 10 best rookie seasons in Flames history

But take the different eras into consideration -- put the 3-2 scores of today on a level playing field with the 6-5 scores of 30 years ago, and I would argue the 21-year-old diminutive left-winger is having the best rookie season in team history. And as you'll see, the numbers back me up.

Last Wednesday against the Anaheim Ducks when Gaudreau picked up two goals to give him 50 points, he tied the point total Jarome Iginla had in his rookie season in 1996-97.

It also moved Gaudreau into the top 10 for best rookie seasons in team history. When he added three more points two nights later against the Toronto Maple Leafs, that moved him past Dan Quinn and into sole possession of ninth spot all-time.

He's not done climbing either.

Gaudreau sits just one point back of Jiri Hrdina and Paul Ranheim, who are tied for seventh on the all-time rookie list and he's only two points back of Hakan Loob.

With 13 games to go, the top five is within reach with fifth place belonging to Joel Otto, who had 59 points in 1985-86.


Top 30 Calgary Flames Rookie Seasons - Points

1. Joe Nieuwendyk (1987-88) - 75 gm, 51-41-92
2. Sergei Makarov (1989-90) - 80 gm, 24-62-86
3. Carey Wilson (1984-85) - 74 gm, 24-48-72
4. Gary Suter (1985-86) - 80 gm, 18-50-68
5. Joel Otto (1985-86) - 79 gm, 25-34-59
6. Hakan Loob (1983-84) - 77 gm, 30-25-55
7. Jiri Hrdina (1988-89) - 70 gm, 22-32-54
7. Paul Ranheim (1989-90) - 80 gm, 26-28-54
9. Johnny Gaudreau (2014-15) - 68 gm, 19-34-53
10. Dan Quinn (1983-84) - 54 gm, 19-33-52
11. Jarome Iginla (1996-97) - 82 gm, 21-29-50
11. Brett Hull (1987-88) - 52 gm, 26-24-50*
13. Dion Phaneuf (2005-06) - 82 gm, 20-29-49
14. Al MacInnis (1983-84) - 51 gm, 11-34-45
15. Robert Reichel (1990-91) - 66 gm, 19-22-41
16. Jim Peplinski (1980-81) - 80 gm, 13-25-38
17. Jonas Hoglund (1996-97) - 68 gm, 19-16-35
17. Cory Stillman (1995-96) - 74 gm, 16-19-35
17. Kevin LaVallee (1980-81) - 77 gm, 15-20-35
20. Sean Monahan (2013-14) - 75 gm, 22-12-34
20. Theoren Fleury (1988-89) - 36 gm, 14-20-34
20. Stephane Matteau (1990-91) - 78 gm, 15-19-34
23. Perry Berezan (1985-86) - 55 gm, 12-21-33
24. Jamie Macoun (1983-84) - 72 gm, 9-23-32
25. Matthew Lombardi (2003-04) - 79 gm, 16-13-29
25. Derek Morris (1997-98) - 82 gm, 9-20-29
27. Joe Colborne (2013-14) - 80 gm, 10-18-28
27. Brian Bradley (1986-87) - 40 gm, 10-18-28
29. Colin Patterson (1983-84) - 56 gm, 13-14-27
30. Eddy Beers (1982-83) - 41 gm, 11-15-26

* His Calgary totals before being traded to St. Louis on March 8, 1988.


Factoring in the Different Eras

While Joe Nieuwendyk's 51 goals and 92 points was a phenomenal season, it must be noted that the days of the high-flying, high-scoring 80s is long gone.

That 1987-88 team holds the franchise record for most goals in a season at 397. While Gaudreau sits 39 points back of Nieuwendyk's point total, he's done it on a team that is sitting at 201 goals entering Tuesday night's game against the St. Louis Blues. With less than four weeks to go in the season, that's just over half of what the team scored 27 years ago. Crazy. If you're under the age of 35, you have no idea what NHL hockey used to look like. It was a different time.

It's not like Calgary is considered a low-scoring team by today's standards either. The Flames rank sixth in the NHL in goals for:

1. Tampa Bay, 228
2. Dallas, 215
3. NY Islanders, 214
4. NY Rangers, 204
5. St. Louis, 205
6. Calgary, 201


If you change the metric from the most points as a rookie to the greatest percentage of Calgary's offence that a player contributed to, the above list undergoes quite a transformation and guess who ends up on top, at least for the moment. You guessed it -- Johnny Hockey.

Gaudreau has been in on 26.4 percent of Calgary's goals. That is the best percentage by a rookie in team history.

If you look at things in that context, Nieuwendyk drops from first to fourth on the list. Also worth noting, Sean Monahan and the fine rookie season he had a year ago, climbs from 20th to 9th spot and Joe Colborne and his 28 points from a year ago jumps from 27th to 18th.

Getting back to the question at hand, is Gaudreau having a better season than Nieuwendyk?  It's certainly hard to look past a 51-goal season regardless of era, but one thing you maybe didn't know about Nieuwendyk's rookie year is a whopping 31 of his goals came on the power play. Just six of Gaudreau's goals have come with the man advantage.

No disrespect to the likes of TJ Brodie and Dennis Wideman but Nieuwendyk regularly worked with Al MacInnis and Gary Suter as his defenceman on the power play, Add in the likes of Hakan Loob and Joe Mullen up front and that was a very dangerous unit. Gaudreau is not surrounded by the same level of talent -- although it sure looks like Brodie and Monahan are well on their way to becoming among the best in the league.


Top 20 Flames Rookie Seasons - Percentage of Offence

1. Johnny Gaudreau (2014-15), 26.4
2. Sergei Makarov (1989-90), 24.7
3. Jarome Iginla (1996-97), 23.4
4. Joe Nieuwendyk (1987-88), 23.2
5. Dion Phaneuf (1987-88), 22.7
6. Carey Wilson (1984-85), 19.8
7. Gary Suter (1985-86), 19.2
8. Hakan Loob (1983-84), 17.7
9. Sean Monahan (2013-14), 16.8
10. Dan Quinn (1983-84), 16.7
11. Joel Otto (1985-86), 16.7
12. Jonas Hoglund (1996-97), 16.4
13. Paul Ranheim (1989-90), 15.5
14. Jiri Hrdina (1988-89), 15.3
15. Cory Stillman (1995-96), 14.5
16. Matthew Lombardi (2003-04), 14.5
17. Al MacInnis (1983-84), 14.5
18. Joe Colborne (2013-14), 13.9
19. Derek Morris (1997-98), 13.4
20. Robert Reichel (1990-91), 11.9

Worth noting is Josh Jooris (11-10-21) is currently at 10.4 percent so not far off the top 20.


Impressive about what Gaudreau has accomplished is he's three full percentage points ahead of Iginla, who is essentially the next guy on the list. Makarov, as you'll recall, was age 31 for his so-called rookie season. He had played 11 seasons in Russia already and was already a star when he came over to North America.

Makarov's presence on any rookie lists always carries an asterisk as the NHL redefined the age criteria for what a rookie can be, after Makarov was named the NHL's rookie of the year that season.


Calder Conversation

Gaudreau is definitely in the conversation for this year's Calder Trophy. He's one point back of Nashville's Filip Forsberg, who leads rookies in scoring, but Gaudreau has played three less games so has a higher points-per-game.

Impressive Florida Panthers defenceman Aaron Ekblad would be the other candidate in what I see as a three-horse race.

Gaudreau is trying to become the first Flame to win the award since Makarov. In total, three Flames have won it and it came in a five-year span.
  • 1985-86 - Gary Suter
  • 1987-88 - Joe Nieuwendyk
  • 1989-90 - Sergei Makarov

Considering the instrumental role Gaudreau is playing for the Flames offensively, if he can get Calgary into the playoffs for the first time in six years, you'd have to think he'd be the favourite to win it, especially if he keeps up his red-hot scoring. That line with Monahan and Jiri Hudler have been on fire lately with 30 points over the last seven games.

It's just another interesting thing to watch over the final month. The finish to this season sure isn't going to be dull.


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Recent Related Flames Reading
  • Eight from 80 Feet: Sean Monahan Edition - How impressive has Sean Monahan's sophomore season been? I put his year into a number of different contexts -- vs 2013 draft class, top 10 picks lately with least goal variance in jump from major junior to the NHL, best sophomore season, comparison to Joe Nieuwendyk. Spoiler Alert - It's darn impressive. 
  • Who Cares What the Analytics Say! Five Reasons to Just Enjoy the Ride - Winning games the Flames have no business winning is driving the advanced stats extremists crazy. Don't get hung up on what the analytics say, here are five reasons why Calgary's advanced stats need not concern you at this time.
  • The Schlemko: Flames Win Again and in the most Calgary Way Imaginable - A playful look at that special moment Thursday night in Boston that turned NHL journeyman defenceman David Schlemko into a cult hero. 
  • Eight from 80 Feet: Trade Deadline Edition - Final thoughts on Sven Baertschi, the 411 on the four recall rule, and some neat thoughts directly from Brad Treliving on how much more comfortable he felt making moves at the deadline compared to when he first arrived last year and was faced with making a trade at the deadline and some summer signings.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Eight from 80 Feet: Special Sean Monahan Edition

It's edition nine of a content feature I started this season called Eight from 80 Feet, which I cobble together every couple of weeks.

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

Today I'm unveiling a special Sean Monahan edition that features all sorts of interesting and thought-provoking conversation starters that I guarantee will leave you preoccupied all day.

Are you ready? OK, let's go.


1. Heisenberg-Like Line Chemistry

Sean Monahan was good again on Friday in Calgary's 6-3 win over Toronto. In fact, he was really good. He scored his team-leading 26th and 27th goals of the season and he also had an assist for his first career three-point game.

However, it wasn't just Monahan. His entire line with Jiri Hudler and Johnny Gaudreau were superb once again combining for nine points. Each guy is on a six-game points streak, which is a career-high for Gaudreau and Monahan, and they have 16 goals and 30 assists over the last six games in which Calgary has gone a near flawless 5-0-1.

More on one of the hottest lines in the NHL right now, if not the hottest, plus quotes on their success from Monahan, Gaudreau and Bob Hartley can be found right here in my story from Friday night for The Canadian Press.


2. Catching Up with the 2013 NHL Draft Class

The thing with drafts is it takes a very long time to know for sure if you picked the right guy, or if you got a steal. If you look back five years ago at the 2010 NHL Draft, the Taylor Hall (1st) versus Tyler Seguin (2nd) debate is far from over. Nino Niederreiter (5th) was looking like a bust but maybe not so much any more and how high up on the he-should-have-gone meter will Vladimir Tarasenko (16th) ultimately end up.

Generally, you may have to wait as long as ten years before you can safely start doing that 20/20 hindsight thing and agree on what the draft order should have been.

Calgary selected Sean Monahan sixth in the 2013 draft. Obviously, there's no chance he will be a bust like previous Flames No. 6's Daniel Tkaczuk (1997) and Rico Fata (1998).

At this early stage, it's also looking like there's little chance the Flames will end up lamenting that they chose Monahan when (insert TBD name here) was still available. Remember, Edmonton chose Darnell Nurse right after Monahan and he is still in junior.

The bigger question is will Carolina, who chose Elias Lindholm at No. 5 end up regretting passing on Monahan.

Nathan MacKinnon -- the first overall pick from Colorado, is a special talent and is unlikely to be surpassed but by the end of their careers, could Monahan end up being one of the top three players from that draft?

For me, Monahan is having the best sophomore season of all of them as other contenders -- MacKinnon before he got hurt, and Nashville defenceman Seth Jones, have just not been saddled with the same on-ice responsibilities that Monahan has shouldered this season. Monahan's 19:23 in average ice time really stands out.

2013 NHL Draft Class - 2014-15 Season Totals:

1. Sean Monahan CGY, 68 gm, 27-24-51, plus-8, 19:23 TOI
2. Nathan MacKinnon COL, 64 gm, 14-24-38, minus-7, 17:02 TOI
3. Elias Lindholm CAR, 65 gm, 14-19-33, minus-19, 16:20 TOI
4. Jonathan Drouin TB, 58 gm, 2-24-26, plus-2, 13:08 TOI
5. Aleksander Barkov FLA, 56 gm, 11-13-24, minus-5, 17:11 TOI
6. Seth Jones NSH, 69 gm, 6-17-23, plus-5, 19:26 TOI
7. Andre Burakovsky WSH, 50 gm, 9-13-22, plus-12, 13:04 TOI
8. Bo Horvat VAN, 53 gm, 11-9-20, minus-3, 11:49 TOI


2013 NHL Draft Class - Career Goals:

1. Sean Monahan CGY, 6th pick, 143 gm, 49 goals
2. Nathan MacKinnon COL, 1st pick, 146 gm, 38 goals
3. Elias Lindholm CAR, 5th pick, 123 gm, 23 goals
4. Aleksander Barkov, FLA, 2nd pick, 110 gm, 19 goals
5. Valeri Nichushkin DAL, 10th pick, 83 gm, 14 goals


3. Second Most Goals Prior to 21st Birthday

When you think of young stars in Calgary's history, all-time leading Jarome Iginla is the name that immediately springs to mind. However, you may be surprised to learn that when Iginla turned 21, he had only 34 goals on his NHL resume and that was in 152 games. Monahan is knocking on the door of 50 and he's only played 143 games.

In terms of goals prior to his 21st birthday, Monahan moved into second on the Flames all-time list on Friday behind Dan Quinn. However, although he doesn't turn 21 until October 12 of next season, second is also where he is going to end up.

Calgary Flames History - Most Goals Prior to 21st Birthday

1. Dan Quinn (1983 to 1986) - 69
2. Sean Monahan (2013 to 2015) - 49
3. Kevin Lavallee (1980 to 1982) - 47
4. Robert Reichel (1990 to 1992) - 39
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


While Monahan may trail Quinn on this list, considering the relatively low-scoring era of today versus the high-flying days of the early-to-mid-80s when Quinn was breaking into the NHL, there is no denying that Monahan has had a much bigger impact and it could certainly be argued Monahan has had the most success of any player in Flames history as a 20-year-old or younger.

Considerations to keep in mind when comparing Monahan to Quinn:

  • Quinn's 69 goals came in 206 games over three seasons while Monahan's 49 goals so far have come in 143 games over two seasons.
  • If you break that down, Monahan's goals-per-game rate is currently 0.34. Quinn was 0.33.
  • During Quinn's three seasons before turning 21, he finished 6th, 8th and 2nd on the team in goals.
  • During Monahan's two seasons, he finished 2nd last year and right now is 1st this year.


4. Monahan vs Nieuwendyk

The best rookie season in Flames history belongs to 1985 second round pick Joe Nieuwendyk, who at age 21, scored 51 goals and had 92 points in 1987-88.

While Monahan's 22 goals as a rookie may pale in comparison, it's important to put Nieuwendyk's season into some context and once you do, you discover that the start to their careers is more similar than you think.

First, you must consider the high calibre of team Nieuwendyk joined when he broke into the NHL. Nieuwendyk was one of four 40-goal scorers that season. There was also Hakan Loob (50), Mike Bullard (48) and Joe Mullen (40). Last season, the Flames had only two 20-goal scorers -- Mike Cammalleri (26) was the other. My goodness, doesn't that sum up the differences in era right there.

They played 80 games back then and in 1987-88, Calgary scored a whopping 397 goals, which was tops in the NHL. That's an average of nearly five goals per game. With 14 games remaining this season, the Flames have scored 199 goals, which is an average of less than three goals per game. It's not like Calgary is near the bottom of the league either. The Flames currently rank sixth in average goals per game.

To give Monahan a fighting chance but also a more fair chance in this comparison, I have lumped together his rookie season and his sophomore season. Now lets compare the start to the careers of Monahan versus Nieuwendyk:
  • Nieuwendyk's 51 goals as a rookie represented 12.8 percent of the Flames offence
  • Monahan's 49 career goals represents 12.2 percent of the Flames offence over the past two seasons

Considering how good Nieuwendyk was for the Flames during his eight seasons, comparing Monahan to him at this early stage is a bit premature. That said, there are similarities that go beyond their offensive totals.
  • Both played centre
  • Nieuwendyk spent time as captain and it would surprise no one if Monahan also ends up wearing the 'C' some day.
  • They're similar in height -- Nieuwendyk was 6-foot-1 while Monahan is an inch taller.
  • Neither plays an aggressive, overly physical game.   

5. Sophomore of the Year

Someone mentioned the other day that it was too bad the NHL didn't have a 'Sophomore of the Year' award because Monahan could be in the running and he wasn't wrong. I researched it and in terms of scoring, Monahan ranks fourth is sophomore scoring behind that trio of young stars in Tampa Bay, who are sweeping the podium at the moment.

2014-15 NHL Sophomores - Most Points:

1. Tyler Johnson TB, 67 gm, 25-40-65
2. Nikita Kucherov TB, 69 gm, 25-31-56
3. Ondrej Palat TB, 64 gm, 15-37-52
4. Sean Monahan, CGY, 68 gm, 27-24-51
5. Ryan Strome NYI, 70 gm, 14-29-43
6. Nick Bjugstad FLA, 67 gm, 24-17-41
6. Tyler Toffoli LA, 61 gm, 20-21-41
8. Brock Nelson NYI, 70 gm, 18-21-39
8. Mark Scheifele WPG, 68 gm, 11-28-39
10. Nathan MacKinnon COL, 64 gm, 14-24-38


6. Sustainable or Unsustainable Shooting Percentage

In his rookie season, Monahan was first on the Flames and 14th in the NHL with a shooting percentage of 15.7 percent.

It was this high, seemingly unsustainable rate that formed the basis of the argument last summer for those that contested Monahan may not reach 20 goals this season.

Well, he's doing it again. Bolstered by a scorching hot streak recently in which he has 10 goals on just 24 shots in the last 13 games, Monahan finds himself right back up there among the league leaders in shooting percentage once again. Going into Saturday's game against Colorado, Monahan's shooting percentage is a lethal 17.3 percent, which is second on the team behind Jiri Hudler, 19.2 percent. Overall, Monahan ranks 10th in the NHL.

Having watched him for two years, it's clear that it's going to be an awfully long wait if you're waiting for Monahan's shooting percentage to regress to the league norm for forwards, which is typically between 10 and 11 percent.

For one, he rarely gains the blue-line and just whistles 50-foot wrister on goal. A majority of his shots seem to come from more dangerous areas such as the low slot or in and around the side of the net. Secondly, playing alongside sublime playmakers like Johnny Gaudreau and Jiri Hudler means Monahan is going to get some great scoring chances because they're that slick with their passing. Monahan need only get himself a patch of open ice and one of them will find him.

It's hard to say what Monahan's norm for a shooting percentage will ultimately end up being but given the sample we've seen so far, no one should be surprised if it ends up being well above the norm.


7. Junior Success in the NHL

For me, one of the most interesting angles to Sean Monahan's prolific scoring in the NHL is that during the course of his three-year major junior career with the Ottawa 67's, Monahan topped out at 33 goals in a season. That came in his second OHL season. Now, in his second NHL season, he has 27 goals with still 14 games to go. It's quite remarkable.

Obviously there are many factors. Playing with talented players like Gaudreau and Hudler are sure helping this year, but he was a teammate of Tyler Toffoli that 2011-12 season with Ottawa and with 52 goals and 100 points, you can't say Monahan didn't have some talent to work with. As a team, the 67's also a great year winning their division so while they weren't very good during Monahan's draft year, they weren't a factor the year prior.

Curious to see how Monahan's variance from CHL to NHL compared to others in recent drafts, I looked at top 10 draft picks out of the OHL, WHL or QMJHL for the five year span of 2009 to 2013 and here are the 10 players that have experienced the least variance in terms of goals-per-game. All players have gone down, naturally, but some not as much as others.

Note that I compared their final two seasons of major junior only and compared that to their career NHL totals up until today.

1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins EDM, 1st in 2011, -0.16
2. Sean Monahan CGY, 6th in 2013, -0.19
3. Tyler Seguin DAL, 2nd in 2010, -0.19
4. Matt Duchene COL, 3rd in 2009, -0.20
5. Ryan Johansen CBJ, 4th in 2010, -0.22
6. Gabriel Landeskog COL, 2nd in 2011, -0.24
7. Jeff Skinner CAR, 7th in 2010, -0.25
8. Evander Kane BUF, 4th in 2009, -0.27
9. Nazem Kadri TOR, 7th in 2009, -0.28
10. Taylor Hall EDM, 1st in 2010, -0.29

As for the five worst -- of those that have made the NHL, here they are:

1. Jonathan Drouin TB, 3rd in 2013, -0.70
2. Brett Connolly BOS, 6th in 2010, -0.61
3. Nail Yakupov EDM, 1st in 2012, -0.53
4. Mark Scheifele WPG, 7th in 2011, -0.50
5. Jonathan Huberdeau FLA, 3rd in 2011, -0.48

What I would make of this is it goes to show the value the Flames appear to have gotten in drafting Monahan when they did.


8. Next Contract Conundrum

Next season, Monahan will enter the final season of his three-year entry level contract. It's going to be very interesting to see how the Flames approach it. What I guarantee you won't see next is a four-year deal as that would take him to unrestricted free agency at the end of 2019-20. Imagine, the frenzy that would unfold on July 1 that summer if 25-year-old Sean Monahan landed on the free market. Never mind backing up one Brinks truck, teams may want to bring a whole fleet.

The Flames two choices would be either bridge him for two or three years and prepare to really open up the wallet and pay big time the next time, but that way they'd ultimately lock him up for a longer period by getting into a long-term deal at a later point.

Or, they could buy out some of Monahan's UFA years and offer him a long-term deal with the next contract. It could be the really smart play in many regards, yet still, even if you signed him to the maximum-allowed eight year deal, he would still then be in line to hit unrestricted free agency at age 29 in the summer of 2024.

But maybe you don't fear that. He will have played 11 years with the Flames at that point and there's no saying they couldn't start talking about an extension if everything was going well. Or, Monahan becomes a sought after rental at the 2024 trade deadline. That may be a long, way away but the conversations on what comes next for Monahan are coming very, very soon.


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Recent Related Flames Reading

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Who Cares What the Analytics Say! Five Reasons Why Flames Fans Should Just Enjoy the Ride


It's been a regular occurrence all season.

Calgary falls behind, gets outplayed, gets outshot, but time and time again -- just like Harry Houdini wiggling out of his chains and locked box, the Flames somehow escape with a victory.

Winning games they have no business winning. If there's a theme to this season, that's been it and it's a quality that is driving the advanced stats extremists crazy.

I know this because immediately after Flames wins -- like clockwork, out come the line graphs from the analytics folks, insistently pointing out the opposition line and how it's way up there and the Flames line and how it's way down there. Calgary should not have won that game, this grid proves it.

Lucky, yet again.

Heck, given all the 'good fortune' this y axis-challenged Flames team have enjoyed -- now 11 games above .500 for the first time since 2010-11, the NHL should forget about putting an expansion team in Las Vegas and just relocate Calgary instead. It would be a perfect fit.


A Little About Calgary's Comebacks
  • In eight of the Flames 36 wins, they have overcome a multi-goal deficit. Six times Calgary has trailed by two goals, twice (in Los Angeles, versus Boston) by three goals.
  • The Flames trailed in the second period in 17 of the wins including five of the last six.
  • Eleven times Calgary has trailed in the third period -- 10 times to start the period, which is tied with Anaheim for the league-lead. One other time -- Jan. 19 against Los Angeles, the game was scoreless after two periods, the Kings took a 1-0 lead, but the Flames came back to win.
  • Overall, Calgary trailed at some point in the game in 21 of its 36 victories.

Whether all this is just luck and random events as some maintain, or if you are a believer in intangibles such as character, heart, a team possessing a lot of 'fight' and the notion that not all things can be measured, that's another debate for another day. (Spoiler Alert: The truth lies somewhere in the middle.)

What I'm here to suggest to Flames fans is to not get hung up on what the analytics say. If I can share some advice, it's ignore the critics and guilt-free, soak up and celebrate every improbable victory.

I'm not against advanced stats in the slightest. I'm a numbers guy myself and as a supporting tool, data can help validate what you think you're seeing and can suggest other things to watch for that maybe you haven't noticed before.

That said, here are five reasons why Calgary's advanced stats need not concern you at this time.


1. Calgary Doesn't Think They're Better Than They Are

The trap when it comes to a lucky or misleading win-loss record is management making risky and/or regrettable personnel decisions based on that. This can negatively impact the team's future.

As a fan, what you don't want is general manager Brad Treliving thinking the Flames are closer than they actually are to being perennially good and gambling away key future assets in order to help the present.

Acquiring ex-Coyotes defenceman Keith Yandle, as some were hoping, would have been a mistake. At the exorbitant cost he went to the Rangers for --  a first round pick, a second round pick, a top prospect and a depth defencemen, that would have been an example of the Flames sacrificing the future for short term gain.

But that did not happen. Instead, here's what Treliving did at the trade deadline instead:
  • Sven Baertschi traded away for a second round pick
  • Curtis Glencross traded away for a second and third round pick

Two bodies, neither in the future plans for various reasons, were shipped out for future assets, while zero bodies were brought in. The only addition came via waivers -- David Schlemko. (Who as I wrote in this playful piece, immediately became a cult hero in Calgary.)

These events should reassure fans that Treliving knows exactly where the team is at right now in the rebuild process with the personnel in the organization at the NHL level and on the way. It also was a re-assuring indicator that it's where Calgary is ultimately going that remains his primary focus.


2. Flames Will be What They'll be Next Year Anyway

By now, you've heard the comparisons. Calgary's luck will run out soon and they'll plummet back to earth next season in a fiery crash just like Toronto did this year after a deceptively good win-loss record to start the season, and just like Colorado had an analytics-defying win-loss record last year and has taken a step backwards this season.

While I think that's an over-simplistic and over-presumptuous way of looking at it that disregards impactful personnel changes looming for next season like adding Sam Bennett and Emile Poirier, that is also not today's debate.

Today, I'm going to go along with the analytics folks and agree that the luck will run out next year and the Flames record will, indeed, be not very good next season.

OK, so now what?

Is the concern that fans are getting too used to winning this year and that they'll have to deal with a regression next season?

The way I see it, one shouldn't fear regression, one should embrace it because in order to regress, it means you're playing at a high level and/or winning right now.

Would it be preferred for the Flames to be bad this year as well as next year? I think most fans are OK with the way things are playing out. Soak up this year for what it's worth and cherish every day in a playoff race because let's be honest, being legitimately in the hunt in March, aka Stanley Cup playoffs lite, is a sizeable upgrade over what Calgary fans have grown accustomed to at this time of year.

Here's an analogy:

This season is like a Friday night. Next season is like Saturday morning and maybe it isn't going to be fun -- the bathrooms need cleaning and the kitchen is a mess.

Your choice for Friday is head to the pub with your pals and enjoy some adult beverages, have a great time, and deal with a hangover in the morning. There's always Tylenol.

The alternative is you can stay home on Friday, stick with drinking water, and maybe organize the pantry so comparably, Saturday is not such a letdown,

I know if I was making the choice, it's order up the potato skins and nachos, grab me a Strongbow and I'll see you shortly.


3. There's Nothing You Can Do About It

The Flames don't have enough depth on the blue-line. You're right.

Calgary is playing guys on the second line that should be on the third or fourth line. You're right.

Anything else to add?

Wish all you want that Calgary had more elite personnel and would be a better Corsi team but they are what they are right now .

As a fan, what are you supposed to do, wallow in it? Be depressed about it?

You can't control it so why fret about it.


4. The NHL Goes by Goals

If the NHL standings were based on advanced stats, the Flames would not be in a playoff spot right now. Conversations around Calgary this morning would be about Connor McDavid and the draft lottery, not Devan Dubnyk and the race for a playoff spot.

Heck, there would have even been a segment that would have (on the inside, mind you, and in the nicest of ways possible) celebrated the Mark Girodano injury instead of turning ghostly white.

But alas, that's not how it works.

There are two types of currency in the NHL: 1. Goals. 2. Wins. You accumulate them however you can and once you've got them, they are yours to keep. Those are the two metrics that matter and the more you get of both, the better.

The NHL is not like math class in junior high school. where not only are you graded on the final answer, but you also have to show all your work. In the NHL, they just care about the answer and if you get it right -- fluke, luck, or by cheating, you get full marks in the form of two points.

Calgary has shown an inane ability to win games it has no business winning based on statistical norms. Their 5-on-5 shooting percentage of 8.8 ranks third in the NHL and is well above the historical norm. Sean Monahan, as an example, has scored seven goals on his last 12 shots. That's flat-out ridiculous and nowhere near sustainable, yet it happened, it has helped the Flames pick up a couple extra wins as a result and those wins are locked in the vault, nobody can take them away.

Sometimes it's not about getting hung up on the how, and just enjoying the end result.

A favourite expression of a friend of mine applies here, "I don't want to know what goes into making the sausages. I just know they taste delicious."


5. Non-Debatable: Flames Games are Entertaining

At the end of the day, hockey is what it is. It's a form of entertainment.

When you buy tickets to see the Flames at the Saddledome, it's over other alternatives such as going to the theatre. When you watch the games on TV, it's over a plethora of other shows you could have chosen instead.

Surely the one thing the advanced stats crowd and the traditionalists can agree on is Flames games are rarely dull. Calgary has proven the last couple seasons but this year especially that you don't have to be good to be wildly entertaining.

And isn't that ultimately what you want?

Watching a game from the edge of your couch, white-knuckling your way through every shift by Deryk Engelland. That timely desperation great save from Karri Ramo, the agonizing fourth consecutive icing as they cling to a one-goal lead in the final minutes.

In a way, Flames games some nights is like watching an animal kingdom show on Discovery Channel. You see the gazelle, grazing on some grass in an open field. It's quick but undersized. Then they show the vicious tiger, methodically stalking its prey. So big, so strong, so powerful.

You know who should prevail and part of you wants to cover your eyes, but sometimes the gazelle uses its speed and agility and gets away. The Flames winning three out of four games with Los Angeles and being ahead of the defending Stanley Cup champions in the standings with five weeks to go is proof that there are no certainties and anything can happen.


Conclusion

Will there be a drop off in the Flames play coming up -- either later this month or next year? Probably. Will there be a lengthy losing streak as their luck evens out? Possibly.

But from a fan's perspective, isn't that even more reason to enjoy the prosperity of today. The losses are coming. Nobody thinks the rebuild is over. So you better damn well enjoy the winning.

Lamenting that the team is getting outplayed when there's nothing you can do about it anyway just seems like a downer way to watch a hockey game. Maybe you should stick to watching movies instead -- although if you choose Rudy or Hoosiers, you might as well keep watching the Flames as the underdog story playing out in Calgary this season is just as good.

And while the luck will run out eventually, who is to say that doesn't happen at the same time the Flames start winning games on merit instead.

Remember, this is a team that is on the upswing. They have five rookies on the roster right now and eight players are 24-and-under. They are only continuing to get better. Next year, add in an enormous talent like Bennett, Poirier probably graduates to full-time duty, two good players coming in and surely Tyler Wotherspoon arrives by then too.

My flaw in the "They're going to be just like last year's Avalanche" theory is it's grossly over simplistic. Who played the role of Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie for Colorado last year? Having one of the NHL's best defensive pairings gives the Flames a solid foundation on the blue-line not many teams have and you can't underestimate the difference they make.

Plus, six draft picks potentially in the top 80 this June and with loads of cap space, who knows what personnel changes might happen this summer. With a trade or two, the Flames could very well be in the playoff race conversation to start next season based on merit, and not needing the same luck they've gotten this year.

Back in the early 80s when I was teenager watching Flames games on TV, I loved it. I couldn't tell you then or now whether they were supposed to be winning or not, whether they were lucky or not, and I didn't care.

If there's a single bit of advice for this season. Adopt that same attitude. Don't over think it, just enjoy it. Man, it's just hockey and it's been fun.


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Recent Related Flames Reading
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  • Eight from 80 Feet: Trade Deadline Edition - Final thoughts on Sven Baertschi, the 411 on the four recall rule, and some neat thoughts directly from Brad Treliving on how much more comfortable he felt making moves at the deadline compared to when he first arrived last year and was faced with making a trade at the deadline and some summer signings.
  • Eight Flames That Could Get Dealt at the Trade Deadline - While the trade deadline could be a quiet one for Brad Treliving, there are several players in the organization from Curtis Glencross to Sven Baertschi, who I can see being moved if teams are interested and Calgary's general manager gets an offer he likes.
  • Eight from 80 Feet: Ramo Ranked No. 1, Glencross' Spot in Team History, and more -Topics included in the lastest eight Flames thoughts includes Karri Ramo -- the NHL's best road goaltender this season, Curtis Glencross and his final place in team history and Sean Monahan's evolution at the face-off dot. 
  • No, the Western Conference Sky is not Falling - Tumbling out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference has left fans feeling much consternation. Much consternation about nothing, that is. Calgary still controls its own destiny and with one of the softest schedules remaining, rumours of the death of the Flames playoff chances are greatly exaggerated

Friday, March 06, 2015

Introducing 'The Schlemko'. Flames Win Again and in the Most Calgary Way Imaginable

Photo via Reddit

You could not dream up a more apropos thing to happen to add an exclamation mark to the Flames magical 2014-15 season than what unfolded on Thursday evening at the TD Garden in Boston.

David Schlemko, playing his first hockey game since January 31. Playing his first game since Calgary plucked him off waivers -- the NHL version of the 'free' box at a garage sale. Coming at the end of a game in which he played only seven minutes, the third-lowest ice time in his 213 career games. On a night in which his butt had been stapled to the Flames bench since late in the second period for all but a minuscule 1:55 in third period ice time.

There he was, wearing No. 3 and presumably someone with all the offensive panache you might expect from that jersey number's former inhabitant Ladislav Smid, inexplicably getting the call from Bob Hartley in round eight of a shootout against the Bruins.

That's right, round eight. Not round 18, round eight.

Pardon? Huh?

That's right, Schlemko had just been sent over the boards to shoot for the Flames. This is the same Schlemko, who has scored all of one NHL goal in each of the last four seasons.

Seven players had already gone, sure. But not yet getting the tap on the shoulder: Mikael Backlund -- seven goals, Lance Bouma -- 12 goals, TJ Brodie -- 10 goals, Dennis Wideman -- 12 goals. Oh, did I mention Emile Poirier? The 20-year-old first round pick only scored 53 goals last season between the AHL and QMJHL.

If you knew in advance Schlemko was going to go out there and try and impersonate Peter Forsberg from the 1994 Winter Olympics, you would have expected the same outcome as if you were at a karaoke bar and your drunk girlfriend went on stage to sing 'I Will Always Love You' by Whitney Houston.

Then, this happened.


First, he clinches the win, a massive two points on a night in which everyone around Calgary in the Western Conference playoff race was also picking up points, then came the best part. Schlemko nonchalantly skates back to the jubilant Flames bench showing about as much emotion as someone, who just took the garbage bin out to the curb and was heading back into the house.

Now, they do say celebrate like you've been there before. And, he has. Schlemko is two-for-two in his shootout career -- both game-deciding goals. With Arizona, he also scored the deciding goal on April 20, 2013, against Corey Crawford at the United Center. Mind you, it came on a different and less spectacular move.

But seriously, did that really just happen?

To say Twitter blew up after that goal would be an understatement. In Calgary specifically, it had to be right up there with Jarome Iginla's pass to Sidney Crosby on Feb. 28, 2010.

Well, welcome to the team, Mr. Schlemko, why don't you sit in the front row on the charter to Detroit. In fact, why don't you grab a seat in the cockpit. Have you ever flown an airplane before? Never mind, I wouldn't doubt you for a second.

In a tough trio of barns -- Long Island, Philadelphia and Boston, the Flames have won two of their first three games without the services of their captain and best player Mark Giordano.

I'd call it shocking, but seems it's time to strike that word from our vocabulary given all that Calgary has accomplished not just this week, but all season.

Lucky at times? Sure.

Outplayed regularly? Yep.

In a playoff spot? Somehow.

Entertaining? Hell yeah.

There is still a long way to go and if I was an odds maker in Las Vegas, the chances of the Flames making the playoffs  still remain remote. I'd say one-in-four as a guess.

But from all we've seen from this resilient, resourceful, never-say-die hockey club, I wouldn't bet against them. No way.


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Recent Related Flames Reading
  • Eight from 80 Feet: Trade Deadline Edition - Final thoughts on Sven Baertschi, the 411 on the four recall rule, and some neat thoughts directly from Brad Treliving on how much more comfortable he felt making moves at the deadline compared to when he first arrived last year and was faced with making a trade at the deadline and some summer signings.
  • Eight Flames That Could Get Dealt at the Trade Deadline - While the trade deadline could be a quiet one for Brad Treliving, there are several players in the organization from Curtis Glencross to Sven Baertschi, who I can see being moved if teams are interested and Calgary's general manager gets an offer he likes.
  • Eight from 80 Feet: Ramo Ranked No. 1, Glencross' Spot in Team History, and more -Topics included in the lastest eight Flames thoughts includes Karri Ramo -- the NHL's best road goaltender this season, Curtis Glencross and his final place in team history and Sean Monahan's evolution at the face-off dot. 
  • No, the Western Conference Sky is not Falling - Tumbling out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference has left fans feeling much consternation. Much consternation about nothing, that is. Calgary still controls its own destiny and with one of the softest schedules remaining, rumours of the death of the Flames playoff chances are greatly exaggerated
  • The Cardiac Kids: Fun Facts About the Third Period Comebacks - A comprehensive look back at the Flames 10 come-from-behind victories. Also included are a bunch of fun facts that will make you go "hmm..." and a look at the historical significance of it all.