Friday, December 30, 2016

From First to One of the Worst: Theories Behind the Flames Extreme Increase in Penalties

Going from first to one of the worst in anything can be a curious, head-scratching, aggravating and frustrating journey.

It's no different for the Calgary Flames, who have gone from being the most disciplined team in the NHL for a over a season-and-a-half to being one of the two least-disciplined teams over the past 11 months.

Why the sudden and extreme change?

It's a great question and is a topic of conversation that has been heating up in the halls of the Saddledome the last few days.

Now there a couple logical theories behind the spike in how frequently the Flames have been shorthanded. Both have credence.

1. New Coach - For 38 games this season, they've played under Glen Gulutzan, who has implemented a new style of play in which he expects his players to be more aggressive all over the ice. Reflected in the team's win-loss record over the first five weeks of the season in which they started off a league-worst 5-10-1, there's been a steep learning curve. It has taken the players time to get comfortable with the new system and the coach's expectations.

2. New Personnel - When you bring in aggressive, physical players the likes of Matthew Tkachuk, Garnet Hathaway and Troy Brouwer, you're naturally going to be a more penalized team than you were when the line-up featured the Lady Byng-likes of Jiri Hudler, David Jones and Mason Raymond.

But are those two reasons alone enough to explain the vast change that has seen Calgary -- almost over night -- go from being shorthanded an average of 0.75 fewer times per game compared to the league average (3.07) to being on the penalty kill an average of 0.48 more times per game than the league average (3.17) over this recent period.

While sure, some of the roster has changed, two-thirds of the team remains the same.


More To It?

Asked on Wednesday if his team's new style of play is a reason behind why Calgary is the league's most penalized team in 2016-17 -- 145 times shorthanded, compared to 136 for Winnipeg, who ranks second -- Gulutzan had an interesting response.

"I think that plays into it," he acknowledged, but he did not stop there. "I would say there's a bigger dividing point to when all the penalties started and it was probably before me."

Probably?

Despite the cautious choice of words, it seems hard to believe that this was just blind speculation. It's as if the team has already circled a date on the calendar last year when the quantity of penalty calls against them started to rise.

What shook down at the Saddledome when the Nashville Predators were the visiting team on January 27, 2016, is history Gulutzan will be very familiar with, despite being a Vancouver Canucks assistant coach at the time.

Of course, that was the night of the infamous Dennis Wideman incident with linesman Don Henderson. The Flame defenceman was originally suspended by the league for 20 games for contacting an official. On March 11 after the suspension was appealed, independent arbitrator James Oldham reduced the suspension to 10 games, although by then, he had already sat out 19 games.

While the Wideman suspension may be over, are the Flames still paying the price as a team for the actions of their player?

It's an extremely far-fetched theory to me and to be clear, no one within the organization is saying Calgary has been targeted by officials. In fact, they've denied it whenever the question has been posed. Nor has anyone come out and referenced the Dennis Wideman incident in particular.

But there is certainly a faction of fans that aren't nearly as skeptical.


Conspiracy Theory

In the world of sports, fan sites and social media are what they are. They're locations and outlets for fans to vent to an audience of sympathetic listeners.

It's where back in that tumultuous start to the season, Gulutzan was fired multiple times. It's where assistant coach Dave Cameron (in charge of the power play) was fired even more often than that. It's where Dougie Hamilton was traded and it's where Chad Johnson has already been given an extension. That's just what goes on in these places.

One other topic that has been a constant in those same circles going back to last season has been what fans have dubbed the 'Wideman Effect'. Pleas from the Flames passionate fan base since that January 27 incident is that Calgary is essentially being targeted by referees as payback for the incident with Henderson, in which he reportedly had to undergo neck surgery in the summer and has not worked an NHL game since.

While it's never been spoken of beyond those fan circles, Brad Treliving did broach the topic of penalties and team discipline on Wednesday and he sent some eyebrows raising with one of his comments.

While an injury update on Troy Brouwer was the main reason for him speaking, when the topic changed to the team's penalty issues, Treliving offered up this.

"I’m kind of in the middle of a little study on that," mused the Flames general manager. "No. 1, we’ve got to hold our players accountable. You’re not going to have success in this league if you’re taking five or six minor penalties. You can dodge it, but it’ll bite you. We’ve got to be a more disciplined team."

But then much like the coach, he did not stop there.

"But it’s a little odd. For a year and a half, we were the least penalized team. We went a 130-game block of games where we had the least amount of penalties. There’s been 72 games where we’ve been the highest penalized team. That’s a little interesting," said Treliving.

"I don’t know what’s gone on. Before we start looking at the sniper in the bush, we want to make sure we’re looking at ourselves first to see if there’s things we can manage."


The Math Checks Out

Do the math and sure enough, that pivot point -- that 130 game mark he's referring to -- coincidentally (or not) takes you back to that Jan. 27 evening at the Saddledome. Might the "sniper in the bush" wear a No. 6 on the back of his camouflage jacket? Read into it what you want.

The topic of team discipline came up again last night at Gulutzan's post-game press conference.

Throwing more fuel on the fire, while also throwing water on the fire at the same time, Gulutzan was asked after Calgary's 3-1 loss to Anaheim if his team appropriately handled the agitating ways of the Ducks and in particular, Ryan Kesler.

"I thought we did for the most part. I’d like to rewind a couple of those penalties we took, I certainly didn’t see them the same way (the referees) did. I hope everybody is watching video after games, not just coaches.”

Although asked immediately after if he feels the Flames are being unfairly targeted, Gulutzan responded with a very deliberate, "No."

Special teams were prominent in the setback. Calgary gave up two power play goals on six tries while being blanked all four times they had the man advantage.


The Before and After

So left only to do some speculating ourselves, what might Treliving's "study" have revealed? I'm not privy to his findings but here's the before and after statistically, as extracted from the NHL's website.

Flames Penalty Breakdown From Start of 2014-15 through Jan. 27, 2016 (130 games)
  • Minor penalties - 301, fewest
  • Times shorthanded - 342, fewest
  • Average Times Shorthanded Per Game - 2.32, lowest

Flames Penalty Breakdown Since Jan. 28, 2016 (72 games)
  • Minor Penalties - 302, second-most behind Arizona (304)
  • Times Shorthanded - 263, tied for the most with Arizona
  • Average Times Shorthanded Per Game - 3.65, second-highest behind Arizona (3.81)

Pump those figures into a calculator and the Flames are on the penalty kill an average of 1.33 more times per game now than previously. Over the course of an average week if Calgary plays three times, that equates to four extra opposition power plays.

Based on the Flames current 80.7 percent penalty kill, more often than not that's going to lead to one additional opposition power play goal per week and depending on when it occurs, that could cost the team a victory. Last night, for example, Calgary led until the Ducks tied it 1-1 and took over the game's momentum with a power play goal 6:16 into the second period.


Individual Numbers

Going back to that same Jan. 27 date, here is a breakdown of how the average minor penalties per game has changed for individual Flames that have had large enough sample sizes (approximately 30 games minimum) both before and after.

As you can see, Sam Bennett is being penalized far more, as are most Flames.

Penalties Taken, Before-After Comparison (average minors per game)

1. Sam Bennett, +0.31
2. Mark Giordano, +0.16
3. Dougie Hamilton, +0.16
4. Michael Frolik, +0.15
5. Mikael Backlund, +0.08
6. Deryk Engelland, +0.06
7. Sean Monahan, +0.06
8. Matt Stajan, +0.03
9. Lance Bouma, +0.01
10. Johnny Gaudreau, 0.00
11. Michael Ferland, (-0.02)
12. Dennis Wideman, (-0.03)
13. TJ Brodie, (-0.04)


What about non-calls? In response to the pleas from some that the number of infractions on Flames players being missed or not called is also up since Jan. 27, here's a before-after breakdown of the statistic called 'Penalties Drawn per 60" which looks at minors drawn by players based on playing 60 minutes.

What it indicates is Johnny Gaudreau is drawing more penalties that he has in the past, but overall, most Flames are drawing less -- and in the case of Bennett, considerably less.

Penalties Drawn per 60, Before-After Comparison (average minors drawn per 60 mins)

1. Johnny Gaudreau, +0.66
2. Deryk Engelland, +0.25
3. Mikael Backlund, +0.16
4. Dougie Hamilton, +0.09
5. Sean Monahan, (-0.03)
6. Dennis Wideman (-0.06)
7. Matt Stajan (-0.10)
8. Micheal Ferland (-0.10)
9. Michael Frolik (-0.12)
10. Lance Bouma (-0.13)
11. TJ Brodie (-0.14)
12. Mark Giordano (-0.21)
13. Sam Bennett (-0.67)


Next is a breakdown of the new players and their penalty taken rate along with the same for notable players that are no longer with Calgary (or in the NHL).


New Additions (average minors per game)

1. Matthew Tkachuk, 34 gm, 21 min, 0.62
2. Garnet Hathaway, 32 gm, 14 min, 0.44
3. Troy Brouwer, 36 gm, 9 min, 0.25
4. Alex Chiasson, 38 gm, 9 min, 0.24
5. Jyrki Jokipakka, 44 gm, 8 min, 0.18
6. Kris Versteeg, 26 gm, 4 min, 0.15


Departed (average minors per game)

1. Brandon Bollig, 87 gm, 22 min, 0.25
2. Curtis Glencross, 53 gm, 12 min, 0.23
3. Josh Jooris, 91 gm, 17 min, 0.19
4. Markus Granlund, 75 gm, 10 min, 0.13
5. Ladislav Smid, 45 gm, 6 min, 0.13
6. David Jones, 115 gm, 12 gm, 0.10
7. Mason Raymond, 86 gm, 8 min, 0.09
8. Jiri Hudler, 119 gm, 11 min, 0.09
9. Raphael Diaz, 56 gm, 5 min, 0.08
10. Kris Russell, 124 gm, 9 min, 0.07
11. Paul Byron, 57 gm, 4 min, 0.07


Final Word

For all we know, the date insinuated by Treliving of January 27 for when the frequency of penalty calls seemed to change is merely a coincidence and has nothing to do with the incident in the second period that night involving Wideman. Much like November 15 is a date I use for a before/after of when the Flames turned their current season around -- despite losing Johnny Gaudreau to injury that night.

If you're watching the games impartially, you have to admit Calgary is taking far more undisciplined penalties than they have in the past, especially in the offensive zone.

The real question is how many more.

While Calgary's penalty total with the addition of scrappy guys like Tkachuk and Hathaway is obviously going to increase, should the difference be so extreme that Calgary goes from being the least penalized team to the second-most? That is the question that doesn't have an answer.

For now, the only remedy for the team is to perhaps play a little safer and also, cut down on retaliation penalties. Thursday night, they let the Ducks frustrate them. They have to rise above that or it's going to cost them.

Calgary has a much-improved penalty kill, but it's not perfect and they're going to give up a goal most nights when they are forced to kill five or six penalties.

Exercising more discipline and restraint in not putting themselves in a bad situation where the referees can make an easy call, will go a long way in determining if come April 9, the Flames are preparing for the playoffs, or cleaning out their lockers.

If it's the latter, rest assured that it will be more than a conspiracy theory that keeps them out.



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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Quietly Making Noise: Garnet Hathaway Lets His Actions do his Trash Talking

They say actions speak louder than words and for Flames rookie Garnet Hathaway, it's his hard-nosed style of play that does most of the talking.

Or, make that jabbering. Or jawing. Or taunting.

"He's not trash talking as much as people would think, he gets under the other team's skin in other ways," insists linemate Matt Stajan. "He limits space, he's always in the middle of every scrum, he's quick on the forecheck. Guys like that, they just get under your skin and it's noticeable. When he's out there, other teams are getting frustrated."

The NHL now tracks a statistic called 'Minor Pen Dr/60'. It is the number of minor penalties taken against a player, divided by their ice time, multiplied by 60 to represent an entire game.


NHL - Penalties Drawn Per 60 Minutes (as of Dec. 29, 2016)

1. Garnet Hathaway, CGY, 3.08
2. Matthew Tkachuk CGY, 2.92
3. Matt Martin TOR, 2.56
4. Darren Helm DET, 2.32
5. Ryan Hartman CHI, 2.12


Ivy League-educated at Brown University. Friendly and personable off the ice. It's hard to imagine when you see Hathaway out there getting the opposition so riled up that it is the same guy.

"We all have our in-game face," says the 25-year-old right winger with a wry smile. "A big part of my game is trying to agitate guys and get them off their game and all the time, just trying to keep my feet moving. They took a lot of the holding and the hooking out of the game so that's one way you can draw penalties."

He brings that same approach every time he steps on the ice no matter who he is up against. The name bar on the back of the jersey is inconsequential.

"He's another guy that's just in the game. He plays every shift like it's his last shift," says coach Glen Gulutzan. "He brings energy to our group and you can feel that energy in our locker room. I think even fans can feel that energy outside in watching the games.

"He gives you 100 percent every time he's on the ice. He doesn't let anybody off the hook. He finishes all of his checks. He's not afraid to walk the line as far as playing in your face and bending the rules and he makes other guys angry at him."


Unsung Heroes

Contributions from a fourth line are often overlooked in a world where game highlights focus on goals and the existence of hockey pools send fans scouring through scoring summaries.

But they are not underappreciated behind the Flames dressing room doors.

"There are a lot of aspects of this game that are not tracked by stats," Hathaway says. "Stuff that people inside this locker room will notice with guys in this room. Little attributes that are small details but that's how you win games."

For a long time, the fourth line was comprised of Stajan, Hathaway and Micheal Ferland. But with the return of Lance Bouma and most recently, the broken finger Troy Brouwer had operated on Tuesday, it's now Bouma on that wing with Ferland promoted to the top nine.

"We all have our checklist. I try to get on the body as much as I can. I take pride in my puck possession or puck control and no turnovers when you're getting to the blueline," says Hathaway. "I also try to get to the net front a lot and that's another thing that's not really counted. If you watch the video, a lot of guys on this team take a beating standing in front of the net. They may not get a point from it, but we may score with their screen."

The fourth line has enjoyed modest offensive success this year too. Stajan, who is the lynchpin at centre on that unit, already has 14 points and the season is not yet half-over. This is after the two previous years in which he contributed just 17 points apiece.

"I've pretty much been on the fourth line the last three years and I feel this year, we have been more effective. Creating more and just providing energy for our club," Stajan says. "We're given a lot more responsibility with D-zone draws and we have the confidence of the coaching staff and we want to really do a good job as we know it's important. If you look at the good teams in the league, the fourth line has got to be effective."

The external accolades may not be that plentiful when you're cast in a defensive role and only playing 8-12 minutes per night, but that group can be a key part of the puzzle.

"The guys that are on the penalty kill and play more of a defensive role, you get less of the glory when you look at the stats, but within the team, you know what everybody's job is and our line and Backlund's line take a bulk of the D-zone draws and you take pride in that," says Stajan.


Contributing to the Offence in Different Ways

While the fourth line may not produce that much offence themselves, they can still very much contribute to that part of the game indirectly.

"You try and put the next line in a good position to score," Stajan says. "If we start in our end, we want to finish that shift in the other end so we can get Johnny (Gaudreau) out there in an offensive situation. That's how a team works, you build towards scoring goals and that's why we've been effective."

The value of Hathaway's NHL-best ability to return to the bench as his team heads onto the man advantage is accentuated these days with Calgary owning the best power play in the league since mid-November.


Gulutzan suggests it's his Ivy League education showing through.

"They've got these high IQs and they're very street smart, they're very intelligent and they play the game with such passion. They're willing to fight and they're willing to do anything," says Calgary's coach. "Hath doesn't say much, it's not from verbal, it's all about his actions and that's the best type of player. Everyone on the other team knows when he's out there."

So do fans these days because it seems to be as simple as they win when he's in. Calgary has won nine consecutive games with Hathaway in uniform. They've lost three in a row with him as a scratch. Grey Cup Sunday over a month ago was the last time the Flames lost a game in which Hathaway was in the line-up.

"Everyone on this team has their role and teams that build in those individual roles are successful," says Hathaway. "Plus it always helps when we win. Obviously, that's the biggest part."

Legitimately holding down a wild card spot in the Western Conference now and no longer in such a position only because of an inflated amount of games played, it's taken a total team effort to get there and that includes not just the top nine up front, but the entire dozen.



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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Good Vibrations: Arrival of Barrie Boys Has Provided Boost to the Stockton Heat

The same West Coast state that produced the Beach Boys has a new act that is entertaining fans with their electric performances.

A six-hour drive up the I-5 from the city of Hawthorne in Southern California, where 55 years ago Brian Wilson got his band together, a pair of talented hockey players are making a name for themselves in Northern California.

Highly touted prospects Rasmus Andersson (second round) and Andrew Mangiapane (sixth round) were both drafted by Calgary in 2015 from the same team -- the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League. Both turned pro in September, they found an apartment together, and three months into their rookie seasons with the Stockton Heat, their impressive starts have helped the Flames' American Hockey League affiliate to its best start in years.

You could say, or sing, that the two offensively-gifted 20-year-olds are (oom bop, bop) providing fans with excitations.

"They haven't just dipped their toe in the water, they've stepped right in and been impact guys," raves Brad Pascall, Flames assistant general manager and GM for Stockton. "We're really happy with their progress."


Playoff Pursuit

In his final year of a three-year contract he signed when Calgary wooed him away from Kelowna in the Western Hockey League, coach Ryan Huska says he is enjoying the fresh perspective of looking down on teams rather than the opposite. His club missed the playoffs the last two seasons.

Going into action on Tuesday and buoyed by the play of Mangiapane and Andersson, the Heat are second in the Pacific Division at 16-7-3. They are just the tiniest of percentage points behind the Tucson Roadrunners (14-6-3). Not unlike the Pacific Division in the NHL, the AHL's version is proving to be very competitive also.

"Our division is so tough, every game is a difficult game to play in and it makes it a real challenge," says Huska, age 41. "If you take a night off, you're going to lose ground because everyone seems to always find a way to win."

That was the case Monday night when Stockton fell to second in the division despite picking up a point in an overtime loss in San Jose. Despite finishing with a very respectable 4-2-1 mark in a stretch of seven consecutive road games, a Roadrunners victory inched them into top spot.

"There isn't really a team that has separated itself all that much from the pack. That makes it a challenging year for us and one where you almost feel like you don't get an opportunity to breathe because every game is that important."


Magnifico Mangiapane

From the start of the season, Mangiapane has found success playing left wing on a line with two seasoned pros in Linden Vey and Matt Frattin.

"Andrew was a guy that had two 100-point seasons in the Ontario Hockey League and I didn't think it would be a benefit to him to start him on a third or fourth line role because that's not one of his strengths," says Huska. "So we wanted to give him an opportunity at the beginning of the year to see if he could fit in one of our top roles."

It's certainly worked. Through 25 games, Mangiapane has racked up 20 points (7 goals, 13 assists), which puts him solidly in the top 10 in rookie scoring.

"From the first game that we put him with those guys, he wasn't intimidated, he made plays, he showed a lot of confidence in his ability and that group generated early on," says Huska.

This isn't a case of the 5-foot-10 Mangiapane riding the coattails of the other two either.


Small Stature, Big Impact

"He's a real important part of that line," insists Huska. "Where he does a lot of the work is to get pucks. He's got a quiet skill level about him where it's not a fancy skill level, he's efficient with the plays that he makes."

Andrew Mangiapane (Photo by Jack Lima, courtesy of Stockton Heat)
The areas of his game that has most impressed his coach are his battle level, how hard he competes and his strength on the puck.

"He's shown right from the beginning of the year, he's not afraid to get into the hard areas," he says. "When he goes into a one-on-one battle for a puck, he's often a guy that comes out with it.

"Maybe because he's a little bit smaller, his centre of gravity -- if you want to call it that -- is a little bit lower, he does a great job of getting control of the puck in those hard areas and then he has a skill set where he's able to make the right play from that point."

Where the veteran linemates have helped is sheltering him from the pressure that can come with making the jump from junior to the pro ranks. Vey, 25, who leads the team in scoring and Frattin, 28, have played over 700 pro games combined between the AHL and NHL.

"That's what is so important about having a good group of older guys. They're there to take the pressure off the younger player. When that responsibility isn't so high on a younger, first-year guy, it allows them to settle in and breathe and learn how to play the game instead of feeling that pressure that I've got to score every night," Huska says. "When you have guys that have played in the NHL, when you have guys that are quality people like those two are, they bring a comfort level for Andrew."


Early Success Bred Confidence

With an assist in the season opener, a goal and an assist in the next game, then another goal and an assist in game No. 4, that early success is what has distinguished Mangiapane's season from the trials and tribulations that Morgan Klimchuk went through a year ago when he first turned pro.

Eight games into the season, Mangiapane already had 10 points, which was more than Klimchuk accrued in the 55 games he played in his rookie season. In his first dozen games, Klimchuk failed to pick up a point.

"They weren't brought along all that different. The difference we saw was Morgan had a tough time generating any sort of offence last year and I don't think he had a high level of confidence at the beginning of the year," says Huska. "The points just weren't there early on and it becomes heavy and hard on a young player because that's what they've done their entire life.

"For Andrew, he found confidence early in the year that has allowed him to get going on the pace that he's currently on."


Awesome Andersson

It's been a slower ramp-up for Andersson but that said, still a pretty rapid ascent considering playing defence is inherently that much more difficult.

Everyone will recall the public scolding Andersson got at development camp from general manager Brad Treliving about his conditioning. It's an area that will likely always be one he has to work on and be aware of, but it's gotten a lot better.

"With Ras, the one knock on him along the way has been his conditioning and being a little bit heavier than what he should be at," says Huska. "He's down 7-8 pounds right now from where he was at the beginning of the year and he's doing that while living on his own so I've got to give him a lot of credit for how he's approached his off-ice habits."

In the Flames organization, the emphasis on eating properly is engrained in players starting at July development camp where their off-ice instruction includes cooking lessons. That focus has continued at Stockton for both Mangiapane and Andersson.

"Our strength guy, Alan Selby, has done an unreal job with the two of them," Huska says. "He's put them into cooking classes. He's taken them shopping to teach them the types of food that they should be putting in their body, the types of things they need in the kitchen. We've really gone the extra mile with those guys in regards to trying to help them get over the hump in their first year."


Feel Good, Play Good

Huska says the emphasis on that part of the game has come along way from when he played pro hockey 20 years ago.

Rasmus Andersson (Photo by Jack Lima, courtesy of Stockton Heat)
"Totally different now," he says with a chuckle. "All these guys, they know they have to take care of themselves away from the rink. They know there is such a priority on what you put into your bodies. Garbage in, garbage out.

"We're trying to get them to be educated on if you want to be at the very best of your abilities, you have to fuel yourself the right way and there is a ton of priority put on that."

It's a bit unusual for the two rookies to be roommates but the circumstances of where they live made the Flames brass OK with the arrangement.

"We were a little bit leery of those two living together because you do like to have an older guy around to help them out, but they ended up getting an apartment in the same complex as a lot of our older players and a lot of the team for that matter, so there are a lot of people around."

Plus, it seems that Mangiapane's Italian heritage is coming through. Rumours are that he's turning into the head chef.

"If you were to ask Andrew, he makes a mean chicken parm," says Huska. "But I don't know what else they make."

There is also an option to have meal selections that guys sign up for and they're brought right to the rink so after practice they are ready for them to eat right away.

"There's a lot of different things that you have at the player's disposal now if they choose to use them," says Huska.


Offence on the Rise

Where Mangiapane's offence has slowed down lately, having been blanked in his last three games, Andersson's game is just starting to flourish. With 17 points (2 goals, 15 assists) in 26 games, he is fifth in scoring among rookie defencemen, He's also a plus-14, which is second among all rookies and leads first-year defencemen. In fact, of all defencemen in the league, only Tyler Wotherspoon (+16) has been better in that category.

Most impressive with that is we're talking about a D pairing in Andersson and Wotherspoon and/or Brett Kulak that have been utilized as Stockton's top pairing.

"They've been our No. 1 defensive pair and we match them up against top lines against other teams," praises Huska. "Early in the year, I think Ras was a little bit careful on the offensive side of the game. He didn't want to make a mistake and he was learning how to play with more pace in his game. But we've seen over the last little while where he's jumping into the play a lot more now."

The result has been the type of production he was known for in the OHL.

"He's such a smart player, there are lots of times where you think he's in trouble but he always ends up being in the right spot at the right time, or he's got an ability to suck a defenceman in and make the proper pass to an open man where we get out of our zone quickly. He's got that uncanny ability to read and understand the game," Huska says.

He just has to always monitor his conditioning.

"But if he can really hammer down on it and make it a priority for him, then the sky's the limit for him."


Final Word

"We're very pleased with the progression of our players down there in a short period of time," Pascall says. "If you look at our guys and how they've performed in the gym, how they've produced offensively, how they've worked defensively. The first year guys, how they've adjusted to the pro lifestyle, it's been real positive so far."

Pascall also applauded the leadership from older veterans like captain Mike Angelidis, Brandon Bollig and Keith Aulie. In all cases, he knows the players are trying to kickstart their own careers, but the Flames expectations of them are also made clear.

Celebration Time (photo by Jack Lima, courtesy Stockton Heat)
"We tell them the most important thing for us is we're going to put some young players with you and your job is to make them better players," explains Pascall. "You may get 20 goals, but I want you to get 30 assists for this guy, and I want Mark Jankowski to be a better player because you're going to be his winger, and I want Mangiapane to be a better player and I want Klimchuk to be a better player, and you guys, as veteran guys, have to do that. "

Those leaders have delivered too.

"You're always looking for who are the right guys. Mike Angelidis is a tremendous leader and an excellent face-off guy, and how he mentors our young guys including Jankowski at practice and working with him on the faceoffs and what have you. So when you look to sign guys with high character, those are guys that you want to bring into the organization for that purpose.

"Obviously they want to do well as a player for their own resume and they want to win as a team, but the most important thing for us under development is progressing our guys that we are investing in and they've really taken that to heart."

Perhaps what's most exciting is the knowledge that some of the best development can come in May and June by going on a long AHL playoff run. Look at the roster of the 2011-12 Norfolk Admirals team that won the Calder Cup and you see a bunch of players that are regular NHLers now such as Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat, Richard Panik and Radko Gudas.

Also on that squad, and perhaps by no coincidence, were Angelidis and Aulie. Who knows, perhaps some future NHLers are being groomed as we speak and maybe it's the Barrie Boys, who for now, will continue to have fun, fun, fun in California.



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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Ho Ho Ho! Eight Presents For Flames Fans Found Under this Year's Christmas Tree

We've arrived at the NHL's three-day Christmas break after a hectic first three months to the 2016-17 season. No team has played more often than the Flames, who along with six other teams have 36 games in the books.

It's a true three-day break as teams will not (and cannot per the CBA) reassemble until Dec. 27. On that day, the Flames -- like the other nine visiting teams in action that evening -- will do the very rare thing of travelling to their destination city on the same day as the game. Calgary will make the flight to Denver as they open up after the break against Jarome Iginla and the Colorado Avalanche.

Calgary heads into the break feeling good after a decisive victory on Friday night over the Vancouver Canucks in a game they thoroughly dominated from start to finish, outshooting the visitors 37-14.


In the spirit of the holiday season, here are eight presents left for Flames fans under this year's Christmas tree after the fat man in red wiggled his way down the chimney last night. Feel free to start unwrapping them immediately.


1. A Turning Point (from Eric Staal)

On Nov. 15 when star forward Johnny Gaudreau left early in the third period thanks to a broken finger from an Eric Staal slash, it was supposed to be a death sentence. Instead, it was the opposite as it gave the team an injection of life.

It's like the light bulb suddenly went on. Starting in the third period that night when they had to protect a 1-0 lead against a team that has been one the league's hottest, team defensive play and details were going to be key.

What followed was a renewed focus on a team game, boosted by some phenomenal goaltending from Chad Johnson. During the 10 games Gaudreau missed, Calgary remarkably went 6-3-1, which was a nearly identical point percentage to the 12-6-3 the Flames achieved without Mark Giordano after his season-ending injury two seasons ago.

"When you're missing your top guy, we needed to come together as a group to play a certain way," said coach Glen Gulutzan earlier in December, just prior to Gaudreau's return. "It was an opportunity with him out of the line-up for us to embrace a style of hockey that's not only going to get you to where you want to go, but it's long lasting. It gives you permanent longevity. It was a chance for us to get together and play that way. I think that's been a good rallying point for our guys."

It certainly has been a rallying point. Going back to that night in St. Paul, Calgary has been a much improved team.

Best Point Percentage Since Nov. 15:

1. Columbus, 19 gm, 16-1-2, .895
2. Minnesota, 19 gm, 13-3-3, .763
3. Philadelphia, 20 gm, 13-5-2, .700
4. Washington, 18 gm, 11-4-3, .694
T5. Calgary, 20 gm, 13-6-1, .675
T5. Pittsburgh, 20 gm, 12-5-3, .675


Compare that mark to the team's dismal .344 point percentage in the first five weeks in which they went 5-10-1 in the first 16 games. That's a stunning .331 improvement from Gulutzan's crew.

At the end of October, I wrote how slow starts for new coaches is common and of the many recent examples cited, the top three also saw their teams turn the corner at the same 16 or 17-game mark:
  • Mike Sullivan - Improved by .272 PT% after 17 gm in Pittsburgh
  • Dave Hakstol - Improved by .223 PT% after 16 gm in Philadelphia
  • Jon Cooper - Improved by .210 PT% after 16 gm in Tampa Bay

As you can see, the before and after splits for Gulutzan at this moment are literally off the charts.

Now I would strongly suggest that continuing to play .675 hockey over the final 46 games is a tad ambitious. But if Calgary can play in the vicinity of .575 hockey and finish up 25-18-3, for example, that would get them to 91 points and into a playoff spot based on current projections.

For a history refresher, while two years ago Calgary finished in the second wild card spot with 97 points, last year the Wild made it with 87 points and in 2013-14, Dallas got in with 91 points.


2. A Playoff Race (from Glen Gulutzan)

The Flames go into the Christmas break in a playoff spot. Well, sorta. Sorted by points, Calgary owns the second wild card spot in the Western Conference but Nashville, three points back but with three games in hand has a better point percentage by the ever-so-slight two-hundredths of a percentage point.

Nonetheless, the rise has been nothing short of staggering given less than six weeks ago, the Flames had the worst record in the NHL.

NHL's Western Conference Standings - By Point Percentage:

Pacific Division

1. San Jose, 34 gm, 21-12-1, .632
2 Edmonton, 36 gm, 18-12-6, .583
3. Anaheim, 35 gm, 17-12-6, .571

Central Division

1. Minnesota, 33 gm, 21-8-4, .697
2. Chicago, 36 gm, 22-9-5, .681
3. St. Louis, 35 gm, 18-12-5, .586

Wild Card

1. Los Angeles, 34 gm, 17-13-4, .559
2. Nashville, 33 gm, 15-13-5, .530
-------------
3. Calgary, 36 gm, 18-16-2, .528
4. Dallas, 35 gm, 14-14-7, .500
5. Winnipeg, 36 gm, 16-17-3, .486
6. Vancouver, 35 gm, 14-18-3, .443
7. Arizona, 34 gm, 11-18-5, .397
8. Colorado, 33 gm, 12-20-1, .379


Worth noting is the Flames have yet to face Nashville. The potentially crucial three-game season series does not begin until Jan. 19 in Calgary. The two sides will also face in Nashville on Feb. 21 and in Nashville again on Mar. 23.


3. A Dangerous Power Play (from Dave Cameron)

Maybe the issue with the man advantage early in the year was not realizing that batteries were not included.

The Flames have certainly been plugged in and powered up on the power play lately. Seems they're either scoring, or are coming darn close to scoring every time. It's come to the point where you expect them to score.

Despite Calgary (10) having played the fewest games in the league this month (Toronto and San Jose are the other two), the Flames' 14 power play goals in December are a league-high.

NHL's Best Power Plays in December:

1. Calgary, 14 for 38, 36.8%
2. Edmonton, 13 for 43, 30.2%
3. Anaheim, 11 for 39, 28.2%
4. Pittsburgh, 13 for 48, 27.1%
5. Columbus, 10 for 39, 25.6%


As result of this surge, Calgary has climbed from 30th less than three weeks ago to 15th heading into the break.

Those 14 goals comes after the team mustered only eight in total over October and November.



4. Tkachuk in a (Penalty) Box (from Jim Benning)

In my latest Flames at 80 Decibels podcast just posted a couple days ago, NHL.com's Aaron Vickers and I revisited the last six NHL Drafts from a Flames perspective and assessed how Calgary did. Obviously, it's too early to make final declarations on many of those drafts but we did a check-in and discussed how they shook down.

Included in our discussion was a look back at last year when Vancouver general manager Jim Benning opted to take Finnish defenceman Olli Juolevi at No. 5, enabling the Flames to happily scoop up his London Knights teammate Matthew Tkachuk with sixth pick.

Maybe several years down the road, Vancouver will end up satisfied with taking the first defenceman off the board but we'll see. Draft history suggests that rarely does the first defenceman taken end up being the best defenceman. In fact, often there could be several defencemen that end up better. Meanwhile, Calgary got exactly what they needed and in the form of a much safer forward -- and one with NHL bloodlines.

Regarding Tkachuk, who is sixth in the NHL in penalty minutes but is also second in the league when it comes to drawing penalties, Gulutzan has said he'd rather tame a mustang than train a mule. Truer words have never been spoken. This kid is certainly a pest and you see it nearly every shift.


Playing on the Flames critically-important shutdown line with Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik, a huge amount of responsibility to put on the shoulders of a kid that just turned 19, he's handled it very well. That trio, since they've been formed, has been Calgary's top line in terms of consistently solid performance.

They were in the middle of the offence on Friday night too. Backlund tied a career-best with his first three-point game of the season and eighth of his career. Frolik had a couple helpers and Tkachuk, an agitator all night once again, potted the empty netter.


Going back to Oct. 25 when after two nights spent watching and learning from the press box, Tkachuk was inserted back in the line-up (and onto the Backlund-Frolik line) in his Dad's old haunt in St. Louis, he has been among the NHL's top scoring rookies.

NHL Rookie Scoring - Since Oct. 25

1. Patrik Laine WPG, 31 gm, 15-10-25
2. Mitch Marner TOR, 28 gm, 7-16-23
T3. Matthew Tkachuk CGY, 27 gm, 6-12-18
T3. Auston Matthews TOR, 28 gm, 11-7-18
5. Zach Werenski CBJ, 28 gm, 4-12-16


One of my eight bold predictions prior to the start of the season was that Tkachuk would be a finalist for the Calder. Such a thing was always going to be an extreme longshot given the calibre of rookie class in the NHL this year but if voters look beyond point totals and look at impact, role, etc., this could happen.


5. More Ice Time for Ferland (from Kris Versteeg)

Whether it's due to injury, poor play, or penalties, the player that has clearly established himself as Gulutzan's top nine next-in-line guy is Micheal Ferland, who is having a terrific season and has earned that pending promotion.

One wonders if the 24-year-old winger is about to find himself on a line with Sean Monahan and Kris Versteeg after a friendly-fire incident on Friday in which the club lost the services of Troy Brouwer.

On a harmless looking play late in the first period, Versteeg's dump-in from centre hit Brouwer on the hand and the immediate discomfort was apparent as he winced in pain as he dropped his stick and shook his glove.

Maybe Brouwer will be just fine and for that reason, a gift receipt has been included with this present. But there does appear to be reason for concern given it wasn't immediately dismissed by Gulutzan post-game as minor.

"We're going to take another image of (Brouwer's) hand and see how it goes," said Gulutzan. "We'll take a look at that, again, then we'll have to make a decision in the next day or two."

Brouwer is on an ironman streak of 309 games. The last time he missed a game was March 5, 2013, when he played for Washington. He did not play that night against the Boston Bruins due to illness.

His last injury was a minor shoulder injury in early April 2011 while playing for Chicago. In his third NHL season, he ended up missing the final three games of the regular season but returned for the playoffs.

Brouwer has been on a nice run lately on that line with Versteeg and Monahan, helping the latter piece together a career-best 10-game point streak. While that offensive spree for Monahan was scissored this week, it was the NHL's second longest of the season and Calgary's first double-digit point streak since Kristian Huselius had a point in 15 consecutive games in 2006-07.

If you can believe it, with 8 goals and 17 points in 36 games, Brouwer is on pace to finish with the identical point total and goal-assist breakdown as a year ago with St. Louis when he scored 18 goals and had 39 points in playing the full 82 games.


6. Wins (from Garnet Hathaway)

The beat goes on for Garnet Hathaway, who seems to be the lucky rabbit's foot for the Flames. Calgary has won eight consecutive games with Hathaway in the line-up and since he was recalled in mid-November, Calgary is 13-3-1 when No. 64 is dressed.

But is it just co-incidence? I explored that discussion topic in a story earlier this week in which I identified other attributes that Hathaway brings that make up for any slight shot generation advantage that Lance Bouma may possess.

Also not to be overlooked is the penalties drawn. As noted above, Hathaway draws more penalties in his time on the ice than anyone else in the NHL and he leads by a significant margin. Given how lethal the Flames power play is right now, the ability to go out there and put his team on the man advantage is not an insignificant attribute that definitely needs to be a part of the discussion when it comes to Hathaway's value. He may not score or produce a go-ahead goal, but he could very well draw the penalty that leads to it.

That said, if the Brouwer injury ends up costing him time, Ferland is the likely guy to take his place and the spirited fourth line debate goes away as both Hathaway and Bouma will be in the line-up as the guys flanking Matt Stajan.


7. A Back-up Plan (from Brian Elliott)

The storyline all season has been Johnson's emergence as the Calgary kid wrestled away the starting reins from Brian Elliott six weeks ago. While Elliott was going through a painful seven weeks in which he never won a single game going 0-6-1, Johnson caught fire.

Back in that oh-so-familiar spot of being the underdog, it appears we're starting to see Elliott turn the corner and in his defence, he's finally getting the benefit of playing behind a team that is playing far better than when he was getting a majority of his starts early in the season.

In his last four appearances, Elliott is 2-0-1 with a 1.80 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage. If you were to examine six of the 81 shots that have beat him, there's even more reason to be optimistic as I'd argue you could add an asterisk to four of them:
  • Thomas Hickey's OT goal against the Islanders was a deflection. The original shot from John Tavares changed directions sharply and slipped under his arm.
  • Sure, Elliott coughed up a juicy rebound that Alex Killorn buried 37 seconds into his third period of a relief appearance against Tampa Bay, but rust was to be expected for a guy seeing his first action in 16 days.
  • Christian Dvorak's goal in Arizona was a mistake, but it's not like it was a shot that he whiffed on. He made a bad decision with the puck along the end boards that led to a turnover that ended up in the vacated net.
  • Last night's goal by Nikita Tryamkin was not his fault in the slightest. Most goalies would not have seen that puck that deflected off the skate of Versteeg, fluttered way up in the air and like lofting a perfect horse-shoe, sailed over his head and landed right in the net behind him. It was the type of bank shot that could not be repeated if you tried it another 10,000 times.

It's a small sample but it bodes well for the veteran, who over a five-year sample size had proven coming into the season that he's a very accomplished and excellent NHL goaltender.

Another positive this week is how he has handled having to overcome some adversity in the way the Coyotes took that 1-0 lead on Monday and again with how the Canucks got their 1-0 lead last night. Given how the year has gone, those goals could have rattled him, but they didn't.

He could (should) get an opportunity to string some starts together after Christmas and maintain this mini-roll he now finds himself on.

"It feels great, just to get back in there and play some games," he said after Friday's win. "I've seen a lot and I've been around long enough to know that you keep working hard and things turn your way once in a while. They have the last couple games and I'm going to try to keep it going."

While he wasn't busy facing just 14 shots, he made a few dandy stops in the third including a sharp blocker save off Brandon Sutter on a two-on-none.

"There were a couple key saves at key moments in that game that he made for us," said Gulutzan."It's not easy (not facing many shots) and when you get three or four quality scoring chances, you've got to be sharp and I though that's what he did really well."


8. Hay-Making Kit (from the NHL schedule maker)

Look up the expression 'making hay' and it is defined as "making good use of an opportunity, while it lasts".

That opportunity is certainly upon the Flames. Last night against a dreadful-looking Canucks team, began a stretch in which six of the games over a seven-game stretch come against the three worst teams in the NHL.
  • 28th Vancouver (.443 PT%) - Dec. 23 at home (4-1 W), Jan. 6 on road, Jan. 7 at home.
  • 29th Arizona (.397 PT%) - Dec. 31 at home
  • 30th Colorado (.379 PT%) - Dec. 27 on road, Jan. 4 at home

The only other team on the docket over the next two weeks is Anaheim on Dec. 29, who Calgary gets at home and need I remind you what happened the last the Ducks stopped by the Dome. It was Dec. 4 and on the night Gaudreau returned from injury, the Flames erupted for an 8-3 victory, piling up eight goals in a game at the Saddledome for the first time since an 8-2 win over Pittsburgh on March 1, 2000.

Out of the 14 points available during this stretch, surely 10 is an absolute must if this group fancies itself a playoff team.


Happy Holidays

That's it for my pre-Christmas writing. Thank you as usual for reading, listening, and for all the favourites and retweets. I don't say it enough but it's truly appreciated.

Now it's time to spend time with my family in a break that will go fast but will be enjoyable. From my family to yours, have a safe and merry Christmas.



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Friday, December 23, 2016

FF80F Podcast: Episode 10 - World Junior Championships Edition with Aaron Vickers


The World Junior Championships are nearly upon us and as a primer, NHL.com's Aaron Vickers was my guest on the latest podcast. Vickers is the Calgary correspondent for NHL.com and he is also the brains behind top notch prospect website/publication Future Considerations.

Topics Broached
  • Aaron talks about how his website's renowned draft lottery simulator came about 
  • We have in in-depth discussion about the five Flames prospects at the World Juniors - Dillon Dube, Tyler Parsons, Adam Fox, Oliver Kylington and Pavel Karnaukhov
  • We revisit and assess the NHL Drafts from 2011 to 2016 from a Calgary perspective
  • We answered all of these reader/listener questions that were submitted to Facebook

Options to Download/Listen

You are now able to download Flames at 80 Decibels from all your favourite podcast locations, as well as through your regular podcast player or app. Here are a few of the more popular links to where you can download the latest episode:

Catching up On What You've Missed

The podcast began in July as an experiment. I hope you'll agree, the quality has come a long way since that first one that was ripped off solo, on a whim and literally at midnight one lazy summer evening.

This is the fourth one done during the season. While initially I had concerns about how long each podcast would remain relevant, the insight my guests have brought and the manner in which we're tackling topics still make them worthwhile listens long after after they're recorded.

Past podcasts:
  • Episode 9 (1:10:36) - On Dec. 5, Jermain Franklin joined me for some Flames talk. In addition to sharing some stories about life at TSN, Flames topics broached included Chad Johnson, are the red-hot Flames for real and first-third surprises and disappointments.
  • Episode 8 (1:04:49) - On Nov. 12, it was time for Wes Gilbertson from PostMedia to have his say. We talked some more about the coach, special teams, Nik Grossmann and various hot topics.
  • Episode 7 (1:01:01) - On Oct. 30, Kristen Odland from PostMedia stopped by and we looked back on a roller-coaster month of October. We also discussed Glen Gulutzan's unique coaching methods.
  • Episode 6 (58:27) - On Sept. 20, before leaving the rookie tournament in Penticton, Ryan Leslie from Flames TV stopped by and we discussed which prospects stood out and  also who didn't. Includes some great insight into who Matthew Tkachuk is off the ice and his background.
  • Episode 5 (1:08:24) - On Aug. 28, longtime Flames beat reporter Scott Cruickshank from PostMedia stopped by to look ahead to the season as well as reminisce about the 2004 Stanley Cup run and what it was like to cover that series both home and away. 
  • Episode 4 (1:30:59) - On Aug. 14, Ryan Leslie from Flames TV stopped by and provided a glimpse into what goes on behind the scenes with the Flames -- on the charter, etc. Other topics included who will play RW on the top line, who will benefit the most from the new coach.
  • Episode 3 (1:34:01) - On Aug. 5, I connected with Rob Kerr again, this time to dig into a variety of other off-season topics like the Gaudreau/Monahan contract 'stalemate', Troy Brouwer and expansion.
  • Episode 2 (1:28:43) - On July 19 in a more technically-sound second episode (thanks to the use of actual broadcast-quality audio equipment), Rob Kerr joined me as co-host and we debated the Flames season-opening roster. 
  • Episode 1 (48:04) - In the July 11 impromptu pilot, featuring zero technology, I recapped development camp. This was was a solo effort with sub-part technology but fresh on the heels of the prospects being in town, lots of good stuff discussed.

Have you enjoyed the podcasts so far? Please stop by iTunes and rate the podcast as I understand this will make it easier to find for newcomers. Thanks for listening!




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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Not the Solution, But Beats the Alternatives: One Man's Perspective on Garnet Hathaway

Coincidence or correlation?

Call it what you want and read into it what you want, but the Flames continue to win when Garnet Hathaway is in the line-up while lately, they continue to lose without him, dropping each of their last three games in which he's been scratched.

Now to be clear, I don't think anyone in their right mind is crediting Hathaway alone for Calgary's six-game winning streak earlier in December. I'm certainly not. Chad Johnson's stellar play over that span might have had a hand in it. That guy that wears No. 13 and has the puck all the time, he may have played a small role. Sean Monahan's career-best offensive spree likely factored in also. Then there's young Matthew Tkachuk, a rejuvenated Dougie Hamilton and yada, yada, yada.

Nor is anyone pinning Monday's 4-1 loss in San Jose on the absence of Hathaway. They went into a tough building against the defending Stanley Cup finalist on the back end of back-to-back games and got thoroughly outplayed and lost. So did Anaheim last night in the same circumstances, getting pumped 5-1 in Montreal. It happens. Don't overthink it. The Sharks are the best team in the Pacific Division.

But what you can't argue is while not possessing the same offensive tools as Tkachuk, Hathaway packs many of the same agitating qualities that everyone effuses about when referencing that part of Tkachuk's game and there's something to be said about that.


Maintaining Perspective

It's also important to put the discussion into proper context because you have to be cautious in overvaluing the role that fourth line grinders, pluggers and muckers play in wins and losses.

The debate -- and apologies to fans for re-opening an old wound -- is not whether to play Hathaway or a guy like the speedy and skilled Paul Byron on the fourth line. The decision for Glen Gulutzan these days has come down to Hathaway or Lance Bouma. That's what we're talking about here.

Without getting into all the data points, the argument the advanced stats disciples will raise is it should be Bouma because he produces more shot attempts in his ice time compared to Hathaway.

But how much more?

Is it a tangible enough difference in the nominal minutes he would play on any given night to offset the other non-measureable attributes that Hathaway brings such as an ability to get under the skin of the opponent and often their better players -- see Max Domi, Dustin Byfuglien. I reference shot attempts (Corsi) occasionally and I understand their value so please do not portray me as turning this into a stats versus eyeball debate and choosing sides. But I do know those other qualities are useful too -- and so does Brent Burns.

The prolific Sharks defenceman said as much the last time the Sharks and Flames met at the Saddledome, a game in which he was first introduced to Hathaway.

That game was last March, eight days into Hathaway's NHL career and Burns had some high praise for the rough-and-tumble native of Kennebunkport, Maine, who has the jersey number befit of a football linebacker and plays like one too.


Well, Hathaway is on the team, but he wasn't in the line-up Monday and the result was the same as the previous two times he watched a game from the press box -- a Calgary loss.


Better Off With Him, Than Without Him

When Calgary and San Jose met at the SAP Center earlier this season, Hathaway was playing down the interstate in Stockton and was not an option.

The Flames lost their next four games and 10 days later Hathaway was back in the NHL. He made his season debut that night in Minnesota in which the Flames began their current 12-6-1 run that has got them back in the Western Conference playoff hunt.

The team's record over that period when Hathaway plays? Even better at 12-3-1.

I would agree there is more co-incidence than correlation in those numbers. In addition to the likes of Johnson, Gaudreau, Monahan and Hamilton all stepping up over this period as mentioned, there's been the better overall system play under the new coach, vastly improved special teams and the schedule has been comparably easier also.

But right now, the question is does Hathaway bring more to the line-up than NHL roster alternatives like Bouma or Freddie Hamilton? For me, he does. 

If you're partial to having speed and skill on the fourth line instead, those guys have had their chance too but with meh results.

Stockton's top two goal scorers are Linden Vey (8 goals in 20 AHL games) and Hunter Shinkaruk (7 goals in 14 AHL games). Both had stints with the big club this season and didn't generate much -- and much of that time came playing in the top nine. If they're not producing when alongside skilled players, is their past offensive ability going to transfer in a fourth line role? Them being in the minors right now probably answers that question, or at least how Flames management sees it.

Also, it might be a little early to dismiss Hathaway as a construction worker dressed in a hockey uniform.

He did put up 19 goals in his pro season two years ago, which tied him with Emile Poirier for second on Adirondack (AHL). It was a better clip than Sven Baertschi.

His four points (one goal, three assists) in 15 NHL games this season is nothing to scoff at either. That extrapolates to over 20 points over 82 games. It's not a bad return on investment for a guy carrying a nominal cap hit of $690,000 that isn't much above the NHL minimum, and who is averaging just over nine minutes per game. 


Final Word

As I see it, Hathaway is not going to be a guy that will ever get 'Lance Bouma money'. Again, sorry for shaking a little more salt in an old wound. And maybe he's more of a 14th forward than a 12th forward when this Flames team evolves into a group expected to make the playoffs, and not just a playoff hopeful like this year. 

But for now, is he a better option than current NHL roster alternatives or other potential options in the AHL? I'd say so.

The way the NHL is evolving with the salary cap with most money tied up on your top players, affording four lines of legitimate skilled players is going to be next to impossible anyway. At some point, the skill (see Vey, Shinkaruk) isn't going to be prevalent enough to trump the qualities brought to the rink by other so-called energy guys.

If Hathaway is willing to continue to play for cheap, there should continue to be a role for him on an NHL roster. Or at least he can play on my team anyway.




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