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Monday, January 18, 2016

Eight From 80 Feet: Eight Random Thoughts as the Flames Hop on the Plane for New Jersey

As Calgary got on the charter Monday, bound for New Jersey and a date on Tuesday night with Mike Cammalleri and the Devils, here is an assortment of musings on the current goings-on within the Flames organization and in this case, an update on a couple of alumni as well.


1. Ex-Flames Killing it in the K

Remember Nigel Dawes? After being claimed off waivers from Phoenix in September 2009, he played that season with the Flames. In his only year in Calgary, he went 14-18-32 in 66 games.

For the last five years, Dawes and Dustin Boyd, another ex-Flame, have been teammates with Barys (Astana) in the KHL. The two, who both hail from Winnipeg, have put together solid careers over in Russia. Dawes, in particular, is having another terrific offensive year. With 27 goals in 46 games, he ranks second in the league in goals and was recently named to the upcoming KHL All-Star Game.

As for Boyd, 15-16-31 in 42 games this season, the curly-haired 29-year-old is proving to be elite in face-offs. His 60.6 percentage at the dot ranks him fifth in the KHL. Meanwhile, the Flames are 27th in the NHL and don't have anyone over 50 percent. Oh Dustin, where art thou?

It seems like forever ago when in 2006, Calgary drafted Boyd in the third round from Moose Jaw (WHL). He played parts of four seasons with the Flames racking up 28 goals and 57 points in 192 games.


2. Hiller is Hot, Hot, Hot

You do have to feel for Karri Ramo, who on Tuesday night in New Jersey will be relegated to back-up duty for a third game in a row. After starting 12 consecutive games and 26 of 30, it looked like the 29-year-old Finn had seized the reigns as Calgary's No. 1. However, props to Jonas Hiller for making the most of what very easily could have been a one-and-out scenario by shutting out Florida to earn another start then playing very well against Edmonton to get the tap on the shoulder again.

In stopping 51 of 52 pucks fired his way over the past two games, Hiller has raised his season save percentage from .862 to .882. It's still far from great. Heck, it's still far from mediocre, but it's better. As a goalie, all you can ask is a coach that will keep playing you if you're playing well and earn it and that's what Hiller has done.

The tough part for Ramo is the circumstances of his last start. In Calgary's 5-4 loss to San Jose, five goals on 18 shots sounds awful and if you were just surfing the box scores, you'd think he was rotten. But it was a very unusual game in which you couldn't fault him on any of the five goals.

Two were wicked deflections, one was when Brent Burns was left wide-open backdoor for a one-timer. Another was a Joe Thornton breakaway and then there was a nifty re-direct by Joonas Donskoi at the side of the net on a shot going wide. Just like that, it was a dagger to Ramo's season save percentage.

Expect Ramo to return to the net as soon as there is the slightest of stumbles from Hiller because his body of work over the previous two months has earned him that. Also, if one of the two pending UFAs returns next year, Ramo -- nearly five years younger -- would be the guy so you want him feeling good.


3. Post-All-Star Game Sprint

Another reason to get Hiller going is two goalies are going to be needed over the final two-plus months of the season because things get busy. When Calgary begins play after the NHL All-Star break with a home game against Carolina on Feb. 3, that will be the first of 34 games in a span of 67 days. That is a seriously condensed schedule.

Over that span, there are no stretches of three days off between games and only five stretches of two days between games. Mind you, those five 'extended' rests are countered by five sets of back-to-back games.

Days Between Games - Post All-Star Break

0 days - 5
1 day - 23
2 days - 5


Compare that closing stretch with 48 games over 113 days leading into the all-star break and the difference boils down to one extra game every two weeks. Instead of an average of six games every two weeks in the first-half, the Flames will average seven games every two weeks over the second half. This difference may not sound like a lot but it will add up.

Calgary has done well to get by on a roster of fewer than 23 players for much of the season. They may not have that luxury pretty soon and if injuries set in, that could mean opportunity for players in the AHL. It must be close to time for the obligatory call-up of Tyler Wotherspoon where he joins the team but then doesn't play.


4. Talbot Deal Sets Bar for Ramo

The Cam Talbot three-year extension for $12.5 million announced Sunday, an annual average value of $4.17 million, raised a lot of eyebrows all over Alberta. However, the reality is there is more demand than supply when it comes to established NHL goaltenders and while at first glance, it seems like a lot to pay for someone whose body of solid work is less than two years, that's the going rate at the low-end of the spectrum for a veteran goaltender or one of that age, who is a No. 1 -- even if the resume isn't all that deep. Based on this year's salaries, Talbot would rank 25th among the NHL's goaltending fraternity in compensation.

The UFA market for 2016 for goaltenders is extremely weak so Talbot was in a power position with the Oilers knowing that he was courted by a few teams last year via trade and also had a few chasing him -- including Calgary, reportedly -- when he was a free agent last summer.

On a local front, what does that deal mean for Karri Ramo?

I would suggest Ramo is in a similar situation to Talbot and should he re-sign with Calgary, like it or not you're probably looking at a similar deal in terms of dollars and term. Both are similar in age -- Talbot is a year younger at 28, both have potential upside but are unproven over the long run.

While working against Ramo should he hit the open market would be one less job now that Edmonton has their guy, the Flames lack of NHL goalies signed for next season will work to his advantage. While a trade is also a possibility for Calgary, who is available and whether or not they're a good enough upgrade to give up assets to acquire (e.g. Brian Elliott) is the question. The shrewd move may be retaining the assets and keeping Ramo.

I don't think a Ramo re-signing is imminent at all. But with the adjustment he recently made to his style, if he can show over the final few months that he is worthy of being the team's number one goalie next season, then I wouldn't be surprised if a similar deal to what Talbot just got gets announced for Ramo. I'm sure Calgary would prefer two years but to quote legendary rocker Mick Jagger, "You can't always get what you want."



5. Rasmus Rolls On

Overlooked for Team Sweden at the IIHF World Junior Championships, perhaps regrettably given they finished without a medal, Rasmus Andersson continues to be a highly thought-of prospect for the Flames. On a hot streak recently, the Swedish blueliner has nine assists over his last six games with the Barrie Colts.

Calgary's top draft pick last year -- at 53rd overall, Andersson is putting together another solid campaign and has ascended to the top of the OHL's scoring leaders for defencemen. It seems that Andersson, who made a very good impression in September at both rookie camp and main camp, has carried that over into league play.

With 38 points (7 goals, 31 assists) in 40 games, Andersson ranks 10th in the country in points-per-game for CHL defencemen and it should be noted, is doing it in what many believe is the toughest of the three leagues.

CHL - Top 10 Defencemen in Points-Per-Game

1. Travis Sanheim, Calgary (WHL), 8-26-34 in 26 gm, 1.31 PPG (1st rd pick, Philadelphia)
2. Jeremy Lauzon, Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL), 5-30-35 in 29 gm, 1.21 (2nd rd pick, Boston)
3. Nikolas Brouillard, Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL),  14-23-34 in 31 gm, 1.19  (20-year-old)
4. Samuel Girard, Shawinigan (QMJHL), 6-43-49 in 43 gm, 1.14 (projected to go 23rd in the 2016 draft in the just-released Future Considerations January rankings)
5. Andrew Nielsen, Lethbridge (WHL), 12-38-50 in 45 gm, 1.11 (3rd rd pick, Toronto)
6. Ethan Bear, Seattle (WHL), 12-30-42 in 43 gm, 0.98 (5th rd pick, Edmonton)
7. Ivan Provorov, Brandon (WHL), 9-24-33 in 34 gm, 0.97 (1st rd pick, Philadelphia)
8. Joe Hicketts, Victoria (WHL), 2-3-32 in 33 gm, 0.97 (Undrafted in 2014, signed by Detroit)
9. Thomas Chabot, Saint John (QMJHL), 5-17-25 in 26 gm, 0.96 (1st rd pick, Ottawa)
10. Rasmus Andersson, Barrie (OHL), 7-31-38 in 40 gm, 0.95 (2nd rd pick, Calgary)


6. Power Play Woes Overstated

Calgary's power play took some heat on Saturday and it was fair criticism after Calgary went 0-for-5 in a game in which they lost 2-1 in a shootout. Cashing in on just one of those chances including a full two minute 4-on-3 in overtime could well have made the difference and got them the two points that ended up eluding them.

What's offside is to dump on the power play as continuing to be awful because that's not really accurate. Heading into Saturday night, the Flames had been much improved in this area and had operated at a clip of over 25 percent over the previous 10 games.

Here is how Calgary's PP has fared over the past month.

NHL Powerplay Percentage - Since Dec. 20

1. Pittsburgh, 12-for-39, 30.8
2. Los Angeles, 11-for-37, 29.8
3. Colorado, 12-for-41, 29.3
---------------
11. Calgary, 9-for-40, 22.5
---------------
28. New Jersey, 3-for-35, 9.5
29. NY Rangers, 3-for-36, 8.6
30. Minnesota, 1-for-28, 3.6


Because the man advantage was so dreadful the first couple months, it's come time to look beyond their season ranking because they'll never dig themselves out of that statistical black hole. More relevant is can they can be one of the top 15 power plays from now until the end of the season, that's all that really matters at this point.


7. Heat Wave in California

Stockton finally broke out offensively on Sunday, taking advantage of former Flames goaltending prospect Leland Irving. The Heat scored six times on 27 shots against the 2006 first round pick in the 7-4 victory over Iowa. Leading the way offensively was red-hot Derek Grant, who had one goal and four points. The 25-year-old has 12 points (6 goals, 6 assists) during a seven-game scoring streak.

Stockton, which has a young team by AHL standards, remains in last in the seven-team Pacific Division although they're 5-2-1 in their last eight games and are starting to make a move. While the top three teams in the division look entrenched for now, within striking distance are the teams in 4th through 6th -- Bakersfield (Edmonton), San Antonio (Colorado) and San Diego (Anaheim).

In net, Kevin Poulin has returned from injury and looked sharp. He has been splitting time in net with Joni Ortio. Both goalies are RFAs at the end of this season.

Who's Hot:

Derek Grant, 10-10-20 in last 13 gm
Emile Poirier, 2-6-8 in last 7 gm
Kenny Agostino, 5-3-8 in last 8 gm

Who's Not:

Oliver Kylington, 0-2-2 in last 12 gm
Hunter Smith, 0-1-1 in last 15 gm
Tyler Wotherspoon, 0-0-0 in last 16 gm



8. A Snap Chat on Slap Shots

How many slap shots has Sean Monahan taken in his career? The answer is 17. On the verge of playing his 200th NHL game in New Jersey, I was surprised to learn it was that low. Although I started thinking about it and I can't recall him taking very many.

Among the myriad of enhanced stats offered by the NHL now -- some more useful than others -- is a breakdown of shot types per player. Backhands, wrist shots, slap shots, snap shots, wrap-arounds, deflections, the off-ice officials logging each NHL game track all of this stuff.

I found it fascinating to look through and see how ineffective the slapshot actually is. Of the Flames 115 goals this season, only six have come on slap shots. That's just over five percent. This would be a notable bit of trivia for minor hockey coaches to trot out with their players next practice because anybody that plays hockey loves the slap shot, but seemingly to a fault.

In terms of slap shot usage, here are the top and bottom of the frequency list for the Flames.

Highest Slap Shot Percentage 

1. Dennis Wideman, 53.6
2. Jiri Hudler, 28.3
3. Deryk Engelland, 25.0

Lowest Slap Shot Percentage

1. Josh Jooris, 0.0
    Sam Bennett, 0.0
3. Sean Monahan, 2.0

That's right, Sam Bennett and Josh Jooris have yet to take a slap shot this season and Monahan has only two.
 
This led to me looking into which player misses the net most often as they track that stuff too. To my surprise, it wasn't Dennis Wideman, who was my guess. The answer is Kris Russell who interestingly only takes a slap shot 20 percent of the time.

Misses the Net Most Often

1. Kris Russell, 40.8%
2. Dennis Wideman, 34.3%
3. David Jones, 33.7%

Misses the Net Least Often

1. Josh Jooris, 15.9%
2. Micheal Frolik, 17.9%
3. Deryk Engelland, 17.9%




By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.

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