It’s not that there were huge expectations for the Flames this year, but a lot of people thought they could sneak a playoff spot in the Pacific. It’s been a bit of a wonky first month, what’s been the problem?
Wilson: The stars have been ice cold, the special teams horrendous and they have are taking the 2nd most penalties in the league so far. It’s amazing they’ve won a game.
Ari: Inexplicable defence pairings, a horrifically anemic powerplay (thanks Dave Cameron. They can’t even enter the zone), still somehow trying to adjust to a new coach apparently, and a really rough start to the season in part thanks to guys like Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan missing the entire preseason (and Monahan may still be dealing with lingering back issues). The Flames only started to look respectable in their first game against Chicago, but the turnaround remains uncertain at this point in time.
Pike: Their four best players (Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mark Giordano & T.J. Brodie) haven’t been even close to their usual levels and, at times, have actually gotten in the way of the Flames capturing points.
The Flames aren’t actually trading Dougie Hamilton are they? And why is he averaging less minutes than Dennis Wideman and Deryk Engelland?
Wilson: Nah. Hamilton suffers from the same sort of stigma most young, offensively adept (but defensively okay) defenders do – they are considered “risky” players. Hamilton is still somewhat high event, but he’s one of the best offensive weapons on the back-end. At some point the coach will figure out Hamilton’s “one dimension” is far more valuable than England’s no dimensions.
Ari: No, they aren’t. He’s 23 years old; these rumours are nonsense. As for his lack of ice time though, right now, the answer is Glen Gulutzan’s affinity for bizarre defence pairings. The Flames have three good defencemen – Giordano, Brodie, and Hamilton – and three bad ones in Engelland, Wideman, and Grossmann. (Jokipakka and Kulak fall somewhere in between.) Apparently, the logic is if the bad ones are paired with the good ones, then everything will balance out, and somehow this is deemed a better solution than utilizing assets to the best of their abilities. Giordano has to babysit Wideman, Brodie has to babysit Engelland, and that leaves Hamilton relegated to the third pairing, because reasons.
Pike: Gulutzan is seemingly trying to counter the problem of the Flames having three good defensemen (Giordano, Brodie & Hamilton) and three lesser defensemen (Engelland, Wideman & Jyrki Jokipakka) by playing one of each of them one every pair. The approach is a bit silly, but makes some sense. Unfortunately it results in neutering some of the strengths of the three good defenders, and buries Hamilton on the third pairing.
Do we know if Glen Gulutzan Glen Ross is an idiot or not?
Wilson: Not yet. He’s figuring out his roster while they acclimate to the new systems. Also, he started the year with a guys like Giordano, Brodie, Monahan and Gaudreau who were supposed to be his heavy hitters and all of them have struggled. We’ll likely know a lot more by the 40-game mark.
Ari: He’s shown much more desire to adapt and learn from his mistakes than Bob Hartley ever did, and he does it relatively quickly, too (though there are still stumbles here and there; for example, the defence pairings. Also, Nicklas Grossmann has somehow played two games this year). For that reason alone, we can’t be too quick to give him the “idiot” label. Let’s wait… maybe 40 games? Let’s see what’s up then.
Pike: So far he’s doing his best to give the top two lines (centered by Sam Bennett & Monahan) as much offensive zone high ground as he can to get them going. Wonky defensive pairings aside, he’s coaching in a fairly logical manner in terms of groupings and deployments.
Is Matthew Tkachuk going to stick?
Wilson: I think so. His underlying numbers are good, he doesn’t look out of place by eye and the club’s depth on the wings is pretty bad.
Ari: I think so, yes. The only guy the Flames could probably replace him with at this point is Hunter Shinkaruk. Tkachuk has been playing on a line with Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik as of late though. I’m sure you guys remember Frolik; in his case, it’s like he was made to play specifically with Backlund. Virtually any player gets put on their line and that player is going to have success, and Tkachuk is actually boosting that line himself, too.
Pike: Based on how he’s been used of late, playing on a shutdown like with Michael Frolik & Mikael Backlund, I think he sticks. He’s creating chances when he’s on the ice and he’s been placed in situations where he’s being asked to help drive the puck up the ice from the defensive zone (and has succeeded to a large extent).
Where do you think the Flames will end up this season?
Wilson: I think the goaltending will keep them competitive and Gaudreau/Monahan won’t stink forever, so I still think they will be in the 7-10 range in the West come April.
Ari: A bubble playoff team. Which side of the bubble do they end up on? I dunno, but I think they’ll be playing meaningful games in March, at least.
Pike: I still think they figure things out and end up somewhere in the wild card mix. Whether they actually make the playoffs or not depends a lot on how much longer it takes them to figure things out.