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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 surpasses last season's total of 39 and is the most since the 1990-91 season when Calgary got 42 goals from rookies -- Robert Reichel (19), Stephane Matteau (15), Tim Sweeney (7) and Ken Sabourin (1).

That 1990-91 season was also the last time until this year that at least three Flames rookies scored a minimum of six goals.

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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Recent Related Flames Reading

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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