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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Eight from 80 Feet: Trade Deadline Edition - Four Recall Rule, Good-bye to Sven, and more...

It's time for a special NHL trade deadline 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.

This edition features insight from general manager Brad Treliving, who after holding a presser with the travelling media in Philadelphia on Monday afternoon, then hooking up with Pat Steinberg and Rob Kerr on Sportsnet 960 Radio for an on-air segment, gave me a call in Calgary where I was holed in my home office, looking after Flames trade deadline coverage for The Canadian Press.

That recap of the day including Treliving's brutally honest reaction to the devastating news around Mark Giordano's injury, which ran on the CP/AP news wire can be read here. Meanwhile, here are some additional anecdotes and more Calgary-centric stuff that didn't make the cut but I think you'll be interested in.


1. Flames Strategy with the Four Recall Rule

First, let's be clear, Treliving is not a big fan of this rule, calling it "archaic". Nonetheless, it's a rule that's in place as part of an agreement between the NHL and the American Hockey League.

The rule states that only players on an AHL roster as of the expiration of the NHL trade deadline (1 pm MT on March 2) are eligible to be demoted to the minors for the remainder of the season. Further, from the players that are on the AHL roster at that time, the NHL team only gets four non-emergency recalls for the remainder of the season.

How a team approaches this is important from a player development perspective as teams obviously want to have as many of their young prospects eligible to go down to the AHL and play additional games and playoffs should the NHL team not make the post-season. However, there's a balance you need to watch out for as you place them on your AHL roster -- often via a paper transaction on trade deadline day.

What you need to be conscious of is you only have those four recalls to bring them back to the NHL so if you need some of those players with the parent club at that moment also, you can end up gobbling up those up four recalls faster than desired.

Flames Transactions - Part 1

What the Flames decided to do got confusing on Monday because recalls/loans to the AHL are not processed or announced in real-time due to trades being the higher priority. However, Treliving explained what Calgary had done.

Placed on the AHL Roster by the Deadline - Eligible to play in the AHL the rest of the year were:
  • Michael Ferland
  • Emile Poirier
  • Markus Granlund

Recalled by Calgary Prior to the Deadline - Not-eligible for the rest of the AHL season:
  • Drew Shore

While it means Shore will not be eligible to re-join Adirondack for the rest of the season (including playoffs) -- so he's essentially done forever with the city of Glens Falls, New York, the timing of that promotion means it does not count towards Calgary's four recalls as he was promoted prior to the trade deadline.  

Flames Transactions - Part 2

On Monday night, Treliving was going to meet with coach Bob Hartley to decide which players they were going to immediately recall because given the above transactions, that only leaves 20 on the Flames active roster at the moment and that is made up of seven defencemen and 11 forwards.

One would expect at least two of the three forwards to be brought back (or kept by the Flames as they're already with the team) and my prediction is that would be wingers Ferland and Poirier since Shore is now with Calgary and he's a centre. That would mean Granlund's transaction would be the only one of the three that would be an actual transaction and not just be the paper variety.

What intrigues me is what the team does with Tyler Wotherspoon. Despite being sent down on Sunday, he was no where to be found at Adirondack's practice on Monday so that reeks of a paper transaction also. However, with David Schlemko being claimed, keeping Wotherspoon with Calgary as a third recall of the four permitted would also result in the Flames having eight defencemen on the roster.

Anyway, what the club ultimately decided to do for now will be made clear on Tuesday morning either via an official announcement or through the eagle eyes of the travelling media, who take inventory when the players step on the ice for their pre-game skate at 9:30 am MT.


2. Understanding Baertschi to Vancouver

When it was announced that 2011 first round pick Sven Baertschi had been traded to Vancouver in exchange for a second round pick, the reaction from many Flames fans was loud and emotional. Fans were angry about:
  1. Why had Calgary given up on Baertschi so early.
  2. How could they only get a second round pick for him.
  3. Man, the Flames are dumb to trade him to a division rival.

Then, the details started trickling out including the game-changer that Baertschi had informed the team he was not happy and was not going re-sign with Calgary when his entry-level contract expired this summer.

"There were feelings and desires on his part about where his future lied with us," said Treliving. "He felt this just wasn't going to work for him. "

Without getting into specifics of what he was offered by some teams, Treliving made it clear that the demand for Baertschi just wasn't very high. Other teams did not value him as Flames fans did. He decided to pull the trigger on the best offer he got because he didn't see it getting any better if he waited until the summer.

"We felt the ability to grow the value with Sven was not great," said Treliving. "I felt that right now, knowing where his mindset was, knowing he's getting to the end of his contract, I just didn't know this type of value was going to be there in the summer or a year from now."

The reality is much like buying a brand new mini van, first round picks only retain their value for so long. Look at Joe Colborne for example. Selected in the first round in 2008, 16th overall, he was traded to Calgary five years later for a fourth round pick.

It had been four years since Baertschi was drafted 13th overall and given what he's done so far in his career, there's no chance one of the other 29 GMs is going to cough up a first round pick for him. (Prior to the season, I chronicled right here the seven things that had gone wrong for Baertschi since being drafted by the Flames, which set the two on this collision course.)  

You wonder if the Canucks were the only team to offer up a second round pick. 

Calgary and Vancouver don't trade with each other very often. The last time was March 5, 1991 when Dana Murzyn was traded to the Canucks for Ron Stern and Kevan Guy.  

Make no mistake, Treliving is very aware that the Canucks are divisional foes and he knows exactly where they're at with their rebuilding and young players.

"Without question, that's a consideration but you also have to say, where's the best value for us," he said.

The fact he still traded Baertschi to Vancouver demonstrates that deal was by far the best value Calgary was offered.

While it's easy for a fan to say they should have taken a third or fourth round pick for him and dealt him to the Eastern Conference, that would be poor asset management.


3. Loaded with Draft Picks in 2015

By adding the second from Vancouver for Baertschi and getting a second and third round pick from Washington for Curtis Glencross, Treliving has given himself all sorts of options at the draft and he's excited about that.

"We've given ourselves some really good assets moving forward, especially in this year's draft, going in with the number of picks that we've got," said Treliving. "We'll have to see how this plays out whether those are picks that are made, whether we do something with those picks, but we've positioned ourselves nicely."

It's impossible to project exactly where draft picks would be right now as teams that advance to the third round of the playoffs pick later and there is always the lottery also. However, barring the Capitals, Canucks or Flames winning two rounds this post-season, and based on the standings as of this today, Calgary's first six picks would all be in the top 80:

Round One
  • 15th - Calgary's pick

Round Two
  • 45th - Calgary's pick
  • 48th - Vancouver's pick
  • 50th - Washington's pick

Round Three
  • 75th - Calgary's pick
  • 80th - Washington's pick

For context, Darryl Sutter in his final five years as the Flames GM, only picked in the top 80 a total of 10 times.


4. Treliving in a More Comfortable Place

Many have been quick to criticize Treliving's early body of work as Flames GM. There was the giving up of a third round pick at the 2014 draft to acquire Brandon Bollig, then came the signing of Deryk Engelland on July 1, and later in the summer came the signing of Devin Setoguchi.

Yet I've always felt it was unfair to be over- criticize the work of someone so new on the job. At that point, he is not making decisions based on his own assessments and first-hand knowledge but more so is relying on the advice of others on what the teams strengths and needs are.

"When I first got here, I had a computer full of reports and had seen them all play at certain times and I had opinions on them but it's different," Treliving said. "Until you're living with them and you're spending time with them, you don't know them. Now I see them every day, you get to know them as people, you get to know their character, you get to know their values, and all those things are critical."

Treliving said by knowing the team far better like he does now, it was easier to confidently make the two deals he made the last couple days.

"Difference is night and day," said Treliving. "I feel way more comfortable now about our group and our reserve list and our players -- 100 percent from where I was at last May and June."


5. Dwindling Playoff Chances

I entertained a segment of the Twitterverse the other day with my 'outlandish' suggestion that even without Giordano for a while -- the severity of his injury not known at the time, that the playoff race for the Flames was not over.

And it's not.

However, without their best player for the rest of the season, Calgary is certainly looking at a very steep climb and while I had the odds of the Flames making it at around 40 percent with Giordano in the line-up, it's probably down to 10 percent without him. But considering they're in a playoff spot today and only a 20-game sprint remains, there absolutely is still a sliver of a chance.

While Treliving was unable to find smart deals to help his team in the push, he rewarded his team in a more subtle way by not dismantling the team as he could have, a small way of acknowledging all that that the players have achieved so far.

"Part of today was showing belief in this group. We had a lot of calls on players we have and we had no interest in moving people out. There are other picks that could have been had for roster players but we weren't of that mindset that we're going to just start shuffling people out of town," said Treliving. "This group deserves to stay together and make a push."

That said, those odds of making the playoffs are still twice what the odds of winning the lottery will probably be should Calgary miss the playoffs so yes, I'm saying there's a chance.

Three things that need to happen:
  • Flames need to catch lightning in a bottle with either David Schlemko or Tyler Wotherspoon. You can't replace Giordano but mitigating his loss by more minutes from TJ Brodie, Wideman and Kris Russell and serviceable contributions from Schlemko and/or Wotherspoon will help.
  • Calgary needs to win nearly all its remaining games against non-playoff teams. The Flames still have one of the easiest schedules remaining but the margin for error is slipping so they'll need to run the table on those teams to give themselves a chance.
  • Continued good goaltending. Karri Ramo has been spectacular. He's got a 1.02 Goals-Against Average and a .968 save percentage this road trip and as broken down in Saturday's Eight from 80 Feet, he has been the best goalie in the NHL this season on the road, leading the entire NHL with a 1.86 GAA and a .937 SV%.

Calgary was already a team that the anlytics community had an adversarial relationship with because of their propensity to win hockey games despite their unflattering advanced stats. Now the Flames are really up against it and every victory will only further draw the ire of that crowd and that subplot in itself, will make the final five-and-a-half weeks intriguing to watch.


6. First Round Misery

Sean Monahan got things turned around in 2013. The selection of Sam Bennett last year is looking very good also. While first round picks are back in style in Calgary, Baertschi's departure adds one more failure to a decade of poor first round drafting between Jay Feaster and Darryl Sutter.

Make no mistake, missing out on all but two first round picks over a 10-year span is exactly how you end up in the state the Flames organization has been the last few years. To be fair, Mark Jankowski is not a bust yet but he's not tracking with where you'd expect a first round pick to be at at this point.

Jay Feaster 

2012 - Mark Jankowski, 21st
2011 - Sven Baertschi, 13th (66 gm, 8-20-28)

Darryl Sutter 

2009 - Tim Erixon, 23rd
2008 - Greg Nemisz, 25th (15 gm, 0-1-1)
2007 - Mikael Backlund, 24th
2006 - Leland Irving, 26th (13 gm, 3-4-0, 3.25 GAA, .902 SV%)
2005 - Matt Pelech, 26th (5 gm, 0-3-3)
2004 - Kris Chucko, 24th (2 gm, 0-0-0)
2003 - Dion Phaneuf, 9th


The saving grace with Feaster is his work outside the second round with Johnny Gaudreau, Wotherspoon, Granlund, Monahan and Poirier among his


7. Not Adding Was the Smart Move

While fans might be disappointed that Calgary did not bring in a player or two at the deadline to try and keep the playoff push alive, the reality was the prices to add anything of substance were expensive while the odds of still makign the post-season were low.

By standing pat instead of sacrificing prospects and draft picks, the Flames are still going for the playoffs, just not this year specifically but instead a return to the post-season that can be sustainable like Detroit -- 23 years in a row, and San Jose -- 15 of the last 16 years.

"A lot of the deals that were taking place, we were in on in terms of the conversation, but we couldn't find a match and specifically a price that we felt fit and worked for us," said Treliving. "You're not going to replace Mark Giordano. Those things just don't happen and if you think that you are you're going to make a massive mistake. You're going to pay a huge price that isn't going to replace him."


8. What Could Have Been with Cammalleri

While market conditions vary from year-to-year, the exorbitant prices paid this year by buyers made you wonder what could have been last year with Mike Cammalleri. If the former Flame had not gone in that awful slump right before the trade deadline (2-0-2 in 15 games), surely he could have commanded a price similar to what Glencross got this year.

Now we'll wait and see if Glencross, who at the time of the deal, was in a similar slide to Cammalleri offensively with 1-1-2 in his final 14 games, can bust out like Cammalleri also did last year going 13-11-24 in his final 20 games to earn himself a five-year, $25-million contract from the Devils.



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Recent Related Flames Reading
  • Eight Flames That Could Get Dealt at the Trade Deadline - While the trade deadline could be a quiet one for Brad Treliving, there are several players in the organization from Curtis Glencross to Sven Baertschi, who I can see being moved if teams are interested and Calgary's general manager gets an offer he likes.
  • Eight from 80 Feet: Ramo Ranked No. 1, Glencross' Spot in Team History, and more -Topics included in the lastest eight Flames thoughts includes Karri Ramo -- the NHL's best road goaltender this season, Curtis Glencross and his final place in team history and Sean Monahan's evolution at the face-off dot. 
  • No, the Western Conference Sky is not Falling - Tumbling out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference has left fans feeling much consternation. Much consternation about nothing, that is. Calgary still controls its own destiny and with one of the softest schedules remaining, rumours of the death of the Flames playoff chances are greatly exaggerated
  • The Cardiac Kids: Fun Facts About the Third Period Comebacks - A comprehensive look back at the Flames 10 come-from-behind victories. Also included are a bunch of fun facts that will make you go "hmm..." and a look at the historical significance of it all.
  • Eight From 80 Feet - Glencross Debate, Tie-Breaker Status, and More - Edition six of my eight Flames thoughts broaches a number of topics from what to do with Curtis Glencross, how to deal with Sam Bennett, and the state of the Flames tie-breaker situation with surrounding teams just in case they finish up even.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Eight Flames That Could Get Dealt at the Trade Deadline

The trade deadline is looming and while it could stack up as a very quiet one for Brad Treliving, there are several players in the organization that I can see being moved if other teams are interested and Calgary's general manager gets an offer he likes.

1. Curtis Glencross

Coach Bob Hartley just signed an extension. If you're unhappy with how a coach uses you and you have 29 other teams to choose from, you're not going to re-sign to play for that coach again. Let's be honest, Curtis Glencross is not re-signing with the Flames this summer, Calgary has prospects they could plug in his place and recently the Flames got on just fine without him going 6-3-0 while he was out with his lower body injury.

Why He'd be Coveted - Can still play a strong two-way game, is a veteran, has an affordable contract, and is the type of player that could shine in post-season.

Update - Glencross was traded on Sunday to Washington in exchange for a second and third round draft pick in 2015.


2. Brandon Bollig

With just a half-hour game-day skate to assimilate (or re-assimilate) themselves to the NHL, Emile Poirier and Michael Ferland both were inserted into the line-up on Tuesday ahead of Brandon Bollig. The next night on the back-end of back-to-backs, the two rookies played again while Bollig sat. Then the same roster decision was made two days later in long island. It's clear that the coach has moved on from Bollig, who finds himself in a position not unlike where Brian McGrattan was early in the season, a guy that doesn't do enough when he's in the line-up to fit into what Calgary is trying to achieve.

Why He'd be Coveted - His best games have come against the heavier teams in the NHL such as Los Angeles. He's been to the playoffs before with Chicago so brings experience. He's an affordable depth, veteran addition for a team at forward, who is a great dressing room guy and that's a nice intangible when you're playing in May.


3. Karri Ramo

Karri Ramo is a pending UFA and with Jonas Hiller under contract next season and Joni Ortio on a one-way deal next season also, the team appears set in net for 2015-16. Ramo has turned in a sensational body of work this road trip with a 1.02 GAA and .968 SV% and in terms of what his upside is -- very much an unknown commodity at this point, he has surely opened up some eyes of the many scouts that have been watching Calgary lately. While Ortio's injury made it look like a Ramo deal would no longer be possible, the Flames rumored interest in veteran Jeff Deslauriers --currently in the KHL, could mean Ramo might be in play after all.

Why He'd be Coveted - His ability to step in and play well after a long period of inactivity shows that he would be an ideal back-up goaltender for a team hoping to go deep into the playoffs, who are uncomfortable with their current back-up.

Update - Per reports that circulated on Sunday morning, Deslauriers did not sign an offer made to him by the deadline that came with it so it appears this will not happen. Was Delauriers being considered to potentially be the back-up in the NHL to either Ramo or Hiller for the final six weeks? We may never know.


4. Raphael Diaz

Raphael Diaz is a pending UFA, who for the modest role he serves in the Flames line-up could be replaced by either Corey Potter or Tyler Wotherspoon. Presumably the latter unless Calgary is looking to give 8-10 minutes to Potter and continue to give Wotherspoon twice that amount of ice time in Adirondack.

Why He'd be Coveted - He's a depth add for a team looking to get a little deeper on the blue-line for a long Stanley Cup run. His heavy right-handed shot and ability to play the power play would be another attraction.

Update - Calgary claimed journeyman defenceman David Schlemko on waivers on Sunday. Presumably he slides into Mark Giordano's spot (although not with the same responsibilities or ice time) as the Flames captain was placed on IR and sent back to Calgary. Wotherspoon was subsequently returned to Adirondack.


5. Paul Byron

While his scoring touch leaves a lot to be desired, Paul Byron contributes in a lot of ways that are less noticed but valued. He's a darling of the advanced stats community and given the number of analytics folks now working in NHL front offices, he may not be much of a secret any more. He's expendable because Calgary has a small team and you know they want to get bigger and stronger and he's one of the smaller guys, who could get phased out by the likes of Josh Jooris and Poirier next season anyway.

Why He'd be Coveted - Making barely above the league-minimum, he's a very, very affordable contract that any team could pick up. He's also a very serviceable player, who in a pinch can play adequately anywhere up and down the line-up, making him an ideal extra depth forward for contending teams.


6. Sven Baertschi

Every day that passes, you get the sense that it's just not going to work out for Sven Baertschi with this team and much like how it went with fellow Swiss countryman and Portland Winter Hawk Nino Niederreiter, a fresh organization might be the best thing for him. Hartley has never shown a lot of trust in him and not getting the call-up last week perhaps is confirmation that he's been passed by others in Calgary.

Why He'd be Coveted - Baertschi has great skill, huge potential still and he's got first round pick pedigree, which is always something that is a big attraction to teams.


7. Jonas Hiller

Maybe the Flames pull an end-around and surprise everyone by trading Jonas Hiller and opting to re-sign Ramo instead. Hiller has a year left on his contract still but if you look at the Flames system, there realistically won't be anyone ready to replace Hiller come the expiration of that contract at the end of 2015-16. The better approach might be to re-sign Ramo for two years and that gives you an Ortio/Ramo pairing for the next couple seasons. Meanwhile, should prospect Jon Gillies leave college this summer, that gives him two full years to develop in the AHL before potentially ascending to the NHL in 2016-17.

Why He'd be Coveted - Hiller is a veteran goalie that can go on a hot streak. He wouldn't be brought in by a team as their starter but would give a playoff team a dependable back-up option should they lose their starter or not be overly confident in their starter.


8. Dennis Wideman

Since Dennis Wideman arrived in Calgary and signed that very rich contract averaging over $5-million per season, his value has never been higher than it is this season in which he's notched an impressive 12 goals. He's playing 23-plus minutes per night and could play more if needed. He can be dangerous on the power play and has shown he's not bad on the penalty kill either. This might be the time to move a big contract. If Mark Giordano is healthy, his role could be replaced by Wotherspoon but it would represent a waving of the white flag, of sorts, on this year's playoff race.

Why He'd be Coveted - Wideman can be inserted into a team's top four or on a deep team, onto the third pairing, but with an ability to bump up and play 25+ minutes if needed.

Update - With Giordano put on the IR, highly doubtful the Flames move Wideman now, if that even was a consideration.


Honourable Mention: Matt Stajan

This is a delicate situation given what's going on personally right now for Stajan and his wife and the impending birth of their first child. In fact, that situation probably makes this deal very doubtful to happen. But Calgary does have options for that fourth line centre role with other younger candidates being Drew Shore, Joe Colborne, Jooris and maybe even Bill Arnold eventually. This could be an opportunity to unload Stajan's contract, which has three more years on it after this season and in hindsight might be a year or two longer than desired.

Why He'd be Coveted - Stajan would be a great add for a contending team, looking for a dependable fourth line centre, who could jump up to the third line if needed. He is a consummate team guy and a good fit for a team with vision of playing deep into the spring. Stajan still has lots of term left on his contract but it is a deal that could be bought out down the road without too too much of a financial impact.


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Recent Related Flames Reading

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Eight from 80 Feet: Ramo Best in the NHL, Glencross' Ranking in Team History, and more...

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

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


1. Ramo's Road Wizardry

Karri Ramo has been the NHL's best goaltender on the road this season. By that, I don't mean one of the best. I'm talking the best. That is, if you put stock in goals-against average or more importantly for me -- save percentage. As of this morning, Ramo leads the NHL in both categories.

Goals-Against Average - On the Road (minimum of 10 games)

1. Karri Ramo CGY, 1.86 
2. Carey Price MTL, 1.93
3. Corey Crawford CHI, 1.94
4. Henrik Lundqvist NYR, 2.05
5. Brian Elliott STL, 2.18

Save Percentage - On the Road (minimum of 10 games)

1. Karri Ramo CGY, .937
2. Carey Price MTL, .935
3. Corey Crawford CHI, .931
4. Curtis McElhinney CBJ, .928
5. Henrik Lundqvist NYR, .928

Ramo's success away from the Saddledome this year included back-to-back shutouts in November when he blanked San Jose and Arizona -- the first Flames goalie to post consecutive road shutouts since Mike Vernon in December 1992. That was part of a six-game winning streak overall for Ramo that included a shutout streak of 142:59, which came just over 21 minutes shy of Vernon's team record.

It's been a topsy turvy season for the pending unrestricted free agent. After getting pulled on a start on December 16 after allowing four goals on 13 shots against the New York Rangers, a combination of his own injury and Jonas Hiller's hot play resulted in Ramo making just one start in the next two months and that was on January 7, a game in which he got injured halfway through the game in a collision with Raphael Diaz.

But after Jonas Hiller got lit up for four third period goals in a blown third period lead in the finale of the most recent homestand, it was back to Ramo again to start this important seven-game road trip and what a trip he's having. In three games, he's fashioned a tidy 1.02 goals-against average and a .968 save percentage. The only number that doesn't look good is two losses out of three games and that's hardly his fault.

Many will argue his mastery on the road is merely fluke and that might very well be the case. After all, this is the same guy that is ranked near the bottom of the NHL at home.
  • Home Goals-Against Average - 3.01, ranked 38th out of 43
  • Home Save Percentage - .891, ranked 41st out of 43 (only ahead of Minnesota's Darcy Kuemper and Arizona's Mike Smith)

Now those home/road splits are extreme. Whether it's nothing but co-incidence (last year his SV% was .916 at home, .908 on the road) or your have your own theory -- perhaps the Finn's easy-going attitude caters to him playing well in the hostility of opposition arenas, the bottom line is he's giving the Flames all they can ask for in net at the moment.

When the road trip resumes on Tuesday, it will surely be with Ramo back between the pipes once again. That is, if he's not traded. While once looking like a real possibility, the reality is the odds of him being dealt dropped significantly with the injury to Joni Ortio last weekend, who will miss up to eight weeks with a high ankle sprain.

More than will Ramo get traded, maybe the more pertinent question to ask now is do the Flames re-sign him? At 28, Ramo is four years younger than Hiller. Hiller has one year left on his contract but that's not to say Calgary can't try and trade Hiller this summer. Credit to Ramo for changing the topic of the conversations being had about him.


2. Glencross' Last Stand

Was Friday night in Long Island the last time we see Curtis Glencross put on a Flames jersey? You'd think so. Between his age - 32, frustrations with how he's been used this season by the coach -- the same coach that earlier in the year signed an extension, and with the kind of money he's looking for in free agency, it seems like a certainty Glencross will not be re-signing with Calgary.

The organization blew an opportunity last year to move Mike Cammalleri and lost an asset for nothing. It would be lousy management to mishandle your most tradable pending UFA again this season. Especially with the prices teams are getting right now. If you can get a second round pick, you absolutely have to do it and if you have to settle for a high third, same thing. 

If this is the end for the Flames No. 20, here is where Glencross finishes in his Calgary career. Added in for context is closest non-active player above/below him on those lists: 
  • 418 games - 18th (7 behind Robert Reichel, 2 more than Colin Patterson)
  • 114 goals - 15th (9 behind Daymond Langkow, 5 more than Cory Stillman)
  • 242 points - 23rd (4 behind Jamie Macoun, 4 more than Phil Housley)
  • 290 penalty minutes - 39th (2 behind Bob Boughner, 2 more than Doug Gilmour)
  • 22 PP Goals - 28th (4 behind Kristian Huselius/Sergei Makarov, 1 more than Marc Savard)
  • 8 SH Goals - 9th (tied with Jim Peplinski, Cory Stillman and German Titov)
  • 18 GW Goals - 15th (1 behind Mike Cammalleri, 1 more than Hakan Loob/Matthew Lombardi)


Maybe general manager Brad Treliving doesn't get what he's asking for with Glencross and he stays with the team the rest of the season and helps them in their chase for a playoff spot. But you get the sense the two sides have already moved on and a deal in the next 48 hours is inevitable.

If so, does Glencross leave a void in the Flames line-up? Absolutely. Scored a nice goal the other night in New Jersey and even had his first fight in nearly three years. But if there is one place where the Flames have decent depth, it's at forward.  When he missed nine games recently, Calgary went 6-3-0 during that time.

So if this is it, you thank Glencross for his loyal years of service in a Flames uniform. He wore a letter, was a big part of the community, and you wish him well. With only six post-season games on his resume, you know he's starving for a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup and he deserves that.


3. Johnny B. Tired?

The rigors of NHL travel should not be confused with the rigors of normal travel for you or I. Nor the rigors of riding the buses in the minor leagues. Being fast-tracked through airports and whisked onto chartered airplanes amounts to far less wear and tear and fatigue than the old days when teams used to fly commercial.

Nonetheless, travel or no travel, the grind of being an NHL player is not easy, especially when you get into March. The bumps and bruises add up, the frequency of games picks up, the stakes in those games increase. The physical fatigue goes up, as does the mental fatigue.

This brings us to this east coast road trip for Johnny Gaudreau. He's already in new territory when it comes to the amount of hockey he's played this year.

Last Season - 49 games
  • 40 at Boston College (including exhibitions)
  • 1 in the NHL
  • 8 at the IIHF World Championships

This Season - 70 games
  • 3 in Penticton at the Young Stars tournament
  • 6 in the NHL preseason
  • 61 so far in the NHL regular season

Gaudreau has not admitted that he's getting tired but it's only natural that he would be. This is way more games than he's ever played in a single season and much more than he has been used to lately. If you go even further back, he topped out at 60 games in his one year in the USHL.

2010-11 - 60 games - Dubuque (USHL)
2011-12 - 44 games - Boston College 
2012-13 - 42 games - 35 with Boston College, 7 at the IIHF World Juniors


Add in the fact that he's got such a slight frame at around 150 pounds, and that teams -- especially the California teams lately, have been far more physical against him, and adding in the pressure of the playoff race and his own mental fatigue of not contributing as much offensively as you know he wants to -- no goals in his last 14 games and just seven assists in that span, and it can wear a guy down.

Is it just coincidence that Gaudreau has taken 10 penalty minutes in the last six games after no penalties in his first 55 games? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Let's not forget that the all-star break was also not a break at all -- flying to across the country to Columbus and all the events and commitments (and filming of VISA commercials) that went with that weekend.

He'll get accustomed to the NHL grind as he gets older for sure. Next year will be better, the year after even more so. But you can't just flick a switch. Knowing that he could be at over 90 games by the time the regular season ends, you have to think that if the Flames miss the playoffs, this might be a year Gaudreau politely says 'no thanks' should Team USA come calling again for the World Championships.

Meanwhile, this three-day break for the Flames is coming at a good time and perhaps some home cooking will recharge Gaudreau for the final six weeks as Calgary's struggling offence really needs him.


4. Wishing for Wotherspoon

Frankly, I was baffled that Tyler Wotherspoon did not play Friday night against the Islanders with Mark Giordano not able to go. Instead, Corey Potter -- who had played six hockey games in the previous 76 days -- was inserted and played 7:47, the least of the Flames six defencemen.

It's not like Bob Hartley has ever hesitated before in inserting a guy into the line-up. Heck, on Tuesday, Emile Poirier -- after one game-day skate, was injected straight into Calgary's line-up to play instead of Brandon Bollig. Wotherspoon could most definitely have done the same. He had even spent 10 days practicing with the team just a month ago. It seemed like an odd decision as make no mistake, the Flames best internal option to replace Giordano -- should he end up missing additional time -- is Wotherspoon, who is Calgary's top defence prospect.

Raphael Diaz and Deryk Engelland have averaged less than half the ice time that Giordano had been playing this season. Ages 29 and 32 respectively, they are what they are at this point in their career and that is third pairing defencemen. You know what you have there and playing Engelland or Diaz 18-20 minutes is not going to turn out well.

While Wotherspoon may end up showing that he is not ready yet to take on second pairing ice time and responsibility, you need to at least put him in that position and find out for yourself. Calgary has got huge contributions from rookies all season and who's to say injecting another young player in the line-up won't give this team the type of spark it needs over the final six weeks.

At least Wotherspoon has upside where the other older options -- Diaz, Engelland and Potter, do not. I recently asked Adirondack Flames beat writer Diana Nearhos how Wotherspoon has played and she said he's been impressive -- "strong overall, defensively and contributing offensively."

Drafted in the second round in 2011, Wotherspoon  turned pro last season. So far, he's appeared in 94 games in the AHL and also got into 14 NHL games late last season when he looked fine in averaging 13:27 in ice time before having his season abruptly end due to a shoulder injury.

The Flames are off on Saturday but will practice in Philadelphia on Sunday and Monday. Surely Wotherspoon will be in the line-up on Tuesday night against the Flyers if Girodano is not. In fact, we may be getting to the point where he should be in the Flames line-up anyway, even if the captain returns.


5. Goalies Getting it Done

The Flames have to be pleased with what they're seeing right now from their two goaltender prospects, who have yet to turn pro.

Mason McDonald - Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL)

Selecting the native of Halifax 34th overall in 2014, the first goaltender to come off the board, was a polarizing pick yet as I wrote here right afterwards, I understand why the Flames selected him when they did. Well, so far, so good. McDonald is putting together a nice season in the QMJHL, currently ranked third with a .906 save percentage.

For comparison, Zach Fucale -- the much ballyhooed first goaltender taken in the 2013 NHL draft, 36th overall by Montreal, is also in the QMJHL and while a year older, he ranks 15th with a .886 save percentage.

MacDonald, in all likelihood, will be back in junior again next season and whether he pans out or not in the NHL will not be known for many, many years. But it has been a positive beginning, at the very least.


Jon Gillies - Providence College Friars (NCAA)

Calgary's third round pick in 2012 continues to put up very steady numbers in college. After his first two seasons in which he chalked up a save percentage both years of .931, the 6-foot-5 keeper is at .930 for this season. While it's not a progression statistically, his consistency from the start should be considered very encouraging.

Providence College is one of the top teams in the U.S. and he will be going to the NCAA tournament in late March. It will be an opportunity to potentially shine in some very high-stakes games so Flames fans will want to keep an eye on that.

When Ortio was helped off the ice last weekend, many asked if Gillies could be a possible replacement later in the season in Adirondack. The answer is probably not. While nothing is known for sure, I expect Gillies to sign with the Flames and turn pro after this season, or at least I expect Calgary to try and make that happen.

This is Gillies third year, which would make it the same circumstances as it was for Gaudreau last year. He will have the option to return to school for a fourth year but with an expected hole at the AHL level for Calgary next year, I'm sure they're anxious to get them into their system and start working with him more closely. For Gillies, he should be anxious to take his game to the next level.

If Providence makes the NCAA tournament, the soonest Gillies' season will be completed is March 27.  If he does sign with Calgary shortly after, because that will happen after the NHL trade deadline, Gillies will not be permitted to be assigned to the minors by the Flames.


6. Is Monahan a Young Bergeron in the Making?

With Devils goaltender Cory Schneider on the bench and New Jersey already on a power play, the Flames were staring at a 47-second 6-on-4 penalty kill on Wednesday in the final minute of a game they led by just one goal. Out for the face-off, to no surprise, went 20-year-old Sean Monahan.

As he's done so often lately, it seems, he won that clutch face-off and that led to Brodie's empty net goal seconds later that sealed the victory.

Face-off percentage is a statistic that can mean a little or a lot. While winning face-offs in neutral zones is nice, is it making that big of a difference in the grand scheme? For me, it ultimately comes down to how well can guys win draws in those pivotal moments in games -- late in a period, late in a game, in the offensive zone when you're down by a goal, in the defensive zone when you're up by a goal.

Monahan's face-off percentage on the season is 50.4 percent. So he's essentially 50/50. But without looking it up, you get the sense he must be upwards of 60 percent recently when it comes to face-offs that really matter.

In his rookie season, Monahan finished at 46.0 percent so this year has been a nice progression for him at the face-off dot. He treats it as a craft and I would fully expect that percentage to continue to climb over the next few years and for him to eventually be considered among the NHL's elite.

Take Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins for example. Considered one of the best in the NHL right now.
  • 2003-04 (rookie season) - 49.4%
  • 2005-06 (sophomore season) - 54.7%
  • 2006-07 - 51.2%
  • 2008-09 - 54.5%
  • 2009-10 - 58.0%
  • 2010-11 - 56.6%
  • 2011-12 - 59.3%
  • 2012-13 - 62.1%
  • 2013-14 - 58.6%
  • 2014-15 - 59.8%

I excluded 2007-08 as he only played 10 games due to injury but you can see his steady progression over the years. By his fifth NHL season, Bergeron was nearly at 55 percent and he has not dropped below that level since. I think Monahan could evolve in a similar way and over the years, that could very well equate to a couple extra wins each season.


7. Flames Advantage - An Easier Schedule Remaining

While Mark Giordano's condition is a potential game-changer for certain, expect the Flames to continue to hang in this playoff chase as they've done all year. Part of what Calgary has going for it is an easier remaining schedule than the other teams on the bubble. The Flames have 11 games left against teams not in a playoff spot right now. This does not include three games against other teams that are right there on the bubble with them. There are never any easy wins at this time of year -- Buffalo showed that the other night against the Canucks, but there are still easier opponents.

While I wrote here earlier this week that I really don't see the Kings or Wild as bubble teams, I have decided to include both of them in the following graphic for now so this paints a complete picture.

Below is a look at the six teams on the bubble in the West for four playoff spots. As you'll see, some teams have harder paths to travel in March and April than others:
  • The Kings have the most road games remaining and have not played well away from Staples Center all year.
  • The Jets have only four games left versus non-playoff teams. They will have to be at their best to successfully navigate a very difficult remaining schedule.
  • The Canucks have the most home games left and are currently the best of the rest when it comes to projected points but with Ryan Miller injured and missing Alex Edler and Kevin Bieksa from the back-end, Vancouver is not a lock yet -- see their recent loss to the Sabres. Vancouver has seven games versus other bubble teams too so those four-pointers will loom as important.
  • The Wild also have a tough schedule left, having to face 12 legit playoff teams in their final 21 games. They'll need Devan Dubnyk to continue his strong play.
  • The Sharks have lost seven home games in a row. They need to right the ship quickly as they have a seven-game road trip looming and will end their year playing 10 of their final 13 on the road.

If you follow me on Twitter (@DarrenWHaynes), watch for this graphic to be updated and Tweeted out daily -- either after the night's action is complete or early the next morning. 




8.  This 'n That

As you know, I'm always digging around for various factoids -- sometimes relevant, sometimes just fun. Here are some random ones from the last week that you may have missed:
  • Before drawing in against the Islanders, Potter had yet to play a game with the Flames while being a healthy scratch 18 times over the span of three call-ups.
  • Last year the Flames lost 68 games to injury from their big-four on defence -- Brodie/Giordano and Wideman/Russell. Up until the Giordano injury, that group had only missed two games this season -- both by Russell.
  • Brodie's 10th goal the other night gives the Flames three defencemen with 10 goals. Dennis Wideman has 12 and Giordano has 11. That's the first time three Calgary blue-liners have reached double digits in goals since Al MacInnis (11), Gary Suter (18) and Jamie Macoun (11) all did it in 1985-86. 
  • Monahan's game-winner against the Devils continues his late-game clutch scoring. So far in his career, he has eight third period go-ahead/tying goals, four overtime goals. Plus, he's notched five shootout-deciding goals. 
  • The Flames fourth line this road trip, comprised of rookies Poirer, Markus Granlund and Michael Ferland, has an average age of 21.6. 
  • Friday's loss to the Islanders -- now 21 games above .500 so not exactly a slouch, was the first time since January 9 that a Calgary loss wasn't to a team that didn't go at least two rounds in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
  • Calgary has spent 103 days in a playoff spot this year. That compares to a total of 61 days over the previous four seasons combined.


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Monday, February 23, 2015

No, the Western Conference Sky is not Falling

Calgary has spent 100 days in a playoff spot this season. But today is not one of them. Instead, for only the 38th time and first time since January 17, the Flames woke up today outside of the playoff picture in the NHL's Western Conference.

It was a harsh reality that jarred awake the residents of Flames Nation like having a glass of ice-cold water poured on your face and it has left fans feeling much consternation.

Much consternation about nothing, that is.

I'm not here to tell you to cancel your May vacation so you can be in your regular seats for Flames playoff hockey at the Scotiabank Saddledome, but I am here to add in some context to where the team is at right now and debunk a couple of myths that I overheard already today.

As you'll see, the sky isn't nearly as cloudy as it may seem.


Myth No. 1 - Flames No Longer Control Their Own Destiny

Incorrect. 

Sure, Calgary is outside of a playoff spot but they're three points back of Winnipeg and hold two games in hand. The Flames also comfortably own the first tie-breaker with the Jets, which is regulation/OT wins.

If the Flames pick up three points in those two make-up games -- the very definition of controlling one's own destiny, they move back ahead of Winnipeg and into a wild card spot.

Even if Calgary only picks up only one point out of those two games in hand, the Flames still control their own destiny with the Jets as they play in Winnipeg on the final day of the season so if they're within two points headed into that game, they'd still have a chance.

As for the Sharks -- tied in points with Calgary, the Flames also have two games in hand on them and own the tie-breaker so again, things are very much in Calgary's control.

So over the last 48 hours, with the Jets only mustering one point out of Toronto on Saturday and the Sharks losing to Los Angeles in the outdoor game that night, Calgary's playoff chances have actually improved despite falling out a playoff spot yesterday with Minnesota's victory.


Myth No. 2 - Flames May Need 100 Points to Make the Playoffs

People are getting so caught up in what the Wild and Kings are doing lately but really, it's a moot point. While I agree that you may need 100 points or more to stay ahead of the Kings and Wild, that's not who Calgary should be focused on right now and that's likely not where the playoff cut-line will be.

For me, those two teams have solidified themselves as locks to make the post-season in the Western Conference and it would not surprise me nor should it concern Flames fans if they are beyond reach in no time.

Los Angeles

The Kings are back looking like the team that has won the Stanley Cup twice in the last four years and are the reigning champs. While some saw them as vulnerable as they languished in 10th and 11th in the West, I was not one of them.

Here's a team that has played a lot of post-season hockey lately and what they're building towards is peaking in May, not in January. They've demonstrated before it's all about just getting in and for them, the urgency kicked in once they arrived briefly in 12th place in the conference a couple weeks ago. I would be shocked if the Kings finish anywhere other than second in the Pacific Division. Heck, first place could still be within reach if Anaheim falters.

Minnesota

The Wild are not a new phenomenon. It may seem that way given their blistering 13-2-2 streak since Devan Dubnyk's arrival but they have been outplaying teams most of the season, they were just victimized by some leaky goaltending during the first half that turned wins into losses.  Now they've repaired that hole and are no longer a bubble team in my opinion. Heck, they're breathing down the neck of the Chicago Blackhawks for third in the Central Division.

If you're wondering if Dubnyk is a flash-in-the-pan, he's been doing this all season. It came without the same fanfare given the lousy team in front of him in Arizona but Dubynk was also very good with the Coyotes before the Wild pulled off the heist of the century by plucking him out of the desert for a third round draft pick. His cumulative numbers on the season are not far behind Pekka Rinne, Carey Price, and Marc-Andre Fleury. Welcome to the Vezina discussion, Devan.


The way those clubs are rolling, it will not be the Kings and Wild, who will keep the Flames out of the post-season. Instead, Calgary will need to beat out two of Winnipeg, San Jose and I'd put Vancouver in that mix also. It won't take 100 points to get in but as I explained a couple weeks ago in this piece, I'm sticking with my guess of 95 points. The playoff spots up for grabs, as I see it, are third place in the Pacific and the second wild card spot.


Flames Faring Just Fine Lately

Perhaps it was the spectacular nature of the Flames third period collapse on Friday against the Anaheim Ducks that led to all the sudden angst but if you go back over the last six weeks -- starting January 10 with that 1-0 win in Vancouver that kicked off Joni Ortio's magical run, Calgary has been getting results. Navigating through one of the most difficult segments in their schedule, the Flames have gone 11-5-1.

Further, each of those six setbacks over that stretch are what I'd categorize as forgivable losses. The six teams that have beat Calgary -- Anaheim twice, Minnesota twice, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles. Those four teams all made it into the second round of the playoffs, or further. These are legitimately good teams the Flames have lost to and are not the types of losses that come back to haunt you.

People point to the Boston game and the Flames rally from a 3-0 deficit and calling it a lucky comeback to beat the Bruins. Sure, chalk that one up as luck. But again, it wouldn't have been a worrisome game to lose either. Boston also went two rounds in the playoffs last year also and while they have been scuffling a bit lately, they just went into Chicago on Sunday and spanked the Blackhawks so don't underestimate them either.

As well, don't forget that Ducks loss was the first time all season Calgary has blown a third period lead so this is hardly a trend. Every team in the NHL has coughed up a third period lead at least once this year except for Chicago.


Road Warriors

Could this seven-game Eastern road trip be a killer for Calgary? Maybe. Might we look back on it and say it is the trip that put the nail in the coffin? Possibly.

But I won't say 'probably' because of the resilience we've seen from this team all season. Remember when they lost seven straight in regulation and went winless in eight? Two months later they had fought and clawed their way back to 10 games above .500.

Let's also not forget that the Flames have played well on those so-called killer road trips all season, continually finding ways to win hockey games in opposition buildings. This is the fourth five-games or longer road trip they've departed on and they've finished above .500 on each of the first three.
  • October 9-19 - Six-Gamer (included tough stops in Stl, Chi, Nsh, Wpg), went 4-2-0
  • November 2-10 - Five-Gamer (included tough stops in Mtl, Wsh, TB), went 3-2-0
  • January 10-21 - Five-Gamer (included tough stops in Van, SJ, LA, Ana), went 4-1-0

Remaining Schedule

As of today, I see the playoff race in the West as shaking down to four teams for two spots and those four teams are Calgary, Winnipeg, Vancouver (Ryan Miller out 4-6 weeks, as it was announced on Monday is a major blow) and San Jose.

Nashville, St. Louis, Chicago and Minnesota are Central locks. Anaheim and Los Angeles are sure bets in the Pacific.

I am also excluding Dallas and Colorado for now. It's not to say the Stars and Avs can't get themselves back into the mix with a hot-streak but there's a lot of teams to pass. I've got them on the outside looking in at the moment and perhaps we'll see over the next week leading to the NHL trade deadline what their management thinks the chances are.

Here's a simple breakdown of remaining schedules:
  • Canucks - 23 games left, 13 at home, 10 vs non-playoff teams, plus Wpg (2), SJ (2)
  • Flames - 23 games left, 9 at home, 12 vs. non-playoff teams, plus Wpg 
  • Jets - 21 games left, 12 at home, 5 vs. non-playoff teams, plus Van (2), SJ, Cal
  • Sharks - 21 games left, 10 at home, 9 vs non-playoff teams, plus Van (2), Wpg   

If you look at that, Calgary -- from an opponent perspective (number of non-playoff teams faced) and Vancouver -- from a home-road split perspective, have the easiest schedules left. 

The Jets, Canucks and Sharks also have a few games left among themselves, which could play a huge role. Calgary only has one game left against the other three bubble teams -- that April 11 matinee in Winnipeg.


Outlook

What are the odds of the Flames making the playoffs? I'd suggest the chances are between 40 and 50 percent as of today. So it's not probable, but it's very much possible and while this road trip -- if it turns out miserable, would sink them, something middling like a 3-4-0 trip or even 2-4-1 would still very much keep them in the mix.

The bottom line is the excitement isn't going away anytime soon so get comfortable. With Calgary recalling Michael Ferland and Emile Poirier on Monday morning, a glance into the club's future, that only gives fans of the Flames further reason to hang in there, keep the faith and hope this Cinderella season continues.

The coaching staff, the players, they always keep saying the same thing over and over. You can't get too high and you can't get too low. It's as cliché as it gets but as a fan, it also doubles as some sage advice. Still a long, long way to go.


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