Random Thoughts - Flames Aren't Dead Yet

Kent Wilson
April 09 2013 11:26AM



Prior to the 8-2 Shellacking at the hands of the Oil, I'd thought the Flames had reached the nadir of their season at least one or two times already. I was wrong. Gutted and disillusioned, the Flames shuffled into the Dome that night and had their lunches fed to them by the upstarts from up the road. It's was grotesque and humiliating, but somehow an appropriate punctuation to the events that had proceeded it.

It felt like the team would never win again in the aftermath of that defeat, but the Flames have actually put together a handful of decent games since then, including the loss in Vancouver (entirely goaltender based) and the win last night in Colorado. Calgary was outshot by the Avs, but the bad guys were chasing for most of the game which I think inflated their possession and shot totals. The Flames still outchanced them in aggregate and that is despite icing a rookie heavy line-up.

I'll reiterate the general sentiment of the positvity post: the Flames aren't completely hopeless. They bottomed out, as was expected, but the low point isn't as pitiful nor as desperate as, say, the Oilers a few years ago. There are salvagable pieces here and, despite the near total lack of elite young talent, a base to build on if things are done right and the club gets a break once in a while. If the worst the Flames get is about 20th overall in terms of possession, then the rebuild shouldn't be as painful nor as long as some expect.

- TJ Brodie. Yeah we've lathered him with superlatives this year, but the kid just keeps getting better. Brodie's minutes and responsibilities have increased in Jay Bouwmeester's absence and his underying numbers just stay sterling. He has been in the black in terms of chances and corsi the last two or three games at least, a not insignificant achievement for a 22-year old sophomore suddenly thrust into a top pairing role on a rebuilding team.

I don't know if he'll ever score a lot of points even with his mobility and vision (still has problems getting shots through on the point), but his ceiling in terms of defensive responsibility keeps climbing. Brodie will be 24 for the 2014-15 season and it will surprise me if he's not anchoring the club's top pairing by then.

- If the Flames really want to turn things around and be a playoff contender sooner rather than later (throw out what Feaster said at the press conference about next year), then the 2014-15 season should be circled. At that point, Backlund and Brodie will be peaking, Baertschi should have his legs, whatever wunderkind they pick this summer should be a useful sophomore and the various vets they have kept around - from Giordano to Glencross - should still be functional. If the club has fixed its goaltending and hit on at least one or two more gambles in the Glencross/Bourque sense (be it via free agency or trade) then the team could be challenging for the post-season and be on the upswing at the same time.

- Somewhat related (and worrying): Steve Mason being acquired and signed by the Flyers proves that GM's as a class just don't understand goaltending. They can't seem to project it and they certainly can't read the market for it. Jonathan Willis and Tyler Dellow wrote on Mason recently - a guy who has been a shining example of how poorly goaltending is understood at even the highest levels in the league since his rookie season. 

To be fair, goaltending is really, really hard to predict or understand given the current state of knowledge. They seem to have different career arcs than shooters, it's very hard to separate their contributions from that of the team and even the "advanced" stats we have for them seem to point more randomness than skill, especially on the 82-game season scale. In addition, there is no single guy that can have a more profound effect on a club's goal differential than a goalie, which is why you see GM's running out and spending more than a perfectly rational actor in a usually saturated market would on occassion.

It's hard to make really good bets on goalies as a result (ie; a bet that is likely to deliver better than average puck-stopping consistently), but it's really easy to make bad ones. This is why you've seen the Detroit Red Wings settle for cheap, average goaltending for so long.

- Although he failed to act in time to prevent the goaltending implosion this season, Feaster has been active in collecting potential puckstoppers for down the road in Ramo and Berra. The Flames may get a chance to grab a decent starter who shakes loose in the next year or two thanks to their abundance of cap and budget space (like, say, the Senators did with Craig Anderson, who has been a big reason the Senators rebuilding phase seems so mercifully short), which could improve the redundancy in the organization and chance the team has at least a .920 ES SV% by the time they are ready to compete again.

Flames fans just have to hope Feaster bets on an Anderson and not a Steve Mason.

Former Nations Overlord. Current FN contributor and curmudgeon For questions, complaints, criticisms, etc contact Kent @ kent.wilson@gmail. Follow him on Twitter here.