On the Calgary Flames and their window to win
August 11, 2017, 2:10 PM ET [37 Comments]
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Today I came across an interesting piece on Puck Daddy that suggested the Calgary Flames may not be the contenders many expect them to be, and their window to win could close fast; if it's even open at all.
Ryan Lambert rightfully acknowledged the Flames have a handful of high-end players on their roster but voiced concerns about a lack of depth up front, Sam Bennett's (seemingly) stunted growth, and a goaltending tandem of Mike Smith and Eddie Lack, among other things.
I can see where Lambert is coming from on some fronts but, with nothing else happening, I figured I'd make counterpoints on a few of the things he said.
We'll start with the goaltending.
Smith has been roughly league-average the past two seasons, but the one before that he was horrific (.904). He also didn’t carry a particularly heavy workload over that time, averaging fewer than 50 appearances per season. Moreover, he’s 35. So the Flames are gambling that a 35-year-old goalie whose career numbers are hardly inspiring will do better than Elliott, which doesn’t seem likely based on the track records of the two goalies in question.
In addition, backup Eddie Lack has a whopping .902 save percentage over the past two seasons, so the idea that he will somehow return to the .917 he posted as a “1b” goalie over two seasons in Vancouver is likewise far fetched.
I wasn't on board with the Mike Smith trade -- I thought the Flames would have been better off keeping their assets (Brandon Hickey/draft picks) and taking a run at a goaltender like Steve Mason in free agency -- but I think he is being undersold a little bit here.
At 5v5, Smith was quietly very good over the last two years as he ranked 8th among 37 eligible goaltenders (minimum 3,000 minutes) in save percentage during that game state. That slots him just below Sergei Bobrovsky and ahead of notables like Jonathan Quick, Henrik Lundqvist, Frederik Andersen and Ben Bishop, among others.
Whether he can continue to keep that company moving forward, especially at his age, is fair to question, but I think he'll be at least adequate playing behind such a good defense.
As for Eddie Lack, there's no pretty picture I can paint. He has been bad the last few years and the Flames are simply hoping he can turn it around with them.
The other problem the Flames have is the goaltending wasn’t exactly supported by the soundest 5-on-5 process in the league. Calgary finished 15th in adjusted Corsi last season, though to be fair part of that was because the team was a mess in its first few weeks under Glen Gulutzan — on whom no one should really be completely sold at this point — before righting the ship to some extent. After Dec. 1, the Flames’ CF% was 10th in the league, which is certainly where you want to be headed.
I'm not concerned about the Flames' possession game. As Lambert mentioned, they made progress as the season went on and this summer they cut a lot of dead weight with the likes of Deryk Engelland, Dennis Wideman, and Lance Bouma, among others, sent packing.
Sam Bennett hasn’t come along much at all. They’ll be counting on a rookie or two to chip in offensively.
I'll admit the 2016-17 season wasn't exactly a banner year for Sam Bennett. In saying that, his 5v5 production was almost identical to 2015-16, which many considered a strong season from him, and he was weighed down by Troy Brouwer. Away from Brouwer, Bennett posted a very strong 52.4 Corsi For% over more than 500 minutes. I think he'll be just fine.
As for the latter part, the Flames do need a rookie like Mark Jankowski or Spencer Foo to make the team and contribute a little bit, especially if they don't want Troy Brouwer taking a top-9 slot.
The Flames shouldn't be knocked for needing a rookie to step up, though. Every team in the league is in a similar position. It's the way things go in a salary cap world. There simply isn't enough money to buy established players to fill every hole, so you need kids on ELCs to do so.
Betting on Jankowski, let's say, to hold his own on the 3rd line alongside Versteeg and Bennett is not exactly far fetched. I mean, he's a former 1st round pick who tore up the AHL last year and led the league in WAR. It's quite reasonable to think he could handle himself in a depth role.
If the Flames want to become true contenders they need a couple question marks to turn into answers -- every team does -- but I'm pretty comfortable saying they'll be a playoff team and could make some noise once they get there.
I don't think their window is closed, or on the verge of closing. I think it's opening.