Welcome back to The Sunday Census. Throughout the week, The Win Column will be posing topical and intriguing polls on Twitter (@wincolumnblog) to gauge the fan-base’s stance on pressing issues. Want to make sure your opinion is taken into effect? Vote in the polls, start a debate, and propose alternative suggestions on the polls!
There is a big mystery surrounding the Flames right now: where the heck is James Neal? Since being injured in Florida back on February 14th, news on Neal has been very quiet. Yesterday’s announcement said that he will be ready for the playoffs, but still no timetable on a return. What we do know is that when it comes time for him to return to the Flames’ lineup, he will be inserted immediately.
The real question becomes, where in the lineup will James Neal play and who will he replace? Spending the majority of the season thus far on the third line, playing with the likes of Derek Ryan, Mark Jankowski, Sam Bennett, and Andrew Mangiapane, just to name a few, Neal’s struggles have been well documented regardless of linemate. Both the team and player will need a much different result when the time comes. So which Flames player will be relegated to the press box?
We provided four realistic options: Mangiapane, Garnet Hathaway, Austin Czarnik, and Michael Frolik. These four players are have been relegated to the press box this season at some point or another for various reasons. Frolik received the least amount of votes, 18% to be exact, and that is most likely the easiest call. Frolik may not have the same leeway under Bill Peters, but when he is a part of the 3M line he’s still very effective. Sitting him wouldn’t be in the team’s best interest.
Czarnik and Mangiapane tied with 23% of the vote each, showing that fans are equally as high on the young forwards. Mangiapane, who was recently given a top-six promotion, has shown the ability to play up and down the lineup. Czarnik, who was commonly found as the 13th forward with Neal in the lineup, went on a tear after replacing Neal. That being said, he has cooled down considerably in terms of production, not registering a point in five straight games. Both players provide the Flames with plenty of skill anywhere on their lineup, so it makes sense they didn’t take the win here.
That winner was Hathaway, who garnered 36% of the vote. I have to agree with this notion, as he is the team’s most replaceable forward at the moment. He has vastly improved in terms of his penalty killing ability, and taking him out leaves a bit of a hole in the deployments, but his role at 5v5 is somewhat undefined. Yes he can bring grit, but come the playoffs so can anybody else; especially Neal. If he were to be sitting, Czarnik could slide down to the fourth line and Neal could anchor the right side of Jankowski and Bennett. This would give the team four balanced, skilled, and speedy lines that would make it hard to play against.
Of course there are some Hathaway fanatics out there, which I can understand to a certain extent. But there is one question I would pose back to those individuals: are the Flames better off with Neal or Hathaway on the ice come playoffs?
As you are reading this with your Sunday coffee, the Flames are still in the midst of a four game regulation losing streak. After winning seven in a row, the Flames looked back to their “believe they can win any game” attitude. Of course as it stands now, the Flames haven’t looked weaker thus far this season; except maybe during the early season Pittsburgh game.
There appeared to be a small kink in the hose of the conference leading Flames, and opposing teams took full advantage of that. They haven’t necessarily been playing terrible hockey, but they just don’t look playoff ready. We wanted to see what the fans thought about this recent streak by gauging their level of concern for the Flames.
A good sign to see, only 16% of fans have a high level of concern for the team. I would think that this group of fans aren’t liking the Flames’ chances come the post season. Perhaps they aren’t thrilled with the fact the team has struggled since the trade deadline, while divisional rivals have flourished. There are a ton of factors that cause you to lose faith in this team, most likely a losing streak, but I would be interested in seeing how many people change their answer after a few wins?
Next up are the optimists, who with 24% of the vote have no concern with the recent slump. These fans would be the first to tell you that the Flames are still in fighting for first place in the Western Conference and that they will most likely secure home ice advantage. Teams go through slumps and with the season being a collective group of excellent stretches, the team was bound to go through some adversity.
Ignoring all of the optimism for the moment, the overwhelming majority of fans are moderately concerned with the Flames. 60% of voters, myself included, aren’t pleased with the recent stretch, but remain cautiously optimistic. From my perspective, the team’s flaws are showing a bit more.
Goaltending has once again become a big question mark, the offence is drying out quickly, and some defensive mistakes are appearing more often than they should. The team is still excellently positioned to have a successful run, but I don’t think fans are ready to buy their tickets in June quite as quickly as they would have a month ago. It’s always good to remain realistic, but with the team having a legitimate shot this year, it’s tough to accept even the slightest concerns.
Continuing down the path of negativity, a main reason behind the recent losing streak is due to the fact that many key players are in the midst of massive slumps. Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk, and T.J. Brodie have all had their struggles over the past while. In the past ten games those players sport the following stat lines:
- Gaudreau: one goal, five assists, six points, -3
- Monahan: one goal, five assists, six points, -4
- Tkachuk: two goals, three assists, five points, -2
- Brodie: one goal, on assist, two points, +1
Of those players, which one do fans have the most concern over?
Tkachuk recieved the least amount of votes, meaning that fans aren’t concerned over his recent offensive slump. I would argue that he provides much more to the team than simply goals and assists. If he isn’t putting up numbers then you better be sure that he is out there making as many friends as possible. Perhaps some folks don’t even think he is in a slump at all.
Next up are Gaudreau and Brodie, who virtually tied in terms of votes received. Starting with Brodie, his numbers appear a bit better than they actually are. Take away the one game, February 22nd vs Anaheim, and he has produced no offence. Although he sports a +1 rating, some key turnovers and current position in the lineup are concerning to say the least.
Gaudreau on the other-hand has not been himself lately. It seems as if teams are planning their games around the winger himself and neutralizing him at every step of the way. His torrid scoring pace has evaporated, and although he was considered a front runner for the Art Ross at one point, it would be tough to even get back into a top three spot in the scoring race.
Although the other players have had their struggles, Monahan takes the cake in this poll. Including my vote, fans clearly are concerned at what they are seeing from the number one centreman. His speed appears to be way off, his timing is gone, and he really hasn’t been able to generate any offensive pressure in a long time. He’s only scored three goals since the start of February, and although he will hit career highs in all of the statistical categories, his lack of play recently has cost the top line. The Flames need more out of all four players (and others too), but Monahan in particular has to get back to his former ways.
Want to be a part of the conversation next time around? Follow us on Twitter @wincolumnblog and be sure to keep a look out for our polls throughout the week.