Calgary Flames

Flames Sunday Census: Areas of concern for the Calgary Flames

The Flames came into the season looking poised to make a splash in the North Division. Brad Treliving’s offseason retooling of the roster was highlighted with the arrival of Jacob Markstrom. The division’s structure gave the Flames one of their best opportunities in years to “be in control of their own destiny.” Yet, as the Flames rapidly approach their midseason mark, there are so many concerns that are simply headscratchers.

Granted, Calgary most recently had a great game against the Senators, but it wasn’t without an embarrassing loss to start, and the overall inconsistencies in their play all season long so far still heavily cloud over the bright spots.

What’s the biggest concern?

We turned to the polls to see if there was anything to be said about what’s the biggest concern for the team right now. Overwhelmingly, fans think that coaching is the biggest issue. That in itself is not a good look, seeing as the Flames had just signed Geoff Ward on as the full-time head coach in the offseason to remove the interim label.

Lots of replies included saying there needed to be an all of the above option, but let’s run with the winning vote for now, and see exactly what’s going with coaching.

Coaching woes

A few different replies referenced a recent article from HBFAnalytics that aims to evaluate NHL coaches. Looking at Ward, this is how he looked:

Using the evaluation method, it’s basically saying Ward is not doing the Flames many favours in terms of how he deploys his forwards or defencemen at this point. In short, it’s a way that looks as coaching decisions and sees whether the best available lines or pairings are playing optimal minutes, thus measuring a coach’s impact.

For the Flames, the decisions involving who’s on the ice at the same time has been detrimental. Case in point, we’ve looked at how Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan were in need of a winger that better complements their skills. By the metrics above, the Flames are most heavily hindered on offence for both forwards and defencemen. If lines that are optimised for scoring aren’t actually on the ice, then it makes sense that Calgary’s offence has suffered across the board.

When it comes to playing defence, the forward deployment is slight above water (thank goodness for Mikael Backlund and Andrew Mangiapane), while the defence deployment is also hurting. My guess would be that Mark Giordano‘s still relied on a bit too heavily to eat up minutes, and Rasmus Andersson hasn’t fared too well either yet is getting a big share of time on ice.

However, the usual second pairing of Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifin have remained tremendous while getting a fair share of minute as well. That will no doubt boost the coaching impact. However, the following might be a bit controversial, but it looks like the Flames might stand to benefit the most if they increase Juuso Valimaki‘s minutes as the exchange of decreasing Giordano’s.

Giordano’s rightfully earned a long leash that will keep him playing lots of minutes for the foreseeable future. But the Flames aren’t icing the best players available. Of course, this is based purely on expected goal rates for and against, and there’s much more to a player’s game than one metric, but it’s just a possible area of improvement that stems directly from a coaching decision.

What can the Flames do?

Well, the Flames are not going to be making drastic changes to coaching staff, at least unless things get much worse. As long as their still in the playoff chase, there are big doubts the response of management and ownership would come from a position of panic.

However, it looks like there’s a clear-cut case that one, there really is a coaching problem and fans are right to put some or most of the blame on Ward, and two, the Flames have the right players already to get the job done, the adjustments just need to be made in how their roster is utilised game in and game out.

While the Flames are still very much not out of the deep end at all, there’s a single game sample that going back to a top six with high offensive ability could be a short term solution to the Flames’ problems. Of the six goals the Flames scored against the Senators last game, all six included the direct involvement of the top six forwards.

Time’s quickly running out for the Flames, they’re sitting on the outside looking into the playoffs. They have to take care of their own business, plain and simple. Putting the best players on the ice as often as possible and in that order might be the entirely too obvious answer, but the Flames actually need to do that. And that decision falls back onto Ward at the end of the day.

Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images

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