Top Six Construction: The Squeeze!

June 16th, 2018 | Posted in Commentary | By: D'Arcy McGrath

The Flames need to score more goals.

That statement won’t come as a shock to anyone.

When Bob McKenzie sat Brad Treliving and the other GMs down in Penticton before last season, one of his standard questions going in the campaign was what kept each manager up at night.

Treliving didn’t pause a moment before suggesting goal scoring was his biggest fear. Where would they come from? Would they score enough?

He was right. They didn’t score enough, and when they did it was concentrated on too few players. Injuries finally crumbled the foundation sending the team from a playoff club in late February to a meek squad playing out the squad until the end.

It wasn’t pretty.

How Bad is Bad?

Before you start to fix something its best to understand the degree of the problem you are facing. The Flames need to score more goals but what are they missing? Top three fowards? Top six forwards? Bottom six forwards? Keying in on how they match up certainly provides some insight into where these holes appear.

Last season the average NHL team scored 196 goals from their forwards, the split on that average showing 14 teams above the mark and 17 teams below. The Flames were 22nd in forward scoring with 177, or 19 goals or a goal every four games behind the average.

Should the Flames aspire to be a playoff team and be top 16 in the gap begins to grow as the average playoff team had 216 goals from their forward group or 29 more than the Flames managed last year. That’s nearing a goal every second game and becoming a problem.

Step it up another notch and pick the NHL elite (I’ll say Winnipeg, Vegas, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Boston and sure Washington) you will find an average of 231 goals, 58 goals more than the Flames have mined from their forward group.

Clearly some work needs to be done.

We Could Have Guessed That But How?

True you can’t send a General Manager goal hunting with a simple deficit number. While it’s simple in nature it’s far too simple especially when you start looking at the ways in which you can improve.

Do you go trade for or sign two 25 goal scorers and call it done?

That would be the most obvious way, but it would be pretty expensive, and possibly over kill.

Do you assume you have the growth from a young roster in place that can handle the job themselves?

You can but that was somewhat the plan last year and it failed miserably; I can’t see them heading down that path again this year.

Can you just promote AHL players that are ready to make the jump and assume they will out score the forwards they replaced shrinking your problem?

Just like the second suggestion, that would be foolish as well, putting too much (see Oilers, Edmonton) pressure on young players before they are ready, likely destroying careers before they get going.

Clearly you need a mix of the the three to form your recipe, and with that a deeper dive (someone will chuckle or attack on that phrase) into what was missing, and how best to fill that void.

The NHL Average Mix

The NHL break down of forwards by scoring is pretty simple to snatch. You number forwards from 1 to 31 and call them 1s, 2 to 62 and call them 2s and so on.

With that done the averages roll out as follows;


Clearly the NHL isn’t in a goal boom!

When you shed the non playoff teams (bottom 15 for ease) things don’t change that much actually.

But how do the Flames match up in the simple breakdown?

The Flames look this by category: (League category in parentheses)

Sean Monahan 31 (1)
Johnny Gaudreau 24 (3)
Matthew Tkachuk 24 (3)
Micheal Ferland 21 (4)
Mark Jankowski 17 (5)
Mikael Backlund 14 (6)
Sam Bennett 11 (8)
Chris Stewart 10 (10)
Michael Frolik 10 (10)
Troy Brouwer 6 (12)
Nick Shore 5 (12)
Garnet Hathaway 4 (13)

The good news? They have three in the top three, and three in the second three suggesting their top half is fine. A closer look though points to the fact they don’t have a two and are using two threes to get by.

If you look at each group of three compared to the NHL average however it does point to a hole at the top as the Flames top three goal scorers last season were nine short (79 vs 88). The second line was only a goal short, while the third and fourth lines were both short by four goals.

Additionally, the list included Chris Stewart and he only scored one of those goals in Calgary.

The Flames need a boost to the top and also more effective depth in their bottom six.

Suggested Attack Plan?

If I’m Treliving I do my best conservative approach to my returning players to establish a good estimate to where I stand.

My attempt:

Sean Monahan 35
Johnny Gaudreau 25
Matthew Tkachuk 25
Micheal Ferland 18
Mark Jankowski 18
Mikael Backlund 18
Sam Bennett 15
Michael Frolik 10
Troy Brouwer 5
Nick Shore 5
Garnet Hathaway 5
Foo/Mangiapane/Dube 5

I give an uptick to Monahan given his injury woes last year, but leave Gaudreau and Tkachuk unchanged, which could be pessimistic to some degree. I don’t see Gaudreau as a goal scorer, but I do think a full year three from Tkachuk could push 30.

The rest of the roster you have to be careful with. I have Ferland stepping back a tough, Jankowski essentially flat, Backlund not recovering to 20 goals, and a modest increase by Bennett. Frolik I have flat lined as age may be a factor at this point in his contract.

I removed Steward, and promoted a prospect with the 5 goal total to be shared by all three or put up by one player. Bill Peters has a penchant for giving skilled young forwards more rope so that could be a source of help.

The total for these 12 players comes to 184 an increase of seven goals overall, with the third forward to be added.

Adding A Top Forward

The goal isn’t 184 goals so an internal plan just won’t get what I would consider a smart target of 205 or so goals or 13th league wide. They need to add another 20 goal scorer.

It’s been suggested said player could come by way of trading a defenseman, say TJ Brodie, or through free agency. Guessing at who this player is would be a waste of time to readers, but whether it’s Hoffman (gulp), Nylander, Pacioretty or Perron adding 20-25 goals would certainly change the look of the Flames.

Sean Monahan 35
Johnny Gaudreau 25
Matthew Tkachuk 25
Acquired 23
Micheal Ferland 18
Mark Jankowski 18
Mikael Backlund 18
Sam Bennett 15
Michael Frolik 10
Troy Brouwer 5
Nick Shore 5
Garnet Hathaway 5
Foo/Mangiapen/Dube 5

The acquisition of a 23 goal scorer to add to the promotions and projections from last year’s roster to this year’s edition moves the team to 207 forward goals which would have had them ranked 13th last year and within two goals of 11th.

Additionally, going back to lines it pushes Ferland down to a third line, and Brouwer down to the fourth. As a result the team is three goals short in their top three, but six and eight ahead in the trios that make up the middle six. The bottom four (10-13) are eight goals short.

Is that Enough?

The totals suggest they are, as a move into the top 11-13 is a significant move up the forward goal scoring leader board.

But are these assumptions valid?

If my estimates are conservative and the acquired player produces as expected than the Flames are in very good shape. If too many players take a step back, or my projections were too robust then the team is in trouble once again.

Of course no plan can account for lengthy injuries to key forwards, and depth can’t be acquired for all contingencies.

The key point in all of this is the shopping list, and in my mind it should be limited to one and not two big additions up front.

Save the prospects and picks, and don’t go crazy unloading defenseman. They have a lot to work with within if players slot as they should.

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