On Wasted Opportunities — Evaluating the Ritchie Brothers Trade — Game Day
Amid a 22-23 Flames season of let-downs and gut punches, we get yet another heading into tonight’s 8:00 pm game in Tempe, Arizona.
No Ritchie Bowl.
Yes, we’re all disappointed with that one. Here is the projected lineup tonight courtesy of Pat Steinberg of the Fan 960. The same lineup as we saw play the Senators on Sunday.
Calgary Flames Projected Lineup
The lineup decision is a bit of a head-scratcher. As a head coach, you’re generally relied on to press the proverbial “buttons” of your players. Nick had a classic early shot at redemption tonight. He has countless reps shooting on Arizona goalies in practice and likely has a deeper understanding of the tendencies of the Arizona blue line compared to the average NHL player.
Given the two brothers’ lack of opportunities to dress against, or on the same team, as one another — it’s a bit of a disappointment.
The two have a bad habit of one of them being out of the lineup when the other is in town to play. While they were both playing for the Bruins organization in 2020, Brett had been sent down to Providence before Nick’s arrival. They never got to dress in the same game.
While many will turn their nose up at judging small sample sizes, this isn’t a place for that. Let’s look at the optics of the trade after five games.
Early Impressions of the Trade
The trade that went down with minutes remaining on the clock ended up having Nick Ritchie and Troy Stetcher headed to Calgary in exchange for Connor Mackey and Nick’s brother, Brett.
Just three games in, the dividends are leaning towards the Coyotes winning the trade — although the merit of finding both former Flames a consistent lineup spot is worth noting as well.
The older of the two Ritchies is letting his play do the talking. What is he saying with his play?
You picked the wrong horse, Mr. Treliving.
Much like his brother, Brett notched a goal in his first game with the new team. The opening goal of a 4-1 win over the Predators.
Three days later was the real stinger. Against the Minnesota Wild, who shut out the Flames twice within four nights earlier this month — Brett put up a goal and two assists.
The younger Ritchie brother’s contribution in his game against the Wild for his new team? Zero points and two minor penalties including a tripping penalty in the offensive zone.
Nick has sat out two games since then. It’s probably fair to say he would be excited to get in there and prove he’s worth staying in the lineup tonight. Imagine the two dropping the gloves just over a week following the first-ever brother-for-brother trade in the NHL.
Troy has his strengths on the ice and some weaknesses as well. He’s not a guy you can bet on to win a corner battle. He gets overpowered against the rush and the pairing of him and Nikita Zadorov has brought underwhelming results in their brief time together.
One goal for. A pretty nice play involving Stetcher feeding Zadorov a beautiful cross-ice pass for his ninth goal of the season. That side of Stetcher’s game is what they traded him for. A strong skater that produces positive results when he has the puck. A hard when.
The pairing has been scored on three times in five games. Among Calgary pairings that have played at least 60 minutes together, the two have the worst expected goals percentage on the team at 45% according to moneypuck.com, which is actually better than their actual goals for/against percentage of 25%.
There are cases to be made that Dennis Gilbert is the better option.
Just as reliable of a passer, but much meaner. Correlation is not causation in this case, but Calgary’s record isn’t great with Dennis in the lineup. 6-8-4. It’s much easier to point the finger at Dennis slotting in when certain veterans are too broken down or tired to stay in the lineup. It’s hard to make a case that the 6th defenceman is to blame for a veteran team losing four games in overtime given he doesn’t play overtime minutes.
We get a pretty interesting sample size comparison. Zadorov and Stetcher have played roughly 63 minutes at 5v5 together. Connor Mackey and Victor Söderström have played 61 and change.
Connor has been on the ice for five goals for and four against in five games since being traded.
An assist in each of his first two games for the Coyotes implies that he was excited about a change. Zero points in his last three are less encouraging — although it’s worth noting that Mackey dropped the gloves with Wild center Mason Shaw in the second period in Arizona’s most recent game against the Wild. A 5-4 win featuring four fights.
Early Grade of the Trade
Often a trade is graded with the standard of whichever team gets the best player wins. The early judgement goes to the Ritchie brother that can score on the Wild. A task that eighteen Flames players failed to do twice this month.
The Coyotes get four points in five games from a guy they put on their first line and a current roster player that has shown he may develop into a top four defenceman for a guy who has played his way out of the lineup and an arguable downgrade on defence.
The grade is a D+ so far only due to Treliving finding a happy ending for the guys he shipped out.
Underestimating the Opponent
We have learned over and over (and over and over) this season that no basement team is an easy two points for the Calgary Flames.
Tonight is no exception. The Coyotes are hot. In their last four, they’ve beat Minnesota, St. Louis and Nashville. Their only loss in those four involved them taking recent Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche to overtime tied at two a piece.
Their offensive keystone, Clayton Keller, has four goals and six assists in their last five. Their style is to score early and drag you into an agonizing trap game. This all could spell trouble given the Flames’ penchant for not showing up offensively of late.
For God’s Sake Please Don’t Jinx It
It’s strange to acknowledge, but the Flames haven’t lost in overtime this month.
This has been typically something you can only say in the first five days of any given month of the 2022-24 campaign. Their last overtime loss came against the Bruins on February 28.
With that said, the team is 3-3-0 when it matters the most. That’s a perfect .500 points percentage and an 82-point pace.
Game time is 8:00 pm MST. Catch it on Sportsnet West in Canada and Bally Sports Arizona in the States.
Stats via moneypuck.com, naturalstattrick.com and nhl.com.