Calgary Flames: A Word of Caution About All Those Options

If you’ve listened to Bill Peters and Brad Treliving talk to the media about this new Calgary Flames roster, you may have noticed one word getting used a lot: Options. That’s been the theme of the summer.

Since June, the general message from both the GM and the head coach has been this: We added the players we did because we wanted to have options. We have more options now than we’ve had in previous years and we’re really excited about that.

Here’s what Treliving had to say about the acquisition of James Neal in an interview with the Calgary Sun:

“He’s a perennial 20-plus goal scorer every year. He’s an ultra-competitive guy. He’s had playoff success. He’s a big body. He’s played the last game in the league for the last two years in a row. He checks a lot of boxes for us and gives us a lot of options.”

It’s true. Can you remember the last time the Calgary Flames’ roster was this fluid and versatile?

Just think of it. If James Neal doesn’t show good chemistry on the top line, we can put Elias Lindholm up there. Elias Lindholm gets injured? No worries, we got Matthew Tkachuk to work on playing right wing in the preseason. Tkachuk on RW doesn’t pan out? All good, we can try Spencer Foo up there, he had a good showing last year. And on and on.  

The point is, very few players are safe in their spot on this roster. The sheer number of line combinations you could create with all of the NHL-ready players in this team’s system is staggering.

An abundance of options is a good thing for the Calgary Flames, so long as the people managing player usage are prudent.

The Paradox of Choice

Psychologists have found that having a lot of options doesn’t necessarily make decisions easier. In fact, it can stifle decision-making. It’s called the Paradox of Choice. It’s the reason we can spend hours browsing Netflix or grocery store aisles and never select anything.

My hope is that with all of their options, the Calgary Flames will not spend too much time in the browsing phase, or have difficulty settling.

With so many players fighting for a few spots with the big club, this may shape up to be the most important preseason this team has had in a long time. Bill Peters and his coaching staff need to take full advantage of it, and do the lion’s share of their browsing while the games don’t matter.

I’m confident they’ll do it right.

Learning From History

One of the downfalls of former head coach Glen Gulutzan was player usage. More specifically, the fact that he let too many bad situations continue for too long. Troy Brouwer on both the powerplay and the penalty kill. The TJ Brodie and Travis Hamonic pair. Dougie Hamilton not getting powerplay time. Sam Bennett at centre instead of on the left wing.

The key for this team will be to learn from history without overcompensating for it. Having more options will mean increased temptation to “cut losses” by quickly dismantling situations that appear to not be working, and try something new

Figuring out the best position, linemates, and ice time for each player requires a good sample size. Bill Peters will need to walk the line between sticking with bad scenarios, like Gulutzan did, and terminating those scenarios too quickly, before getting a good sample size.

And this applies to fans as well. Tempting though it may be, we shouldn’t expect or demand major changes after one or two rough games, simply because this team has options. We need to patiently let things play themselves out before deciding, from our couches and our keyboards, what “works” and what doesn’t.

That means putting in a little faith that Bill Peters knows what he’s doing in terms of player usage. It may be hard to start trusting again after our last coach, but Peters deserves to be given a reasonable sample size, just like the players do.

Sadly, there is one place where the Flames lack options: goaltending. We’re living on a prayer with that position.