Please welcome your Calculus Flames

Jean Lefebvre
August 26 2009 10:36PM

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Hockey is rarely numerically neat and impeccably precise, and if you need proof just check out Vesa Toskala's goals-against average from a season ago.

Trouble is that in the world of mathematics, two-plus-two always equals four. In the world of hockey, however, two-plus-two sometimes equals the square root of Dennis Maruk, and that's confusing, frustrating and embarrassing for all parties concerned.

That said, it's still fun to apply Euclidian principles to a Havelidian world, even if the results are about as trustworthy and effective as an Alexei Kovalev backcheck.

Just as a for-instance, let's take a look at the generally accepted concept that the Flames will have to compensate for the offence it has lost this summer with improved defensive play that will no doubt be spurred by Brent Sutter's vicious heels into the flanks of Calgary players.

Here's the bottom line on those offensive losses, and to all those of you who will immediately spot the logical flaw with the numbers that follow, button your lip. Nobody likes a wisenheimer and we will fight to the death for our right to present misleading statistics.

Out go Michael Cammalleri, Todd Bertuzzi, Adrian Aucoin and two-thirds of a Matthew Lombardi season. In 2008-09, that added up to 73 goals.

In come Jay Bouwmeester, Fredrik Sjostrom, Nigel Dawes and two-thirds of an Olli Jokinen season. In 2008-09, that added up to 53 goals.

(Those of you who would argue for the inclusion of the Jim Vandermeers, Wayne Primeaus, Andre Roys, Jordan Leopolds, Colin Stuarts, Brian McGrattans and Staffan Kronwalls into this equation, the term "statistically insignificant" leaps to mind.)

So the horribly oversimplified question is, can the Flames be one-quarter of a goal per game (or, if you prefer whole numbers, one full goal every four games) better defensively in 2009-10?

Well, with the exception of Lombardi, who contributed on the penalty kill, none of the departing players was considered an asset on the Miikka Kiprusoff side of centre ice so the knee-jerk answer is an unqualified maybe.

Bertuzzi in particular had shortcomings in his game that pretty much wiped out any benefit that could have come from his 44 points. (And by the way, the group of NHLers who amassed exactly 44 points in 2008-09 included such luminaries as Rich Peverley, Antti Miettinen and Lee Stempniak, and they all had better plus-minuses that the Old Cannoli Truck's minus-13. But we digress).

The Flames will also choose to believe they can improve their power-play production even with the loss of Cammalleri's team-leading 34 man-advantage points. While Calgary ranked eighth in offence a season ago and only Detroit and Boston scored more five-on-five goals, the Flames were just 19th in power-play goals.

No matter how you choose to crunch the numbers, a case can be made that the lost offence is not as devastating as one might first assume.

With training camp rapidly approaching, the real issue is how realistic is the requisite defensive improvement by a team that too often in 2008-09 took only a passing interest in that aspect of the game? That and will any such improvement matter if Kiprusoff doesn't provide at least average NHL starter goaltending? Despite all the advanced metrics out there, there's no better calculator for those problems than the 2009-10 season.

Oh, and by the way, it's two weeks and two days until main camp begins.

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Lefebvre is in that awkward stage of hockey following -- old enough to fondly remember the Cleveland Barons and too set in his ways to accept charity points and games where there's a winner but apparently no loser. As a long-time ink-stained wretch, he's also a firm believer in the old Bobby Knight quote about journalists: "All of us learn to write in second grade, but most of us go on to better things."
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#1 Jonathan Willis
August 27 2009, 12:49PM
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You forced me to look up Rich Peverley, who went on an absolutely crazy offensive tear after getting shipped to Atlanta.

Ahh, the magic that is Ilya Kovalchuk.

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#2 b1ackhat
August 27 2009, 03:44PM
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The defense has had such a major upgrade that I feel we can get away with scoring less - should that occur.

This team will be a defensive BEAST next year.

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#3 Alon
August 28 2009, 11:15AM
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@ b1ackhat:

Providing that JBO's defensive numbers weren't padded by the fact that he was playing in front of the best 5V5 goalie in the league, and in the worst division in the NHL. If those things are true then yes, Calgary's defense will be a beast.

The defense got better for sure, but how much better is the key to equation

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