The Question of Jarome Iginla - Part 2

Kent Wilson
April 21 2010 11:00AM

Calgary Flames v New York Islanders

 

In part 1, we established that Iginla struggled relative to expectations (and his cap hit) this past season. It was perhaps an unncessary bit of data-mining for those that watched him this season since simply observing his play on a nightly basis was enough to establish that Jarome was off in 2009-10. That said, it's always good to check one's perceptions against measures of performance.

In part 2, we'll look compare Iginla's season in context of his career arc. In part three, I'll investigate what it might mean for the organization and his future in Calgary.

The Decline

There's plenty of evidence that NHL hockey players, in general, begin to slow down after the age of thirty. The slope and severity of the decline ranges from player to player, but time always wins out in the end. It's merely a question of when a player succumbs to the rigors of the game.

I considered beginning this section with Iginla himself, but figured the object lesson of Marcus Naslund would be more instructive. Mainly because most readers will remember Naslund: both in his prime and his recent step into the elevator shaft of obsolesence. Iginla and Naslund battled for the "best player in the league/western conference" earlier in the decade when the latter was tearing through the competition as part of the "West Coast Express" (Morrison-Bertuzzi-Naslund) for the Vancouver Canucks. Here's his career point-per-game pace plotted by age:

Naslund peaked at 30, scoring 104 points in 2002-03. He had two seasons within range before and after the apex, but as you can see, things went south pretty rapidly once he was on the wrong side of the big three-oh. He lost his 32 year old season to the lock-out (although he performed well in the SEL at the time) and was still a PPG player at 33, but fell precipitously out of the ranks of the elite after that point. He would go on to score 60, 55 and 49 points in his final three seasons (34, 35, 36 years old respectively) before ultimately retiring. The take-away from this is: despite dominating the league at 30, Naslund was nonetheless a medicore NHL player by the time he was 36 years old.

Here's Iginla's career to-date:


 

Jarome's progression isn't quite as tidy as Naslund's, but the trends are there. Similar to the former Canuck captain, Iginla peaked a bit later than usual in his career with his 1.34 PPG season in 06-07 (94 points in 70 games) as a 29 year old. It's been downhill since then, but with a couple of seasons at least in range of the apex. 

Now, none of this is meant to suggest that Iginla will necesarrily follow the path of Naslund and become a ragged facisimile of his former greatness by middle age. However, what this little case study does establish is that's it's possible: three years removed form a peak season is a long time once a player has entered the twilight of his career. 

Of course, points-per-game can be a rather poor measure of the overall quality of a players ability. Factors beyond his control can either elevate or surpress a guys scoring, potentially masking the true value of his efforts. In order to determine whether the recent down-turn is reflected in other aspects of his game, I investigated Iginla's underlying numbers over the last few seasons or so:

Production Efficiency - Even strength

2007-08 - ESP = 65, ESP/60 = 2.85

2008-09 - ESP = 57, ESP/60 = 2.46

2009-10 - ESP = 48, ESP/60 = 2.08

production efficiency - power play

2007-08 - PPP = 33, PPP/60 = 5.37

2008-09 - PPP = 32, PPP/60 = 4.39

2009-10 - PPP = 21, PPP/60 = 3.72

Efficiencies walk hand-in-hand with point-per-game pace, so the fact that he's regressed across the board shouldn't be too surprising after glancing at the graph above. However, a similar trend can be observed in his possession numbers:

Corsi (raw/per 60)

2007-08 - +313, +13.46/60

2008-09 - +199, +8.81/60

2009-10 - +14, +0.59/60

Corsi is mostly moderated by quality of opposition and starting position. The former didn't change much for Jarome over the seasons given the fact that he's frequently targeted by opposing coaches. As such, he ranked inside the Flames top three in terms of quality of opposition each year.

Starting position or "zone start" is where a player begins each shift. More offensive zone starts tends to inflate a guys corsi rating. Iginla was around 53% in terms of offensive zone to defensive zone face-off ratio in both 07/08 and 09/10, but was actually well clear of that in 08-09 (58.5%) thanks to the team's overall ability to move the puck north and Keenan's penchant for setting up the top guys to succeed offensively. Adjusting for zone starts makes the decline even more pronounced:

Adjusted Corsi

2007-08 - +274, +11.78/60

2008-09 - +105, +4.63/60

2009-10 - (-21), -0.89/60

The fact that Iginla was theoretically underwater in terms of possession is perhaps the most disturbing result from the recent season. What's more, it's not out of line with the trend we see here: for example, despite the fact that the Flames were excellent in terms of possession in 08-09, Iginla himself was rather middling. These are surer signs that Jarome has left his elite years behind him.

There are other indications that the captain is no longer driving results. Not only has his power play production rate slipped every season since his peak in 06-07, so has his effect on the club's production as a whole. In 07-08, the Flames GF/60 rate with Iginla on the ice during the man advantage was 7.69. With him on the bench, it was a ghastly 2.38, for a difference of 5.31 goals per hour. No other Flames skater was remotely within range.

In 08-09, the team managed 6.58 GF/60 with Iginla on the ice and 4.39 with him on the bench (+2.19/60 difference). He trailed the likes of Mike Cammalleri (+3.01) and Dion Phaneuf (+3.22) in terms of regular PP contributors that year. 

This past season, however, was perhaps the first of his career where Iginla didn't drive results on the PP. As noted, his PPP efficiency was mediocre, as was the club's goal rate with him on the ice (5.26/60). Perhaps most telling though, is the fact that the Flames actually scored more often with Iginla watching the action (5.42/60, -0.16/60). That's especially egregious because Iginla played on Calgary's "first PP unit" and was therefore gifted the clubs (ostensibly) superior line mates. In addition, it's not like the Flames had a second unit featuring the likes of Thornton or Ovechkin, meaning the difference can't be claimed to be driven by a really effective second set of players. By way of comparison, Rene Bourque was a difference maker to the tune of +1.01 goals per hour, while waiver wire pick-up Nigel Dawes was up around +2.08/60. Even Daymond Langkow, who had a pretty blah year in terms of offense himself, was on the positive side of the ledger (+0.98/60). So either Iginla wasn't very good this year or was very, very unlucky. Going by the data and my own observations, I'd say it's likely the former.

Of course, none of this guarantees that a rebound year is out of the question. In fact, I assume the Flames will improve offesively next season primarily because they can't possibly get any worse. If the club draws a few more penalties and Iginla spends more time on the PP, for example, his counting stats and PPG pace will increase as a matter of course. However, the Flames decision makers should be mindful of the overall trend in Iginla's play as well as the general tendency for NHL skaters to break down after the age of 30. Even if Jarome manages to bounce back next year, I would suggest the chances he will sustain those gains through his 34, 35, 36 year old seasons at "slim" given the information we have. Which ultimately brinds us to the question at hand - whats to be done with Jarome Iginla?

We'll look at that in part 3.

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Former Nations Overlord. Current Fn contributor and curmudgeon For questions, complaints, criticisms, etc contact Kent @ kent.wilson@gmail. Follow him on Twitter here.
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#1 HockeyJunkie
April 21 2010, 11:24AM
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Hey,Pete I think that the Flames should get rid of iginla because he just plain sucks and the biggest reason that the flames did not make the playoffs is because of the Phanuef deal, Sutter is a Idiot because he got nothing back for those Ex Leafs but anywhoo better luck next season. I am a die hard flames fan by the way.

GO Flames GO!

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#2 David Staples
April 21 2010, 11:37AM
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Thoughtful work as always, Kent.

I'm not sure about this, but I suspect that the drop-off rate for players in their 30s is greater for a physical player, such as Iginla, than it is for a finesse player, such as Naslund.

I studied comparables for the physical Souray as opposed to the finesse Visnovsky, and it certainly seemed to me that total finesse players, such as Visnovsky, seem to have more staying power into their 30s.

Of course, Iginla also gets it done with finesse, so this may not be such an issue with him.

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#3 Arik
April 21 2010, 11:43AM
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Who's Pete? Kent, have you been lying to us this whole time?

Good stuff, by the way.

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#4 Nolan
April 21 2010, 12:32PM
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While Iggy's return is dimishing. The Flames need to look to bring in (draft, UFA or trade) someone who will eventually be the face of the team in 3-5 years when he is gone. The other factor is, he plays well when he is with other great players. Some players lift others to new standards (ex: Gretz, Lemieux, Crosby) while others, like Iggy, play mediocre but play significantly better with better players. The Flames organization should realize that. Lastly, his down season, can't all be placed on him. Hasn't anyone noticed just about everyone on the team had a down season offensively? Not just a few points/goals but significantly. When 1 or 2 players are off that's coincidence, when the entire team is, there's something else. Could it be the "system"?

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#5 House
April 21 2010, 01:51PM
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@Nolan: I totally agree. That's what happened after Theo left...Iggy was brought in and we saw #12 as the face of the franchise. It's not like DS hasn't tried...he has made all manner of deals to compliment Iggy, but, for whatever reasons the chemistry (for instance) with Joker wasn't there. Hate to say it, but when Iggy played with Crosby in the Olympics, he probably thought he died and went to hockey Heaven! Iggy is not and should not be shouldering the blame...he has worn the jersey with pride and honour, and has represented the City of Calgary and the community more than would be expected. Yes his numbers are down, but I believe he has not yet found that 'perfect' line-mate yet that he can truly make him as good as we all know he can be.

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#8 Nolan
April 21 2010, 04:40PM
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This goes to the fact that you don't sign anyone over 30 to a long term big contract. I love Jarome. I personally believe you can't find a nicer guy. That being said was this year an off year for him? Again I say, you can't say that the team sucked on offense this year without looking elsewhere. If you drive a car getting 35mpg then switch gasoline and get 25mpg and blame bad traffic, weather, etc, but all things being equal it was down, it's maybe the gas. Such as in this system, almost EVERYONE was down, it's the system.

Last year I truely think Kipper had an off season, one reason the team floundered a bit, but he was the only one who had a definitive "off" season, thusly the team did ok (baring late season injuries to almost everyone). But then again when you stack your team with nothing but defense, what do you expect? Lastly, I remember one of our beloved Sutters asking "What's wrong with a 2-1 game?" Nothing really if it happens once in a while and YOU WIN!

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#9 House
April 21 2010, 08:01PM
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@Kent. Great point about the Crosby's of this world...and yes the offense did suck. The good news is the D didn't, but you do need an offense to win games..that said - and this is a *real* stretch..other than Backlund, do you think Jaffray may have helped the cause???

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#10 SmellOfVictory
April 21 2010, 10:33PM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

Actually, I think the issue for Jarome is related to this: the things that made him an elite player are starting to fall away - strength, shot power, speed of release. I've never seen him lose as many puck battles along the boards as he did this year, for example, and his shot rate was the lowest it's been in nearly a decade because he seemed to have a lot of problems getting the puck off his stick before being checked.

Frankly Jarome has never been a "complete" forward (few are, of course). His skating is fairly average, he isn't a defensive dynamo and his passing/vision is probably no better than "good", as is his stickhandling. Previously, he was so strong in those other areas mentioned that his few weaknesses didn't overly matter much. However, as the strengths begin to deteriorate, he won't be able to fall back on, say, his speedy skating or sublime passing skills because they just aren't there.

Considering the fact that he was developed as a power forward, it's pretty unlikely that there was a lot of focus on developing his passing skills; if he focused on becoming a playmaker, he might potentially be able to turn into one. The skating is obviously just a natural limitation, but to say that he's screwed just because he might be losing some of his central skills is a bit much.

But that's in addition to the fact that I disagree as to the cause of his decline. You say physical, I say mental. He doesn't look like a guy who tries sucks to me - he looks like a guy who sucks (in relative terms to peak Iggy) because he's just not putting in the same amount of effort. I'm not saying he's necessarily going to be the team-carrying dynamo that he was previously, but still think he has the potential to live up to his salary until renegotiation time.

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#11 JF
April 22 2010, 09:18AM
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@House

Why would Jaffray have helped the cause?

I mean Jason Jaffray is a bit of a feel good story. Undrafted guy who refused to give up on his dream and crawled his way through the minor pro ranks on his own, but he's 29 years old and can't produce at a PPG level in the AHL. You can excuse that for a guy like Backlund whose not anywhere near is prime yet but Jason Jaffray is as good as he's going to be.

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#12 House
April 22 2010, 09:47AM
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JF wrote:

Why would Jaffray have helped the cause?

I mean Jason Jaffray is a bit of a feel good story. Undrafted guy who refused to give up on his dream and crawled his way through the minor pro ranks on his own, but he's 29 years old and can't produce at a PPG level in the AHL. You can excuse that for a guy like Backlund whose not anywhere near is prime yet but Jason Jaffray is as good as he's going to be.

As I said, it was a *real* stretch...I guess desperate times call for desperate measures...I am certainly not an armchair GM, but it was just something I was wondering about..

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#13 Pat Steinberg
April 22 2010, 01:21PM
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Great work as always Kent, a real, real interesting read.

I'm kind of at this point with Jarome: I believe he is a guy who can remain a high-impact player for the remainder of his contract IF it's an ideal situation for him.

That takes a lot of things into consideration, not the least of which is who he's playing with. I still believe with the right fit, he can be an extremely dangerous player on a very consistent basis.

That raises two questions though. First, is it good business to keep around an asset that makes 7 million dollars if you also need to make amplify his working conditions? And second, can the Flames acquire "those type of players" without trading Jarome Iginla?

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#14 illy
April 23 2010, 12:45PM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

Actually, I think the issue for Jarome is related to this: the things that made him an elite player are starting to fall away - strength, shot power, speed of release. I've never seen him lose as many puck battles along the boards as he did this year, for example, and his shot rate was the lowest it's been in nearly a decade because he seemed to have a lot of problems getting the puck off his stick before being checked.

Frankly Jarome has never been a "complete" forward (few are, of course). His skating is fairly average, he isn't a defensive dynamo and his passing/vision is probably no better than "good", as is his stickhandling. Previously, he was so strong in those other areas mentioned that his few weaknesses didn't overly matter much. However, as the strengths begin to deteriorate, he won't be able to fall back on, say, his speedy skating or sublime passing skills because they just aren't there.

these comments have to be the most ill-informed I've ever heard. Jarome has one a scoring title, and nearly had 60 assists when playing with cammy last year. I'm pretty sure that in itself makes him a very good play-maker. A guy who has one 2 gold medals and carried a team to a game 7 in a Stanley cup final constitutes a complete player in my books. Oh, and I am pretty sure he was a huge reason why Canada one those 2 gold medals. One bad season on frankly was a bad team and everyone is down on Jarome. He's playing with guys with no finish who could be playing with Gretzky in his prime and still not score. There isn't one hockey person in the NHL who would agree with these comments.

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#15 B
April 23 2010, 05:19PM
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I disagree with Kent on the Darryl Sutter debate, but I couldn't agree with him more on his analysis of Iginla. Kent, you should have compared Iginla with a Tkachuck or a Shanahan type player, but point taken. Looking forward to part 3.

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