Flames Comparables - Part 1

Kent Wilson
September 28 2010 09:39AM

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 03:  Olli Jokinen#21 and Jarome Iginla #12 of the Calgary Flames stand for the National Anthem before the NHL game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena on December 3, 2009 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Coyotes defeated the Flames 2-1.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

 

(This post comes courtesy Robert Vollman, a freelance writer, Calgary resident, Flames fan and contributor to the hockey analysis site Puck Prospectus. Robert has decided to take a look at some of the Flames primary offensive contributors through an historical lens in order to try to predict their output for the coming season.

The article has been split into several parts. Today we'll look at the guys who will be the nucleus of the Flames attack - Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen, Alex Tanguay and Rene Bourque).

It can be very difficult to predict how many points a player will score from season-to-season.  Just look at the scoring leaders from the last two seasons – Henrik Sedin was a career 80-point man who suddenly decided to score 112 at age 29, and Evgeni Malkin was 23 years old and coming off seasons of 106 and 113 points only to get stopped at 77.  Did these guys switch jerseys or something?

 It may seem like a fool's errand to even attempt to predict this year's scoring totals for the Calgary Flames, and maybe it is, but we've got a secret weapon.  We're going to use an approach that searches the NHL's long history for players with statistics similar to our beloved Flames – their “comparables.”  I'd like to emphasize that a player's comparables are not similar players, but rather players with similar statistics.  There's a bit of a difference since two very different players can have similar statistics under certain circumstances, like ice-time or their linemates, but if those circumstances continue, then it can be enlightening to study the futures of even those comparables.

 Let's briefly review the methodology – skip this if you like – and then jump right into it. 

 The Methodology

There are many different ways to search history for comparable players, each one with its advantages and disadvantages.  For purposes of this article we're normalizing all NHL data to modern-day scoring levels, then looking only at two things: goals-per-game and assists-per-game, weighted equally.  For each player we're looking at their current season, their previous season, and their historical totals prior to the previous season, weighted 4-2-1.  We're throwing out any player that is more than 2 years younger or older than our target player, played the wrong position (defense vs forward), and anyone that either retired or had particularly severe injuries.

 Bottom line, we're going to wind up with ten players whose career arcs are similar to our target players.  Some players will be more similar in terms of over-all career, other players will be more similar with regards to the two most recent seasons, over-all we should have a mix. 

 We've arbitrarily chosen to look at the ten closest comparables, even though we'd probably be better off with a larger sample size, even if that meant including less similar players.  So why 10?  Even with ten players you'll already observe a pretty wide spread in expectations, and in my experience the picture doesn't necessarily get that much clearer when looking at 25, 50 or 100.  Ten players is also more fun - it allows us to get more up close and personal with the comparables, and make a better determination of where our target player actually fits on the scale.

 So without further ado, let's jump right in with the very heart and soul of the Calgary Flames.

  Jarome Iginla, 33

 Two years ago Jarome Iginla scored 50 goals at 30 years of age, something you don't see very often.  With the exception of his award-winning 2001-02 season at the magical age of 24 (52 goals, 96 points), Iginla was an established 30 goal, 70 point man until age 29, when he scored 124 goals and 281 points in 234 games over the next three seasons.  Perhaps age inexplicably caught up to Iginla last year as he returned to previously established production levels - will he stay there, or bounce back?

 

Age Closest Comparable       GP  G  A PTS

31  Darryl Sittler  1981-82  73 22 27  49

32  Daniel Briere   2009-10  75 26 27  53

31  Johnny Bucyk    1966-67  59 17 29  46

32  Daymond Langkow 2008-09  73 20 27  47

33  Sergei Fedorov  2002-03  80 38 49  87

34  Alex Delvecchio 1966-67  70 16 37  53

35  Jim Pappin      1974-75  71 29 23  52

31  Jim Ward        1937-38  48 12 20  32

33  Yvan Cournoyer  1976-77  60 21 25  46

31  Valeri Kamensky 1997-98  75 27 43  70

 

Worst (Langkow)              82 23 30  53

Best (Fedorov)               82 38 51  89

Average                      82 27 37  64

 

It's not easy to find good comparables with players as unique as Iginla, but given that our list has 4 Hall of Famers, it can't be that far off.  Iginla's even-strength scoring rate has fallen from 3.3 points per 60 minutes in 2006-07, to 2.8, 2.5 and finally 2.0 last season – barely above the 1.8 threshold for top-six players.  The survey on Behind the Net's “Reasonable Expectations” series has him pegged for around 75 points, which strikes me as reasonable if he stays healthy – a safe bet since he has missed games only once since the lock-out.  Hopefully Iginla will channel his inner Bucyk, who played for 11 more seasons, including a monster year at age 35.

  Olli Jokinen, 32

 Olli Jokinen scored just 86 points in his first 314 games until he finally had his breakout season – once again at magic age 24 - leaping to 36 goals and 65 points.  After the lock-out he hit his prime, scoring a whopping 180 points over 2 seasons, before making his gradual decline to the 50 point player he is today. 

 

Age Closest Comparable       GP  G  A PTS

34 Dean Prentice     1966-67 68 21 21  42

34 Pit Martin        1977-78 74 13 28  41

31 Magnus Arvedson   2002-03 80 17 22  39

34 Ivan Boldirev     1983-84 75 24 35  59

31 Bobby Holik       2001-02 81 26 31  57

30 Rejean Houle      1979-80 60 14 23  37

33 Shawn McEachern   2002-03 46 10 17  27

30 Joe Carveth       1948-49 60 15 28  41

33 Kelly Kisio       1992-93 78 20 41  61

31 Steve Reinprecht  2007-08 81 16 30  46

 

Worst (Arvedson)             82 17 23  40

Best (Boldirev)              82 27 39  66

Average                      82 21 32  53

 

His unusually low shooting percentage of 6.4% will probably bounce back to 10%, meaning he ought to beat the average of 21 goals if he stays healthy – a safe bet since he has missed just 13 games in the past 11 years.  Given the precedent set by Kisio and Boldirev, along with the ample supply of first-line opportunities with Iginla and Tanguay, he's a possibility for 60 points.  Anything more is pushing it.

 Alex Tanguay, 30

Alex Tanguay scored at an amazing 3.3 even-strength points per 60 minutes clip as a Flame in 2006-07, setting career highs of 59 assists and 81 points, his 3rd straight point-a-game season.  He quickly returned to the 2.2-2.5 range before dropping below the top-six level last year in Tampa Bay with 1.7, resulting in just 10 goals and 37 points, his first ever negative plus/minus, and his first year without play-off hockey.  Is it the beginning of the end, or will he bounce back?

 

Age Closest Comparable       GP  G  A PTS

32 Kenny Linseman    1990-91 56  6 24  30

32 Wayne Connelly    1971-72 68 17 24  41

30 Leo Labin         1961-62 48  3  4   7

33 Billy Reay        1951-52 68  7 42  49

30 Charlie Sands     1941-42 38 10 16  26

30 Murray Oliver     1967-68 74 16 22  38

31 Don Grosso        1946-47 33  0  2   2

29 Neal Broten       1988-89 68 13 29  42

30 Bill Hay          1965-66 68 18 29  47

30 J.P. Parise       1971-72 71 17 17  34

 

Worst (Grosso)               82  0  6   6

Best (Reay)                  82  9 52  61

Average                      82 14 28  42

 

All but two of these seasons would be improvements for Tanguay, although it is revealing that those two exceptions basically marked the premature end of a career. 

 Scoring more goals should be easy for him.  Tanguay's 11.0% shooting percentage last year may not sound low, but it's his lowest ever – Tanguay is like Andrew Brunette and doesn't shoot unless he has an open net (and even then he looks for the pass).  If he managed 27 assists during an off-year on Tampa's secondary line, he'll surely do way better on Calgary's top line.  If 14 goals and 28 assists are the expectations, and if he plays at least 78 games as he has in 3 of the past 4 seasons, then I'll take the “over” in both cases.

 Rene Bourque, 29

 Rene Bourque didn't make his NHL debut until he scored 34 points at age 24, which stood as his career high until coming to Flames, where he has posted 98 points in 131 games and topped the team in even-strength scoring rate over the both seasons.  The key issue with Bourque has been injuries, having missed a whopping 90 games since the lock-out.

 

Age Closest Comparable       GP  G  A PTS

27 Geoff Courtnall   1989-90 80 26 30  56

28 Nik Antropov      2008-09 81 27 30  57

30 Darcy Rota        1983-84 59 20 15  35

27 John Gould        1976-77 79 12 20  32

28 Glen Murray       2000-01 64 18 21  39

30 Donald Audette    1999-00 63 19 25  44

29 Bobby Schmautz    1974-75 56 17 26  43

28 Scott Young       1995-96 81 18 35  53

27 Martin Gelinas    1997-98 64 17 20  37

30 Bob Pulford       1966-67 67 16 27  43

 

Worst (Gould)                82 13 21  33

Best (Schmautz)              82 25 38  63

Average                      82 23 29  52

It's amazing how Bourque's comparables are a tight pack of offensively-gifted 2nd-line wingers, it helps us feel that we have a solid projection here.  In my view, Bourque has proven that he is the Flames best scorer; granted he doesn't face shut-down players as often as those on the top line.  With a healthy year alongside some hot linemates and I could easily see Bourque earn a 25-goal, 60-point season.

 (Look out for a continuation of this series later this week)

 

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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 Balthazar
September 28 2010, 11:36AM
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Interesting even if slightly depressing.

I'm not sure how this season will play out, but I don't think very well.

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#2 Rain Dogs
September 28 2010, 12:07PM
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I know... I'm a goalie, we're different. We sometimes don't get things, but I'm pretty confused.

I don't understand how this works, which maybe is fine because I don't particularly disagree with the 'results' ...if the average is a likely prediction.

First, Jokinen. How did we get those players? Why does Boldirev read 24-35-59 and then best: Boldirev 27-39-66. Is that a mistake? or adjustments?

As well, why is McEachren 33yo year used with half the season lost to injury. Joker is 32, wouldn't it be better to use McE's 32yo year 15-31-46? plus it's both their 7th full year, post breakout season.

Why would we base predictions on Bourque playing a full year? He's never played a full year and will likely be injured.

Lastly, Tanguay..Is Leo Labin a comparison? He scored less than 10 goals and 35 points for 5 of his last 6 NHL seasons, with the 6th being the one used and 44goals and 144pts over that 6 season span.

In Tanguay's recent six seasons, the first of those was 79pts, 2nd - 78, 3rd - 81. In any two of those seasons he scored more points than Labin did in 6, and more goals as well. I'm confused why Tanguay measures comparible to Labin, when Tanguay seems to be a much greater player. Labin's 'lucky' season in those 6 years was 16-28-44 in 63games. Worse than Tanguay in 50 games in Mtl.

I'm not trying to be overly critical, just to understand the chosen player/year comparisons.

Don't even get me started on Don Grosso. Guy had one season over 20goals and 50 pts. Other than that, he looks like David Moss or Boyd, or Nystrom... not Tanguay. Plus it's from the 40's! 300+ players a year and their was no better comparison than Don Grosso, when we're needing 10 players.???? Ok, now I sound overly-critical.

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#3 Rain Dogs
September 28 2010, 12:09PM
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@Rain Dogs

Oh, nervermind. The Boldirev numbers are adjusted for full season. Well, the other stuff still confuses me. Also, wouldn't it be better to include adjusted numbers for likely injury. ???

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#5 PrairieStew
September 28 2010, 01:36PM
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Interesting comparables. For example Iginla : Briere and Cournoyer considerably different players, much smaller and play a different style. Kamensky reasonable comparison style wise but how is his career arc of 200 career goals and 500 points anything close to Iggy ?

Most of the other guys on that list are centres, except for Bucyk and Jim Ward - whoever that is ?

I can't argue with the numbers - it is close to what I did at M & G by comparing Iggy to 5 recent power forward RW's in Lanny, Shanahan, Hull, Verbeek and Bellows - career goals from 474 to 740. In that comp - just on goals the 5 comparables had averaged 27.8 goals in their 33 year old season; however Iggy had outperformed the group over the last 3 years by an average of 6.7 goals.

http://www.matchsticksandgasoline.com/2010/7/2/1550604/jarome-iginla-the-aging-of-a-star#storyjump

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#6 Robert V
September 28 2010, 02:00PM
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Please don't apologise Lawrence, these are very common questions. In fact, very rarely are we not surprised by the comparables.

You answered your first question, and the answer to the 2nd about McEachern is that his 33-year-old season was the one that most closely matched what Jokinen is heading into. But I like what you did there - used the information presented as a springboard to take a closer look and further refine our picture of what to expect from Jokinen.

As for Bourque - everyone is 82 games. My intention was to predict goals/game and assists/game, not number of games. Sometimes the fewer things you try to predict the more accurate you can be.

Ok now onto Leo Labbin and Don Grosso. Here are the normalized (ie. era-adjusted) numbers.

Alex Tanguay Goals/GP and Assists/GP is last year: 0.13, 0.34 year before: 0.31, 0.48 career previous: 0.29, 0.59

Leo Labin last year: 0.l3, 0.31 year before: 0.24, 0.43 career previous: 0.23, 0.36

Don Grosso last year: 0.12, 0.27 year before: 0.28, 0.42 career previous: 0.26, 0.39

As you can see, Labin and Grosso's stats are all within spitting distance of Alex Tanguay, except for career assists-per-game.

Like I said, some players are going to have similar careers but not-so-similar recent seasons, others - like Labin and Grosso - will have similar recent seasons but not-so-similar careers. Some will be a little better and some, like Labin and Grosso, will be a notch worse.

Further to Grosso, he was a top-line player for four seasons, led the team in scoring once, and was usually in the top 5 - sounds like Tanguay (until last year).

But upon further investigation of the players, feel free to throw some away, and feel free to ignore ones prior to a certain season.

Again - excellent questions. If anyone else has more, please share them. Don't be shy, this is meant to be fun - I have no ego involved here. Fire away!

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#7 Robert V
September 28 2010, 02:09PM
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Ok now let's cover Iggy for PrairieStew.

Normalized, Iggy's goals/game and assists/game, prior to two seasons ago, was 0.44 and 0.47. Kamensky's was 0.33 and 0.49. So he was not the goal-scorer, but was an equivalent playmaker.

But look at their goals per game over the past two seasons. Iggy: 0.39, 0.45 and Kamensky: 0.39 and 0.41. That explains it. Like I said, some players are similar more recently, others more historically.

Plus, Kamensky was last on the list, therefore not a strong a comparable as the others.

As for Briere and Cournoyer, as I said, "Comparables" are not similar players, they're players with similar statistics. Because of ice-time and linemates, similar players can have very different statistics, and vice-versa. We're trying to predict statistics here, so as long as whatever made the statistics similar continues, then the comparables should be insightful.

I hope that helps. Please, keep the comments coming.

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#8 PrairieStew
September 28 2010, 05:34PM
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@Robert V

So Kamensky is last on the list because he is the least comparable ? Are those ranked in order of comparability ?

I looked up Briere and, although the same age as Iggy - he has played over 350 fewer games and has 400 fewer points. I get the fact that you have normalized for ppg and projected based on a full season, but does that actually give one a valid result ? To me trying to predict Iginla's results from Briere's numbers is really tough. There's no guarantee that a guy who gets hurt would have continued to score at the same pace, in fact decline is probable.

Older players also tend to get injured more often, so a comparison of actual seasons is probably more accurate than a mean of ppg.

Really tough to think that pre - expansion numbers mean anything - even when normalizing for scoring - we are talking about the era of 2 to 3 minute shifts; not the 45 seconds of today. Anyway, keep it up - I like looking at things in differnt ways - the 4-2-1 rating is very good; I wonder if that formula should change based on age - are you going up the ladder, imn mid career, or coming down ? I did some 3 year moving average stuff but didn't post it anywhere... maybe later.

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#9 Robert V
September 28 2010, 08:37PM
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PrairieStew - thanks a lot for taking the time to think about this in such detail.

As you've gathered, the fundamental idea is to look through history for players with career arcs similar to today's players, and using them to gain insight into what's going to happen next.

Sounds like a simple idea, but as you've observed, it's a lot harder in practice. Why? Because it's not that easy to draw those arcs!

As I mentioned, there are many different ways to draw arcs, I chose one that I thought would be simplest as an introduction, easiest to wrap our minds around and explore, and yet is one of the more reliable.

I'm glad you enjoyed the 4-2-1: that's in Vukota as well, as we've observed that the most recent season has twice the preditive power as the one previous.

If there's interest, let Kent know and perhaps he'll invite me back for a closer look at Iginla using a variety of different arc-drawing approaches. Thanks again for your interest!

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