Flames Forwards: Who's Coming Up Short?

Robert Vollman
November 28 2011 01:21PM

 

If you've been following the weekly Black Box statistical summaries then you've also been following the OZQoC Charts, and you know how the Flames forwards are being used. Here's how it sits today at the season's one-quarter mark.

The players near the top of the chart are the ones facing the top opponents, and the ones on the left side of the chart are the ones getting to start in the offensive zone the most often – an easier, and more offensive-minded role.

You don't need to be an OZQoC expert to know that the expectations for players like Curtis Glencross and Olli Jokinen should be different than those for Roman Horak, or Tom Kostopoulos, but what should those expectations be instead?

By searching the league for players being used in similar ways we can see how the Flames are stacking up against their peers on other teams.  It will probably be obvious which players are playing their roles very well and which ones might need a change of assignment.

The Top Six

Using goals and assists, the so-called box score statistics, to figure out who is doing their jobs well has two fundamental flaws.  First, luck has a tremendous influence on scoring over such a small time period.  Secondly, and more importantly, it doesn't tell us how well everyone is doing defensively.

Since hockey is a team sport, it's more interesting to see how well the Flames are doing as a team with each of these players on the ice, and in a way that involves as little luck as possible at this early stage of the season.  That's why we'll use Corsi%, which is simply the percentage of all attempted shots made by the Flames rather than their opponents, something over which luck has a far lighter grip than which ones actually go in.  Let's start with the top line.

Jarome Iginla, 48.7%
Similar players: Eric Staal, Joe Thornton, Patrik Elias, Anze Kopitar, Patrik Berglund, Derek Stepan, Jeff Carter, Patrick Marleau, David Backes, Dainius Zubrus
Group Corsi: 51.7%

Jarome Iginla is off to a horrible start, and a big reason why the Flames are struggling early is because their top line is getting beaten every night.  The New York Rangers' Derek Stepan is the only comparable top-line player with whom his team is enjoying less success than Jarome Iginla. 

Often lack of scoring can be chalked up to bad luck, but in Iginla's case it is largely bad performance.  In that at least he has company in his statistical clone Eric Staal, both of whom are scoring at half the rate of anyone in the group except Patrick Berglund.  If Iginla doesn't improve then he'll have to begin his inevitable transition to a 2nd-line player.

Alex Tanguay, 48.2%
Similar players: Patrik Elias, Patrik Berglund, T.J. Oshie, Michael Grabner, Anze Kopitar, Dainius Zubrus, Eric Staal, Brian Gionta, Patrice Bergeron, Chad LaRose
Group Corsi: 52.4%

There's only a slight difference in role between Alex Tanguay and his linemate Jarome Iginla, so there's no surprise that he has all his peers' teams are enjoying more success with heir top lines than the Flames.  At least Tanguay is right in the middle of the pack scoring-wise, closest to Dainius Zubrus.

Teams use their top lines in different ways, and there are roughly four that are used very similarly to Iginla and Tanguay, which we can put in box-score format for those less comfortable with our fancy stats.


Unit              GP  G A PTS +/- Cap Hit
Thornton/Marleau  38 14 25 39 +12  $13.9M
Elias/Zubrus      40 15 17 32  +4   $9.4M
Oshie/Backes      42 13 13 26 +10   $6.9M
Iginla/Tanguay    40  9 16 25 -17  $10.5M
Staal/LaRose      46 10 14 24 -24  $10.0M

In contract, let's look at their most frequent partner, David Moss.

David Moss, 53.0%
Similar players: Bryan Bickell, Patrik Elias, Patrik Berglund, Ales Hemsky, Michael Ryder, Michael Grabner, Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Brandon Dubinsky, Chad LaRose
Group Corsi: 48.6%

Beofreb eing injured, David Moss was frequently being used as a top-line player, alongside two superstars who are clearly struggling, and still beating his peer group. In fact, only New Jersey's Patrik Elias has been more effective in this role so far.  And despite the the solid collection of players in his peer group, Moss's even-strength scoring rate is roughly middle of the pack, closest to Michael Grabner. Great work by Moss.

Let's move on to the second line, anchored by Olli Jokinen and Curtis Glencross, which we'll treat as a single entity since their usage has been identical.

Olli Jokinen, 47.4% and Curtis Glencross, 48.0%
Similar players: Brad Richards, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Derek Stepan, Radim Vrbata, John Tavares, Matt Moulson, Joe Pavelski, Justin Williams, Eric Staal
Group Corsi: 50.0%

Though the second line has certainly been below par, it would be considered typical in New York, where both of the state's teams have lines with similar roles, and similar results, once again shown in more familiar box score format.


Unit                       GP  G A PTS +/- Cap Hit
Tavares/Moulson            38 14 13 27  -4   $6.9M
Jokinen/Glencross          39 12 13 25  -8   $5.6M 
Richards/Stepan            36 10 14 24  +3   $7.5M

Coach John Tortorella shakes up his top lines frequently, with Brad Richards frequently playing with Ryan Callahan or Brandon Dubinsky while Derek Stepan might play with Marian Gaborik, but their over-all roles they've been assigned are similar to Jokinen and Glencross, which is why we've grouped them together here even though they're not a unit persay.

Scoring-wise both Glencross and Jokinen are middle of the pack.  Speaking of the middle of the pack, let's look at Calgary's.

The Middle Pack

Lee Stempniak, 50.6%
Similar players: Matt Calvert, Marco Sturm, Daymond Langkow, Richard Park, Jamie Benn, Steve Downie, Antoine Vermette, Paul Stastny, Magnus Paajarvi, Frans Nielsen
Group Corsi: 53.6%

It's interesting to see Daymond Langkow, the player for whom Lee Stempniak was traded, playing the exact same role in Phoenix – though for a lot more money, and with far greater results.  Stempniak is doing well, but he should be doing much better based on his average usage against lighter competition.

Stempniak has the 3rd highest scoring rate among his ten-player peer group, right after Jamie Benn and Frans Nielsen.  Magnus Paajarvi's the worst of the bunch Corsi-wise saving Stempniak, along with Steve Downie and Frans Nielsen, from being the lowest.

Rene Bourque, 45.0%
Similar players: Dustin Brown, Kris Versteeg, Colin Wilson, Derek Roy, Teddy Purcell, Teemu Selanne, Tomas Fleischmann, Tyler Bozak, Chris Neil, Jordan Caron
Group Corsi: 50.3%

Rene Bourque, the most common linemate for Olli Jokinen and Curtis Glencross, is scoring at the same super-low scoring rate as Jarome Iginla, easily the lowest scoring rate of his ten-player peer group, far behind Dustin Brown.  If we had taken ice-time into consideration when compiling the peer list then David Booth would have knocked off Jordan Caron, and saved Bourque from being the lowest scorer.

Kris Versteeg is the real jewel of the group, being the highest scorer, followed by Teddy Purcell, and  barely trailing Chris Neil for the best Corsi percentage, along with Colin Wilson.  Needless to say Rene Bourque is dead last, right below Tyler Bozak.

Roman Horak, 40.3%
Similar Players: Jordin Tootoo, David Steckel, Patrick Kaleta, Aaron Asham, Matt Cullen, Philippe Dupuis, Loui Eriksson, Scottie Upshall, Paul Gaustad, Gregory Campbell
Group Corsi: 47.7%

Rookie Roman Horak has been assigned an interesting role – lots of time in his own zone, but fortunately against fairly average or weak competition.  Among those sharing that type of duty, Horak has the 2nd highest score rate, the same as Matt Cullen's, and a notch down from Loui Eriksson.

Unfortunately the team as a whole hasn't done nearly as well as Roman Horak, suffering worse than even Nashville, with Jordin Tootoo's 41.7%.  It's a tough role to succeed at, as the only ones with Corsi percentages over 50% include David Steckel, Patrick Kaleta (the two lowest scorers) and Scottie Upshall.

The Fourth Line

The one line that has outplayed their opponents most night is their fourth line, composed of veterans Tom Kostopoulos, Tim Jackman and Matt Stajan.

Tom Kostopoulos, 48.9%
Similar Players: Trent Hunter, Ben Eager, Matt Hendricks, Petteri Nokelainen, Kyle Clifford, Tom Wandell, Blake Comeau, Maxime Macenauer, Trevor Lewis, Scott Nichol
Group Corsi:  49.1%

Tom Kostopoulos' clone this year has been San Jose's Brad Winchester, who just missed this list.  They have the highest scoring rate of the bunch, and are both middle of the pack in Corsi percentage, well ahead of Ben Eager's lowly 37.8%, but well shy of Trent Hunter.

Tim Jackman, 52.4% and Matt Stajan, 52.7%
Similar Players: Kyle Clifford, Blake Comeau, Scott Nichol, Petteri Nokelainen, Maxime Macenauer, Ben Eager, Nicklas Bergfors, Trent Hunter, Devante Smith-Pelly, Matt Hendricks
Group Corsi: 47.1%

If Tom Kostopoulos has been playing like Brad Winchester, then Tim Jackman closest comparable has been Los Angeles' Kyle Clifford.  Their usage has been virtually identical, as has their middle-of-the-pack scoring, and how well their teams have done around them.

Once-promising rookie Trent Hunter has been off to a better start than his humble numbers suggest, leading the pack in scoring along with Nicklas Bergfors, and like Matt Hendricks, enjoying more team success than the others.  Fortunately Stajan and Jackman are only slightly behind by that measure, and their scoring has been middle of the pack, like Hendricks and also Patrick O'Sullivan.  Here's how their fourth lines shape up to those being used more similarly.


Fourth lines                  GP G A PTS PIM +/- Cap Hit
Kostopoulos/Jackman/Stajan    54 2 9 11  51  -5   $5.0M
Winchester/Desjardins/Murray  56 4 5  9  40  +2   $1.8M
Hunter/Clifford/Lewis         51 1 5  6  34  -3   $2.2M

Five million is a rather large cap hit for a fourth line, especially since one with Brad Winchester and Kyle Clifford would presumably have identical results.

Verdict

The Flames top lines, which are being used similarly to those you'd find in New York, San Jose, New Jersey, St. Louis and Carolina, are being outplayed, with David Moss standing out as the sole shining light.  One could argue transitioning Jarome Iginla to the 2nd line, but there's really no one to take his place.

Things actually get deceptively worse as you approach the middle of the pack, with Lee Stempniak actually underachieving, and Roman Horak and Rene Bourque getting blown away.  Only on the fourth line have the Flames been beating their opponents every night, but it has come at the cost of using higher-priced forwards rather than young, developing and inexpensive players.

Hopefully things may turn around with players like Mikael Backlund and Brendan Morrison re-added to the mix, otherwise Calgary's struggles may continue through the second quarter of the season.
 

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Rob Vollman of www.HockeyAbstract.com is a regular feature writer on ESPN Insider, co-author of Hockey Prospectus 2010-11 and 2011-12, and regular contributor to NHL Numbers, Flames Nation and Arctic Ice Hockey. Innovator of Player Usage Charts, Quality Starts, GVS (Goals Versus Salary), the Snepsts Projection System, and known for work in League Equivalencies (NHLE). Twitter: @robvollmanNHL
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#1 SmellOfVictory
November 28 2011, 01:51PM
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Beofreb!

That's a pretty rough-looking set of results on the whole.

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#2 the-wolf
November 28 2011, 02:19PM
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I'll say it again, Horak should be lpaying top minutes in the AHL. I like the kid, but there's only so much he'll develop his game at the NHL level.

And yes, that means at the expense of ice time currently being given to the 'ringers' they added this year like Kolanos.

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#4 Bob
November 28 2011, 03:19PM
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the-wolf wrote:

I'll say it again, Horak should be lpaying top minutes in the AHL. I like the kid, but there's only so much he'll develop his game at the NHL level.

And yes, that means at the expense of ice time currently being given to the 'ringers' they added this year like Kolanos.

I have to agree. I know alot of people want the "kids" on the big club, but with the likes of Horak, Brodie, Byron and Smith would it not be better to give them another year playing top minutes in the AHL? If the team was a contender maybe it makes sense for these players to stay up and learn but all they're seeing up to 1/4 point is how to make mistakes and not play the system the coach wants.

If the team is just going to muddle through this year and wait to see what changes come in the off-season why not just bring Kolanos up here to ensure room and playing time for our future roster? Which brings me to another point...Why is PL3 still with the big club? He's not seeing any action and I can't see a scenario where he would be lacing them up anytime soon.

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#5 FireOnIce
November 28 2011, 03:44PM
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@Bob

If we had had PL3 on the ice during Sunday's game in Minnesota, it might have deterred Clutterbuck from spraying water at Iginla!

Seriously though, we should have just taken a flyer on some low round kid rather than waste it on this goon.

When I saw the title to this article, my first thought was "Bourque, Iginla, Tanguay, etc" and the list goes on. We don't need statistics to know that this team is underperforming - they went from something like 6th in the league in scoring to near dead last in the span of a few months. We've been shut out 3-5 times already and only managed 1 goal in more outings than that.

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#6 ?
November 28 2011, 10:04PM
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Horak is in a pretty interesting spot. If I read the chart right, he's playing against average competition, but is starting most of his shifts in the defensive end. That seems a little strange to me; never really seen a coach do it before.

As for Boatanchor Matt Stajan, it's amazing how he managed to stay in the lineup as long as he did. The guy was gettin fed some of the easiest minutes on the team, and he still was playing poorly. Boggles my mind that D.Sutter signed him to that big extension.

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#7 the-wolf
November 29 2011, 09:39AM
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Darryl's way of saying, "you don't like the trade? I'll show you!"

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#8 jeremywilhelm
November 29 2011, 09:40AM
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No word on Hannan or Tanguay?

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#10 the-wolf
November 29 2011, 10:15AM
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Doesn't change the fact that he played like crap when he came here and everyone at the time still denounced the signing.

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#11 Nolan Moore
November 29 2011, 12:42PM
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The problem with Stajan (BTW, I was excited when he came into the NHL scored a goal in his first game)but he played on such bad Leaf teams that his lined got all the scoring. Look at some bad teams, the mid 90's Flames the best scorer got 50-60 pts. Did that mean they were great players? No. Players arent really playing to expectations with a few exceptions, Byron, Horak. Hmm and what kind are they? Young, enthusiastic. (I thought they'd fizzle so i'm eating crow on that) What this team needs is a coach who will promote offense not stifle it.

Lastly, is it me or is Feaster really starting to be testy? (job on line?)The questions he gets, sure they are dumb at times but gotta take them. Glad he isnt in Toronto, he'd be murdered. I think maybe he should defer to Connie, everyone loves him and somehow he sounds believable.

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#12 the-wolf
November 29 2011, 01:02PM
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I hear you, it's like you're in a hockey market, not TB anymore. Expect some difficult questions.

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#13 rickithebear
November 29 2011, 01:02PM
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Oilers fan who lives in the 960 AM area and listen to flames discussion. So end up following both.

Love the comp to Zone start chart. lays out the groups a player belongs to. for trending vs. results.

One stat I like is knowing how a team has to perform the rest of the way to make the playoffs.

Oilers need to be a 98PT season pace (32-20-6)for the rest of the year to get 96 points. based on a 8 OL total. which is less than the average of 10 So still a chance but top 6 pace for the conference.

The flames are in the area the oilers had to sadly accept two years ago.

You are currently in a lottery position and the team has to play at a 106 PT pace (35-18-7) for the rest of the season. It is unrealistic to expect the team to play as a top 3 team in the league in the more difficult conference.

Your currently have two incosistent but good goals/Million rate in Bourque and Glencross. Great prospect depth for 2nd and 3rd line centers in Horak, Reinhart, and Backland with one of them moving to the wing. A future 55-60 point winger in Barschi.

Decent young base for D in Bouwmeester, Giardano, Butler, Brodie. Irving showing signs of being a starter.

Iginla, Tanguay, Kiprisoff should get you very good prospect return. One hopefully being a top 20 for center points (60). To add to a base the oilers did not match 3 years ago.

Maintaining the lottery pick should get you a high scoring big winger or offensive Dman.

The decision has to be made but your young base is there for shorter rebuild.

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#14 ville de champignons
November 29 2011, 07:29PM
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@rickithebear -

You are very intelligent for an Oiler fan. I suspect you may be faking it. Anyway, if the Oilers can shore up their D and make it into the playoffs (also, if Khabibiibiulan keeps playing out of his mind), they could be real trouble for somebody in the first round. Wishing them well because the Flames probably need the Oilers to have some success in order to expedite the process here.

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