The Run

Kent Wilson
August 12 2011 09:57AM

 

 

(Kevin posts regularly as sincity1976 here in the comments. A little while ago he posted a comment and I asked him to follow-up with an entry into the blog-off. He obliged. This work dovetails with the "why the Flames are mediocre" series here at FN)

By: Kevin Hatch**

Prior to December 23 the Flames were dreadful. To that point they had managed a record of 15-19-3 and were flirting with the Oiler’s in the bottom of the Western Conference. The most optimistic Flames supporters were polishing their pitch forks preparing to run the Sutter’s, King, and most of the Flame’s star players out of town.

Likely in self preservation Ken King asked Darryl Sutter to step down. The music started and like munchkins the Flames players started singing and dancing around the house that fell on their departed GM. They also started winning. Whether it was the change in leadership or just dumb luck from December 23 on the Flames posted a record of 26-10-9. Undeniably elite numbers.

So started the debate. If the Flames can play like that for 45-games then surely we don’t need to make significant changes! It must have been Sutter after all!! That darn Sutter willing our players to play so poorly. In Feaster we trust! Yay. But what about the first 37-games? Don’t they count for something? Rather then fight the good fight and point out that an NHL season is 82-games, that the Flames have missed the playoffs for two seasons in a row, or that we were first round exits for the four seasons before that, I thought I would instead look at the run itself and see if we were truly playing at an elite level.

Methodology

To evaluate the run I looked at the Flames record against teams that finished in the top 4 in each division. I also looked at their performance against both playoff and non playoff teams. I did this for the periods before and following December 23.

I considered both win percentage (% of total games won) and point percentage (% of total available points earned). The assumption is that the Flames are returning with a nearly identical roster to their 2010 team. Therefore if we evaluate the Flames performance against the top teams last season we should have a fair reflection of their likely performance in the upcoming season.

(The data can be found here for those interested)

Period Prior to December 23:

Top 4: W 18%, P 27%

Playoff Teams: W 33%, P 38%

Non Playoff Teams: W 50%, P 53%

As I said above, the Flames pretty dreadful. The club clearly struggled against playoff teams, particularly the top seeds. However, Calgary was also barely marginal against the non-playoff teams.

December 23 and On:

Top 4: W 9%, P 32%

Playoff Teams: W 27%, P 45%

Non Playoff Teams: W 87%, P 89%

The Flames saw a dramatic improvement against non-playoff teams, taking a staggering 89% of the available points when playing against them. In 23-games they lost only 2 times in regulation and once in OT! Unfortunately they didn’t see much of an improvement when facing playoff teams. In fact, they actually saw a reasonable drop in win % (and last time I checked there were no ties in the playoffs). They played 22 games against playoff teams during this period so the sample size was reasonable.

Conclusion

Even at their best the Flames really struggled against playoff teams. Against the top 4 seeds in both conferences the Flames won only 3-times in 22-attempts! I say it again, against the top teams (WSH, PHI, BOS, PIT, VAN, SJS, DET, ANA) Calgary manged to win just 3 our of 22 games. Not exactly an endorsement for the club to beat any of them 4 out of 7 times.

Its not all bad. Anyone who watched the games can tell you the Flames upped their level of play in the final half of the season and made a decent showing on the ice against the NHL’s top teams. But as their record shows, it wasn’t good enough to amount to wins. If the Flames can get off to a decent start next season, I have no doubts they will probably make the playoffs. If they draw the right team they could even win a round. However, their inability to win against the NHLs top team really limits their chances of going deep in the playoffs or ultimately walking away with a cup. As Darryl Sutter will tell you, anything can happen in the playoffs. But a 1 in 16 chance is already low enough without making the attempt with a roster that has proven incapable of beating the elite squads.

Kevin is an avid Flames and hockey fan living in Calgary. This is his first attempt at writing an analysis based hockey blog so feel free to give him the gears. Kevin works in the pre-hospital medical profession managing an emergency call centre, but he is also a full time hockey nut and opinionated ass. Feel free to tell him how it is at kehatch@hotmail.com.

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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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#2 Kevin R
August 12 2011, 10:06AM
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Interesting but no suprises. I think everyone knows that this team lacks the young talent to compete at a higher level. Anyone thinking we are tearing things up is going to be hugely disappointed. More importantly, I hope Flames Management know this as well. Not enough young NHL ready prospects, too many overpaid marginal players. Oh well, same ole same ole. Wonder if there is any chance Montreal would take Stajan for Kostitsyn?

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#3 Ryan Fancey
August 12 2011, 10:07AM
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Great article.

Surprised to see the dip in win% to playoff and specifically top 4 teams. Would have suspected those numbers stayed the same or improved marginally at least.

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#5 Domebeers.com
August 12 2011, 10:13AM
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A good read, although a bit of a recap. Gave you a good vote.

A nice follow up post would be to look at this seasons schedule and to forecast what the record could look like, taking into account the run was largely fuelled by the schedule maker.

Or, if you believe in puppy dog tails and magic, Jay Feasters stereo.

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#6 Craig
August 12 2011, 10:49AM
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So with this info in mind, is it likely that Daymond Langkow helps us to get a few more points against playoff teams? or are we banking on beating the !@#$ out of bottom feeders to get in? 9% against the top 4 is abysmal, what factor will get us more wins out of the overtime losses??

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#8 Vintage Flame
August 12 2011, 11:12AM
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Pretty good article Kevin.

@Ryan I'm not surprised at the number to tell you the truth. It seemed that the Flames would go on these stretches of pounding on the bottom feeders,thus the 89%, but then would run into one of the top 4 teams and forget what the game plan was all about. This was evident to me in the game against Boston at the Dome. The Flames should have won the game. They had momentum and home ice. What I saw though was a team scrambling around their own end and could never get anything going. They couldn't drive the play north. Boston didn't exactly look like a powerhouse, but they had possession and could easily walk into the Flames zone.

@Craig Not sure if Langkow will specifically help us against the top 4 teams. Like I said before the Flames have nothing short of an uphill battle there ALL year. I'm hoping that Langkow is going to be the difference-maker with the middling teams. The Phoenix, the Anaheim and Dallas game types. Sure it was a huge win by the Flames against Dallas that started "the Run", but it was devastating losses to the Ducks and Yotes that sealed the fate of the Flames going to the post-season.

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#9 Scott
August 12 2011, 11:16AM
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The Robyn Regehr factor will be huge I think. Given his foot speed I don't think losing him will hurt our win % against playoff teams. They are simply quicker and more skilled to have their play diminished by a great, albiet slower defensemen. I think his impact against the marginal and non-playoff teams was where his impact was greatest. Look for that 50% win percentage from the first half, to continue through the season without Reggie.

With Langkow in play, that 9% win percentage may go up to 12-15, while the 27% win percentage may go up to 30-35.

Overall I figure we will end up with 85-90 points this year.

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#10 mslepp
August 12 2011, 11:49AM
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Good stuff, Kevin!

I pretty much just nodded through the whole entry. The numbers don't lie, that's for sure.

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#11 mikeecho
August 12 2011, 12:02PM
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I think in a lot of respects, it's foolhardy to make a comparison based on where teams finished the season to make a determination about what the "run" last year means to this team.

In my honest opinion (although much harder to do), is compare the Flames record against teams that were in a playoff position at the time the Flames played them (as opposed to how those teams ended up at the end of the season).

1. When the Flames beat Dallas on Dec 23rd, Dallas was leading the Pacific Division with strong play and appeared to be a team that may make waves in the 2010-11 season. Based on the "how they finished at the end of the year" methodology, it looks like they just beat another hapless non playoff team which was absolutely not the case at the time.

2. There was a stretch where the Flames were in anywhere from 4-8th spot, yet using the "how they finished at the end of the year" methodology makes it appear that anyone who played the Flames during that time frame were playing a soft non playoff. team as opposed to a team that was playing well enough to hold a home ice playoff spot.

In the end, I'm not sure if it will have a material impact on what the Flames performance looked like during the 2010-11 season, but I think it would present a much better picture IMHO.

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#12 Tach
August 12 2011, 12:38PM
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This is a good post, but as I went back and re-read it I found myself thinking "Good teams win more games against worse teams. That seems unsurprising."

The real question is was the reason Calgary lost out on the playoffs because they had an even worse record against the best teams in the league than the teams they were in the hunt for a playoff spot against.

For example, the average point percentage of the top 4 teams in each conference was 64.5% or 105.8 of a possible 164 points. If the Flames garnered 32% point percentage against these teams, it seems we only lost about 3.5% or 6 points to league average. We should have more than made those points up against the weak sisters.

While I think this is on the right track, I feel like we need to set a baseline somewhere before we can say "Aha, here is the answer".

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#13 Shutout
August 12 2011, 12:41PM
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The article is somewhat misleading in that it believes the Flames team played differently in two segments. I would contend that in fact they played in three segments, and the third is most likely the one we should expect for the coming season.

October 7 to December 21 the team had a record of 14-18-3. From December 23 to March 9 the team had a record of 22-6-6. From March 10 to April 9 the team had a record of 5-5-3. Now this last segment is by far the smallest segment, but in my opinion it is also the most important segment.

The wins that the team piled up in January and February were at a time when those teams that are Stanley Cup contenders tend to have a lull in their drive and competition. And those teams at the bottom of the standings come to realize that they are going to miss out and go through the motions of finishing the season. It is during this time period when it is the easiest to make up ground and look good. Calgary is not the first team to have this type of middle season success.

When the games mattered and the Flames had their playoff hopes in their hands too often they came up short in effort and in talent. This shortfall was magnified in the first segment of the season last year, and will be a constant underlying current for the coming season.

The team has missed the playoffs two years in a row and in both years it is because they did not have the drive to finish race. They are a team lacking in heart and character, and dont have the skill or depth to make up the difference.

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#14 JF
August 12 2011, 01:10PM
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Good articule... It told me something I didn't know (Albeit something I fully suspected). That's what I look for in quality media, better insight and knowledge then before I experienced it. This get's a positive (and highest thus far) score from me.

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#16 Sincity1976
August 12 2011, 01:43PM
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Thanks everyone for the feedback so far.

@mikeecho

I see where you are coming from. There is no way to 100% quantify the strength of each victory. However, beating Dallas while they were on a run is simply beating a mediocre team while they were on a run. I would prefer to look at our performance against consistently strong teams which are best represented by the final standings.

@Tach

Even without a benchmark having a win percentage of only 9% against top 4 teams in both conferences is pretty bad. That said here are the numbers for the two Stanley Cup finalists (didn't have time to do more):

VAN (Top 4): W 56% P 66% VAN (Playoff): W46% P 55%

BOS (Top 4): W 53% P 59% BOS (Playoff): W 42% P 51%

Calgary at their best while on their run:

Top 4: W 9%, P 32% Playoff: W 27%, P 45%

@Shutout

I actually started looking at the data in the 3 segments you suggested. However, there just wasn't enough data for the final period. Also, the same trend existed. The 5 games the Flames won during that period were against non-playoff teams. The 8 games they lost were against playoff teams.

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#17 positivebrontefan
August 12 2011, 02:05PM
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Nice article to get things started. Take a much bantered about point and put some real numbers to it to clearly state a point that has been debated alot.

I enjoyed it, a good read.

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#18 Tach
August 12 2011, 02:56PM
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@Sincity1976

Yeah, that is a stinker number no matter how you look at it.

Those Vancouver numbers are damn impressive though. 66% point percentage against the other top third of the league? No matter how lame they were/are they were full value for their Finals run last year.

"The 8 games they lost were against playoff teams." Of course, if one loss to each of Phoenix and Anaheim had been a win, they would have had one win against a playoff team. And been in the playoffs in what, 6th spot? God last season was so crazy close for the 4 to 10 spots.

Also @Kent, re medicority v. playoffs, I get where you are coming from. But how do you define "better than mediocre". I mean, Anaheim was 4th nominally last season but their shooting stats were no fresh hell (-3.8 shots per game) and were probably only saved with a .924 save percentage in the 59 games of Emery and Hiller. If Kiprusoff had been at .924 the Flames probably finish in that 4th spot and we aren't having this discussion.

I mean, is it really that simple - the Flames pay $5.83 million to a mediocre goalie so they are mediocre?

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#19 Al MaGuinness
August 12 2011, 03:05PM
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@Kent Wilson

You could be right about this but, unlike Detroit, Calgary has not had continuity in the next generation of stars to support the ones making all the money. If the secondary or tertiary scoring is not there, it makes it easy to shut down the Big guns. That, and teams need youthful exuberance to drive the elder statesmen on the team to push themselves.

With regard to the blog - I like the point made by the author. I believe it was Sportsnet that did a similar analysis during one of the last few games of the season. It, too, showed a remarkable rationale for why the Flames finished where they did last year. The interesting challenge is looking at how this team now measures up against teams around them that have significantly improved and may take more games from the flames this year... I am thinking of Columbus, as an example. Typically the Flames can walk all over them (went 3 - 1 last year) but I think that advantage may be gone now. The same might be said of St. Louis and Edmonton. Those teams may not pass the flames in the standings but points will be harder to get when the team visits those cities.

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#20 Sean Elekes
August 12 2011, 03:53PM
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Interesting article Kevin. I was blown away by the percentage of wins from the first half and the second half. It sometimes doesn't tell the whole story, but tells you everything. I like to look at the Flames 1st half 15 wins and 22 losses @ 36.6% winning percentage. Then in the second half 26 wins and 19 losses @ 63.4% winning percentage. At the end of the season, Calgary finished with a 500 record. The real story why the Flames could not make the playoffs.

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#21 Greg
August 12 2011, 04:06PM
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I thought that was the best of the submissions thus far... More analysis whereas the rest seemed to be just opinions (that weren't always well stated/informed either). Good work Kevin!

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#22 ?
August 12 2011, 05:39PM
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Good article. I can't believe the Flames play down the stretch against good teams was that bad. I certainly hope Gio can take Regehrs minutes

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#23 ChinookArch
August 12 2011, 06:35PM
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Tach wrote:

This is a good post, but as I went back and re-read it I found myself thinking "Good teams win more games against worse teams. That seems unsurprising."

The real question is was the reason Calgary lost out on the playoffs because they had an even worse record against the best teams in the league than the teams they were in the hunt for a playoff spot against.

For example, the average point percentage of the top 4 teams in each conference was 64.5% or 105.8 of a possible 164 points. If the Flames garnered 32% point percentage against these teams, it seems we only lost about 3.5% or 6 points to league average. We should have more than made those points up against the weak sisters.

While I think this is on the right track, I feel like we need to set a baseline somewhere before we can say "Aha, here is the answer".

I think you missed the point of the article. It tells us that the Flames aren't even close to being considered in the top 1/3 of teams. Before and after the run, they could not get it done. At least it was fun watching them bottom feed.

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#24 SarahM
August 12 2011, 07:18PM
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Mostly, I find this both incredibly unsurprising and terribly depressing. If this trend continues, and there's no reason to think that it won't, given the roster, this confirms what most of us already know: even if they can squeak into the playoffs, the Flames don't have much of a chance to get past the stronger teams in the West. And the squeaking in may be a stretch, especially as it seems that a few of the non-playoff teams have improved this off-season, and the Flames...have not.

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#25 Kevin R
August 12 2011, 07:38PM
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ChinookArch wrote:

I think you missed the point of the article. It tells us that the Flames aren't even close to being considered in the top 1/3 of teams. Before and after the run, they could not get it done. At least it was fun watching them bottom feed.

That was my same conclusion. In reality, the analysis should look at the top 10 teams in the conference & top 8 teams in the Eastern conference. That should give you a better idea of where you stand against the better teams in the NHL. The other 11 teams would comprise what I would call the SAP percentages (Squander Away Points). The SAP numbers may have more relevance to coaching versus player talent levels. The thing the Flames had that wont be there next year was the U factor (Urgency). Once Daryl was fired & the focus shifted to individual player performance, several players elevated their game a notch higher than other NHL clubs after D Sutter's firing/resignation and we road that U factor right thru January & early February. Once other teams raised their U factor we saw what the results were. Not that I am saying our players are bad, there is a fine line between success and failure in this league & right now the Flames are on the wrong side of that fine line.

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#26 ZKman
August 12 2011, 07:55PM
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How could you not like this piece? It was clear, concise, to the point and based on good judgment and insight. We need more of this and less of “it’s all Sutter’s fault” long live Feaster… My glass is half full … Iggy will have a great year, as will Gio… Kipper ?? We’ll finish 7th

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#27 BCFLAME
August 12 2011, 08:36PM
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Good read. Kudos.

I think, however, that the Flames' performance against some of the top teams was attributable to the dreadful performance of certain individuals, as opposed to the play of the entire team.

I mean, Kipper absolutely sucked for great lengths of time, even during the first third of our miraculous run.

To make matters worse, I vividly remember that our bottom three defencemen were atrocious in many games throughout the season. Given the Sutters' prediliction for defensively responsible hockey, the ability of the opposition to capitalize on mistakes or score soft goals was decisive in close-scoring games.

For example, in the last two games against Detroit the Flames deserved the wins, as I recall they out-chanced and outshot the Wings, but ended up with nothing but one overtime loss. The unfortunate outcomes were entailed by key mistakes by the likes of Sarich and company,as well as below-average outings by Kipper.

Hell, I think if Kipper comes back and plays like he did two seasons ago, the team will make the playoffs just on the merit alone -this despite losing Regher. I mean, that's how much he blew last year (how many times did the opposition score from seemingly impossible angles?).

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#28 schevvy
August 12 2011, 10:15PM
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@BCFLAME

I agree 100% with this. As you said, Kipper absolutely stunk in January during the first third of the run, hell, he was nothing spectacular all year. The end of the year too, the Anaheim games come to mind as pathetically poor. If the Flames can maintain their level of play for a whole year and Kipper plays like an "average" goalie instead of a " mediocre" goalie, Calgary makes the playoffs

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#29 Emir
August 12 2011, 11:33PM
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Good article and an enjoyable read. I would've liked it if you developed your final point more and drove the conclusion home. I have a tendency to write the same way so I sympathize. I'm sure I have been in a debate on this topic before but I never noticed the stark numbers quite like I did here at this article.

On another note, Kent, can we have more than just one writer brought on? I think there have been three writers who should get a crack, I know we are looking for only one, but you know what I mean.

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#30 Gatorade
August 13 2011, 02:18AM
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Are we just unable to shutdown the 1st lines of the elite teams? I think we are. We do have enough scoring power to beat non-playoff teams, but really skilled players always seemed to succeed, even at the 'dome. I think a modern hockey team needs a couple of gritty forwards to get under the skin of opposing star players. We have too many offensive-minded players in 3rd & 4th lines.

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#31 mendicant
August 15 2011, 11:24AM
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I've been wanting to see those exact stats (and was too lazy to look it up) but it confirms exactly what I was thinking about the last half of the season.

I remember watching the games against the good teams and seeing them fall apart. This confirms my suspicions.

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#32 Section205
August 15 2011, 10:58PM
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It's amazing what conclusions can be drawn from last year's results. I disagree with the "doomed for mediocrity" conclusions.

The massive change in W% against weaker teams (50% to 89%) absolutely proves that the team made a huge improvement during the season. Surprise, we still have room to improve.

I could counter the article and say our record against the "West Final Four" was a respectable 6-8-4 last year.

I could also say against the East and West Final Fours we were a respectable 8-10-4

I'd add Chicago, because they took Vancouver to game 7 OT, and also they are still one of the top teams IMO. 10-12-4.

There were several of those games we lost but did not "deserve" to lose. That is to say we didn't get outclassed by the opponent and in fact the opponent was fortunate to get two points. Detroit and Anaheim in particular. Further, injuries to Moss and Morrison (both made huge contributions in Jan/Feb) happened to coincide with a tougher schedule in March/April.

I am not suggesting we were "ripped off" or that we deserved better. We didn't.

A couple of teams absolutely owned us. Vancouver 1-4-1, Phoenix 0-4-0, Anaheim 0-1-3. Other than Vancouver (who owned a lot of teams last year) I don't see a huge talent gap with the other teams that beat us.

So my conclusion is that the only playoff team I would have been significantly worried about was Vancouver. Vancouver was favoured over everyone. Every other team would have been fine for me in a playoff matchup.

I could stretch it this way... Based on last year, we already owned the bottom half of the league and if we had modestly improved from 3-19 to 9-13 (imagine playing better between Oct 25 and Dec 23) then we would have had the 2nd best record in the league. Sounds outrageous, but the data is true.

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