Yay Optimism - Forward Depth

Robert Cleave
August 23 2011 11:47PM

              

 

As the Flames prepare for the last season before the next lockout (there's only some much optimism I'm capable of), one of the likely strong suits of this year's team will be the middle of the order. We've spent plenty of time around these parts bemoaning the lack of a clear number one center, and absent some fairly strange occurrences, that's not likely to change, but the Flames' overall depth at forward is the one factor that might haul them into the second season. With that in mind, there's one line I'd like to see assembled from opening day.

I don't think that anyone would argue that Olli Jokinen, try as he might, is really cut out to be a number one center on a top team. What we did see from him last year, however, was improvement, and more importantly, recognition by Brent Sutter that he could be useful provided he wasn't playing first lines without fail.

The portion of the season that got me thinking that Jokinen might have found a proper pair of wingers to help him along the way was that nice run from December to February that carried the club into the race. During that stretch, Jokinen often found himself playing with David Moss and Curtis Glencross, largely against second or third lines, and they appeared up to the challenge. From the Dallas game December 23 to the St. Louis game on March 1, they shot the lights out by the underlying numbers. Via timeonice.com, here are their EV-tied figures during that time period:

 

  Shots% Fenwick% Corsi%
Jokinen 0.559 0.547 0.541
Glencross 0.58 0.581 0.58
Moss 0.577 0.571 0.56

 

It's fair to note that they all played with other linemates during this period, but the combination was effective when used, and via Dobber Hockey, I noticed another interesting tidbit. The trio wasn't just out-shooting, but pretty productive in terms of scoring during their brief time together as well. The following chart shows how much of their offence came when working as a unit.
 

  EV Icetime % EV PTS with EV PTS w/o PTS % With
Jokinen 8.95 9 24 27.3
Glencross 10.45 7 28 20
Moss 16.21 6 17 26.1
 

The effect of slightly easier icetime and more conducive linemates certainly appeared to aid all of them. The effect was most marked for Jokinen, as he spent 9 percent of his EV icetime with Glencross and Moss while accumulating 27 percent of his EV scoring for the season. Hmm. The other two gents also seemed to get a bit of a boost from their shared time, and given the good outshooting numbers and the fact that Kent's EV scoring chance numbers had them about 55 % to the good as a unit, it's fair to say they likely were decent value for the points.

It's certainly worth noting that all of them had some nice shooting percentages during that period, but if you're outshooting at 55-58% when the game is tied, you're playing very well unless you start every shift in the other team's end, and there's no evidence these three got that much help from Brent Sutter. As a result, I'm inclined in general terms to believe that Jokinen, Moss and Glencross were effective, bounces or otherwise.

The Flames are in a bit of an odd spot. They really could use Backlund or Stajan or Langkow to take the first line job by the throat, and Rene Bourque would almost certainly benefit from a rejuvenated Daymond Langkow more than anyone, but beyond those minor issues there's every chance that they might have a group on their hands that could outplay the middling forwards on other teams by a fair margin.

I'm hardly in a postion to tell Brent Sutter what to do, but on the off-chance he was interested in my advice, I might start the year using Jokinen, Glencross and Moss against the middle of the pack, just to see if last year's good work was a fluke. With the previous solid history of Glencross and Moss in particular, I have some sense that those three might well give the Flames one line they could trust at some level. Throw in the likes of Jackman, Morrison, plus the other forwards that don't end up playing with Tanguay, Iginla or Bourque, and the Flames should be able to ice a very strong bottom six.

That all might seem like cold comfort in a league where stars drive teams, but as a blind squirrel once noted, you go to war with the army you have, not the one you wish you had. The Flames' calling card this year will be depth up front, and Jokinen, Glencross and Moss could be the line that gives the Flames something to bank on against the middle orders most nights. 

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Robert Cleave is a perpetually grumpy Winnipegger.
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#1 ChinookArch
August 24 2011, 07:10AM
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I like your view on the offensive depth of the Flames. I believe the success of this line will dictate the overall success of the entire forward group. It was hard not to like the Jokinen centering Glencross and Moss last season. The line looked very comfortable together and they looked like a group that was very tough to play against. If this line continues with the success it had last year, then there is real reason for optimism. It will take some pressure of the Iginla, Tanguay line to score, and more importantly will open up the the 3rd and 4th lines to beat up on their counterparts. Kent Wilson has noted illustrated how much Jackman in particular killed his competition on a fairly regular basis. In a weird way this team may be pinning its offensive hopes on the bottom lines and not the top line - meaning they'll be much better then most other lines they play.

It's just crazy enough to work!

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#2 Super_Gio
August 24 2011, 08:20AM
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You know, I was pretty critical of Moss the season before last, but when he showed up last fall he looked like he bulked up big time. He pretty much showed how capable he is of being a power grinding forward and shut me up big time - especially when he got injured and how noticeable his loss was... But yes this line seemed very effective at times and I would love to seem them reunited come October.

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#3 Luc
August 24 2011, 08:54AM
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I always assumed they would be reunited... My worry is who is going against the big boys? Langkow + bourque +.... ??

That's the tricky part. My HOPE is stajan steps up and morrison can play 4th line but......

Long shot

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#4 Kent Wilson
August 24 2011, 09:16AM
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If I remember correctly, this was the cobination some of us were clamoring for during Jokinen's first tour of duty through these parts.

If this trio plays together, then you have

Tanguay-Backlund-Iginla someone (Hagman/Morrison)-Langkow-Bourque Kostopolous-Stajan-Jackman

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#5 Section205
August 24 2011, 09:21AM
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I am very pleased with the options we have at forward. Brent likes to line juggle (maybe too much) but he really started to find lines that click.

You can start with Iggy, Tanguay, Backlund + OMG + Langkow, Bourque, Hagman + TK, Stajan, Jackman. But there are successful variations that worked.

Moss, TK and Jackman were all very good together for a long stretch.

Glencross, Stajan and Hagman had a good stretch together against weaker comp.

Morrison clicked with Iggy and Tangs. He also fits on the wing in a 2nd or 3rd line.

Stajan had some success with Iggy and Tanguay, but you have to shelter that combination. Example - Sedin line faced favorable comp and had 74% off zone start.

To me, it looks like a lineup where any line can score the next goal. We may have a 1B first line compared to elite teams, but then two legitimate second lines and our 4th line is as good as many 3rd lines. There are no easy outs.

The key is coaching strategy to maximize scoring differential by spending less time in the defensive zone. You can't just roll 4 lines. You have to create effective matchups. Don't put Iggy's line against top line. That is langkow's job. Jokinen is the 2nd choice, not the 1st. Will wait to see if Backlund can handle tougher competition.

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#6 Scott
August 24 2011, 09:27AM
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Using the lines mentioned above. Would we not have a good opportunity as Section205 mentioned, to give the Iginla line a huge cushion in terms on zone start% ? We don't have a Kesler per se, but I think a tandem of shutdown lines of Lankows line and Jokinen's line might suffice.

The forward depth gives us great versatility and depth, and lets just hope Backlund will be given a shot at top line minutes and can hold his own.

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#7 Kent Wilson
August 24 2011, 09:27AM
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@Section205

Morrison clicked with Iggy and Tangs.

I agree with pretty much everything you said but this. The myth from last year is that Morrison did well on the first line.

He didn't.

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#8 Kent Wilson
August 24 2011, 09:34AM
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@Scott

That would be my hope. Here's thw way I'd run things:

Lnagkow line - 40% ZS Jokinen line - 50% ZS Iginla line - 55-60% ZS Jackman line - 45-50% ZS

Sutter opted to shelter Jackman et al last year, but I don't think that's necessary as long as they are mostly playing against nobodies.

Jarome and Tanguay should be given the high ground as much as possible. They can't drive possession really, but that won't be an issue if they start in the offensive zone as much as possible.

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#9 Scott
August 24 2011, 10:06AM
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@Kent Wilson

I'm okay with the Jokinen and Jackman ZS% i think, the one thing that worries me about about sinking Langkow that often is the poor faceoff percentages. It seems to me like Langkow is quite poor in terms of faceoffs for centremen on this team. If he is only winning about half his faceoffs, theres a lot of grunt work needed by that line to come out ahead.

I would like to see a bit more than 60% ZS for the Iginla line, Iggy doesn't back check anyway so might as well use him solely for offensive starts.

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#10 Kent Wilson
August 24 2011, 10:10AM
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@Scott

He's bad at face-offs for sure, but it doesn't seem to effect much. For example, in 2009-10, he had the lowest ZS on the team (47.7%) but a corsi rate of +7.65, which was still one of the better rates on the club.

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#11 Michael
August 24 2011, 10:28AM
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The Flames have a solid middle / bottom group of forwards, which is really Sutters legacy to the team. The flip side, is that we do not really have a top group of forwards that can compete head to head with other first lines.

Yes, we can give guys easier icetime and more conducive linemates, but we can only shelter so many guys. Ultimately, we have to have someone to play against the oppossing top lines. I don't know what the stats say, but I expect line on line we win against 'middle players', but suffer against the top guys.

A Langkow centered line would seem to be the best fit against top lines, assuming he is healthy and can still give us hard minutes.

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#12 Kevin R
August 24 2011, 10:45AM
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Wow, this is definitely de ja vu. How many times have we drooled & marvelled over our forward depth only to not make the playoffs. This formula just means some of our kids just dont get a chance & lets say we have our usual 2-3 2.5-3.0 mil forwards forget to show up again & Bouma gets in & we need P3L in the lineup, look what sits in the press box? About 6.0-7.0mill of cap hit. What a waste & misuse of our capital. I just cant agree with this formula of a team with 4 lines of 2.5-4.0 mill players with little star power. Maybe someone should look at the $$$ cap hit of healthy scratches over a year from the different teams. Would make an interesting analyses. We'll call that CU (cap utilization %). Sorry guys but I just cant stand how our roster has been constructed over the last few years & am counting down the days for many of these contracts to expire and see which way Jay goes, hopefully a new one.

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#13 Section205
August 24 2011, 10:57AM
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Kent, you're probably right to say Morrison, Iggy, Tanguay is overrated. But...

Your article did acknowledge that Morrison's -8 chance number with Iggy(-1 with Tanguay) probably comes in tougher circumstances. Jokinen's numbers look quite good with Iggy in that measurement. I am surprised by that. You are right about playing to score, but also Jokinen played a lot of PP time with Iggy with some success I think.

Aside from BMo, Olli, Backs, and Moss, I am curious where Iggy's other 142 CF and 116 CA (.550) came from. Did he have good numbers with Stajan?

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#14 Kent Wilson
August 24 2011, 11:01AM
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@Section205

Numbers include ES only, so no PP issues.

Iginla played with a lot of centers last year: Morrison, Backlund, Jokinen, Moss and a bit with Langkow near the end.

By far his worst results across the board were with Morrison.

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#15 dick
August 24 2011, 11:30AM
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Once the Jokinen-Glencross-Moss line was put together they were very effective. I don't know Robert if you have access to the data or whether it exists, but it seemed to me that Brent used this line quite alot late in the season against the oppositions #1 line. Just going from memory I think they did a very good job and often out scored those lines.

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#16 Section205
August 24 2011, 11:35AM
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Thanks Kent.

By deduction, it appears that Stajan is the other center that would make a large chunk of the 142CF and 116CA. Could Iggy actually have a strong EV scoring chance differential with Stajan? Perhaps they failed to convert or unlucky in percentages? Iggy's slump may have hurt their conversion of scoring chances.

Can you correct me on this?

Backlund is my first choice to start with Iggy and Tanguay. But Stajan might be number two, in part because we might want to keep Langkow with Bourque and keep OMG together.

That is why I am curious about Iggy's SC numbers with Stajan.

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#17 Kent Wilson
August 24 2011, 11:47AM
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@Section205

That's possible. Their overall numbers were good together. North of 55%.

Iginla and Tanguay had terrible bounces through the first few months when Stajan was with them. That said, he was also terrible with Jarome at the end of 2009-10, so who knows.

There's no way Stajan is as bad as he seemed last season. I don't know if he'll take enough steps forward to convince Sutter to give him another shot at the top of the rotation.

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#18 the forgotten man
August 24 2011, 02:27PM
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YAY OPTIMISM - Ken King gets canned.

That would be some Hope & Change that I could believe in - even if Obama was selling it.

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#19 JL
August 24 2011, 02:29PM
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Who is P3L ?

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#20 Sincity1976
August 24 2011, 02:37PM
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Should they convert Backlund to LW if Stajan does show he can play with Iginla and Tanguay? I don't like the idea of Backlund, Langkow, Stajan, or Jokinen on the fourth line.

Would the following make sense?

Tanguay-Stajan-Iginla Backlund-Langkow-Bourque Glencross-Jokinen-Moss Hagman-Morrison-Jackman

Also, has Stajan played LW? What about swapping him and Backlund? Either way having an extra centre to help defensively and to take the face-offs on a shut down line makes sense. Especially with Langkow's issues with faceoffs.

Short of a strong rebound by Hagman it seems we are short a top 6 winger and have an excess of centres. Makes sense to me to put one of our centres onto the LW.

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#21 Domebeers.com
August 24 2011, 02:37PM
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@the forgotten man

I second.

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#22 GeeWiz
August 24 2011, 03:21PM
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Sincity1976 wrote:

Should they convert Backlund to LW if Stajan does show he can play with Iginla and Tanguay? I don't like the idea of Backlund, Langkow, Stajan, or Jokinen on the fourth line.

Would the following make sense?

Tanguay-Stajan-Iginla Backlund-Langkow-Bourque Glencross-Jokinen-Moss Hagman-Morrison-Jackman

Also, has Stajan played LW? What about swapping him and Backlund? Either way having an extra centre to help defensively and to take the face-offs on a shut down line makes sense. Especially with Langkow's issues with faceoffs.

Short of a strong rebound by Hagman it seems we are short a top 6 winger and have an excess of centres. Makes sense to me to put one of our centres onto the LW.

I very much agree with your break-down here. Stajan isn't a top-tier player by any means, but he's not suited to 4th line minutes either. He's a soft, playmaking forward... guys like that are useless in a 4th line role.

Put Backlund on the top line (continue to shelter trio), and put Stajan on the wing alongside Langkow and Bourque. Stajan could fill in for the odd face-off in the D zone in this case, too. This way, Tangs & Iggy have a speedy, skilled C to feed off of, the OMG line remains intact, and Bourque gets back to being a competent hockey player alongside Langkow. I like Morrison as a player, but moreso as a fill-in guy. Placing him between Jackman & Hagman would make for a very competitive 4th line.

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#23 Kent Wilson
August 24 2011, 03:40PM
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@GeeWiz

Stajan on the wing of Langkow and Bourque might actually work if Bourque regains his footing a bit. Langkow has floated lesser players. In addition, Stajan could step in a take draws now and then. He was about 52% last year.

I like it.

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#24 Vintage Flame
August 24 2011, 03:46PM
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@Sincity1976

"Also, has Stajan played LW? What about swapping him and Backlund? Either way having an extra centre to help defensively and to take the face-offs on a shut down line makes sense. Especially with Langkow's issues with faceoffs. "

That is an interesting idea. I can't see Matt going on the top line. Even if he shows improvement he was in such a whole last year, that I think he would need a full season to redeem himself.

But the idea of Stajan playing wing for Langks and Bourque would at least be one I'd like to see them try out.

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#26 Kent Wilson
August 24 2011, 04:04PM
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@Robert Cleave

True enough on Backlund, although if Sutter protects the Tanguay and Iginla as much as I hope he does (second line opposition + a lot of o-zone draws) I think we're on safe ground assuming it could work.

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#27 schevvy
August 24 2011, 04:33PM
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Stajan will not go on the 1st line, not a chance in hell. He should be put on the 5th line (pressbox) but that won't happen either. Unless Stajan has a ridiculously amazing camp, he goes on the 4th line where hopefully he can learn how to work hard and get some toughness from Jackman and Kosto. If Brent keeps Jokinen, Moss and Glencross together, which he should, I would put Hagman beside Langkow and Bourque, cause he seems to work harder than Stajan, and from what I saw, got some terrible bounces last year. When Morrison gets healthy if Hagman plays poorly, he goes there, if not, where else would he go?

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#28 Sincity1976
August 24 2011, 04:49PM
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@schevvy

Stajan had an off year, but he isn't anywhere near as horrible as you are making him out to be. And he was arguably one of the better centres on the top line last season. He just didn't have the benefit of second half Iginla.

Regardless, it makes no sense to Calgary to park his 3.5 million on the fourth line or in the press box. He has another 2-seasons on his contract after this one. They need to at least give him the opportunity to rebound.

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#29 schevvy
August 24 2011, 04:55PM
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@Sincity1976

Ok, maybe he's not as bad as I make him out to be, but in my opinion, you gotta give Backlund the shot with Iggy and Tangs. Stajan really needs to have a good season to even get a shot, because I know Brent was less than impressed at the end of last year. I think he starts the season on the 4th line and if he plays well, he can maybe play with Langkow and Bourque on the wing.

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#30 Sincity1976
August 24 2011, 05:05PM
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@schevvy

That is what camp is for. I am not suggesting he, or any other player, are given a position they haven't earned. However, if he earns it I think he should be considered for top line duties.

I think Backlund would progress a ton playing LW next to Langkow and Bourque. More then he would taking o-zone draws between Iggy and Tanguay. I am hoping the guy develops into a Miko Koivu type player but he isn't going to do that spending all his time in the o-zone.

Meanwhile I think Stajan would be fine in an offensive role on the top line. At least as good as Backlund at this point in his career.

That said, if Backlund is the better option on the top line then I like Stajan better then Hagman on the second.

I also like Hagman better then Stajan on the fourth line. In part because he only has one more season on his contract. In part because I think he has a better chance of producing there. Stajan is a waste on the fourth. You might as well promote Bouma.

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#31 everton fc
August 24 2011, 05:08PM
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It's time to see if Backlund can play omn the first line, or if he really is a third line player. This is his season to prove himself.

As for Stajan... as LW, he might have a chance to play outside the fourth line. Could work.

As an aside... If Backlund fails as the first line centre... I'd like to see Moss between Tanguay and Iginla. I think this would work. It did briefly last season.

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#32 Section205
August 24 2011, 08:15PM
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Very interesting idea putting Stajan as LW on Langkow's line, and even help with faceoffs. If a healthy Langkow could boost Bourque and lift Stajan then he will have earned almost every penny of his $4.5M

I think our 4th line is closer to another 3rd line, no matter which of our centers plays there. So there is no shame for any of our centers playing with Jackman and TK.

At the same time, Iggy's line is not going to be an elite #1 line in that it should be playing 2nd line comp and favorable zone starts. They will still score plenty of points, but won't be punishing many top lines.

Given that Sutter likes to rotate guys around- while generally keeping two players on a line together- I could honestly see Backlund and Stajan platooning the #1C role and then alternately centering Jackman and TK. They might rotate every few games or so, and both end up with some decent ice time and opportunity. That is until one of them either wins the #1C or fails miserably. Stajan's leash would obviously be shorter than Backlund's.

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#33 kbignell
August 24 2011, 09:25PM
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I would have to agree with jokinen, moss and glencross playing together. A line that might be good together would be backlund playing centre between bourque and jackman. with the speed of backlund, the intensity of jackman and the skill of rene bourque would make this line very affective. Stajan might do good as a winger, as bad of a season he had last year i still think there is something there, but if morrison isn't healthy for the start of the season, stajan will have to be a centreman. Stajan might do good playing on a line with bourque. I really think langkow will be taking the top line centre job,at least for the beginning of the season.

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#34 Vintage Flame
August 25 2011, 12:16AM
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@schevvy

"Unless Stajan has a ridiculously amazing camp..."

You mean like he did last year before getting hurt in the split squad game with Vancouver?

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#35 PrairieStew
August 25 2011, 11:52AM
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I would put all the good eggs in one basket with Langkow,Bourque and Moss together and then bury them against the top lines and poor zone starts. Start Hagman with Olli and scoreface and if he doesn't work out give that spot to Morrrisson when he returns. Restore Stajan's confidence by playing him against the worst players in the league, with two guys who are excellent 4th liners.

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#36 Kent Wilson
August 25 2011, 12:08PM
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I'll say this about training camps: aside from guys on the edge of the roster trying to make an impression, training camps as barometers of a players value to the team are pretty much worthless. Ales Kotalik had a huge pre-season last year for instance.

The competition is watered down and the sample size is tiny. There's precious little useful information that comes out of the standard TC, especially for vets.

Stajan will have to prove himself during real game action to make a dent in Sutter's evaluation of him.

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