August 18 2014 01:15PM
By now you have all read some of the Reasonable Expectation series that my fellow writers here at Flames Nation have been posting. My contribution is going to be somewhat different.
I’m going to examine the entire Flames roster and use a
number of advanced stats categories alongside past performances and possible
deployments by the coaching staff to try and draw a line in the sand of what
the coming season most likely holds in store for the Flames.
So to begin, I’ll introduce the methodology.
The categories I’m reviewing are as follows:
5v5 and 5v4 pp/60 (the average number of points scored by the player over 60 minutes played at 5v5 and 5v4 – this determines point producers and where they score).
5v5 and 5v4 QualComp - the quality of competition, graded by a number, against whom the player was deployed – when contrasted against pp/60 it tells you who scores against the best versus who scores against the rest, and if a player can’t produce offense, or at least chances, against weaker opposition that is a serious tell. The more positive the number the greater the competition.
CorsiRel 5v5 - the number of shots directed at the opposition net relative to their teammates – this is a good tool to determine which players possess the puck most often and help to drive the play against the opposition – direct offense doesn’t always follow, but possession is a strong indicator of success over a long period of time.
ZS% 5v5 and ZF% 5v5 and differential - this tells you where a player started his shift and where he left it – by percentage it tells how often a player starts in the offensive zone, by default then implying how often they begin in the defensive or neutral zone. If you think of it in football terms, imagine the number is a yard line from 0 to 100, and the differential is how much “yardage” they gave up during their shift. Good players move the play forward for the next shift, decent players hold their ground or gain some, bad players give up territory on a regular basis. Good coaches give their star players the easy zone starts to improve their chances of scoring. A player who gets buried in the defensive zone routinely but can fight his way to the neutral zone or beyond is a very valuable asset, although not always appreciated.
Sh% 5v5 - the player’s shooting percentage in 5v5 play, pretty straightforward, but for the sake of the exercise remember that the average forward shooting percentage fluctuates somewhere between 10 and 12% over the course of their career. Some have a higher percentage, some lower, but if a player suddenly starts scoring on 25% of their shots when their four-year career average is 11%, expect a reversion.
TOI/60 5v5 and 5v4 - this simply tells you how a player was used, who got the PP time which is useful when examining a player’s strengths in other categories like pp/60 and sh% and helps to adjust expectations for incoming players or rookies to help determine how they were deployed in previous situations. I find it helps temper expectations.
For goalies I’ll be looking at the number of games played, shots against per season and per game, and save %. The idea being to determine a goalie’s workload, possible ability to adapt to an altered expectation during this coming season, and an approximation of the defense behind which they have previously played relative to the one they are expected to be playing behind this coming season.
As well I’m establishing an estimate of games played and points per game using each player’s history to draw an approximate line in the sand with regards to offensive production. Obviously individual performances will vary depending on injuries and other unforeseeable factors.
Now that we’ve covered all of that, we’re going to start with the defence and goaltending. The
following are the statistical categories mentioned with the players ranked
accordingly. In the cases of new players, the number to the far right is where
they ranked on their team last season while their current ranking has been interfiled
within the Flames’ statistical hierarchy. I’ve retained former players like
Shane O’Brien for context.
|5v5 pp/60||rank||5v4 pp/60||rank|
|QualComp 5v5||rank||QualComp 5v4||rank|
|CorsiRel 5v5||rank||Sh% 5v5||rank|
|ZS% 5v5||rank||ZF% 5v5||rank||ZS diff||rank|
|TOI/60 5v5||rank||TOI/60 5v4||rank|
Giordano and Brodie are top-pairing defenders on virtually any NHL team. Period.
After that, though, well…it is kind of a disaster. The Flames have a number of good to decent offensive defensemen in Wideman and Russell, but lack the necessary depth to more smoothly transition from their 1st pairing to the 2nd and still feature one of those two without giving up scoring chances in exchange.
What Wideman and Russell offer on the powe-rplay is useful, but that ought to be a secondary consideration to keeping the team on an even-keel 5v5.
Defensively speaking, Deryk Engelland was one of the worst blueline options on the Penguins. His numbers put him squarely in the middle of the pack with the Flames, but an improvement on Smid. In some respects he appears to be a lateral move from Chris Butler with some increased offense.
In terms of the quality of competition, Russell appears like a decent player in a 2nd pairing role. Engelland, interestingly, has identical numbers to Chris Butler in this area but which placed him 8th on the Penguins’ defensive QualComp depth chart last season under Dan Bylsma. It will be interesting to see how Hartley uses Engelland early this season and whether there is an expectation that he is more than these numbers suggest.
The Zone Differential I found particularly interesting as it relates to possible defensive pairings. Given the talent deficit that the Flames are likely to be facing every night this season, Giordano and Brodie would seem a logical pairing, which leaves Smid, Engelland, Wideman and Russell as the mix-and-match group from Hartley can construct his final four. A pairing of shutdown/puck-mover seems to make the most sense at first glance, so perhaps Russell-Engelland and Smid-Wideman, where the two paired players could possibly complement one another in their respective strengths and deficiencies.
Wideman was the beneficiary of extremely easy zone starts which means that Hartley recognizes his potential in the offensive zone, however this places a tougher zone start burden on another player such as Brodie, Butler or Giordano. Given that we could essentially swap out Butler for Engelland, and taking Engelland’s ZS% from last season into account, it remains to be seen whether Hartley will have the same opportunity this season. Engelland doesn’t appear to be as efficient at moving the puck out of his zone as Butler was last season, but we will have to see how his partner impacts this part of his game. The only defenseman whose zone differential is concerning is Dennis Wideman, but given how tilted his zone starts are losing some territory is expected. Still, this and his QualComp numbers lend credence to the argument that Wideman is an offensive player on the blueline whose defensive game is lacking.
I’d like to note that Engelland’s exceptional 5v4 pp/60 should be taken in context with his TOI5v4 of 0.15 – meaning he spent on average 0.15 minutes on the powerplay per 60 minutes of the man-advantage. I don’t expect he will become a fixture for the Flames on the powerplay with Wideman, Giordano and Russell available, and highly doubt he was a stronger powerplay performer in Pittsburgh than Niskanen, Letang, Maatta and Despres. I’ll address possible power play and penalty killing units later in the series.
One glance at the QualComp or Corsi chart tells you everything you need to know about the Flames’ defense. Remove either Brodie or Giordano from the roster and the Flames could have been selecting Aaron Ekblad 1st overall this past June.
Corsi is still an incomplete tool for evaluating defensemen as they are at the mercy of the forwards, but it provides some illustration as to a defenseman’s play. The best defensemen, in my opinion, are the ones who restrict the opposing forward’s access and time with the puck, be it through retrieval and re-distribution or personal puck possession.
Merging 5v5 TOI with QualComp can tell you a great deal about how a defenseman is perceived by his coach and the extent of his abilities as a player. Coaches are typically risk-averse, especially when it comes to their jobs, and nothing kills a coach faster than a lot of goals against. So they tend to try and limit chances against which means defensemen are sent out to play the best competition they can reasonably manage.
Using this method we could argue for occasional pairings (home-ice situations, for instance) of putting Giordano with Russell and Brodie with Wideman then pairing Smid with Engelland to face the easiest competition. Either way, the defensive pairings are open and Hartley has some options to tailor to his opposition.
I would suggest that the pairings for the coming season, according to the estimated amount of time on ice for each, are likely to trend towards Giordano and Brodie, followed by Russell and Wideman, and then Smid and Engelland with Wotherspoon either in the press-box or on the bench as the 7th defenseman.
The Flames need to improve their D. Badly. Giordano is entering the latter stages of his career and aside from Brodie there is very little on the horizon. The worst crime that this rebuild could commit right now wouldn’t be trading Backlund for peanuts or screwing up the development of Johnny Gaudreau, but wasting the career of a brilliant young blueliner like TJ Brodie by failing to support him with a strong forward and defensive corps. It’d be Iginla without a 1st line center all over again.
Here are my rough estimates on the defense.
|gp||sh%||est. ppg||hist. ppg||est. pts.|
I’ve estimated 512 man games for the Flames defense with 22 games for injury call-ups and 30 where Wotherspoon draws in, due to injury or as a seventh defenseman. The numbers are going to be highly fluid during the season because, with all due respect to death and taxes, injuries on the blueline are the only guarantees in hockey.
As the season progresses it will be important to hold on to the PPG number. If Giordano only plays five games, but stays within the PPG number during that time, then we can call it a successful prediction. If he plays all 82 but only manages half or, cross your fingers, twice that and then we’ll know we’re off.
I took approximately one third of the defensive points as goals on the basis of each goal averages two assists. Different players have differing ratios, but over the long term these tend to average out. Last season the Flames managed 32 goals from the blueline, however, amongst the blueline corps only Brodie managed to play anything near an entire season (81 games) and a (nearly) full season from Kris Russell, Dennis Wideman and Mark Giordano should help in this regard. The decline in Brodie’s PPG rate I’ve estimated is mainly due to the fact that I have him playing tougher minutes this season as Hartley tries to push Wideman into more favourable matchups and the loss of Stempniak and Cammalleri as point converters who can play against strong opposition alongside Brodie may impact his production.
The Flames defense can expect to be decent this season, with Brodie and Giordano as the high points and some serviceable backups in Wideman, Russell, Smid and Engelland. The future, however, is very bleak. Outside of Wotherspoon and Sieloff the Flames are very thin on defensive prospects, and given the high rate of attrition in this area during the developmental process, the franchise is going to have to begin to pay strict attention to bolstering their depth here in the 18 to 24 year-old category.
On to goaltending. Or as I like to call it in analytical terms – hockey voodoo.
|gp||sh/a||spg||sv%||avg gp||avg sh/a||avg spg||avg sv%|
|Est. Flames 2014-2015|
|est. gp||est. sh/a||est. shpg||est. sv%||est ga/game||Last year|
Hiller helps the Flames. Probably a lot.
I’ve not listed averages for Ramo because he has only the one recent NHL season upon which to draw. Hiller’s averages in shots faced, save percentages relative to that shot rate, and games played mesh relatively well with the situation I expect him to find with the Flames. For interest’s sake I decided to look back at his defensive corps in a few of his years with the Ducks and on some occasions they were no screaming hell, perhaps even inferior to the Flames’ current group on some nights.
With the strong possession players the Flames have in Backlund, Brodie and Giordano, two defenseman and a center, the player positions most often responsible for sound defensive play, it is certainly possible that Hiller replicates his 2010-2011 92.4 sv%. Ramo performed reasonably well last season, all things considered, and in a backup role I think he could do just as well, all the same I have reduced his sv% slightly just to err on the side of caution.
I’ve estimated the average shots per game for this coming season based on last season’s numbers, and with minimal changes to the defense I think this is reasonable. You’ll notice that the goals against has come down from 2.9 to an average of 2.6, but arguably closer to 2.5 if Hiller plays more often in net.
That may seem insignificant, but recall how many one-goal
games the Flames played, and won, last season. Their possession numbers as a
team weren’t terrific, so they were getting very lucky on some nights. If the
GA comes down to two-and-a-half a game, that keeps the forwards in the game
longer, something a team with so many young players needs as the pace of the
game ebbs and flows.
Why the Sultans of Swing, you ask?
It's a sad song with a great uptempo. The boys in the band are down, have trouble making ends meet, and spend more time picking up the pieces than laying them down. Some are phenomenal talents that will never be recognized while others are the lunch-bucket guys living a weekend dream. Nobody pays too much attention because "they don't give a damn about a trumpet-playing band". But when the lights go on and things start to click, those few moments when the music rolls through them and the band comes together, then it all seems worthwhile.
Giordano and Brodie are a helluva pair and the band won't be together forever, so enjoy it while it lasts.
And it is Mark freaking' Knopfler. If you can't appreciate this man on the guitar then there's just no saving you.
Next we’ll look at the forwards in much the same manner.