January 02 2017 02:00PM
If you've been reading this site for very long, you've probably figured out that we value shot metrics like Corsi in evaluating players. That's because goals are rare in hockey and to determine how much a player actually drives play – and helps their team win – we have to rely on more common events like shots, missed shots and blocked shots (otherwise known as Corsi events).
One simple way of looking at a player's performance is through their Corsi differential: subtracting their on-ice Corsi events against from their Corsi events for at five-on-five. We've collected Corsi differentials for most of the Flames regulars for each of the past three seasons, along with their offensive zone start percentages to give some context to their numbers.
Two years ago in Ottawa, Chiasson was given 53% offensive zone starts and performed rather well, with a +24 Corsi differential (+0.32 per game). Last year in Ottawa, his zone starts were cut back dramatically (to 38%) and his differential crashed to -181 (or -2.35 per game). This season he's been primarily riding shotgun to some combination of Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett and Johnny Gaudreau, so he's gotten 62% offensive zone starts. To nobody's great shock, his differentials are positive at +8 (or +0.21 per game).
If nothing else, Chiasson seems like a carryable third body on a line.
Wideman has generally received the same zone starts over the last three seasons, spending about half his time starting in the offensive zone. Despite his unchanged circumstances, his numbers have quietly gone from horrendous (-412, or -5.15 per game, in 2014-15) to merely below average (-39, or -1.22 per game, in 2016-17). It's worth noting that he's spent a large portion of this season with T.J. Brodie, which undoubtedly has helped things.
Like Wideman, Engelland's numbers have quietly improved year over year while his circumstances (zone starts between 39% and 46% in the offensive zone) haven't really been altered much. He's gone from -364 (or -4.79 per game) in 2014-15 to -76 (or -1.95 per game) this season. Unlike Wideman, Engelland doesn't seem to be getting a ton of help with partners this season.
During his last season in Boston, Hamilton was a monster: 47% offensive zone starts and +221 Corsi differential, good for +3.07 per game. Granted, he played a lot with Zdeno Chara. When he moved to Calgary, he seemed to take some time adjusting. In similar circumstances, he was -49 last season (-0.60 per game). This season, playing primarily with Mark Giordano, he's already at +108 (+2.84 per game). Last season seems to have been a blip.
Gaudreau has been given a steady diet of offensive zone starts during his NHL career: 56%, 55% and 66% (so far this season). He has, however, been consistently a poor possession player, with a -142 differential in his rookie year (1.78 per game) and improving somewhat to -19 last season (-0.24 per game). So far this season, he's at -23 (-0.79 per game). He's been keyed-in on by opposition lines since last season, so it's a bit concerning to see his numbers degrade a bit.
Jokipakka had a ton of offensive zone starts during his time in Dallas – 57% in 2014-15 and 56% in 2015-16 – but was used a lot more in the defensive zone in Calgary, with zone starts fluctuating around 48%. He went from being about an even player in differentials (between -6 and +7, or about -0.12 to +0.18 per game) to being deep in the hole. He was -34 in 18 games after last year's trade deadline (-1.89 per game) and is -79 this season (or -2.93 per game). In short: he's bleeding shot attempts, and the bleeding seems to be getting worse.
If you want to see a player that seems like his numbers are being crated by his linemates, it's Versteeg. In Chicago in 2014-15, he had 67% offensive zone starts and a +126 differential (+2.07 per game). In Carolina in 2015-16, he had 59% offensive zone starts and an even better +211 differential (+3.35 per game). During his short stint with the Kings last season (just 14 games), his numbers actually got a bit better with identical zone starts: he amassed a +3.79 differential per game and a +53 total differential. That's crazy!
This season? With 54% offensive zone starts, he has a -53 differential (or -1.96 per game). He's played primarily with Sean Monahan and Troy Brouwer. Given his past results, it's hard not to blame his linemates.
Bouma's a bottom-six forward and has historically been buried in the defensive zone. Given those circumstances, his possession numbers are deep in the red. In 2014-15 he had 35% offensive zone starts and a -288 differential (-3.69 per game). Last season he had 47% offensive starts and a -68 differential (-1.55 per game). This season he's gotten just 24% offensive zone starts, the worst of any regular, and his numbers are very close to last season's with a -34 differential (1.62 per game). Bouma's a good example of a checker being given rough deployments in order to give scorers the high ground. Given his circumstances, his numbers aren't awful.
We've often praised Giordano. We will again here, because he's converted some consistently middling circumstances into some nice Corsi differentials. In 2014-15 he had 43% offensive zone starts and a -52 differential (-0.85 per game). He was given slightly better starts in 2015-16 (47%) and bumped it up to a +17 differential (+0.21 per game). So far this season he's had nearly identical starts (48%) and a +74 Corsi differential (+1.90 per game). Granted, he's been given good defensive partners over the past couple seasons, but he's facing the best opposition lines and starting a decent amount of his shifts in the defensive end and still producing good possession numbers.
Over the past two and a half seasons, Stajan has started two-thirds of his shifts in the defensive zone fairly consistently. In 2014-15, his differential was -129 (-2.19 per game). In 2015-16, his differential was -196 (-2.45 per game). This season? Playing in the same circumstances with many of the same people as years previous, he's +19 (+0.49) through half the year. That's a big, impressive turnaround.
Tkachuk has nothing to compare to as a rookie, but he's gotten 35% offensive zone starts and has produced a fantastic +119 Corsi differential (+3.37 per game). That's the best differential on the team among all of the regular skaters and very impressive for a rookie.
In Winnipeg during his last season there (2014-15), Frolik was given mostly (54%) offensive zone starts. He killed it with a +203 differential (+2.48 per game). He's gradually been transitioned into a second Mikael Backlund in Calgary: last season he had 48% offensive starts and a +45 differential (+0.70 per game) and so far this season he has 38% offensive starts and a +86 differential (+2.21 per game). Last season seemed to be an adjustment year for him, but he's been superb at puck possession this year.
Ferland has quietly been progressing really nicely into a rock-solid possession player for the Flames' bottom six. As a rookie in 2014-15, he had 45% offensive starts and a -43 differential (-1.65 per game). Last season he was a full-time NHLer with 43% offensive starts and had a modest -33 differential (-0.46 per game). So far this season, he's had 41% offensive starts and a +13 differential (+0.33 per game). He's not a high impact possession player (yet), but he's been starting in the defensive end and moving the puck in the right direction.
Backlund's long been considered Calgary's possession beast. In 2014-15, on a Flames team that was awful at puck possession, he had 38% offensive zone starts and a -104 differential (-2.00 per game). He improved quite a bit with slighty better zone starts (49%) last season, posting a +80 differential (+0.98 per game). This season? He's been buried in the defensive zone (37% offensive starts) but has a great differential of +67 (or +1.72 per game). He's progressed nicely, which is probably a product of finding him linemates. In 2014-15 he was dragging people around, last season he and Frolik were dragging a third guy around, and this season he, Frolik and Tkachuk don't have to drag around anybody.
Throughout his one and a half seasons as an NHL regular, Bennett has been used consistently and has performed fairly consistently. He's had 54% offensive zone starts in both seasons. Last season he had a -48 differential (-0.62 per game) and this season he has a -39 differential (-1.00 per game). He's not bleeding shot attempts, but he's also not really driving play yet. That said: he's 20, and at least he's been consistent thus far.
We've written a bunch about Monahan's possession game, and he's frequently one of the worst possession players as reflected in game recaps. In 2014-15, he had 47% offensive starts and a -200 differential (-2.47 per game). Hartley gave him a bit more high ground last season (54%), which improved his numbers slightly to a -78 differential (-0.96 per game). This season Gulutzan's given him even more high ground (60%) and his differentials are very similar: -43 (or -1.10 per game). He's struggled this season, as based on his history you would've expected his numbers to creep up slightly given his increased offensive zone starts.
I wouldn't panic yet, but the lack of progress in his numbers isn't a good sign.
For how good a puck-mover Brodie is, his puck possession numbers have been fairly poor over the past few seasons. In 2014-15, buried in the defensive end with 40% offensive zone starts (and playing on a bad possession team), Brodie had a -254 differential (or -3.14 per game). Over the past two seasons, he's had 48% offensive starts. Last season he was at a -34 differential (-0.49 per game) and this season it's a -52 differential (-1.33 per game). Some of that has to be a difference in partners - he played with Giordano last season and mostly Wideman this season - and he's facing tough competition, but his numbers aren't terribly encouraging.
Brouwer's played for three teams in three years, so comparisons are somewhat challenging. In 2014-15 in Washington he played mostly offensive zone shifts (55% offensive starts) and had a modest differential of +25 (+0.30 per game). Last season in St. Louis, with a lot of defensive starts (40% offensive starts) he had a modest negative differential of -21 (-0.26 per game). Not bad. So far with Calgary he's had 53% offensive starts...and a woeful -94 differential (-2.61 per game). Is it the system? Is it his linemates? Is it a general drift in his play? Or many of these factors in concert? Either way, considering his track record to this point, Brouwer's results have been a disappointment.