The Flames second most expensive forward has been something of a hot issue around here recently. The Nation’s own Pat Steinberg was challenged by RO of M&G for denigrating Lanks on-air recently. Domebeers got in on the arguement as well, pillorying Langkow for his poor production this season.
It’s not an unfair point. It’s easy to see why Langkow has suddenly become a controversial figure. Over the last few weeks, the Flames have added some $12.9M in forwards (Hagman, Bourque, Stajan, Kotalik) crowding the roster and making future decisions about value and contract retention that much more salient. At 33 years old with a stats line of 12g-21a-32pts, there has rightly been some scrutiny directed his way.
This is my contribution to the debate. It’s an explication of RO’s continued defense of the guy and the reason he (and I) think Langkow remains probably the best center on the team.
I recently wrote an explanatory post on the "corsi" stat. Here’s the coles notes version –
"Here’s an analogy that might help. Let’s say a hockey game is a tug of war. Corsi is the how far right or left of center the rope is. On an individual level, it’s an expression of which players are really pulling the rope."
Langkow is a guy that pulls the rope for the Flames. Hard. His corsi rate this season, according to behindthenet.ca, is +7.43/60, the fifth best rate amongst regular Flames skaters this year behind Pardy, Bourque, Giordano and Glencross. The ranking, however, is misleading in that not all circumstances are created equal. Langkow has played against other teams first and second lines all year and he’s started more often in his own end than any other Calgary forward. As such, I went about adjusting the Flames corsi rates via the method described at Objective NHL. First, the results:
This is each Flames players corsi rate, raw corsi, ES ice time, zone start (number of offensive zone face-offs, etc) and their adjusted raw corsi stats. In "zone start" any player with a negative figure started that much more in the defensive end of the rink. As you can see, Langkow and Conroy are the two guys that have been given the least attractive zone starts so far this year at ES.
Now, the adjusted/60 ranking:
Langkow jumps over Pardy, Glencross and Giordano. He’s also only one of five skaters whose rating improved after the adjustment. The "delta" category is the amount of change between each players adjusted and unadjusted rates. The lower the number, the more favorable zone start enjoyed by the guy in question. Conversely, the higher the number, the more difficult the zone start.
Clearly, Langkow is a team leader at moving the puck in the right direction. He’s well clear of Jarome Iginla this year. His quality of competition is also amongst the highest on the Flames, so it’s not like he’s beating up lesser lights the way Glencross and Moss did last season. On a related note, Langkow was one of the best players on the club in terms of scoring chance differentials through the first 40 games (corsi and SC are highly correlated) and I suspect that trend will hold through the entirety of the season.
As for his production levels, there’s no question they’ve suffered this year. His ESP/60 rate is middling at best. The team as a whole has had troubling scoring this year, however, and on top of that Langkow has basically been given the dirty spade work while Sutter has tried to find ways to spark the club’s offense. Combined with Higgins and Kotalik (to cast-offs from the Ranagers) Langkow has been deployed in a shut-down role the last few weeks, so as to shelter the third and fourth lines and give Iginla more chances to start at the good end of the rink. Not a role terribly conducive to generating output, especially while skating with two of the most snakebitten wingers in the league this year.
On top of all that, Langkow’s PP ice time has fallen by an average of more than 1 minute/game relative to last season thanks to being demoted to the second unit (in favor of first Jokinen and now Stajan) and because the Flames are just generally lousy at drawing penalties. As a result, he has seen just 149 minutes on the PP this year, as opposed to 282 last year (iin 73 games) and 312 in 2007-08. That’s bound to take a bite out anyone’s offensive output.
There’s no question that the Flames will have to consider Langkow’s contribution to cap-hit ratio going forward and make some hard decisions. However, it’s also clear that even at 33 years old, Langkow still moves the puck north efficiently despite tough circumstances. He can play against anyone in a variety of circumstances and he can outchance quality opposition. Given his solid underlying stats and long history as an effective point producer, I would suggest that the offensive downswing is more aberration than decline.