Perhaps the only debate with the potential to be more divisive than the fate of Darryl Sutter this off-season is what to do with Jarome Iginla. And despite the strong emotions and sentiment such a question evokes, his performance this season renders it a legitimate one.
By the eyes, Iginla’s play was visibly off this year. Anyone who watched him regularly and without prejduice can relay his struggles: personally I can’t remember the last time he lost so many board battles or was pushed off the puck with such relative ease. Whereas his previous signature move was driving the puck into scoring areas from the corner or half boards, his tendency this season was to skate into coverage and then relinquish possession. Aside from November, when he was scoring on every third shot on net, Iginla was visibly frustrated for a majority of the year.
The numbers agree. While his counting stats aren’t terrible by any stretch (32 goals, 69 points), one has to consider that they were built mostly off of volume. For example, no NHL forward played more than Jarome at even strength this season (1,397). He was also 7th overall in terms of total ice time (1,689). Despite those figures, Iginla finished 30th overall in total scoring and 45th overall in terms of point-per-game pace (ranked just behind one Kristian Huselius). To put that in context: Rene Bourque finished 11 points behind Iginla with 58 points on the season – but he saw 360 fewer minutes at ES than the Captain (1,037) and 114 fewer minutes on the PP. Given that Bourque was a more efficent producer of points in both scenarios this season, his projected total had their ice time matched was about (14 ES points + 9 PP points = 23 additional expected points) 81 points*.
*(This is a fair comparison, because there wasn’t much difference between the two players circumstances this year: both started about the same amount in the offensive zone and both saw high quality opposition.)
Of course, counting stats are esentially surface data and can be poor barometers for overall performance. The problem is, Iginla struggled by other metrics as well: his shot rate was his worst since 2001 (3.13/game) and his corsi rate was a marginal +0.59/60 (or +14 on the season), good for 7th amongst regular Flames skaters*. What’s more, once we correct for zone starts (+43 offensive zone face-offs), Iginla was actually under water this year in terms of possession (-0.89/60 or -21 raw). He also boasted the worst corsi rate amongst any of the Flames regular top 6 forwards (Bourque, Langkow, Dawes). These lackluster outshooting results can’t simply be put at the feet of poor linemates or circumstances either. As I showed in my Brent Sutter review, Iginla struggled by this measure in both the first a final quarters of the year. So while it’s tempting to say that playing with Jokinen against other big guns sank Jarome’s season, it’s simply not true – he was bad both with and without the Flames erstwhile "#1 center". I have yet to collate this year’s scoring chance differentials, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see Iginla in the red by that metric as well.
*(lower if you include the likes of Hagman, Stajan, Kotalik and Backlund)
Finally, Iginla’s offensive totals/differentials weren’t suppressed by bad bounces either. His PDO (on ice ES SH% + ES SV%) was 101.2 this season (or about 1% above the league average). What that means is Iginla wasn’t particularly unlucky this year – quite the opposite, in fact – and expecting a bounce back next season as a function of regression to the mean is wishing on a star.
Next up – Iginla’s performance in context of his career arc and his utility as an asset for the Flames organization.