The Question of Jarome Iginla – Part 1

Calgary Flames v Phoenix Coyotes


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.

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Performance Analysis

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. 

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*(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.

  • What is happening to Iginla is expected, I'd argue.

    Physical wingers have a hard time maintaining peak performance in NHL past age of 31 or 32.

    They usually take a big hit in their performance, even the best of them. The weaker ones usually have to quit, as the years of pounding

    In November 2006, when the Oil were trying to decide whether or not to sign up Ryan Smyth,
    I looked at 20 recent NHL players who had a similar style, in that they were scorers but also muckers: Steve Thomas, Adam Graves, Mike Foligno, Ron Ellis, Glenn Anderson, Danny Gare, Tomas Sandstrom, Tony Granato, Theo Fleury, Dirk Graham, Lanny McDonald, Gerard Gallant, John MacLean, Brian Sutter, Dave Taylor, Morris Lukowich, Kevin Dineen, Craig Simpson, John LeClair and Charlie Simmer.

    On average, these 20 forwards played at close to their peak level of play until about the age of 31. After that, most of them had a big drop-off in performance.

    So if you paid one of these guys at age 32, 33, 34, 35 or 36 based on their peak performance levels, you would probably be overpaying.

    Of the 20 players, nine of them were still playing at or near their peak at age 32. But only three of them (Theo Fleury, John MacLean and Steve Thomas) were still going strong at age 33.

    After that, only Steve Thomas kept going strong and remained at that level until he was 36.

    Now there's some argument to be made that with improved physical fitness techniques, players who are going right now will last a bit longer, and I think we've seen that with the most recent comparables, such as Brendan Shanahan, Keith Tkachuk and Gary Roberts, though all these guys suffered something of a drop off in their early 30s as well.

    Iginla is still a good to great player, as we all saw at the Olympics where he was still a very useful player for Team Canada. But he'll never again be the Iginla of even a few years ago.

    Time marches on, even for our heroes.

  • That's true, David, and I'm going to take a look at career peaks and such in the next part. As a teaser: 33 doesn't seem old, but as you suggest here, a lot of players begin the steep decline right around that age.

  • I'd want to wait another year before making any claims of a true performance slide. Sometimes a guy will just have an off year, and although he's been less dominant in recent years, it hasn't been anything to worry about until this year to my eye (unless Kent has some stats to throw at me from last year/the year before).

  • His numbers are down. Alright, cool. Obvious question: Why?

    I mean, from what Im reading, the smocking gun seems to be age. He's lost a step, just from watching him (when was the last time he went outside on a Dman). But I don't know if I buy that. I'd have to look at last year vs this year.

    He hasn't been injured, right? Is it mental fatigue? Was he playing hardball with the organization, over the coach or who knows? Did he ask for a trade and then pout? Although, if he supposedly got Dion traded, you would doubt that.

    Honestly, Kent et al, I don't get it. He either got old overnight, or it's something else. I am at a loss.

    What I think is clear is that if Darryl has him penciled in as the horse from 04, then we are in trouble. The guy should be used as an offensive weapon, and that is about it. I mean, Cammo was too one dimensional to keep, but he isn't anywhere near as one dimensional as Iggy became this season. Hopefully Darryl, or when they fire his ass and bring in Lanny, will be able to adjust.

  • He has become a perimeter player. His leadership could not possibly be more in question. He had extended periods of dead legs within the season. etc. etc. etc. Yes he can still shoot the puck…. great…. so can Kotalik.

    I cant see how his value grows even if he has a great year upcoming, and further to that point with the Olympic evidence as part of the "if he had better support" argument.. still fresh in the suckers minds.

    Now is the time to let him sail and Sutter is the guy to do it because what does that hambone have to lose?

  • maimster

    Is the fate of Darryl Sutter a divisive issue? Sorry, I digress.

    I think Iggy was less than stellar last year as well. The jarring feeling I get watching him lose the puck in traffic and get knocked down by third-level defensemen was there for good chunks of 08-09 too. The delta in his numbers versus good teams and versus bad teams was very large last year, and it would be interesting to make the same comparison this year.

    Don't get me wrong, I don't want to see him go. But this is not a one year phenomenon, this is a hill he's been going down for a couple of years now.

  • If there ever was a comparison, I think Iggy and Shanny play similar style games. Shanny was still able to put up 40 goals when he was 36 yrs.

    From a asset management standpoint, he should be traded. From an organizational standpoint he should be treated with the respect that a Modano or a Sakic receives, and given the option to finish his career in Calgary.

  • maimster

    Honestly, we can't trade Iginla.

    He's too valuable from a marketing standpoint. Folk aren't going to buy a season ticket based on Rene Bourque's CORSI rating.

    The only trade I would make for Iginla right now would be one that would bring Tayler Hall in. You could sell Iginla for Hall to fans (i.e. Customers)… #1 prospect, hometown boy makes good (Hall is originally from Calgary, his favorite NHL team is the Flames), now the big problem is that there would be rioting in the streets if Iginla were traded to the Oilers and I don't think the Oilers are dumb enough to take Seguin over Hall, nor do I think the Bruins would make that deal even if they did.

  • Iginla has had one bad year in the past 4, this year. He is only 32 years old, that is not old or on the decline. In fact I would argue that his fitness level is higher than it was when he won the scoring title. If you recall that year he scored most of his goal's via quick release shots and good set up play's rather than power forward type plays. Yah that was a magical year in many ways as chemistry between him and Conroy was very high. Top scorers in the game today are playing with other top scorers. Take a look at the top 20 scorers, there are many 1-2 and even 1-2-3 punches. Iggy can't be expected to carry the puck into the offensive zone, out battle everybody and score on a nightly basis. There's no player in the league that can do that. He's said in his exit interview's that the flames need offensive help. They had Cammy and let him go. In my opinion when you have a 40 goal man on your team you pay him 6 mil and keep him. All the top teams have 2 scoring lines, so you cant defend both with top defensive players. In my opinion the make up of this team was not very good, there lucky to be even in 9th. I think Jarome is still capable of 90 points and 50 goals, just not with this cast of players.

  • CitizenFlame

    I wouldn't argue that at 32 with 1000 games under his belt that Iginla could be on the slide a little bit. I would also agree with maimster that Iginla might have started this "slide" in '08-09'. I'm not going to call it a slide though as more of a transition from a dominating power forward to one of more of a all around play maker. I still think that he showed flashes but was just not consistent. I think that maybe he was carrying too much of the mental load with believing that he had to score nightly in order for the team to win the 1-0, 2-1, games that the Flames are playing; especially when the media and fanbase jump all over him every game where he doesn't score. Iginla could probably still be a 40 goal scorer and a 85-90 point guy if they brought in the talent to support that. But unless Calgary brings in another high end player to shoulder the load teams are going to key on Iggy and dare the rest of the line-up to beat them. Which Calgary showed this year, won't be often enough to make the playoffs.

  • CitizenFlame

    Trade him to a team for some guys who have already signed their first or second UFA contracts. Darryl's blueprint for making Calgary an elite team depends on loading up on career 20-25 goal scorers making $2.5-$3.5Million/season. Imagine the depth! Lots of teams have several guys in that pay range- Buffalo, Atlanta come to mind.

    Just kidding.

    We all know Jarome is here for good. The only team he will realistically waive his NTC for is PIT so he can do what he does best- stand in scoring spots and receive sweet passes from Crosby (and Malkin!). Backchecking won't be a problem. Maybe he would go to WSH? His defensive game would fit in there. If the team he wants to go to isn't a step away from a Stanley Cup he will just stay here.