If you take a tour around the water coolers, comment sections and messageboards these days, you’ll notice that Daymond Langkow is frequently discussed as a contract the Flames have to try to "get rid of" this summer in order to increase their budgetary flexibility. The claim is superficially defensible: at 33 years old and coming off a season that saw him score just 14 goals and 37 points, many folks are looking at his $4.5M as money that could be better spent elsewhere. In addition, with both Backlund and Stajan set to make the team as "offense first" centers, Langkow seems somehow redundant.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Langkow remains the Flames best centerman as things stand. His counting stats are misleading: mostly an expression of bad circumstances. His underlying numbers remain solid and speak to his utility – which is not replaced by any other pivot on the club currently – and therefore his improtance to the Flames.
First, I’ll attack the notion that Mikael Backlund will be able to replace Langkow’s contributions next year. This springs from simple extrapolation/addition and subtraction without regards to context of ice time. Last season, Backlund scored 10 points in 23 games for Calgary. Pro-rate that over a full year and you get 35 points in 82 games. Langkow, on the other hand, managed 37 in 72. It doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to add a few minutes onto Backlund’s nightly ice time, maybe a pinch of improvement or two and then assume that the Flames can overcome the loss of Langkow by simply shifting Backlund upwards in the line-up.
Except that the two didn’t play in remotely similar circumstances. Backlund faced mostly nobodies as a Flame – third and fourth liners. He also had the a relatively easy zonestart at ratio of 52.5% (offensive zone to defensive zone). Langkow, on the other hand, spent the season playing against first and second line opposition. What’s more, he did so with lesser line mates for a chunk of the season – before getting injured in
PHX MIN, Sutter had Langkow skating in a shut-down role with two healthy scratches from the New York Rangers. What’s more, the trio often led the team in terms of possession over that period. In addition, Langkow’s zonestart was one of the toughest amongst regular skaters at 49.9%.
To put it another way, there’s a good chance that if Backlund played in Langkow’s skates for a season, he’d get eaten alive. He’s nowhere near good enough to take on top 6 NHLers (yet). Judging from his results from both the minor and major leagues last year, Backlund is going to have to be actively sheltered in order to remain effective next season. On a club with Matt Stajan as the other center option, that’s not good. Meaning, unless you’re trading Langkow’s cap dollars for an upgrade over any of the players mentioned here thus far, moving him is a bad idea.
With his poor counting stats in mind, consider that Langkow led regular Flames centermen in terms of corsi with one of the best rates amongst skaters on the team (+7.65/60). He spent more time on the penalty kill (184 minutes) than on the power-play (168 minutes) and when he did skate on the man advantage, it was often on the "second unit". If you want an explanation for his thoroughly lackluster stats, look no further than tough circumstances, nominal PP time and a spine injury at the end of the year (as well as playing on a club that was generally inept at scoring overall).
The simple truth is this: the Flames outshot, outscored and outchanced the opposition with Langkow on the ice this year and he wasn’t facing weaklings. He remains a quality player and his $4.5M salary, while relatively expensive on the Flames roster, isn’t overly prohibitive. What’s more, his contributions are difficult to replace at that price when one considers who he plays against, with and in what capacity. It’d be nice if he could learn to win a faceoff in awhile, but, that aside, Langkow is still the Flames best option at center ice.