Calgary’s PP: Bad by design?



As I look back at last season, I’ll confess that for all the annoyances I may have had with certain players on last year’s Flames’ club, I’m not sure that they always were properly deployed by their coach. One particular gripe that I had virtually all season was the insistence of Brent Sutter to use Regehr or Staios on the PP unit. Neither man has any recent history suggesting that they add any offence, and what made that choice even more galling was the fact that the Flames employed players that had excelled as PP point men elsewhere, and I’m not talking about defencemen either.



Olli Jokinen was on the receiving end of plenty of people’s bad feelings during his first stint in town, and I certainly wasn’t shy about the fact that I thought his EV play was an anchor on the team. I can’t imagine that his work in his own end or his playmaking skills will magically improve over the summer, but one place where he might do better is on the PP, if he’s used properly, since he had a clear history of positive value as a PP point man with the Panthers.

I decided to take a look at the video of Jokinen’s 18 PP goals during the 07/08 season this evening, if for no other reason than to see if my memory of him as a PP shooter was accurate. I also wanted to watch him during a season where he was in a settled role on a team. My memory is just fine, as it turns out. He had at least 8 goals where he had clearly started the play on the point, as often as not scoring by brute force, hammering the puck past the goalie. He also looked a lot more comfortable in that role than he ever looked as a Flame on the PP. More time and space is pretty important for a guy who looks like he’s handling the puck with an axe most nights, and playing at the back on the PP afforded him that luxury.

The numbers bear that out, of course. Florida finished that season with the 6th best PP, and Jokinen’s own productivity was markedly better than his time in Calgary. He averaged 4.88 PTS/60, which was 29th best for forwards that averaged at least 2 minutes a game on the PP. Only three defencemen finished with a better rate, but Jokinen was used at center as well, so that comparison wouldn’t be wholly accurate. Still, that’s miles better than his 3.13/60 average from last year.

The biggest area of drop-off for Joker as a Flame was his shots on goal total. He finished last season with 190 SOG at 5v5, which wasn’t dramatically different from his 212 in 07/08, but his overall total for last year was 236, well off his 340-350 shot totals post-lockout in Florida. Given that PP shooting percentages are 25-30% higher than at EV, it’s hardly any wonder that his goal totals went down the drain. He lost roughly 100 higher percentage shots. Part of that, in my view, was the makeup of the Flames’ PP. Jarome Iginla has been the focal point of the team’s PP for his entire career, and Dion Phaneuf was clearly the primary shooter from the back. Jokinen was always going to be the third option in that scenario, and it was to his detriment.

This season does offer Jokinen new hope, and the influx of top-sixish forwards since last January might allow the Flames the chance to shift Jokinen to the back. Tanguay, Stajan and Hagman would all rate PP time, along with Iginla, Bourque and either Langkow or Backlund depending on number 22’s health. Throw in Moss on occasion, and the Flames should have enough options at forward to move Joker to the back on the PP. Phaneuf’s absence would also make this sort of move simpler, since his role as the main shooter on the blue fits Olli Jokinen’s one plus skill as a player quite nicely. He’s much better getting the puck and shooting it ASAP as opposed to attempting to create for others, as we’re all too aware. 

I’ll add a few words about Ales Kotalik here, even though I don’t know if he’s got any hope of being in Calgary this season. When I looked at his 12 PP goals in 07/08, I saw exactly the same sort of utilization from Buffalo as Florida engaged in with Jokinen. Kotalik played on the point much of the season, ending the year at just under 4 PTS/60, and he had half a dozen PP goals that were shots he blew by the goalie from deep. He never got much of a sniff in that sort of role with the Flames, and I doubt if he and Jokinen played the PP point in 10 games combined with Calgary. Crazy , really. It wasn’t like the Flames had Dan Boyle or Mike Green hanging around as better options. 

I do hope that Brent Sutter, in his search for more offence this coming season, examines the potential make-up of his PP unit. People can talk about schemes all they like, but using your best players in roles that suit them is still the most likely path to success. The Flames can’t really count on Joker to be a PvP killer, so maximizing his ability on the PP is the best hope of getting value from him. If nothing else, using him on the point would mean never seeing Regehr or The Steady One in that role, and I’d like to think that is something we’d all agree would be a positive. 

  • I think Jokinen will be better here in Calgary the second go around. First of all, he’ll know the city and the team better. However, I, like you, wonder if he’ll understand his role: a coach has to give a player a role that suits him, and how is Brent going to be able to do that with the “depth” at centre. youve got jokinen joining a griup that already includes Stajan, Backlund, Langkow (if he’s healthy),and possibly Brett Sutter. I dont want him playing with Iginla, that’s Stajan/Backlund territory, even thought I believe Langkow should be centering Iggy. However, Darryl Sutter hinted that Jokinen will get ANOTHER chance to play with Iginla, his reasoning being that their both shooters, and adding Tanguay will fill the playmaker void. However, if Brent doesnt use him with Iginla, and if LAngkow’s healthy, that means Jokinen gets third line duties playing with Moss, or Glencross/Kotalik(if hes still around). If thats the case, Mikael Backlund gets a chance to play with Glencross/Kotalik, Jackman, and Ivanans. NOt the best place you want your top prospect learning the how to be a full time NHLer. In conclusion, I predict Jokinen alternates with Stajan for playing time with Iggy, and recieves the soft minutes that comes with playing with Iginla, while Langkow plays against the elite in the West( Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Teows, H. Sedin, Getzlaf), and Backlund gets left hung out to dry.

  • Good stuff.

    Whatever principle caused Brent Sutter to play the 4th line after icings last year also seemed to instruct him to put Reggie and Staios on the point during the power play. You’d almost think the Flames had a shooter tooter in net all year Sutter was so conservative.

  • Points well taken Robert. The PP was a huge non-factor last year and if it had been more successful we may have a few more wins.

    Aside from the personel used on the PP, I noticed that most of the time the guys that were on the ice with the man up were the most disinterested group of pros you could find. The powerplay last year was as mundane and lethargic as a Darryl Sutter media scrum. It would not surprise me to find if we had the most blocked shots against with the extra man. The passes were slow and predictable and when the shot was to be taken it was telegraphed so far in advance the goalie not only had time to get in position, he also ordered out for pizza while he was waiting for the puck to arrive. And as mentioned, the shot usually was blocked. The lack of our guys around the net when a shot did make it through was a sore spot for a lot of fans at the Dome last year…regardless if it was PP or even strength. SO many times a shot gets through, a rebound is there and not a Flame jersey to be seen in the vicinity.

    Thanks Robert. I did enjoy the article but now I’m doing a slow burn remembering all that seemed to go wrong during the season. Someone remind of what went right, please!

  • robficiur

    Years ago I remember reading a story about Wayne Gretzky. He had just won his first scoring title (his second year)with 161 points. A good number of his points came from his play behind the net and passing out to other players. Wayne only had 55 goals that year. (only?)

    Gretzky was criticized for his lack of shooting. So he changed part of his game plan. He began to shoot more (people were expecting him to pass). REsult was he scored 92 goals in his third season and 212 points.

    Point here is that the same player made a slight adjustment to his game and went from 55 goals to 92 goals.

    The Flames power play – and offense as a whole could improve by 40 goals by just reading this website. We have told them

    -go to the net

    -different options on the power play

    -use Olly on the PP

    I did a stats comparison that shows since 2004 the goalie that has won the Stanley Cup has averaged 60 games played (not 80). Play your back up.

    With all our advice the Flames will probably go undefeated all year.

  • Reidja

    I agree that we will have to get more creative on the point now that we don’t have Dion around to fire pucks off of defensmen and the glass behind the net. I’m thinking that the biggest difference for our PP (and for any time we spend in the offensive zone) will be the huge step we’ve taken in forward depth this season. Prior to last season I remeber hoping that our great defense would win us games despite having 2/3 of a first line and 1/3 of a second. If nothing else, teams will have a tougher time keeping us to 1 goal per game next year.

  • Yeah I’m glad we don’t have “high and wide” on our team anymore. It would be cool to see the Flames try out a 1A – Iginla, Backlund, Tanguay, Gio, JayBo & 1B – Bourque, Stajan, Hagman, White, Joker (or something like this) on the PP. Share equal time and maybe Brent use the group that’s hotter at the time a bit more. With Backlund and Tanguay playing with Iggy, he’ll have way more passes and there should be a nice bit of creativity with that group, and then the second group would cater to Joker on the point and be a fairly normal PP with Bourque & Hagman setting things up, White’s a pretty good passer too.

    I was not at all impressed with the PP last year, I would see bright spots (Iginla completely smashed a couple pucks into the net off a one timer – Stamkos-esque) but they wouldn’t go with what was working. Optimistic about the future, I know we’ll get under the cap, I’m excited to see if we’ll actually have a legitimate backup, looking forward to seeing if Joker can redeem himself, and if 2/3rds of the team can bounce back from underwhelming years.

    Great article Cleave, definitely an area we need to improve on. Thinking about the Flames PP makes me miss Cammalleri!

    • If the Flames powerplay is 1A – Iginla, Backlund, Tanguay, Gio, JayBo, and the Flames 1B is Bourque, Stajan, Hagman, White, Joker, you still need to find Langkow and Moss powerplay time. They seem like the only guys brave enough to stand in front of the net, and take the punishment that goes with that.

      • Reidja

        I was surprised to see it, but I thought Stajan was at least as effective in the rough areas in front of the net as either Lanks or Moss last season. To be honest, I’m not sure any of the 3 are going to serve us as a Holmstrom etc. I think auditions are open to almost everyone if we’re going to structure our PP like that. From my perspective, I’m seeing us getting forwards open in the slot and at the side of the net with the personnel we have. The point shot will be there as a threat but it won’t be the bread and butter (or crackers and water) as it was last year with wonder kid Dion whizing the one-timers over and over and over.

  • If I am not mistaken Dave Lowry was the coach supposedly in charge of the power play unit last year. I understand everything being said about Brent not playing his guys in their best roles to be effective and I agree with that but I think that the entire coaching staff needs to have their feet put to the fire for last year’s debacle.

  • The coach obviously did not pick the right players for the PP.

    After a point though, it’s about the players. Iggy was hugely disappointing in particular.

    Aside: The notion that you get more wins by playing an inferior goalie is asinine.

  • Reidja

    I know it is a pretty limited sample but I wonder what role he played on the Olympic team. He performed pretty well there (the second best scoring Finn). Was some of his success due to power play time there?

    • Reidja

      He tallied 3 goals and 1 assist, including 2 PP goals in 6 games during the Olympics (2nd in team scoring). Of course Hagman lead the team in scoring with 4 goals and 2 assists, including 2 PP goals as well. No question they can both get on the score sheet, Sutter obviously needs to find a way to utilize these Fins.

  • I wouldn’t put Langkow in front of the net, pretty sure that’s how his career almost ended. Also, he only had 1 goal all year on the PP. Don’t see him getting too much time there this year.

  • Last year the media beamed about an apparent Canadian Olympic powerhouse – Iginla, Phaneuf, Regher & Bouwmeester. Unfortunately only one Canadian player made the team and no argument could be made for those that were left off…. This year the Flames’ Defense is underrated but stronger, and the offense is scrutinized but has more depth.

    When Iginla is underrated and an underdog, he has always proven his worth… See the 2002 Olympics, 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs & 2010 Olympics.

    That being said… I hope we rank as low as 12th in the conference going into the season.

    GO FLAMES GO!!!!!

  • Best article i’ve read this off season. Not only a great dive into Jokinen, a great analysis of the power play as well. It even skirts a bit into what to hope for out of the team for the upcoming year.

    Flow Chart: Priceless lol.

  • MC Hockey

    I agree with Robert’s article for the most part and other commentators too. For those who missed it, he said Olli on the POINT for the PP. I would also think Tanguay would work there but could also be the patient-along-the-boards guy (but not too patient) that Huselius was at one time. Also, the movement by players mentioned is important (like Hitmen did under Lowry), stand still and it’s easy to mark you and block passes and shots. I also agree Iggy should not be the focus just one part of the PP. I don’t know who will play the most but let’s hope its better in 2010-11…it needs to be!