Dynamic Duos

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 01:  Daymond Langkow #22 of the Calgary Flames celebrates with teammate Rene Bourque #17 after Langkow scored a third period goal against the Los Angeles Kings during the NHL game at Staples Center on November 1, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. The Flames defeated the Kings 3-2. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)


Last season was an offensive nightmare for the Calgary Flames, we all know that.  Now that we look back on the season that was and get set for the upcoming campaign, we can delve a little further into who made eachother tick (and who didn’t).  When doing some number crunching, two specific forward duo’s ended up doing some pretty good work.

Granted, an NHL team is made of up four player lines (thanks professor Steinberg), but because Calgary’s line combinations were so fluid last year, analyzing pairs of forwards becomes a little more relevant.  Lines were juggled constantly, and very few players stayed put with eachother for a long period of time.

I took a look at scoring chance data collected last season, which tracked 72 of Calgary’s 82 games. Obviously this data is subjective, and it doesn’t always take into account other factors on the ice.  However, the larger sample size you’re able to gather, the more acccurate picture this type of stat can provide.  So, after going through the numbers, these two forward pairs stuck out:

Rene Bourque and Daymond Langkow

In the comments thread of my previous post heralding the career year Rene Bourque had, a discussion got started as to who would be good linemates for #17 this upcoming season. To me, Langkow is a no brainer, as the two did some very good work when together last season. Langkow and Bourque played the first part of the season on a line with Nigel Dawes, and the three played consistent minutes against top opposition forwards.  But, with Dawes no longer on the team, it’s only pertinent to look at Langkow and Bourque.

Together, Bourque and Langkow were on the ice for together for 110 even strength scoring chances for the Flames, and 93 scoring chances against.  Overall, when those two were on the ice together, 54.2% of scoring opportunities would be at the right end of the ice.  Now, combine that with who they were playing against, and the numbers look pretty impressive.  I was always a proponent for Bourque and Langkow playing together, because of the job they do moving the puck up ice combined with their strong play in their own end.

However, this table should give a litlte more depth to the impact Bourque and Langkow can have:

We all know it was a rough year for Jarome, at both ends of the ice.  However, when playing with Bourque, things were on the right side of the middle.  It’s even more drastic when you look at Iginla’s time with Langkow, and with the amount of Langkow support on FlamesNation, that shouldn’t suprise anyone (other numbers back up Langkow’s impact even more).  But it seems as if the feeling is Iginla will be put together with Alex Tanguay to start the upcoming season, so that leaves Bourque as a second line winger, and a perfect fit with Langkow (if his health continues to progress).

Craig Conroy and Curtis Glencross

The signing of Craig Conroy to a one year contract earlier this month made some people very happy, and raised annoyance levels of others.  However, if used correctly, he can be effective.  Conroy saw significant playing time with Curtis Glencross at times this year, and they did some fairly impressive work together.

Looking at even strength numbers, the duo was well above the middle when it comes to generating scoring chances.  The pair was good for 78 chances for versus 55 against, which works out to 58.6%. That shouldn’t surprise people, especially when it comes to Glencross. On his own, he was +28 this past season, with chances resulting at the right end of the ice 53.7% of the time.  When Glencross plays against similar opposition, he is straight up dominant, and should be used in a similar role this year.  For a guy you can use on your third line, he can do some serious damage.

Conroy helped Glencross because of his ability to move the play forward, and his superior positioning helped guard against numerous chances going the other way.  The only problem with this pairing is the low likliehood of them being a consistent duo for the upcoming season.  With Calgary’s situation down the middle crowded already (Langkow, Jokinen, Stajan), Conroy will most likely be given bottom three minutes, a that Glencross isn’t suited for.


In conclusion, by no means am I saying the numbers trotted out above are iron clad and all telling. However, they do paint a very interesting picture that backs up a lot of what I saw transpire on the ice over an 82 game season. It’s something to keep in the back of your head as we approach training camp.

  • This has likely been covered before, but since I’m still somewhat new to this I was curious to know how people feel about the line juggling and I know last year at times people felt that the lines that seemed to play the best did not always command more ice time. There was the odd game where lines 1 & 2 were on the defensive most of the game while lines 3 & 4 seemed to be creating havoc and chances but there minutes did not increase during the game. Would people prefer that lines have more time to gell instead of changing up from game to game as was sometimes the case.

    I know some will say that Joker and Iggy were together way too long (same could be said on defense with Phaneuf and Reg), but cases can be made that some combos should have been together more often. Other coaches juggle their lines too, but does Brent Sutter do it too much, just enough or not enough? Does it bug people to watch when line 3 is taking the fight to the opposition but the top 2 lines get their usual minutes despite having poor games? These are just some things people chatted to me about at the Dome last year. Pat’s post reminded me of some of the conversations and some of the frustrations that were felt about it.

    • I think a lot of the line juggling we saw last year was the fact that Calgary just didn’t have a ton of offence. Because of that, the coaching staff tried to get something from different combos.

      Plus, the year long struggle that was Jarome Iginla’s season made things difficult…getting someone to play with him that worked was a big reason why things got shuffled around.

  • Thinking about the different line combinations leaves me wondering why we have so many forwards. I guess it all depends on how everyone plays at TC but my guess is both Stone & Backlund will start the year with Abby? Which leaves a 3rd line looking like Glencross/Moss-Stajan-Kotalik and a 4th of Conroy-Moss/Glencross-Goon?

    Even if Kotalik gets moved, it won’t be enough to bring Backlund up, and then we’ve got to many Centers.

  • @ Bob

    I feel your frustration. Unfortunately, coaches are sometimes restrained by match-ups. For example, if Glencross and Moss are killing the other teams 3rd line, Sutter will probably pursue that match-up. However, third lines don’t tend to play as much as top 2 lines, so it’ll necessarily mean that despite playing well, the third unit’s ice time won’t go up all that much.

    • I think that has been the issue for fans. When we’re playing at home and have last change and watch as our top 2 lines get killed by the opponents top 2 lines…it frustrates fans who see our 3rd line dominate but don’t get a chance to see if they can perform against better competition. Granted, this was NOT an every game scenario and I fully understand why Sutter was juggling lines when we couldn’t seem to score and all we had was Kipper standing on his head.

      You brought this up with me on a previous post about skilled 4 lines, but that if one was put together it would not play against the top 2 lines of the other team as coaches usually pit line against line. It frustrated fans at the Dome to no end last year (and even previous years) to watch certain players get their usual ice time and NOT give a full effort. On occassion a player would get placed on a different line, but they still played. Fans wanted to see some guys, and in some cases a full line, get benched for a few shifts. Send a message to them. I saw it once that I recall last year where the top line sat for over 5 minutes and lines 2 and 3 got double duty to finish the period. In the next period Iggy came out on fire. But that instance was extremely rare.

      The theory that a top line should dominate a 4th line in hockey is not a consistent. While it is true the majority of the time, it changes from game to game, team to team. I think most coaches just don’t want to chance it.

  • I get so excited when hockey season approaches. I think the flames have a great team on paper, plus the motivation to really do some damage this upcoming season. Our top 9 forwards will compete for jobs on the top 2 lines, and it gives Brent soo many options as far as line juggling goes. I would really like to see if Tanguay and Iggy can rekindle some of the old chemistry. I heard somewhere that Backlund is trying to line up on the wing this upcoming season. Any truth to that?

    • I heard somewhere that Backlund is trying to line up on the wing this upcoming season. Any truth to that?

      I think what’s been out there has been speculation that perhaps he might be moved to the win with the amount of bodies the Flames have signed down the middle.

      • The Flames have bodies everywhere though. That’s (ostensibly) the reason they bought out Dawes.

        LW: Tanguay, Hagman, Glencross, Stone (maybe), Ivanans

        RW: Iginla, Bourque, Moss, Jackman, Kotalik (maybe)

        Unless Langkow is hurt, I don’t know where Backlund fits on this club.

  • The centres are the biggest issue, though. The top-6 winger spots are locked down as far as I can tell, but Moss or GlenX could easily be dropped to the 4th line without making them look severely overpaid for the minutes they play. Then one of the centres just has to move to a 3rd line wing, scratch Jackman or Stone, and you have room for Backlund.

    This is under the widely-shared assumption that Kotalik will not be on the Flames’ NHL roster.

    • I guess I don’t understand the impetus for having Backlund in a top 9 position SOV. He’s 21 years old and didn’t knock the ball out of the park in the AHL last year, let alone in his limited time on the big club. He isn’t currently better than Moss or Glencross and I’m certain the team wants to develop him as a center in the long-term anyways.

      If he can’t take the 3rd line position because Langkow is healthy, I’d much prefer to see him playing the #1 C position in Abby. I wouldn’t say that if I thought he’d grown beyond that league, but there’s no reason to think he has. He’s not cheaper than Glencross or Moss either, so there’s no cap efficiency to be found there.

        • Don’t get me wrong – Backlund is the most interesting forward prospect this organization has and I think he’s definitely got some tools. He probably has a decent enough ceiling, assuming he put things together.

          The logistics don’t work for him this year though. As soon as Jokinen was signed, the kids ticket to Abby was punched. That said, I still assume we’ll see him on the big team at some point this season, either because Langkow won’t be ready to go in October or because someone else will get hurt.

  • MC Hockey

    As for the juggling, it is frustrating as a fan when you see things start to work and then the lines change the next shift… but I am sure (?) the coaches have some reason for it. However, sometimes chemistry takes time to develop, so give it time unless its obvious (a la Iginla-Ollie last year) that it’s just not going to work. And I hate to say it, but since Sutters like their veterans (e.g. Conroy, many others) I see Backlund and his fairly high salary will be likely relegated to the minors until a trade or long-term injury happens. Some of these young guys signing for larger salareas over $1M actually hurt their chances to play in the big league due to salary cap issues. While bonuses are not counted on the cap (up to 7% of team salaries I believe), not many current Flames have bonuses we can not count against the cap. I notice more guys in minors who may cap up due have bonus-laden contracts. DSutter is learning I think (amazing!).

  • MC Hockey

    Iginla and Jokinen had three quarters of a season between Keenan and Sutter to develop chemistry.

    Somehow the chemistry they undoubtedly developed did not magically produce more wins.

    We’ll just give them more time to develop more chemistry though, like it’s goddamn high-school science class or something.

    I think there’s another answer.

    Oh, I know! Maybe we can play more rookies like Backlund. That guy just flat out deserves his spot on the top line, I mean do you know how hard it is to step into the show at 20 years of age and look like he doesn’t belong on NHL ice?

    • I’m with you in that I wasn’t overly impressed with Backlund in his limited stint last year, even with playing protected minutes. Problem is, I think there will be a push from the organization to have him start the season on the big club. I’m not sure that’s the right answer for either side.

      @Kent Wilson

      Kent, you make a really good point when looking at how the Flames have bodies everywhere. Again, I wonder if it isn’t best for Backlund to start in the American Hockey League.

    • The bonus is included in the cap hit. Sort of:

      When teams calculate how much room they have under the cap to add players, any potential bonuses that a player can earn must be included in the player’s cap count. As the season progresses, if a player becomes ineligible for a bonus it will come off the player’s cap count and that amount will become available to the team – but only for that season.


  • I’ve got little problem with the idea of having Backlund on the 4th wing if there is evidence it will work, although I don’t think it’ll happen.

    The talk of duo’s in interesting since Sutter reportedly loves them so much. And a while back there was talk of potential line-ups, which is a bit futile because they’ll always be changing.

    Problem is, we still are a team of three second line centers and two more fourth line centers. All the ‘get someone to play with Iginla’ talk infuriates me because I think it’s Iggy dragging lines down, but anyway…

    …there is little reason in my mind to not have Iggy paired primarily with Langkow. There is little evidence anyone is a better match with Iginla. Now, only if Langkow wasn’t injured.

    If anyone can tell me why there is any need to have two of Stone, Jackman or Ivanis on the ice at the same time (or at all in the case of Ivanis) I’m all ears.

    As stoopid as it is, here it comes:

    Hagman-Langkow-Iginla (Lanks babysitter #1)
    Tanguay-Jokinen-Bourque (Tangs bbysttr #2, hopefully)
    (/Stone) Backlund-Conroy-Stone(/Jackman)

    …Kotalik & Ivanis

    If/when Langkow is out, the centers just bump up one rung, with Backlund taking third/fourth rotation and I guess Kotalik slots in.

    • That seems rational enough to me Lawrence, although if the team wanted to have a “soft skill guy” on the 4th line they could have kept Dawes. I also can’t see the club carrying two extra forwards around given it’s cap situation.

      Which means, that’s closer to the way I’d do things, but I would never bet on it actually going down that way.

  • That, of course, is meant to read:

    3rd – Glencross-Stajan-Moss, 4th – (/Stone) Backlund-Conroy-Stone(/Jackman)

    Stone is our 6th centre who shoots left. When you’re punching and hitting, I don’t think the wing matters too much, so I slotted him on RW first. Perhaps he’s a better 5th LW though.


    “Langkow will probably start year in the infirmary and Kotalik will probably start in Abby.”

    I see Kotalik playing the first part of the season with us no? If Langkow is out for some time, his services (uhh…shot?) may be needed on the wing. I know they are different positions and much different players, and it takes some shuffling, but dollar-wise I only see Kotalik playing when Langkow isn’t. We’ll need more scoring as well, vs more Ivanis’

  • @Lawrence

    It’s possible they’ll keep Kotalik around if Langkow starts on LTIR. That will bump Moss down and one of Stone/Jackman/Ivanans off the team completely (probably Stone). Things get really complicated once Langkow is healthy though.