Some Positive Spin

OTTAWA, ON - FEBRUARY 9: Niklas Hagman #11 of the Calgary Flames celebrates his goal against the Ottawa Senators with his teammates Robyn Regher #28,Matt Stajan #18 and Jarome Iginla #12 in a game at Scotiabank Place on February 9, 2010 in Ottawa, Canada. The Calgary Flames and the Ottawa Senators are tied 1-1 after one period. (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images)


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(Puck Prospectus’ Robert Vollman tries to distract us all from the Flames lousy November with his recent numbers-based offering)

Down in the dumps about the losing skid and need some good news? After the downright heresy of suggesting that Lanny McDonald’s and Mike Vernon’s numbers shouldn’t have been retired, I felt I owed you one, so I’m going to share two pieces of good news.

Today I’ll be talking about individual scoring, for which I like to use a player’s even-strength scoring rate, or ESP/60 (even-strength points per 60 minutes). There are two things to know about ESP/60: it tends to be relatively consistent year-to-year, and the magic number of 1.8 keeps popping up.

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We first discovered the magic number a couple of years ago in a study of top-six forwards. With surprisingly few exceptions, forwards that consistently scored above 1.8 earned top-line duty, whereas those that fell below were either traded, sent down, or converted to checkers and grinders. That magic number pops up all the time, including again recently in Tom Awad’s “Good Players” series, as a common trait of the league’s best forwards.

Which brings me to my point – how many top-six forwards do the Flames have? To answer any question like that, I like to take as large a sample size as possible. Even over 82 games, a single hot stretch can considerably skew a player’s statistics, so I’ve taken the past four seasons instead.

With that in mind, the NHL has 160 forwards that have averaged 1.8 ESP/60 over the last four seasons, having played at least 100 games. You’d expect there to be 180 of them (because 30 teams x 6 top-six forwards = 180), but the other 20 are rookies and sophomores who haven’t yet played 100 games. Of those 160 established top-6 forwards, the Flames have 10. That’s right, not 6, but 10.

Player – GP – ESP/60


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Jarome Iginla – 316 – 2.65


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Alex Tanguay – 289 – 2.40


Mikael Backlund – 24 – 2.23


Rene Bourque – 237 – 2.12


Olli Jokinen – 322 – 2.09


Daymond Langkow – 306 – 2.04


Curtis Glencross – 212 – 2.03


Craig Conroy – 304 – 1.91


Matt Stajan – 322 – 1.87


Niklas Hagman – 311 – 1.84


Brendan Morrison – 276 – 1.80


David Moss – 227 – 1.61


Ales Kotalik – 291 – 1.35


Tom Kostopoulos – 303 – 1.31


Ryan Stone – 35 – 1.27


Tim Jackman – 164 – 0.97

Raitis Ivanans – 276 -0.61


It’s true that Daymond Langkow is injured and it would be laughable to include Craig Conroy because of the contributor he used to be – but what about Backlund, or David Moss, whose 2.23 so far this season will soon lift him above the threshold?

In the end it doesn’t matter if the Flames have 8, 9 or 10, the point is that they have a solid depth of forwards who consistently score at the top-six level, a lot more than they’ve had in a very long time.

I promised you two pieces of good news, which brings me to our defensemen, and the newly acquired Anton Babchuk. Did you know that over this same period (the past four seasons) he leads all Flames defensemen in scoring rate both at even-strength and on the power play?

Defenseman – G – ESP/60 – PPP/60


Anton Babchuk – 124 – 1.04 – 3.86


Mark Giordano – 188 – 0.91 – 2.93


Jay Bouwmeester – 328 – 0.86 – 2.95


Adam Pardy – 117 – 0.69 – 0.00


Steve Staios – 278 – 0.67 – 1.63


Cory Sarich – 295 – 0.57 – 1.18


Robyn Regehr – 316 – 0.57 – 2.11

Brendan Mikkelson – 62 – 0.29 – 0.00


For reference, Ian White is 1.00 at even-strength and 2.12 with the man advantage – and had a much larger cap hit. Babchuk should help elevate the Flames offense from the blue line.

The acquisition of Brendan Mikkelson isn’t nearly as exciting, but he’s at least doing better than his father Bill Mikkelson, who has the NHL record for the worst single-season plus/minus, a whopping -82 for the Washington Capitals in 1974-75 (the same season Michel Belhumeur played 35 games in nets without posting a single victory).

The point is that while the Flames have hit some hard times and had some hard breaks, there are still at least a few things going their way. It’ll be an uphill battle, but the season is far from over.


  • Graham

    Interesting, I didn’t think Backlund and Moss were thought of so highly by the numbers.

    However, I think the average Flames Nation commenter will probably wil be confused. BLAME HOTCHKISS.

  • Gange

    So Babchuk has a good scoring rate? What does that mean if his plus/minus is upside down?

    I understand why he’s here but when you’re playing 2-1 games you can ill afford to have an individual on your team who can’t keep up with the opposition.

    Thanks for the stats, they are interesting however I suspect at the end of the year, if you just took the last two years, you’d see something very different.

    • SarahM

      You understand why Babchuk’s here? That makes one of us. A couple of days ago (or was it yesterday) there were rumblings in Twitter-verse that the Flames were disappointed with his play thus far. And that confuses me, because he’s pretty much exactly what I thought he’d be.

      • Gange

        Don’t get me wrong, he’s an utter failure. I just believe he was brought here to be the heavy shot and the scoring punch on the blue line.

        If this is how Michel Goulet scouts, I am sorely disappointed.

    • SmellOfVictory

      That is a good point. Although this article was informative, ESP/60 is only part of the story. Additionally, an important consideration is how much more than 1.8/60 a player scores, and there are temporal considerations. Iginla and Jokinen, for example, have both been scoring at a level below their average ESP/60 rates in the past two years, and are not likely to swing back.

      I don’t have the info, but I’d say it’s a good bet that the 2-3 highest ESP/60 players on most good NHL teams are scoring at a notably higher rate than the Flames’ current top 3 ESP/60 players. Take that into consideration, along with the lack of Langkow, and things look a little less rosy. The stats are still nice to see, but I think the raw numbers lack very important contextual considerations. In fact, I would wager that the ESP/60 rates of Iginla, Jokinen, Conroy, and Tanguay all look notably worse if only the last three seasons are used instead of the last four. It might be unfair to Tanguay since he fell off an unexplained cliff in TB, but I think a three year averaging is probably going to provide a more accurate number for the other three players than the four year average.

  • Backburner

    Very interesting to say the least… but I think we’re beating a dead horse here. You can analyze all the stats you want but the Flames still aren’t winning games. Does anyone else feel like Bill Murray in the movie ‘Groundhog Day’? Then again, I guess the only way to get through this season is to look at the positives, and just ride it out… Hopefully soon, the God’s will look on Calgary’s favor and we will start to get the “lucky bounces”. That makes about as much sense as any of these stats…

  • Gange

    At some point we should stop looking at the “potential” of the team and discussing what they could be, because the “what if’s” don’t really mean anything. This sub 500 team, clearly is what this team is. Like it or not.

  • A18

    Even if the bounces go our way and we start winning some games, we are still only a fringe team. At best we sneak into the playoffs with most likely a burnt out Kipper. History speaks for itself on how we have fared in these situations.

    Daz has possibly failed on capitalizing on our ‘star’ players prime by surrounding them with a solid team. Every year it’s a different excuse from this guy.

    When he came to Calgary he was our saviour ending a seven year post season drought. Even then it may have been picking up Kipper that is the biggest factor for our marginal success. You have to give him credit for finally getting a good goalie but he has had substantial time to improve further. He has not done this nor does it seem likely in the near future.

  • A18

    Stats are good for scouting purposes and planning your fantasy pools. They do little to assist the current personel on the ice.

    I applaud the effort to try and shine a positive light on this team, as finding any type of positives is about as easy as Darryl spitting out a coherent sentence at a press conference!

    Does no one else sense there is trouble when for the past couple of years Darryl and Ken have been spewing forth rheteric about fielding a “competetive” team, yet should we not be hearing them talk about putting together a “contending” team. They were doing it after the lock-out…does this not seem like we’re going backwards??

    Sorry, I have now killed any positive vibes this blog was intended to generate. Not my intention but my negativity as it pertains to this teams management runs deep!

  • BobB

    I thought I might-as-well throw this out there, since we’re talking about reasons for hope. Our goalie should warm up as usual. Compiled from 03-04 up to date as of today (ev sv%) Some guys have much longer careers, like Brodeur (but I’m trying to get an even distribution of SA in the 6000-9500 range.) Half the goalies in the league have seen too few shots to make the list.

    1. Vokoun, 0.932, 9260

    2. Luongo, 0.929, 9725

    3. Thomas, 0.928, 6447

    4. Kiprusoff, 0.926, 8895

    5. Lundqvist, 0.926, 7499

    6. Brodeur, 0.925, 9168

    7. Bryzgalov, 0.925, 6056

    8. Lehtonen, 0.925, 5352*

    9. Giguere, 0.924, 6672

    10. Backstrom, 0.924, 5432*

    11. Miller, 0.923, 7521

    12. Turco, 0.919, 7989

    13. Roloson, 0.919, 7487

    14. Fleury, 0.916, 6725

    15. Ward, 0.916, 6182

    It’s a minimum 6000 sa but I squeezed in Backstrom and Lehtonen, they’ll be there before year’s end. Honourable mention to Jonas Hiller who sports a .930 but has faced less than 3300 shots. I may have missed a few guys, but that’s the most of ’em that have seen a bunch of shots. Nabakov would be at .922 and 7400 SA if he was still in the league.

  • A18

    I wish people would consider statistical analysis. I personally thought it was retarded until Kent, RO, etc all predicted Jokinen failing as a Flame when we got him from PHX. That was enough to convert me. Some of these other people should consider looking into them.

  • BobB

    It takes some effort and work to enter these stats and share this with everybody and they are an interesting read. Most fans have been calling for sutters head going into the 3rd year now. People have talked about our lack of talent in the farm system,bad trades, hefty contracts, and bad signings. Why is he and his sidekick king still here and how much longer is this BS going to continue before something happens????

  • SmellOfVictory

    Thanks for reading guys. Great comments!

    You have all done a great job putting the work in context, while acknowledging that I was merely trying to be positive.

    As for Babchuk’s defense, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s harder to rate. Here’s a look at a few stats.

    Defenseman | +/- | PCD | GVT-Def

    Regehr | +50 | 191.01 | 19.0
    Bouwmeester | +12 | 153.12 | 14.6
    Sarich | +12 | 122.22 | 11.3
    Giordano | +26 | 72.96 | 10.8
    Staios | -51 | 73.93 | 2.6
    Babchuk | +7 | 56.19 | 7.1
    Pardy | 0 | 30.87 | 3.4
    Mikkelson | -5 | 16.58 | 0.5

    Remember these aren’t rates, they’re totals, so factor in GP when reviewing them.

    Based on these quick summary statistics (this isn’t the whole picture!) Babchuk isn’t horrible but yeah – not exactly a guy you’d put on the ice with a 1-goal lead late in the game.