Contextualizing Iginla’s Struggles


As of today, November 20th 2011, Jarome Iginla sits fourth on the Flames in scoring with just four goals and nine points in 18 games. He is also a team worst -10. Although he’s one of the higtes paid forward in the league, Jarome currently sits 170th in league scoring, trailing the likes of David Desharnais, Kevin Shattenkirk, Nik Antropov, Maxime Talbot, Chad Larose, Jason Chimera…you get the idea.

So the Flames captain has definitely struggled. We’re not even past the quarter season pole, so it’s important to note variacne/luck has had a large influence on the results so far, with some guys in the league riding the percentages wave and other drowning beneath it. To better understand Jarome’s issues, I aim to separate the bad luck from the bad play.

Bad Luck

Like last year at the same time, the pucks just aren’t going for in Iginla currently. His on-ice shooting percentage at even strength is just 4.6%, almost half of the typical league average of about 8%. In other words, the Flames have had 131 shots on net with Jarome on the ice in all ES situations this year, but have scored just six goals. On the other hand, Calgary has surrendered 139 shots against, including 12 goals (.914 SV%). His percentages combined equal 96.0, a number well below average (100.0) and not bound to last forever. Particularly that SH%, which is abysmal.

If we assume team average SH% (8.0%) and SV% (92.5%), we get an expected goals for total of 10 and goals against of 10, bringing his personal goal differential down from -6 to 0 at ES. Iginla has contributed on 4 of the 6 six goals the Flames have scored with him on the ice (66.7%). If we assume a stable percentage of contribution, then his expected even strength points bumps up from four to about 6 or 7.

On top of all that, Iginla’s personal sooting percentage is lagging slightly behind his career average (13.3%) at 10.4%. Again, if we assume Iggy’s real talent is 13%, then his expected goals through 18 games would be (13%*48 shots) 6.24 or 6 rather than the five he has now.

Bad Play

As we can see, much of Jarome’s poor plus/minus is courtesy rotten percentages (ie; bad luck). And he jumps up to first or second amongst Flames scorers with team average goal and save rates thus far. We can safely expect things to regress at some point, meaning don’t bet on Jarome finishing the year with a plus/minus of -40 or anything.

All that granted, it’s notable that even with assumed team average luck Jarome’s results don’t become all that noteworthy (12-13 points, plus/minus 0) in absolute terms. This is because on top of the bad bounces, Jarome hasn’t been driving the play north. Anyone who has watched the games will likely agree Iginla has struggled to be effective most nights.

The math agrees. As noted above, the Flames have been outshot at even strength with him on the ice (139 to 131). If we add in missed shots (55 for, 67 against) and blocked shots (62 for, 82 against) we get a better idea of how much time Iginla spends in the defensive zone. Overall, the Flames have managed 248 shots at the net at even strength with Jarome on the ice, but have surrendered 288.

That’s what we call "corsi" around here, and his raw corsi is -40. If we convert that to a ratio, it comes out to .463 which currently stands as the third worst amongst regular Calgary forwards – ahead of only Rene Bourque (.449) and Roman Horak (.411). League average is about .5 (50%) and really good players are usually at .55 or above.

To some degree, those possession results wouldn’t be completely substandard if Iginla was, say, starting in his own zone a lot against the other team’s best players. But that’s not really the case. His offensive-zone to defensive-zone faceoff ratio is almost right on 50% (75 offensive, 78 defensive) and the first line has split duties with the Jokinen unit when it comes to facing the other big guns. In fact, it’s arguable that Jokinen/Glencross have seen more of the opposition’s best thus far, a contention supported by their relative quality of competition score via behind the net.

We have repeatedly stated around these parts over the last year or two that Jarome is a forward who needs the high ground to succeed at this stage of his career. That means: high zone start ratios and lesser competition to the greatest degree the coach can manage it. As illutrated here, the puck travels the wrong way when Jarome skates at ES otherwise. 

Before moving on, I’ll note that Iginla has been helped (rather than hindered) by playing to score effect so far (the tendency for trailing teams to get moer shots on net and vice versa). The captain’s score-tied shot ratios are even worse than his overall numbers: .410 (shots for/against), .420 (shots+missed shots) and .439 (corsi). That stands as the worst rate on the club currently, since Bourque (.515) and Horak (.456) both do better by this measure. To add further context, the Flames overall score-tied corsi is .514.

The Power Play

One of the Flames most obvious weaknesses thus far has been the man advantage. It has actually improved nominally over the last week or so, with Calgary now generating 40.9 shots on net per hour at 5on4 – good for 27th in the league, whereas they we down around 39 shot/60 perviously. The problem seems to lie primarily with the first PP unit – of which Iginla and Alex Tanguay* are the principles. They average 3:29 and 3:39 per game on the PP respectively, the most amongst Flames forwards.

This is actually an area where Jarome has been relatively lucky. He is averaging 4.9 PP points/60 minutes so far (which is good-to-very-good) despite the fact the team manages just 32.4 shots/60 when he’s on the ice. In contrast, the Flames garner 41.1 shots/60 when Iginla is on the bench, a difference of almost 8 shots per hour. This suggests the Flames PP is actually improved by Iginla’s absence.

What’s floating Iginla’s decent scoring rate right now is a on-ice SH% of 13.16%. The bad news is shot rate is far more indicative of a team’s PP skill than SH% in the long-run. And right now, the Flames manage less shots on net with Jarome on the ice than the worst PP in the league (38.4/60 – NYR).

*For those wondering about Tanguay – he’s even worse at 32 shots/60 and a differential of -10.1/60. Alex manning the point can probably be declared a failed experiment and abandoned without regret.


Iginla’s poor start is an intersection of bad luck and poor play. The Flames captain has suffered through abnormally low percentages through the first 18 games, but the team has also been routinely outshot with him on the ice at 5on5. In addition, the Flames PP struggles are legitimate and Iginla seems to be one of the problems rather than the solution.


Going forward, we should expect to see a break-out of some sort. Iginla still plays a lot each night (8th most ES ice time per game for forwards in the league) and is bound to hit a hot run of percentages eventually. For the rebound to be sustained beyond a run of good fortune, though, at least one of two things will need to happen:

1.) Jarome will have to drastically improve in terms of getting pucks into the offensive zone and on net. The team’s shot rates at both ES and on the PP are poor when Iginla is on the ice currently.

2.) Brent Sutter will have to ger far more agressive in terms of giving Iginla and his linemates favorable circumstances. A 50/50 split in terms of zone starts and match-ups against other top lines isn’t really going to cut it. I can understand Brent’s reluctance to bury one or more of the other trios given his dearth of established, shut-down options up front, but I’m not sure $10M+ worth of Tanguay and Iginla getting beat up every night is a viable option either. 

It’s entiely possible that shifting a larger burden on, say, Jokinen/Glencross would merely mean a shift (rather than improvement) of results from one line to the other, but it’s not like the Flames have much to lose by trying it.


  • RKD

    We go through this Iginla scrutiny every season, because he is the captain and highest paid player on the team.

    He is a perennial slow starter, and will rebound. It might take a bit longer this season with him missing training camp.

    It’s only a matter of time before he breaks out, he’ll probably produce a lot more in the second half.

      • Jeff Lebowski

        I don’t think this is an entirely false narrative. From those 11 seasons listed in that link, Iginla’s initial 15 game production is above a point per game in only 4 (36%).
        Iginla has had numerous top 10 overall seasons and I think it’s fair to think of him as belonging in that class. In the majority of seasons being in the top 10 meant you were at least a point per game (it’s only in a few seasons where the 8,9,10th place guy is below pt/gm).
        So based on his track record (top 10) his early season outputs are below average for him. The issue is where he’s finished in the past and therefore the expectation.
        So what then is the definition of a slow start relative to the entire season?

  • SmellOfVictory

    It’s been accepted practice around here for him to wake up around the 20 game mark. Without preseason this year I’m guessing around game 30, he’ll decide to flip the switch.

  • RKD


    He is a perennial slow starter

    This is a false narrative.

    Thanks for debunking the myth for me. However, in 03′ while had 12 points, he only had 3 goals.

    If he has 9 points now with 6-7 goals and less assists I think it’s not as magnified as it is now.
    In 06′ he had 12 points but 7 goals.

    It’s been a combination of different things from backchecking to being -10.

  • Ken V.

    Too early in the season to be this critical of Iggy. No one has particularly shown a consistent effort night in and out on this team. Hopefully this win over the Hawks was a swagger booster. Hey Kent, what are Jokinen’s numbers so far? He’s been the most consistent in compete level but not on the score sheet so I am curious how this relates to his stats.

  • Ken V.

    How much is the lackluster play effecting the development of Backlund? It’s my view that both Iginla and Tanguay are hindering his ability. Yet the coach still insists on giving them first line minutes. I hope the two veterans step it up and prove me wrong. But when? Before it’s too late, I hope.

    • SmellOfVictory

      I’d say it’s affecting Backlund’s stats, but to say it’s affecting his development would be a claim I don’t think anyone can make. Backlund has been doing quite well, and the other two have been dragging him down by what I’ve seen. That said, maybe it’s helping him learn to deal with adversity. 😉

  • Ken V.

    Iggy needs a new wing mate as Tanguay seems to not even want to play this season. Dishing and dropping passes that go right in to the hands of the opposition tend to make the other linemates look worse. If Tanguay could pick up his game, (and maybe -gasp- take some shots on goal) then perahps Iggy would be more supported in his role. Not a lot of options, I know, as I wouldn’t break up Olli-Glennie & Bourque, as they seem to be jelling better.

    • SmellOfVictory

      I know we all love mocking mainstream sports narratives, but emotional factors should be recognized as valid (if unquantifiable) phenomena.

      Take something like poker, a statistician’s dream competition. You have exactly two things: luck and decision-making; going on tilt is well-documented, and can lead to poor decision making based on frustration/lack of confidence. I’d say a good analogy for hockey is that it’s similar to poker except that players each have different decks (skill level), but beyond that the results are still based on the luck of the draw combined with their decision making. To say that they will not be affected by things like confidence and frustration simply because they have elite skillsets is silly, in my view. I realize from a purely analytical standpoint it makes no sense to attempt to quantify such things, but that doesn’t mean we can’t acknowledge their existence.

  • It’s too bad a statistical analysis can’t be applied to one’s enthusiasm, heart, drive, ability. All variables that continually change through out the course of a season. Variables that are in complete control of each individual player.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    Another narrative that has been become popular in the last few seasons is that, like Steve Yzerman (in his later years), Iginla has to learn to be a better all around player. This is an option, but if the player fails to do so or refuses shouldn’t the coach adjust how Iginla is utilized? If Iginla is no longer able to carry the mail, as he did in ’04 to ’08, shouldn’t the team plans adjust accordingly.

    IMO Jerome is no longer effective in a power vs power role. We watched this over the past couple of seasons now, and it’s hard to believe this will change. So, Sutter needs to adjust and move Igina to the second line, or possibly use him the way the Sedin’s are used in Vancouver (with very high OZ starts and against below average competition). The old line about the definition of insanity holds true – doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results. It’s time to adjust just how Iginla is utilized, and place him ain positions where he is more likely to succeed.

  • Willi P

    The problem is obvious, Kent writes “On top of all that, Iginla’s personal sooting percentage is lagging slightly behind his career average (13.3%) at 10.4%.”

    Clearly if Iggy stops “sooting” and starts shooting, the goals will follow.

    Sorry Kent, couldn’t resist.

  • Ken V.

    While Iggy is a slow starter I his injury during TC has negatively impacted his results to date this year.

    Even more frightful though is he’s still fourth on the team in points despite a horrendous start!

    and he’s the higtes paid forward huh? (did you edit your post yourself Kenta?)

  • wawful

    I don’t really have the numbers, but here’s a two-part question for those of you who know where to find them:

    1) Is the productivity of a line correlated with how much ice-time they’ve had together? If so, how long does it take, on average, for line chemistry to gel?

    2) Has Iginla had his line-mates, especially centers, swapped on him more often in the last couple of years than prior?

    I’m just wondering if the revolving door for first-line centers might have had an impact on Iggy’s performance. It seemed liked Iginla did better last year once Backlund settled in on the first line and stayed there, while before that it was a never-ending succession of tryouts.

    • wawful

      Its a medical term refering to a unique or varied condition when one of the baby-faced rookies gets an acne-like reaction from growing their facial hair during an road trip.

  • BobB

    I could live with Iginla having no defensive acumen whatsoever and look past his terrible leadership deficiencies if he would at least put in a little bit of effort; but that’s only feasible when he’s trying to make the Olympic team (I’d say Team Canada, but Iginla always has more interest in water-skiing than he does in playing for his country in the Worlds).

    He needs a change of scenery, it’s obvious he’s burned out playing in Calgary.

    He didn’t bring us anything in his 20’s and he won’t now at 34. Time for new faces and real leadership, players who don’t think they’re bigger than the team.

  • BobB

    @ The-wolf, comment #21, amen brother, couldn’t have wrote it any better my self. Can’t figure out the love-in people have with a 7 million dollar 2nd line winger.

  • BobB

    Great post Kent, although there are an abnormally high number of spelling and grammar mistakes in this one. Hangover post?

    I’m goal-prevention obsessed… I’d like someday, someone to be able to do this depth of analysis on a goalie.

    Instead of it being Goalie ev sv% – .905, conclusion HE SUCKS!

    What if we only used shooting % (and career shooting %) to measure forwards, without 8-10 counterpoints of context, and team analysis?

    I guess then Alex Tanguay would be one of the greatest players in history…

  • RexLibris

    Based on my experience and the general trend that I have observed with the Flames as a team, my guess is that Iginla will find his scoring touch at the exact moment that the fan base is at its collective wits’ end over his slump.

    Just like the Chicago game, it is at those moments when all seems darkest and change appears inevitable that a ray of hope shines through and convinces the faithful to continue on for another day.

    Here’s hoping he can get it going against Sanford and Son tonight.