We continue the mediocrity series today by looking at the Flames forward’s possession rates and how they compare to each other and to other quality teams in the league. The results are rather unambiguous and illustrate why the club is both better than the NHL’s weaker thans as well as a step behind the elites.
In general, normal corsi rates are a pretty good representation of a players ability to move the puck forward, particularly when issues like quality of competition and zone start are accounted for. However, the playing-to-score effect can skew certain players rates to the left or right, depending on how often they play in a given game state (be it playing from behind or ahead). When playing from behind, teams and coaches tend to play more aggressively, thereby inflating corsi rates. When playing with the lead, teams tend to play more conservatively, thereby lowering their corsi ratio. This effect is fairly persistent across most teams across the league.
Of course, some players get tapped on the shoulder more or less often depending on the circumstances. Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay and Olli Jokinen were some of the team leaders in terms of ice time with the team down by one goal last year (over 200 minutes each). Those three players also led the forwards in terms of playing while down by 2 or more (140 minutes each).
This is why it sometimes makes sense to consider score-tied corsi as the best indication of a players possession rate. It eliminates the PTS effect, leveling the playing field. It’s this metric I will use today to examine the Flames forward corps. First off, here are the players ranked lowest to highest*. Again, the higher the number the more time the puck spent in the offensive zone when the player was on the ice.
As you can see, the Flames first couple of lines were more apt to be at .500 or above. A ratio of .500 means an even split down the middle: a coaches goal is for every line/player on the club to be at least at or above 50%. If we add in quality of competition, the table becomes even more meaningful:
|NAME||Corsi Tied||CORSI Rel QoC*|
*On the right is "relative corsi quality if competition". Relative corsi is corsi rating of a player corrected for the relative strength of his team. This is done by subtracting his corsi rating while he’s on the ice from the team’s corsi rating when he’s on the bench. For example, if Player X is on a lousy team, he may have a corsi rating of -2/60 while he’s on the ice. However, if his "off-ice" corsi rating is -10, his relative corsi is (-2 – (-10)) +8/60 because the club’s general possession improves by 8 corsi/60 with him on the ice. On the other hand, Player Y on a good team has a +2/60 corsi rating while he’s skating, but an "off-ice" rating of +10/60. This time his relativel corsi would be -8/60 because the club’s possession rate fell by that much.
As you can see, many of the Flames who faced the dregs in terms of opposition placed highly in terms of corsi. On the other hand, the guys who saw tough competition (Jokinen, Iginla, Tanguay, Bourque, Morrison) were mostly underwater. Glencross and Moss are the only two forwards on the club who swim against the tide somewhat by maintaining good corsi ratios despite seeing a middling-to-high quality of competition. On the other hand, Stajan and Hagman’s corsi rates are "good" at an absolute level, but extremely underwhelming when taken in context of the team and who they play against.
In some ways, the results are intuitive: guys who play against other guys who are good at moving the puck north see their corsi ratios drop. The guys who don’t, don’t. Of course, that is part of the reason to pay the big bucks to the top-end of your roster – so that they will be able to at least battle other team’s stars to a draw, if not win outright.
To further flesh out the details, I will add zone start ratio and each player’s cap hit:
|NAME||Corsi Tied||CORSI Rel QoC||ZS%||Cap Hit $M|
The zone start shows the ratio at which each player started his shifts in the offensive versus the defensive zone. As you can see, Brent Sutter spread things out more or less evenly across the entire spectrum last season. He prefered guys like Jackman and Backlund start at the good end a little more often, but he also tried to get Jarome and Alex in a position to succeed whenever he could. Brendan Morrison’s team-worst possession numbers make a bit more sense in this context as well: not only did he face some of the tougher comp overall last year, he also started the most often in the defensive zone than any Flames forward. The difference isn’t huge (he wasn’t buried like, say, Manny Malhotra was in Vancouver), but it’s enough to tilt the scales a bit. At this point in his career that assignment is likely beyond Morrison. Good thing he had the best percentages on the team to float his boat in those circumstances.
In general, you can see what I call the Flames "inverted pyramid": the top-end of the roster – typically what you would call the "tip" of the roster pyramid – ranks near the bottom of the team in terms of possession. This is the opposite of what you’d expect to find when glancing at the payscale or at the results for other, quality teams in the league. Here is Detroit’s forward corps, for instance:
|NAME||Corsi Tied||CORSI Rel QoC||ZS %|
Many of Detroit’s top-six forwards (Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Holmstrom and Franzen) face the best the opposition has to offer but still have better than average corsi ratios. Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Franzen make the bulk of the dollars up front for DET and they drive the play north despite tough circumstances.
|NAME||Corsi tied||CORSI Rel QoC||ZS%|
The Sharks are slightly more ambiguous, with some of their middle-tier guys (Pavelski, Clowe and Couture) leading the pack. That said, Marleau and Thornton saw the toughest competition and still managed decent rates of possession. Marleau in particular did well since he tended to start more often in the defensive zone.
**Item of interest – Notice where Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley land on the chart: of the Sharks regular top-six players, they both had middling-to-below average corsi ratios. Both were also traded by Doug Wilson to the Minnesota Wild this summer.
In the case of both the Sharks and the Red Wings, it’s clear that their most expensive forwards were seeing other big guns and spending more time in the offensive zone nonetheless. This pattern mostly repeats across the league when it comes to very-good-to-elite teams: their big guns move the puck in the right direction, even in tougher circumstance. This wasn’t true of the Flames last season, however; Calgary’s top-six were mostly underwater (at least whenever they weren’t trying to overcome a deficit in the third period).
The good news is, the club probably boasts one of the better middle rotations around, from Glencross and Moss down to Jackman and Backlund. Many of the Flames bottom-enders crushed their counterparts, something that has been true of the team for a number of years now and will probably continue to be one of their primary strengths in the near future, particularly as Backlund continues to develop (and depending on how much ice-time P3L gets on the 4th unit).
The problem this causes for the roster as it’s currently contructed is obvious: if your top-end players aren’t, you know, top-end, then you will have problems competing with the best in the league. We’ll likely explore this issue further in a subsequent article.