As we while away the days between now and the end of the season, I’m working my way through some questions I’ve had via the site and twitter. Specifically, the future of Olli Jokinen, the potential impact of losing Kiprusoff and why Calgary went from seventh to 26th in goals for in the space of a single season.
Less Shots, Less Goals
We’ll deal with the last question first – last year, the Flames scored 241 goals, 162 at even strength. This year, with two games remaining, they’ve managed just 191, 127 at ES. Assuming Calgary manages, say, 5 goals in their last two games, that’s a gross difference of 45, with most of that made up at five on five (30-35 goals).
One of the most obvious deficiencies this season was shot generation. Last year, Calgary garnered 2501 shots on net (15th). This year, they sunk to 2207 (25th). If they’re per game average is stable through the rest of the year, that number should settle at about 2262. That’s a difference of 239 shots.
That number is a little muddled because it includes all game states, however – at ES, the Flames averaged just 27 shots/game this year, versus 29.8 last season. 2.8 shots per game sounds like a small amount, but over 82 games that makes for a 230 shot difference. Add in a slight dip in SH% (8.1% versus 8.9%) and a few less shorthanded and 5on3 goals and you have the difference.
Rare game states like SH and 5on3 are mostly the province of chance. Shots on net at 5on5 is the real problem and is due to a number of issues – the swath of injuries for one. However, the Flames top end guys all spending a lot more time in their own end because they can’t hang with other top lines is the major stumbling block. Iginla’s ability to drive play has been eroding for several seasons and we saw this year his first real step below mediocrity by that measure.
The team will probably slightly improve at getting shots on net next year as long as their middle-tier guys stay healthy, but there won’t be real improvement along those lines until the club has a top six that can drive the puck north with some sort of efficiency.
The Kipper Conundrum
"The Flames would be last in the league without Kipper."
I’m usually greeted with the above statement, or some variant, whenever the issue of potentially trading Kiprusoff comes up (we’ll deal with this topic in detail down the road). Feaster obviously fed this fire at some point this season by saying as much during some conference or scrum. It’s hyperbolic at best and completely misleading at worst, however.
I already wrote about this in detail in February when Kipper was red hot, but I guess it bears repeating:
If we combine the two most recent seasons, his ES SV% is .922, or .2% higher than the average NHL goalie. That’s worth a net five goals over 2814 shots, or one win in two seasons (if you round up).
The average ES SV% in the NHL is surprisingly stable at about .920 every year. And the goalie market tends to be the most saturated of all the positions each year – you can typically buy average-ish goaltending at bargain rates. To be fair, Kiprusoff was definitely better than average this season (.927 ES SV%) and was worth +13 goals above average to the Flames…or two wins. Minus those two wins the Flames end up…11th in the west, but a little further away from 8th.
Of course, the final argument against this sort of cold calculation is that Kipper’s SV% is deflated by the Flames terrible defense and a truly average goalie wouldn’t manage an average SV% behind Calgary’s lackluster group. this line of thinking problematic for two reasons:
1.) If you heavily weight team contributions in SV%, then it makes sense to spend money and assets on skaters rather than a goalie. The better the team, the less goals against as a matter of course, making the ‘tender more or less interchangeable.
2.) In reality, it’s next to impossible to prove a direct causal relationship between SV% and team quality. For example, this season was by far the worst iteration of the Flames in recent memory – they gave up more shots and scoring chances than any of the years I’ve been counting chances. And yet Kipper had one of his best seasons in the last 5 years.
That is anecdotal, but most inquiries into the relationship between SV% and team skill ends up with similarly a shaky correlation at best.
Even if you grant that Kipper is currently an above average goalie, the final question is how long we can expect him to keep up that level of play. He has managed below average SV% in two of the last four seasons and is turning 36 years old in October. The chances for a real and sudden drop in play grow exponentially at this point in his career. This summer may vey well be the club’s final opportunity to deal Kiprusoff for anything significant.
The Future of Jokinen
Ryan discussed this issue earlier today, but I’ll add my voice to the crowd – the last 10 games or so say nothing in particular about Olli Jokinen, because a sample of that size is just too small to judge anything appropriately. Although we as fans place greater importance on the stretch drive and therefore weight performances appropriately in our minds, the truth is the forces that cause random ups and downs in sports (and life) have no interest in our subjective evaluations.
And just as I warned against lionizing Jokinen during his relative hot streak (when he was being called a great two-way player and the Flames most consistent forward) I would council folks from drawing conclusions about his character or will to win because of a cold snap. The percentage went south on the guy at the wrong time of the season and he probably didn’t have much or any control over it.
The relevant facts about Jokinen remain unchanged: he’s a 34 year old center who is decent on the PP, mediocre at ES and will be looking for a significant contract this coming summer. Ideally, he should slot on a team’s 2nd or 3rd line, face middling competition and get decent PP time. One should also be prepared for a drop-off in production in the near future given his age.
Price him in your mind accordingly.