This weekend we started off by looking at the Flames top-6 type forwards – Jarome Iginla, Mike Cammalleri, Alex Tanguay, Olli Jokinen and Curtis Glencross. We’ll continue the report card today by grading the remainder of the forward corps.
The bottom-end was difficult to fairly assess. In aggregate, the group was plagued by either injury (limiting their sample size), bad luck (rotten percentages) or both. As a team, the Flames were rather average when it came to SH% and SV% this year, but that’s because the club had two extremes which seemed to cancel each other out – for example, Curtis Glencross 23.7% shooting percentage vs Backlund’s 4.7% (!).
As with the big guns, my grades are a subjective weighting of output, underlying numbers and expectations based on age, role and pay-grade.
Report Card – Support Forwards
It was a pretty disappointing season for the young center for a number of reasons. Not only did he appear in just 41-games due to separate finger and shoulder injuries, but his scoring rate took a significant step back despite improved ice time with better players.
As has been mentioned before, Backlund’s poor counting numbers have a lot to do with bad percentages which tend to be heavily influenced by variance. That said, it’s becoming pretty evident that the kid probably isn’t a goal scorer at the pro level. He has had a single digit SH% since he became a pro (going back to the AHL), so while I doubt his true talent level is 4.7%, it wouldn’t surprise me if he settles into the 8% range, which tends to be the bottom-end for forward in the NHL.
The good news is, Backlund’s underlying possession numbers were some of the best on the team even though his circumstances were drastically more difficult this year relative to his rookie season. Backlund was the only regular skater outside of the big guns to regularly face top-6 opposition and he did so with a 44.6% zone start – the lowest on the team outside of Blair Jones. Despite that, his relative corsi was a team best +11.7/60. That means, the Flames managed 11.7 more shots at the opposing net with Backlund on the ice versus when he was on the bench.
That is an extremely encouraging sign even in light of the poor output and suggests the kid can become a useful NHL pivot even if his scoring never attains the level most fans had hoped for.
When He’s Good: A slick puck handler, and smooth skater, Backlund can stickhandle in traffic and has above average vision. He made tremendous strides this year in terms of controlling the puck in tough areas along the boards and in his own zone which were areas of concern when he boke into the league. Backlund’s positioning and defensive awareness continue to creep upwards and he’s likely the best forward under the age of 25 on the Flames in terms of these qualities.
When He’s Bad: Backlund seemed to lack offensive assertiveness at times this past season and often failed to bear down on shots in scoring positions. The kid missed a lot of nets and hit a lot of crests in prime areas of the ice this year. He also tended to cheat for defense a lot, staying high in the offensive zone, choosing to begin the backcheck early rather than engage the attack. Like all young players, he was prone to the rare but spectacular gaffe and still needs to work on winning face-offs (45.4%).
Acquired for Daymond Langkow last year, Lee Stempniak pretty much came as advertised: a streaky, 40-point type winger who can score 20-goals. He managed 14 in 61 games, some of them of the highlight reel variety, but also disappeared for long stretches of time.
Like Backlund, Stempniak was one of the few Flames who finished in the black in terms of possession. His relative corsi rate was second only to Mikael (+10.5/60), although he played against lesser lights and started about 50% of his shifts in the offensive zone versus the defensive end. Stempniak also had the highest point production rate of any forward outside the top-end at even strength (1.72 points/60).
That’s all pretty good value for a middle rotation guy making less than $2M per year. I would have no complaints if the organization decided to bring him back on a similar ticket.
When He’s Good: A fast, clever player Stempniak can make even first pairing defenders look foolish on occasion (see video above). Stempniak has a quick release and an eagerness around the net that is similar to Mike Cammalleri. When he’s on, Stempniak can carry the puck through the neutral zone and into scoring areas of the ice, forcing defenders to scramble which creates gaps in coverage.
When He Struggles: If the dangles don’t work or if the opposing team is limiting his time and space, Stempniak can disappear from the game completely. He has some issues fighting off bigger players in tougher areas and isn’t the best puck distributor in the world. Stempniak has never been able to stick in any team’s top-6 rotation since he struggles to excel against other team’s big guns, so while he can play as a second line winger in a pinch, his ceiling is probably that as a 40-point third liner.
After scoring 24-goals and 46-points the prior season, Blake Comeau landed a new contract in the proceeding summer and then laid an egg to start off the year. When the Flames plucked the 26-year old off of waivers in November, he had managed precisely 0 points in 16 games for NYI and was -11 to boot.
Things didn’t get too much better for him in Flames colors in terms of output. He managed 15-points for Calgary in the next 58 games, although he fired 117 shots on net in that time and it was a ghastly 4.3% SH% that suppressed his output. During his 20+ goal season, Comeau shot at 13.2%. At that rate, he would have scored 15 for the Flames, which would have been a nice number from a third-line, waiver wire pick-up. His career average is above to 10% so it’s safe to expect a rebound from Comeau going forward.
The erstwhile Islander drew ire from a lot of fans down the stretch because, like Backlund, he made a habit of squandering a lot of high-end scoring chances. The frustration in response is natural, although I tend to give high marks for creating the chances in the first place, even if they don’t end up in the back of the net. When the line-up was in total flux due to all the injuries, I thought Comeau was a strong, steady presence at the bottom-end and consistently brought both speed and physical element to his game. He finished third amongst forwards in terms of relative corsi (+10.3), so the puck definitely traveled the right direction when he was on the ice.
Comeau is a pending RFA and his qualifying offer will have to be slightly north of the 2.5M he earned this year. That’s probably about $1M too much given his performance last season, so the best route to take would be not to qualify Comeau, but attempt to re-sign him as an UFA at about $1.5M. He’s a useful third liner who, at 26, may improve and fills a big gap in terms of players at the age range on the roster, but the team shouldn’t pay any more than it has to in order to retain him.
When He’s Good: Comeau is an impressively swift skater who can potentially beat defenders wide on the rush. He’s tenacious on the forecheck and isn’t afraid to lay the body. When he first arrived in Calgary he surprised me with more than one bone-jarring hit, which wasn’t something I previously associated with the player. He also seems like a guy who could develop into a useful penalty killer.
When He Struggles: To be blunt, Comeau can be dumb. His most annoying habit as a Flame was breaking into the offensive zone with the puck, circling the net and then swooping wide back towards the blueline rather than doing anything useful. Sometimes he would succeed in bringing the puck back deep into the zone, sometimes he’d take a prayer of a shot and sometimes he’d just lose it to a defender.
Comeau doesn’t have the puck skills nor the vision that would cause the opposition to respect him when he goes on such journeys, so the typical outcome was a give-away or Comeau essentially playing keep away with himself on the periphery.
Another disaster year for Matty Franchise. It’s been a tough go for Stajan since he arrived in Calgary, in part because he was miscast in the role of "new guy to center Jarome!" and in part because he was re-signed to a bad deal due to those expectations. As soon as his big brother was pushed out of the picture, Brent Sutter consistently and openly displayed his disdain for Stajan by burying him as far down on the depth chart as possible. So although he made 4.5M in real salary this year (more than any other Flames forward besides Iginla and Cammalleri), Stajan averaged just 13-minutes of ice time per game. That’s in a season where the Flames lost well over 300-man games to injury keep in mind.
Not that Stajan has ever made a compelling case to be moved up the rotation. His possession and scoring rates were both mediocre this year even though he routinely played against nobodies. His scoring chance ratio was spot on at 50% – not bad, but uninspiring for a guy taking home a giant dollar figure and mostly playing against grinders and goons.
Like Moss or Backlund the year before, Stajan should have dominated other 3rd and 4th liners during his tour of duty at the bottom-end, but he simply didn’t. Which is why both Moss and Backlund moved ahead of him – permanently – in the batting order.
So even though Stajan had a nice little redemptive run near the end of the year (almost all percentages based), his season was still completely underwhelming. If the next CBA indeed carries a one-time, no penalty buy-out clause, the Flames should certainly consider using it to get rid of the last of Darryl’s lingering errors.
When He’s Good: There’s no question Stajan has some offensive gifts. He can handle the puck relatively well and is a decent passer with good vision. Stajan can find guys in the crease and in traffic at high speeds and can sometimes pull a move in the neutral zone or at the opposing blueline that creates odd-man rushes.
When He Struggles: Few players on the Flames are weaker on the puck or more prone to giving it up along the boards or in the neutral zone during puck battles. Stajan also tends to get caught in vulnerable positions with his head down by opposing defenders a lot – he’s taken Chuck Kobasew’s long abandoned role as the token guy who gets absolutely run over at least once a week.
Stajan also can’t shoot worth a damn. Both his wrist and slap shots are complete muffins, so as a result he doesn’t tend to shoot very often. That’s why Stajan also has one of the lowest shot volumes amongst regular skaters on the team – this year he garnered just 77 shots on net, for example. To put that in context, Mikael Backlund had 85 shots in 20 less games.
When he was healthy, Moss routinely skated with Jokinen and Glencross, a trio that was deployed as a shut-down line against other top units. He nevertheless finished with a team best raw corsi rate of +6.85/60, making it the 4th straight Moss has finished in the Flames top-3 in terms of possession metrics.
That said, the points weren’t there for David. Even though he fired 82 shots in just 32 games, he finished with a SH% of 2.4. He also struggled to stay healthy for the third season in a row, which is rapidly becoming a very real issue for the 30-year old. Moss has had endless problems staying off of IR and it may be those fears that lead the team to not re-sign the pending UFA this summer.
He’s a useful, no-frills forward who can play up and down the roster and make whatever line he’s on better. Problem is, he’s 30, not a great bet to remain healthy and his scoring is a question mark.
When He’s Good: There’s nothing fancy about David Moss. All he does is drive play. Neither overly big nor fast, Moss is nevertheless a committed, hard working winger who can win his share of board battles and very rarely finds himself out of position or on the wrong end of a bad decision. Moss is adept at battling for position in front of the net and is very quietly the type of guy who can play 15 minutes in a game but end leading the team in shots on goal. Moss’ biggest assets are his decision making, the fact that he never tries to play outside himself and his strength on the puck.
When He Struggles: Again, there’s nothing fancy about David Moss. He doesn’t have blazing speed, a notable shot or fancy moves. Moss moves north-south efficiently, but doesn’t have the skill or creativity to do much beyond that. He’s the type of guy who might make you groan if you see him on a break-away or if he is the skater with the puck during a two-on-one. Also, the aforementioned health troubles are probably now his biggest Achilles heel.
Re-signing Tim Jackman was Jay Feaster’s lone move at the trade deadline. The rugged fourth liner won his new contract despite a season where he fell to seven points after scoring 23 the year before. The terrible numbers were mostly due to some really rotten luck – Jackman had a PDO (on-ice SV%+SH%) of 93.4 this year, the 8th lowest of any forward who appeared in 30 or more games (related – Backlund was 11th at 94.8). So the low scoring totals and terrible -21 plus/minus can be somewhat excused as bad fortune.
That said, Jackman also didn’t drive possession like he did last year either. That’s probably due to his change in circumstances: in 2010-11, he spent a lot more time with Moss and Backlund rather kids like Horak and Bouma. In addition, Sutter actively sheltered the 4th line in 2010-11, giving them some of the easier zone start ratios on the team. Not so much this year with both Kostopolous and Jackman sitting below the 50% ratio.
The good news with Tim is he plays the role of enforcer while being better than your average goon. His relative possession rate was still on the positive side (+5.3/60), so although he’s not a good bet to beat anyone into submission, he at least fills a the perceived need of a tough guy without being completely terrible at actually playing hockey.
When He’s Good: A tireless worker who will throw his body around and drop the gloves with anyone, Jackman is good enough to pin other fourth lines in their own end for entire shifts. He also isn’t shy about driving the puck to the net, can skate pretty well for a big man and is hard to knock off the puck down low.
When He Struggles: Jackman doesn’t have the hands or the puck handling skills to rise above the station of fourth liner, so he can be exposed if he gets stuck on the ice with top-9 type guys. He’s also not a feared heavyweight, so even though he’s game to fight against anybody, ackman mostly tries to just hang on against the league’s true bruisers.
Not much to say about Kostopolous. He is what he is: a consummate, professional, 4th line player. Kostoplous is tough enough to compete for the puck, drop the gloves on occasion and works hard enough to keep his place in the line-up. He remains a few strides ahead of kids trying to break into the league owing to his strength and veteran savvy, but at 33-years old is rapidly approaching a point where he will have to endlessly fight off usurpers from the minor leagues in order to keep his place on an NHL roster.
I assume the team will let Kostopolous walk this summer and will allow guys like Lance Bouma a shot at replacing him.
When He’s Good: Kostopolous is big and a decent skater, so like Jackman he can play other 4th liners to even (at least) most nights. He can also moved up the depth chart when injuries demand it and kill penalties.
When He Struggles: Tom doesn’t have the hands or the offensive acumen to be much more than replacement level in the NHL. His career high in points is 22 and that came in 2008-09.
Horak surprised everyone by making the team out of training camp. Brent Sutter seemed to favor the kid’s mix of speed, stick skills and defensive awareness which allowed him to beat out so many others for a spot on the roster.
As the season progressed, however, it was clear Horak was in over his head at the NHL level. Like so many other youngsters, he started losing puck battles all over the ice and was mostly detrimental in the defensive zone, even against 4th players. By March, Horak was seeing between 5-7 minutes a night before finally being sent back down to the Abbotsford for good.
When He’s Good: Horak seems comfortable with the puck on his stick and isn’t afraid to try to deke defenders or try to find teammates through traffic. He is also pretty quick and capable of skating the puck out of trouble areas.
When He Struggles: Horak’s skills aren’t high-end enough at this point to make up for his lack of experience or strength relative to established pros. At 20-years old, he is bound to lose more board battles than he wins and things tended to get very ugly in the Flames defensive end if the opposition managed to sustain pressure and get Horak running around. In the offensive end, more patience and a better shot will help him score a few more points down the road.
Lance Bouma (C+) – Fast skating and hard hitting, Bouma looks like a prototypical "energy player" who could develop into a checker/PK specialist with experience and an improvement in hockey IQ. Probably no real offensive upside however.
Paul Byron (C) – Agile and with decent puck skills, Byron is also pretty tough to knock down even though he’s one of the smallest guys on the ice. He didn’t make much of an impact in many of his contests in the show, however, and his scoring totals in the AHL weren’t terribly impressive either.
Blair Jones (B-) – The former Lightning center became a favorite of Brent Sutter’s right away. He was deployed heavily on the PK and started to take on tough, checking-line center type responsibilities before being injured in February. A decent skater who has a heavy shot, Jones makes for an effective forechecker. He’s never going to be a scorer, however, and needs to greatly improve his face-off abilities (42.4%) if he’s to be much more than a 4th liner.
Krys Kolanos (B-) – The Abbotsford Heat’s MVP had a tough time translating his scoring at the NHL level. In 13-games, Kolanos only managed one point, although he drove both possession and scoring numbers at a better than average rate. Kolanos managed to generate at least one 10-bell chance per game, but could never seem to finish them off.
He’s over 30 years old and isn’t the best skater, so Kolanos probably won’t rise above "13th forward" at best in the NHL. That said, he’s probably as good or better than some guys regularly drawing pay checks in the league.