Roman Cervenka: An In-Depth Look

 

 

Yesterday the Calgary Flames signed Czech center Roman Cervenka to a 1-year contract with a salary cap hit of $3.775M (incl bonuses). It was a move nobody saw since Calgary is not known for a strong scouting presence in the KHL, and at this point in the Flame’s offseason the only rumors had been regarding the coaching position.

So how does Cervenka really look for the Flames? Will this be a case of signing a player who succeeded in a lesser league and can’t turn it on in the NHL?

The History

With a December birthday, Cervenka was draft eligible in the summer of 2004. At that point he had one professional season in the Czech "elite" league, playing 15 games and notching 1 assist. His 8 playoff games were hardly spectacular either, but at this point Cervenka was a 17 year old kid who was drastically undersized. In fact, as noted by Robin Brownlee yesterday after the signing, Cervenka was just 127 pounds in his draft season. It’s therefore not surprising Cervenka went undrafted, and his next couple seasons in the Czech league were fairly lacking – though his games played and ice time both increased.

After a mediocre season which saw Cervenka post a 6-6-12 line in 51 games, the small Czech briefly lit up the playoffs, scoring 3-1-4 in 6 games. He followed that post-season success (which would be common a feature of his play) with a 2007-08 campaign where he scored 19-11-30 in 41 games and 4-4-8 in 14 playoff games. His true break through was in 2008-09. He was the second leading scorer on his team, Slavia Praha HC, managing 59 points in 51 regular season games and another 24 points in 18 post-season games. His last season in the Czech league was his best: 30-43-73 in 50 games. That was also the best season by any scorer in the Czech league that year.

In 2010-11 Roman Cervenka signed with Avangard Omsk of the KHL. He played on a line with a semi-well known hockey player named Jaromir Jagr and scored 61 points in 51 games, best on the team. When Jagr left for the Philadelphia Flyers, there was a falloff in his regular season play, but he still led Omsk in scoring and again absolutely lit up the playoffs; with 11-11-22 in 20 games, it didn’t seem to matter who Cervenka played with – just that he played.

And that led him to this point.

The Scouting Report

A Russian scout described Cervenka to Hockey Prospectus’ Corey Pronman as "one heck of a hockey player who can play a top six without any problem." That’s absolutely high praise. When asked about the 26-year old center, Pronman also complimented Cervenka’s hands and vision, though he also mentioned some areas that need work:

"He’s got high-end hands and vision, but only average skating ability and a little below-average for a smaller player. While he’s improved his physicality the last year or so, due to size/strength combo he’s replacement level in that area.

Still the offensive skills are tremendous, and if he pans out could be an above-average scoring 2nd line forward. For a team that couldn’t score last season and is devoid of any top forward prospects breaking into that role next year (outside of Baertschi)…I fully approve of this signing. With the depth chart he’s entering and his talent level, Cervenka could be a great surprise if he transitions well into the NHL."

The Flames will likely not need Cervenka for his physicality, so long as he can take an average NHL hit. Instead, what the Flames need is what Cervenka excels at: scoring.

The Expectations

A lot of people were asking for his NHLE (NHL equivalency) – which is, unfortunately, something of a problematic request. A KHL equivalency has been calculated, but there are some issues with it. Bruce Peter of Puck Worlds calculated a rough NHLE for KHL players to be ratio of about 0.65. The issue is a small sample size owing to relative youth of the KHL; moreover, most of the samples that are available aren’t ideal as they’re low quality players – your Kyle Wellwoods, for instance – who are the most frequent transfers between the two leagues.

In the above linked article, Peter lists the old Russian League equivalency (which is out of date, but at least didn’t have those issues) at 0.82.

Finally, FlamesNation’s dedicated stats guru, Rob Vollman, isolated Jiri Hudler and Old Jaromir Jagr as the best comparisons, given both KHL stats (100 points in 105 regular season KHL games) and perceived ability. The following table contains all the available comparisons*:

*Note that the KHL stats I’m using are both seasons and playoffs (for the best possible sample size) while the equivalency stats are pro-rated for a single full NHL season. I’ve also tossed in his last two Czech league seasons for kicks.

Method Goals Assists Points
KHL Stats 70 61 131
KHL/NHLE (0.65) 27.2 23.7 51
Russia/NHLE (0.82) 34.4 29.9 64.3
Czech/NHLE (0.74) 38.8 44.4 83.1
Average 33.5 32.7 66.13

I’d be shocked if he managed the sort of numbers suggested by the Czech league equivalencies (he’d likely be the highest scoring player on the Flames), but given a nice SH% boost and good linemates, I think the average (66 points) is an acceptable upper-end/ceiling. Chances are we’ll see a season somewhere around where Vollman estimated – 55 or so points is a good middle area assuming appropriate acclimation to the North American game. That’s nothing to sneeze at, given this is an asset acquired for nothing but the time of Feaster, Weisbrod, and some scouts.

The Fit

 

Given his expected output, where can we expect to see Cervenka line up? Chances are Jokinen is gone, which means Cervenka will absolutely be a top six center. It’s probably safe to assume (given nobody currently signed for next season is traded) he’ll stand between Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay, though there’s a chance he’ll line up with Glencross, Cammalleri or…Baertschi?

At this point in the off-season, with so many changes pending, line projections are tough. I can guarantee one thing though – if Horak and Cervenka end up playing together it’ll be very Roman-Czech (I’ll be here all week. Make sure to try the veal).

For now, it’s impossible to know if Cervenka will manage to translate his scoring on unfamiliar ice in the NHL. He’s a guy who has never skated on this side of the pond and sometimes European stars have a difficult time adjusting to the different sized ice and physical demands of the NA game.

If he makes the leap successfully, the Flames have filled a big gap in their organizational depth chart with a 26-year old center who can score. If not, then he’ll prove to be a somewhat pricey* but transient mistake.

*If he makes his bonuses that is.

  • Of course Feaster said a lot of teams were after him.

    But he chose the Flames. How glorious.

    Like his crap about how close the Flames were to signing Richards. Bragging about 2nd place when we offered the most money. What’s that Seinfeld quote? “Of all the losers, we were first.” Pretty much sums up the season too.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    @ TBonnar and Colin

    RE: rebuilding or going for it:

    I think that Feaster has shown in his tenure that the plan is to do neither, or both depending on how you look at it & here are some examples:

    -Trade Lankgow for Stempniak. Could be viewed very similarly to Cerevanka vs. Jokinen. Get younger, while still being competitive now.

    -Trade deadline – don’t buy or sell. Stay competitive, but don’t give up on the future.

    -Regeher for Butler – get younger while trying to stay competitive.

    I don’t believe Flames ownership are in for a tear down re-build, but have rather given Feaster a mandate to remain competitive while finding creative ways to shed salary & get younger at the same time.

    • MC Hockey

      BC Cowboy has it exactly right. Feaster will rebuild without also ‘tearing down’.

      Iginla is going to be our ‘Alfredsson’, the historic vet who stays as the team is reconstructed around him. He doesn’t want to leave, and the Flames don’t want to trade him, so we should get used to his presence.

      Feaster has gradually pruned salary (Kotalik!) and aging vets (Regehr, Langkow, etc.) from the roster, and has found replacement level players on the cheap (Comeau). He’s also overseen an overhaul of the prospect pipeline and improved our farm team.

      Some fans insist on the ‘tear it all down’ approach as the only way to rebuild the Flames – which is garbage.

      Detroit never tears down. Coloumbus does it every few years. The Oilers have been rebuilding since they lost Pronger.

      As for the Cervenka move itself, it is all but perfect. Add a skilled pivot, at the right age, and all it cost was his contract $ – which itself happens to be a value deal.

  • everton fc

    We look strong down the left-side, at least on the first three lines, which is why I think Cammy moves to centre full-time next season. That said, we are thin if any of the top 3 come up lame.

    We are still small and thin down the middle, though, and real thin the right side.

    The way I see the centres is this way (thanks to the Wolf for reminding me Jones is probably our 4th line centre, as I penciled in Moss…)

    Centres

    Cervenka
    Cammy
    Stajan/Backlund/Jokinen/Horak (Reinhart?)
    Jones/Horak/Moss (If Jones plays RW on the 3rd line – see below)

    I’m certain they’ll give Backlund a look on the 3rd line, if Stajan is moved. Jokinen looks to be out, and Horak may become a wing, though he plays from the left-side, where we are stacked. All in all, we are not over-powering down the middle. Not with the group above.

    On the left:

    Tanguay
    Glencross
    Baertschi
    Bouma/??

    Again, if any of the top three go down… We are not deep here.

    On the right:

    Iginla
    Stempniak/Moss/Nemisz/Jackman…Jones?

    This is where we need to look for some depth/size/scoring touch. Jones might be worth looking at for the 3rd line/RW.

    Cervenka may or may not work out. To me, he’on the small side. The fact his skating may be questionable must be taken into consideration. I think we need to get bigger down the middle.

    Perhaps signing Cervenka lures Ramo over sooner, than later… ??

    I do wonder if this gives the Flames a chance of Jagr for one year? The man can still score. Perhaps Feaster and company still believe they can win now. Next season?

    Cervenka might keep Horak here for opening day… Horak’s played wing before… albeit from the left side.

    Just some random thoughts…

  • I have no problems with this move. How could you *NOT* take a chance on a guy like this? Top 6 forwards in their mid 20s don’t grow on trees. If this pans out then Feaster is a genius. If not, it’s only 1 year. Meh.

    Cervenka outscored Radulov in 2010/11 (while skating with Jagr) which is pretty elite company Then in 2011/12 he still managed 23 goals in 54 games without much help. (http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/leagues/seasons/teams/0050162012.html). Then he goes and leads the 2011/12 KHL playoffs in scoring.

    We are all constantly complaining about the lack of skill in the Flames lineup. This guy clearly has skill, he is the right age, and has shown that he can be clutch in the KHL. Let’s cross our fingers and hope that Feaster has pulled off a coup here, and not Fabian Brunnstrom 2.0.

  • supra steve

    Posted this in the previous thread, but thought i’d throw it up here also:

    Can’t help but be a little excited for this acquisition. Didn’t give up any assets, for a potential top six forward.

    I also recall about two years ago, possibly during the olympics, Jagr raving about this guy saying something to the effect of “he’ll be a star in the nhl someday”. Take that with a grain of salt, but I can’t help but wonder if Philly wins the cup, perhaps JJ would want to finish out his career riding shotgun with his good friend and countryman.

  • One thing about the Czech league, in my KHL equivalencies post you’ll notice that the Czech Extraliga has dropped in quality significantly since those original NHLE measurements were taken. It is now closer in standing with the Swiss NLA than it is with the Elitserien (Sweden) or SM-Liiga (Finland), for example. So yes, I would be very surprised if Cervenka was putting up those kinds of numbers in the NHL that is CEL-NHL comparables suggest.

    For reference, I had the Czech league at .58 compared to the KHL, which roughly works out to a .38 NHLE if you use my numbers (0.65 KHL-NHL). Obviously, I think the sample is a poor quality one from KHL to NHL, but the CEL to KHL one I have a lot of confidence in. It’s why you don’t see players jumping from the Czech league straight to the NHL anymore. It’s clearly a step below the AHL.

  • In terms of NHL competition and ice-size, the only stats we have to look at recently are the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

    He played 5 games with the 7th place Czech Republic… 0G 2A 2PTS TOI 12:10

    Not great offensive output but the Czech’s never scored much, either. It’s also worth noting that his ice time dipped as the tournament went on. Averaging 13:25 in round robin and in their final game he only got 9:01.

    However, Pronman’s analysis is encouraging. Even at 40 points he would’ve been the Flames second highest-scoring centre.

  • It looks like a nice signing to me and the contract appears to be fair for both side. If he doesn’t perform, he doesn’t achieve the performance bonuses. If he does, then he fills a short term need.

    His UFA status at the end of the season makes this an ultimate tryout…

  • Robert Cleave

    It’s a fairly risk-free move, in my view, and as I mentioned last night on Twitter, the line in the sand for me is 40 points or so. If you look at the top 180 forwards, which should cover off almost every top sixer in the NHL worth a damn, a middling 2nd liner in terms of scoring would get right in that range. Brooks Laich was the 135th leading scorer this year with 41 points, and 135th amongst forwards would obviously be right at the mid-point of second line productivity.

    At any rate, if Cervenka can hit that sort of production without hurting the team in any other way, Calgary wins. If he actually reaches his NHLe and gets into the 55 point range, that would have been good enough for 70th in scoring this year. I’m loathe to expect that much, given his decline in productivity this year without Jagr riding shotgun, but there’s still a fair bit of range in potential output between him hitting his NHLe and being a bad bet.

  • Robert Cleave

    I posted this in the other thread as well but it bears repeating. For those that want the rebuild, this is something they REALLY should be behind. He’s younger, skilled and will fit into the top 6 and shoves out our older players (jokinen).

    • Bean-counting cowboy

      Does it really say anything about a rebuild? This is a one year deal that will leave him a UFA at the season. It likely does move Olli out and it gives youngsters a year to develop, but it could just as easily be looked at as a “win now” addition.

  • BobB

    1. I like this move because it fits within what I view as a promising age window for our “veteran” Flames: The ’82-’85 years. I realistically see the guys in this window being the earliest likely to be competitive in the future, and not be too old to compete in 3 years or so.

    Any forward/def. older than ’82 on this team has no future IMHO and should immediately be traded for assets if it makes sense.

    2. I think that Roman has potential to be a successful 3rd line centre on a good team. He’s not a good skater, and in this league any player who’s lacking skating is equiv. to a line lower or 5 years older. He’s small and can’t skate well…. he better be resilient and tenacious, cause he’s going to take a beating…or be invisible.

    3. Feaster deserves props for exploring less conventional sources of talent which are both coming with experience and can be had at reasonable cost (if the 900k base is true) and low risk (1 year).

    • SmellOfVictory

      I know these are outliers, but neither Cory Perry nor Ryan Getzlaf is a good skater. It’s not 100% necessary that a guy be a good skater to be in a team’s top-6, although skating deficiencies are certainly difficult to compensate for.