Flames Projections: Top-Six



(Just in case there is actually some game action this year, Rob Vollman returns to FlamesNation with some player projections. We start with a look at the Flames top-6)

It was risky enough these past two years to publish scoring projections for each Calgary Flame using purely statistical analysis, but it’s an even riskier proposition this year. If we lose the whole season then we’ll have no idea how accurate our estimates were, and have even less information on which to base our projections next year. Even if the season starts late and they play fewer games, the luck inherent in the shorter season/smaller sample size could make our projections way off.

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Spitballing The Big Guns

Nevertheless, we’re doing it again using our two favourite systems – VUKOTA and Snepsts – both of which have proven more accurate than the intuitive guesses you’ll find in the magazines because they use purely objective systems, based heavily on history.

VUKOTA, which was created by Tom Awad, is featured annually in the Hockey Prospectus books, and is highly regarded for its accuracy (by David Staples of the Edmonton Journal, for example). It also has the advantage of predicting games played, and historically tends to be more optimistic than the Snepsts system.

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The Snepsts system, created by yours truly, has the advantage of presenting low-water and high-water marks, along with some examples of similar historical players. Unfortunately it doesn’t predict games played, so everything is normalized to 82 games.

After carefully studying the results of its first three years of use, the Snepsts system was revamped this off-season. While the basic engine is the same, it now looks at additional factors like shots, power play goals and defensive GVT to get more accurate matches, and consequently looks only at post-expansion players (and is therefore dubbed "Snepsts67").

Typically we start by looking at the top-six forwards (see below) then in two separate parts we look at the defensemen and the secondary forwards. Everything except VUKOTA is normalized to 82 games, so please try to ignore the occasional rounding anomaly.

For further reference you can find a spreadsheet of all NHL players over on Hockey Abstract, and you can check out the handy Player Usage Charts while you’re at it. And of course you can check out last year’s recap which, for Calgary’s top-six forwards, concluded that:

“As a group we expected an average of 20 goals and 28 assists in 78 games for these folks, and they got 21 goals and 25 assists in 72 games. Individually we got Jarome Iginla, also Lee Stempniak if you adjust for games played and Curtis Glencross if his shooting percentage is a fluke, but lowballed Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay (by scoring rate), and blew it with Rene Bourque.”

Jarome Iginla

If you stopped Kent Wilson on the street and asked him what has been the most serious flaw keeping the Flames from making the play-offs, he’d probably tell you that for years Jarome Iginla hasn’t been unable to compete against the NHL’s top players without getting dominated. Then he’d probably ask you to let go of his arm or maybe ask you for spare change

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According to the numbers, Wilson is absolutely correct. Despite the 4th toughest competition on the team a third year in a row he once again put the Flames in a big shot-based disadvantage, and that’s even with the boost he gets from starting quite often in the offensive zone. He’s long overdue either for a move to the second line, or for the construction of a Malhotra-type checking line that can give him the easier Sedin-like minutes he needs to succeed.

As it stands, Iginla (who at 35 is entering the last year of his $7.0M/season contract) had his lowest even-strength scoring rate in a while. His hitting rate continues its steady increase, but his ability to draw penalties has finally dropped to the point where it’s barely more than the number he takes. He doesn’t kill penalties, but he does help out on face-offs and went 2 for 7 on the shoot-out (after going 0 for 10 the preceding three seasons).

If we nail his production as exactly as we did last year, Iginla’s probably going to dip below 30 goals, but should still manage 60 points providing he stays healthy.

Last Year 82   32   35   67
VUKOTA    74.3 25.2 31.1 56.3
Best      82   37.2 51.9 89.1
Worst     82   11.1 20.3 31.5
Average   82   27.5 34.8 62.3

Of course the big story about Iginla’s projections is the consistently eerie accuracy of the comparison to the era-adjusted scoring of Sergei Fedorov. Even stranger, Fedorov was also locked out at this exact moment of his career! 

Unfortunately Fedorov came back as a 40-point guy.

Iginla     GP  G   A  PTS
1996-2008 860 374 387 761
2008-09    82  34  51  85
2009-10    82  32  36  68
2010-11    82  43  43  86
2011-12    82  32  35  67

Fedorov    GP  G   A  PTS
1990-2000 672 263 384 647
2000-01    75  32  37  69
2001-02    81  32  39  71
2002-03    80  37  48  85
2003-04    80  33  36  69

Mike Cammalleri

Mike Cammalleri, who I wrote about in great detail last February, has scored 41-50 points in 65-67 games in each of the past three seasons, so would seem like an easy one to project.

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Last Year 66   20   21   41
VUKOTA    61.6 15.8 22.1 37.9
Best      82   20.7 39.6 60.3
Worst     82   17.0 16.8 33.7
Average   82   19.8 26.1 45.9

If anyone can unleash Cammalleri’s offensive potential, especially with the man advantage, it’s Bob Hartley – but probably for no more than 20 goals and 60 points at the very most. And that’s assuming that he continues to enjoy the highest possible amount of offensive zone starts with a mid-high level of competition at most. 

Of his ten closest matches, four managed 20 goals and seven topped 40 points.

Alex Tanguay

Alex Tanguay’s injury problems have caused his statistics to swing up and down quite a bit, thus making his scoring hard to project: “When he’s healthy he’s at the upper end of projections and when he isn’t, he can sometimes be near the bottom, like he was in Tampa Bay.”

Nevertheless we’re approaching Tanguay with surprising optimism this year, giving him a roughly even chance of scoring 20 goals (if he stays out of the infirmary), and significantly improving his over-all scoring – much like similar players in Colorado and Atlanta did when Bob Hartley first showed up there.

Last Year 64   13   36   49
VUKOTA    66.3 13.5 30.7 44.2
Best      82   27.1 61.8 88.9
Worst     82   15.7 26.3 42.0
Average   82   19.3 43.0 62.3

Like his celebrated linemate Iginla, Alex Tanguay faced a fairly high quality of opponents but was dominated possession-wise for the third time in four seasons despite his customary offensive zone boost. He doesn’t shoot much, having topped 100 shots just once in the past four seasons, doesn’t really throw hits anymore, but he has been a useful secondary penalty killing option these past two years. If you ignore his 10 for 16 shoot-out in 2010-11, he’s gone just 3 for 17 over the past four seasons – are there still some people that think this is a consistent, predictable skill?

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His closest historical match is Alexei Zhamnov, whose next season was cut short, but involved an era-adjusted 11 goals and 26 assists for 37 points in 43 games. If you stretch out Zhamnov’s era-adjusted career scoring totals to Tanguay’s 739 games, you get 224 goals, 400 assists and 624 points prior to their two closely-matched seasons (Tanguay’s 36 assists in 64 games works out to 42 assists in Zhamnov’s 74). 

Tanguay    GP  G   A  PTS
1999-2010 739 203 414 617
2010-11    79  22  47  69
2011-12    64  13  36  49

Zhamnov    GP  G   A  PTS
1992-2001 589 179 319 498
2001-02    77  22  46  68
2002-03    74  15  43  58

Unfortunately Zhamnov’s injury-prone career wound down at this point – his next season was 11 goals and 25 assists for 36 points in just 43 games.

Jiri Hudler

There are very compelling reasons to predict Hudler’s scoring to drop in his first season as a Flame. Last year his 25-goal season was thanks to a 19.7% shooting percentage, which was double the previous season and likely won’t be sustained – only three of his ten closest historical matches managed 20 goals the next season.

As for his 25 assists, the Wings also scored on 11.2% of their shots when he was on the ice, whereas in Calgary he’ll probably have to manage with the sub-8.0% he worked with the rest of his career. 

Finally, in Detroit he got to face slightly easier competition than the top guys, and slightly more often in the offensive zone – a favourable situation he’s not likely to enjoy in Calgary.

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While Hudler could help out on the shoot-out, where he’s been 8 for 26 over the past few seasons, he might not be good for much more than giving Roman Cervenka someone to talk to on long flights.  He doesn’t kill penalties, takes a lot of his own (more than he draws, at least), and though he’s listed as a centre he doesn’t take very many faceoffs – just 106 over the past three NHL seasons.

Last Year 81   25   25   50
VUKOTA    70.5 17.2 21.8 39.0
Best      82   37.0 30.0 67.0
Worst     82    8.4  5.3 13.7
Average   82   17.5 22.2 39.7

On the plus side, his statistics (only) bear a passing resemblance recently to Scott Hartnell, who went on to score 30 goals and 67 points last year. He’s got Cervenka to play Jaromir Jagr’s role…now if only he can find a Claude Giroux.

Hudler     GP  G   A  PTS
2006-07    76  15  10  25
2007-08    81  13  29  42
2008-09    82  23  34  57
2010-11    73  10  27  37
2011-12    81  25  25  50

Hartnell   GP  G   A  PTS
2006-07    64  22  17  39
2007-08    80  24  19  43
2008-09    81  30  30  60
2009-10    81  14  30  44
2010-11    82  24  25  49

Incidentally, Cervenka’s KHL-to-NHL translation works out to about 50 points.

Curtis Glencross

Last one for today is Calgary’s greatest (perhaps only) bargain: Curtis Glencross. A top penalty-killing option for years, Glencross has been one of Calgary’s true two-way forwards. Though typically used defensively against the top lines (except in 2009-10 where he was used offensively against depth lines), he was given extra playing time and an offensive zone boost last year, responding with almost his fewest shots ever, but an amazing 23.6% shooting percentage.

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His detractors fairly point to his occasional penalty trouble, and his terrible -13 after earning a +31 over the previous three years combined, but at least the latter is due to an abysmal .898 save percentage when he was on the ice, and consequent 3.37 personal goals-against-average. While his possession numbers were among his personal worst, much of that is simply a reflection of the high level of opponent he was tasked with shutting down.

Last Year 67   26   22   48
VUKOTA    68.3 19.1 21.1 40.1
Best      82   31.1 35.8 66.8
Worst     82   10.7 14.9 25.6
Average   82   22.2 25.1 47.3

Six of the ten closest matches topped 20 goals, with two of them even topping 30. My two favourite historical matches for Curtis Glencross have always been fellow tough two-way wingers Tony McKegney and Shawn McEachern, whose era-adjusted scoring totals have matched closely for most of his five seasons.

Glencross  GP  G   A  PTS
2007-08    62  15  10  25
2008-09    74  13  27  40
2009-10    67  15  18  33
2010-11    79  24  19  43
2011-12    67  26  22  48

McKegney   GP  G   A  PTS
1983-84    75  16  19  35
1984-85    57  16  15  31
1985-86    11   2   2   4
1986-87    64  21  12  33
1987-88    80  29  28  57
McEachern  GP  G   A  PTS
1994-95    44  12  12  24
1995-96    82  20  25  45
1996-97    65  10  19  29
1997-98    81  24  25  49
1998-99    77  31  26  57

These two represent the low and high water marks for Glencross this year.  McKegney scored 18 goals and 30 points in 71 games in 1988-89 and McEachern scored an era-adjusted 28 goals and 50 points in 69 games in 1999-2000.

Next Time

That’s it for the top-six forwards. Next time we’ll look at the defensemen before wrapping it up with a final piece looking at the remaining support guys up front.