For the third straight year we’re using statistical methods to project how many points each of the Calgary Flames will score. In the first part, which you can read here, we look at their top-six forwards, as well as explaining our approach in a little more detail.
How did we do last year? I’m glad you asked. As you can read in last year’s recap, “Calgary got the most out of low-cost depth pieces like Chris Butler, Scott Hannan, Derek Smith and T.J. Brodie, and ultra-high-cost depth piece Cory Sarich, but failed to justify the hefty contract awarded to Anton Babchuk. Mark Giordano’s season didn’t live up to his potential, and Jay Bouwmeester’s performance, while predictable, is still well short of his Norris-level contract – at least scoring-wise.
Once again our record is roughly even – the projections were largely accurate in the case of Jay Bouwmeester, Chris Butler and the AHLers T.J. Brodie and Derek Smith, but at least a little off in the case of Mark Giordano, Anton Babchuk, Scott Hannan and Cory Sarich. Given that most of them still fell within the range, we should at least get credited with the loser points.
Let’s see what scoring expectations are being set by our two systems this year.
Though he has scored between 24 and 29 points in his three seasons as a Flame he might not be the easiest defensemen to project this year because his power play time might be forfeited to Dennis Wideman (not to mention Giordano, Babchuk or Brodie).
Despite trade rumours, it would be an absolute disaster for the Flames to lose Bouwmeester. Is there anyone else you’d comfortably put out there against top opponents when protecting a narrow late-game lead? Though overpaid, Bouwmeester is clearly the only current Flames blueliner capable of playing the tough defensive minutes, especially while shorthanded.
He may have been a shocking -21 last season, but that’s the logical consequence of being partnered up with a career third-pairing partner while drawing the second toughest assignment in the NHL (the Rangers’ Girardi/McDonough had the toughest).
GP G A PTS Last Year 82 5 24 29 VUKOTA 69.9 4.5 18.5 23.0 Best 82 9.4 36.1 45.4 Worst 82 0.0 14.7 14.7 Average 82 5.1 23.0 28.1
We looked at Jay Bouwmeester’s historical matches in considerable detail last February, so we’ll save you the anguish of exploring this any further so we can get to the main event.
The perceived overpayment of Dennis Wideman’s new contract led it to be roundly criticized by a panel of statistical analysts over at ESPN. While his power play scoring will no doubt be unleashed by a coach like Bob Hartley (almost the anti-Sutter in this regard), he lacked the more complete game the surveyed panelists (which included Kent Wilson) felt was required for the big bucks.
Whether in Boston, Florida or Washington Wideman was used essentially the same way, facing second pairing competition (3rd on his team every year), with a slight offensive tilt, and consequently decent possession numbers in three of the past four seasons (despite a horrible combined -41 these past three years). Though he can certainly kill penalties, he’s never been a top-line option like Bouwmeester.
GP G A PTS Last Year 82 11 34 45 VUKOTA 67.8 7.3 25.6 32.8 Best 82 6.3 42.1 48.3 Worst 82 5.1 17.6 22.7 Average 82 9.3 26.6 35.9
Seven of the ten closest historical matches were on pace to score at least 35 points over 82 games, including his closest match Jason Woolley. Here’s their era-adjusted scoring for the past three years, and their careers up until this point:
Wideman GP G A PTS 2009-10 76 6 24 30 2010-11 75 10 30 40 2011-12 82 11 35 46 Career 535 67 184 251 Woolley GP G A PTS 1996-97 60 6 28 34 1997-98 71 9 27 36 1998-99 80 10 34 44 Career 419 54 175 229
Until last season Mark Giordano was carefully skating in the traces of Duncan Keith, and with the arrival of Dennis Widemand and a new coach known to unleash the offensive potential of his chosen key players, especially on the power play, perhaps Giordano can still bust loose.
Like Wideman, Giordano faces second pairing competition, ranking third on the Flames in three of the past four seasons, typically has one of the top-two highest offensive zone start percentages, but unfortunately his ability to convert this into a shot-based advantage for the Flames has been shrinking every year (although last season it was high wheneverhe played with someone besides Scott Hannan). And again like Wideman, he’s a top power play option and a usable secondary penalty killer.
The only real criticism of Giordano has been his discipline. The 0.9 penalties per 60 minutes he took in 2009-10, while quite high, was actually his best as a Flame – and that’s even with the gradually reducing number of hits he throws every year.
GP G A PTS Last Year 61 9 18 27 VUKOTA 64.6 7.1 22.0 29.1 Best 82 14.5 35.7 50.2 Worst 82 3.7 10.4 14.2 Average 82 8.0 25.2 33.2
Forget Duncan Keith – the most interesting match for Giordano is probably John-Michael Liles, who is about three years older (Giordano just turned 29). In 2010-11 Liles scored 46 points in 76 games in Colorado’s miracle season.
Giordano GP G A PTS 2009-10 82 11 19 30 2010-11 82 8 35 43 2011-12 61 9 18 27 Liles GP G A PTS 2007-08 81 6 26 32 2008-09 75 12 27 39 2009-10 59 6 25 31
T.J. Brodie was perhaps used far too carefully last season, sheltered from playing against any kind of decent opposition, in the defensive zone, or when shorthanded, though clearly showing the ability to take some of that on. Which way his numbers go this year all depends on what opportunities he gets under new coach Bob Hartley.
GP G A PTS Last Year 54 2 12 14 VUKOTA 57.0 3.3 12.3 15.6 Best 82 4.3 28.4 32.7 Worst 82 5.6 8.5 14.1 Average 82 6.9 14.7 21.7
On the surface signing a solid third pairing guy for half the money seems like a great deal, but when you look at who they could have gotten for the same money instead, like Michal Rozsival, Adrian Aucoin, Hal Gill, Greg Zanon or even Shane O’Brien, you start getting that familiar sour taste in the back of your mouth. These guys are fundamentally the same as Sarich except they can still kill penalties regularly, play top-four minutes and potentiall provide a little offense.
As for Sarich, he faced below-average competition for the third time in four seasons, with the same defensive zone tilt, but actually did very well – defensively, at least. Over the past four seasons the worst save percentage behind Sarich was .924 (thanks to that low level of competition), and consequently 2.08 is the highest personal goals-against average he’s seen as a Flame.
Scoring-wise Sarich goes back and froth from 6-7 points to 17-20 points, and given the ratio of offensive-minded to defensive-minded players on the Calgary blue line right now, we should definitely expect more of the former.
GP G A PTS Last Year 62 1 6 7 VUKOTA 54.8 1.7 6.8 8.4 Best 82 0.0 20.8 20.8 Worst 82 2.3 4.9 7.3 Average 82 1.1 10.9 12.0
The closest historical match was another tough low-scoring defenseman named Tracy Pratt who played for Buffalo, Vancouver and four other teams in his ten-year career back in the post-expansion era. Pratt signed on with the Rockies in 1976-77, finished the year with the Leafs, and scored 10 points (era-adjusted) in 77 games in what was his final season (Sarich is signed for two).
Sarich GP G A PTS 2010-11 76 4 13 17 2011-12 62 1 6 7 Career 887 20 126 146 Pratt GP G A PTS 1974-75 79 4 14 18 1975-76 52 1 4 5 Career 519 13 86 99
Though an argument could be made for Carlo Colaiacovo of the Blues or Ian White of the Red Wings, career third-pairing defenseman Chris Butler was the most carried defender in the league last year, playing on one of the toughest top pairing assignments alongside Jay Bouwmeester.
Already accustomed to playing primarily in the defensive zone, Butler was bumped from a secondary option to a regular penalty killer, but unfortunately regained none of the power play opportunities he once enjoyed in his 21-point season with Buffalo in 2009-10. His even-strength scoring rate was once again an entirely middling 0.6 points per 60 minutes, but the extra ice-time managed to convert that into 15 points.
GP G A PTS Last Year 68 2 13 15 VUKOTA 60.5 2.5 10.9 13.4 Best 82 5.7 20.5 26.2 Worst 82 1.6 3.1 4.7 Average 82 2.7 12.4 15.1
Three of his closest ten matches scored at least 20 points, but it’s unlikely he’ll get very many offensive-minded opportunities with Wideman, Giordano, Brodie and possibly even Babchuk and Smith in town.
His closest historical match is doubtlessly Tim Watters, who had an era-adjusted 7 goals and 42 points in 220 games at this point of his career – Butler has 9 more assists in 3 more games. Scoring-wise Watters had already peaked, and his remaining ten-season career with Winnipeg and Los Angeles were low-scoring and injury-prone.
Unfortunately the same story holds for his next closest historical match, Dave Karpa, who was much more of a thug than Watters and Butler. Then again, that’s how things were in the mid-90s. Butler may continue to contribute defensively, but there’s not much historical precedent for big scoring totals.
In the 2011 off-season Anton Babchuk was signed to a big two-year, $2.5M/year contract, with a no-trade clause (that comes by default in Calgary’s contract offer Word document template), but his considerable defensive shortcomings kept him mostly in the press box.
With a new coach, and a new power play specialist in town, Babchuk becomes somewhat redundant and potential trade bait.
Facing the lowest quality of competition and among the highest offensive zone starts, as usual, Babchuk somehow found himself at a shot-based disadvantage nevertheless. His even-strength scoring rate is a consistent 1.1 points per 60 minutes (best among Flames defensemen), he actually blocks a lot of shots, and is always good on the power play, but is just perceived to be too dangerous defensively to be used regularly.
GP G A PTS Last Year 32 2 8 10 VUKOTA 53.3 4.5 14.2 18.6 Best 82 14.7 37.2 51.9 Worst 82 3.3 11.5 14.8 Average 82 7.9 22.4 30.3
Brian Benning was his closest historical match, though he was much more hard-hitting despite being much smaller than the 6’5” Babchuk (who doesn’t really throw hits). Unfortunately, Benning’s career was over at age 28 – the same is true of his next closest match Gaston Gingras.
I suppose the real challenge in projecting Anton Babchuk’s scoring is that most one-dimensional defensemen are out of the NHL by age 28 or 29.
Finally there’s offensive-minded career AHLer Derek Smith, who held his own (albeit barely) on the third line, getting fairly offensive-minded minutes against below-average competition. He was a depth option on the power play and not used on the penalty-kill at all.
GP G A PTS Last Year 47 2 9 11 VUKOTA 46.3 2.4 8.5 11.0 Best 82 7.4 20.4 27.7 Worst 82 2.1 2.1 4.1 Average 82 2.3 10.9 13.2
That’s it for the defensemen, whose scoring levels should be strongly influenced by the arrival of new coach Bob Hartley, power play quarterback Dennis Wideman and to a lesser extent the continued development of T.J. Brodie.
Next time we’ll wrap up with a look at the remaining forwards.