Projecting Flames Defensemen Scoring



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.

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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.

Jay Bouwmeester

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).

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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.

Dennis Wideman

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:

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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

Mark Giordano

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

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.

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          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

Cory Sarich

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

Chris Butler

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.

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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.

Anton Babchuk

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.

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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.

Derek Smith

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.

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          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

Next Time

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.

    • SmellOfVictory

      It could be worse. I disagree with Butler being a career 3rd pairing guy. I think he and Wideman are both serviceable #4 guys, and Brodie may well be at that point this season as well. Certainly not the strongest top 4 in the history of the NHL, but there’s a lot of middlingly-good ability in the Flames’ defensive corps (Gio at the top end of that), and then JBo as the top pairing shutdown guy.

      • T&A4Flames

        I am thinking that a JBo/Gio pairing at the top and a Wideman/Butler pairing as the 2nd pairing would be decent enough. Gio’s time would probably have to be less than JBo but otherwise, I think it looks ok. The bottom pairing is a question mark. TJ probably starts off there, I would guess with Sarich. Could be worse.

        • SmellOfVictory

          I’m more than fine with Brodie as the fifth dman. As long as his partner isn’t totally awful, the bottom pairing might be the strongest one Calgary has (relative to expectations). I like your pairings in terms of the top, but it could get a little scary with Dennis “Defence?” Wideman and Chris “Brainfart” Butler both on the same 2nd pairing.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    I doubted VUKOTA and SNEPTS last season until I saw the results, at the end of the season. One word for 2013: bleak.
    I may be the only hockey fan cheering for a short season, since I can’t bear to watch a full season of the Flames.

  • RexLibris

    Given the added potential offensive depth I’m not certain I’d be too worried about the Flames blue line offense. Instead I might be more uneasy about their defensive coverages.

    It seems as though many of the teams in the Western Conference got faster, younger, and better (with a few exceptions) and the Flames haven’t, at least to my eye, taken the same steps.

    It isn’t that they have a Derian Hatcher on the payroll, but once Bouwmeester is off the ice, defensively things look decidedly lopsided. I’m probably wrong, but at a glance it seems that the Flames will have to rely more heavily on offensive outbursts to win, and I’m not convinced they have the tools necessary for that game plan.

  • Excellent insights. I agree with most everything said, especially that they have good offensive depth.

    Also, look at it this way: they replaced Hannan with Wideman, and Brodie’s a year further along. Their blue line should therefore be improved.

  • One of the biggest reasons we overpaid for Wideman is that he shoots right: this has got to mean he’s a partner for either Gio or Bouw. It sounds like a lot of people are betting on a Gio – Wideman combo at 3-4, and that does sound like an offensive powerhouse with some ornery thrown in too. I still haven’t heard Hartley mention Bouwmeester’s name (since he omitted him from his core list in that early interview) which is weird because I really think both the coach and Bouw can benefit from each other’s presence. I mean, beyond ‘Jay’s the only top defensive d the Flames have’, there is a possibility (a decent one) that Bouw’s points go up significantly with Hartley coaching – and go up a great deal if his partner is Wideman.