Flames Projections: Secondary Forwards


Every year we project how many points each of the players will score using a couple of different statistical methods, and why should a potential lockout season be any different?

If you’re just tuning in, we explained our methodology in more detail in our first piece, which covered the top-six forwardsLast time we covered the defensemen and here in our third and final piece we’ll look at the remaining, secondary forwards.

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For a summary of how we did last year, check out the late-April recap, where we observed that while “people frequently complain that the Snepsts system is too pessimistic, but over-all for the past two years it has served our purposes well. 

In fact, Brendan Morrison and Tom Kostopoulos were bang-on, while David Moss, Niklas Hagman, Tim Jackman, Lance Bouma and Paul Byron were all within reasonable spitting distance. Only Matt Stajan and Mikael Backlund flopped to any serious degree. Unfortunately Calgary needed at least a couple of these secondary players to step up, but not a single one exceeded scoring expectations – and that could have made all the difference.”

The Depth Guys

Matt Stajan

Remember that Matt Stajan had back-to-back 55-point seasons before these past two full seasons in Calgary where his playing time has dropped a few minutes per game at both even-strength and particularly the power play, where he’s seldom used at all anymore. 

Under a new coach he could get a fresh start, prompting us to repeat the same words we wrote about him last year that “there are actually a wide range of possibilities for Stajan – a 20-point 4th liner on death watch, an overpriced but usable 35-point depth option, or a return to 55-point top-six form. It will be a highly critical season for him, because if he doesn’t regain full form, he could soon find himself packaged with someone useful and sent to Buffalo.”

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          GP    G   A   PTS
Last Year 61   8   10   18
VUKOTA    58.6 7.8 12.9 20.7
Best      82  24.3 30.7 55.0
Worst     82   3.2  9.7 13.0
Average   82   8.0 17.9 25.9

Though obviously not worth the $3.5M cap hit he carries for two more seasons, Matt Stajan’s game nevertheless has some upside. Though his scoring has dropped, his possession numbers have always been okay (thanks in part to facing below-average competition, of course), is a decent secondary penalty killing choice, and is a consistent 51.4-51.8% in the faceoff circle every year.

As for his historical matches, back in the mid-90s Shaun Van Allen was another playmaking centre who had a couple of promising season in his mid-20s, scoring 54 points in 94 games over two seasons for the Mighty Ducks before changing teams and flattening out with stats similar to Stajan’s.

Better yet, Winnipeg acquired promising playmaking winger Darrin Shannon around the same time and age, and he quickly posted 41 goals and 118 points over two full seasons before flattening out.

Unfortunately both those two players were on pace for an era-adjusted 20 points in the following 1997-98 season – something we should probably also expect from Stajan given that four of his closest historical matches didn’t even manage that much.

Lee Stempniak

Had Lee Stempniak played all 82 games last year we would have nailed his projection within a single goal and assist. The only Flames UFA signing to received a favourable response in a recent ESPN survey of statistical analysts, Stempniak is signed to a nice two-year deal at $2.5M per season.

Despite playing on four different teams over the past four years, Stempniak’s even-strength scoring rate has been a consistent 1.7-1.8 points per 60 minutes (a lower top-six level), while he’s remained a useful secondary power play option. Generally playing tougher than average ice-time, Stempniak’s possession numbers are also usually quite strong, and his good discipline has led him to draw twice as many penalties as he’s taken in three of the past four seasons.

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Last year was much like his 2009-10 season in Toronto and Phoenix, where he didn’t throw as many hits, was used as a secondary penalty-killing option, and enjoyed a slightly easier even-strength assignment involving a little more offensive zone time and more average competition – consequently enjoying even better possession numbers.

          GP    G    A   PTS
Last Year 61   14   14   28
VUKOTA    63.8 14.8 16.2 30.9
Best      82   20.7 23.0 43.6
Worst     82   14.0  8.6 22.6
Average   82   14.4 18.3 32.8

Of this ten closest matches, two had 20 goals (though just barely) and four got 20 assists.  His closest historical match is probably former Leafs winger Inge Hammarstrom, who had five straight seasons in a tight band between 40 and 43 points.  Similarly much-traveled winger Mark Parrish was another close historical match, but his career was unfortunately already winding down at this point.

Blake Comeau

Blake “The Spanish Howe” Comeau went from 24 goals to 5, and 46 points to 15, thanks in part to a shooting percentage dropping from 13.2% to 3.6%, a team on-ice shooting percentage dropping from a consistent 8.0%+ to 4.8% and going from two to three minutes of power play time per game to less than one. 

It really doesn’t get much worse than that.

Even if his role remains limited, Comeau is still a useful player. Though used sparingly in Calgary, he was a top penalty killing option in Long Island, throws a fair deal of hits, and has enjoyed positive possession numbers for three straight seasons (in fairly average ice-time).

Defensively, Comeau’s on-ice save percentage was .931 in Calgary after a three-season high of just .893 with the Islanders, and consequently enjoyed a personal goals-against average of just 2.03 after a three-season low of 3.12.

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          GP    G    A   PTS
Last Year 74    5   10   15
VUKOTA    63.2 11.0 12.9 23.9
Best      82   20.8 46.8 67.7
Worst     82    4.4  4.7  9.1
Average   82   12.0 16.3 28.2

There was only one 20-goal man in his ten closest matches, although three managed 20 assists. Historically Scott Bjugstad went through something very similar with the Minnesota North Stars in the mid-80s, and bounced back with a season that would have had him on-pace for the modern-era equivalent of 40 points, but unfortunately injuries limited him to an average of just 27 games per year over the next six seasons.

A brighter example might be Igor Korolev, who broke out with the modern-day equivalent of a 40-point season for Winnipeg in 1995-96 before floundering after the move to Phoenix. Fortunately he caught fire in Toronto (how often do you get to put that sentence together?) and enjoyed three more 40-point seasons before cooling off at age 30.

As for the more modern day, the closest match for Blake Comeau might be the tiny Ryan Shannon, who showed some offensive upside early in his career with Vancouver and Ottawa, but eventually settled into a third-line two-way role, scoring 27 points for Ottawa in 2010-11.

Mikael Backlund

Mikael Backlund is a huge favourite among statistical analysts because of his consistently amazing possession numbers, which stood up even when he was used primarily in a defensive capacity against fairly high competition last year.

So if he’s so great how come he only got 11 points in 41 games with a big fat -13 last year?  Well the team scored on just 5.3% of his shots when he was on the ice while Calgary’s goalies had a save percentage of just .895 behind him – Backlund himself has just 15 goals in 277 NHL shots.  A lot of this is just bad luck, and so his $725K contract could turn out to be the deal of the century if he breaks out (in a way that doesn’t involve acne).

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          GP    G    A   PTS
Last Year 41    4    7   11
VUKOTA    53.0  8.7 10.6 19.3
Best      82   25.2 46.5 71.7
Worst     82    8.9 11.7 20.6
Average   82   11.7 20.6 32.2

That tremendous upside you see there (which is probably a year or two away for Backlund) is thanks to Travis Green, who a lot of people forget was a near point-a-game player for the Islanders in the mid-90s.

More realistically two former Flames started their careers in fairly similar statistical fashion to Backlund and gradually move up in points through the 30s and into the 40s: Niklas Hagman and the far grittier Jim Peplinski. Pepper was one of the ten closest matches who was on pace for 20 assists. 

Lance Bouma

Lance Bouma had the lowest offensive zone start percentage on the team, and consequently the Flames were usually badly outshot when he was on the ice. Fortunately Bouma plays almost exclusively against depth lines, and consequently had a personal goals-against average of just 0.70. The gritty and useful role player throws almost 10 hits per 60 minutes, blocks a lot of shots, and draws more penalties than he takes.

          GP    G   A   PTS
Last Year 27   1   2    3
VUKOTA    38.1 4.3 5.6  9.8
Best      82  17.9 8.4 26.2
Worst     82   2.9 1.0  4.0
Average   82   6.8 6.8 13.6

There aren’t a lot of promising matches for Bouma, mostly just career fourth lines plugs like Dan LaCouture and quasi-enforcers like Matt Johnson or Kris King. Only two of the ten closest matches were on pace for 20 points.

Blair Jones

With 14 points in 99 games over five seasons it comes as no surprise that most of Blair Jones’ historical matches are fourth-line plugs, and contain only a single 10-goal scorer and two 20-point men. 

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The best we can hope for is that he manages to skate in the traces of Toronto’s giant bargain shut-down center David Steckel, or fellow giant Marc Chouinard, who had a couple strong seasons in Minnesota in and around the last lockout season.

          GP    G    A   PTS
Last Year 43   3    5    8
VUKOTA    43.3 4.3  6.1 10.4
Best      82  14.2 26.2 40.5
Worst     82   3.5  4.7  8.2
Average   82   5.8 10.8 16.6

Jones has the second lowest offensive zone starts among Flames forwards, but thanks to facing below-average competition managed to stay just barely above water possession-wise, as he did in Tampa Bay. The team’s shooting percentage was just 3.9% with Jones on the ice, leading to a personal goals-for average of just 1.01, but the team’s save percentage was .944 leading to a goals-against average of just 1.45. It’s safe to say that neither team scores when Jones is on the ice. 

Jones is terrible at faceoffs, but blocks a lot of shots, and was a depth option on both the power play and the penalty kill for the first time. I’m also contractually obligated to make a joke about his hometown, Central Butte, which I suppose is the one part of Saskatchewan that isn’t flat.

Tim Jackman

When he got to play occasionally with underrated linemates like Mikael Backlund and David Moss in 2010-11, Tim Jackman’s scoring totals got a big boost to 23 points and a +4, but they unforutnately plunged right back down to 7 points and a -21 last year without them. 

Part of the problem was ridiculously bad shooting percentages. The team scored on just 2.7% of its shots with Jackman on the ice, he himself scoring on just 1.0% after two years in the 7.7% range, all of that leading to a microscopic personal goals-for average of just 0.73

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With the Islanders Jackman was used in a defensive role, and against top opponents in his final year, and his possession numbers were consequently terrible. Calgary’s been wise enough to use him in a more balanced role and against depth lines only, where he does just fine.

Jackman hasn’t been used on the penalty kill since 2008-09, but has occasionally seen time on the power play since arriving in Calgary. He consistently throws over 10 hits per 60 minutes, and used to block a lot of shots back when he had an island on his jersey.

          GP    G    A   PTS
Last Year 75   1    6    7
VUKOTA    57.4 4.8  6.0 10.8
Best      82   9.2 14.2 23.4
Worst     82   2.3  2.3  4.7
Average   82   4.6  8.9 13.5

With mostly thugs like Basil McRae and David Maley as his historical matches there are no double-digit goal scorers and only four with double-digit assists. The most suitable historical comparison might be Randy Gilhen, who skated the depth lines on seven teams over his roughly ten-season career, getting traded five times and being claimed in two expansion drafts.


Thanks for checking out the annual three-part projection series, and as usual we’ll check back at the end of the season (if applicable) to see how everyone lined up against these expectations – but be warned that smaller sample sizes can result in a much larger variance of results.

  • The Flames were unlucky last year when it came to the bottom-end: pretty much all of them suffered through below average percentages (except maybe Backlund).

    I expect at least a couple of them to bounce back next year.

  • Danger

    Re: contractual obligation jokes. Minor correction, there are two other parts of Saskatchewan that aren’t flat: Prince Albert and Climax. Say what you will about the rectangle dwellers, but you can’t deny that they have a sense of humour!