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.

  • 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.

    • ChinookArchYYC

      YUP.

      I’m with Sincity on this though, the Cervenka signing does not mean the Flames can’t or won’t sign Jokinen, but I hope it does give them leverage.

      Simply put: “Olli here’s your offer, take it or leave it.”

  • RexLibris

    I wasn’t too impressed with what Feaster said. “Second-line player”…

    Hmmm… How does Feaster know this? Or maybe he doesn’t and he’s just feeding fans a line.

    So much for intellectual honesty. Can’t even get just straight honesty.

    • Most teams are naturally distrustful of bloggers and “new media”. We exist outside the established paradigm so look like a bit of a free radical in the system form their vantage point.

      As such, the Flames would probably have no idea what I might have with Snow which is scary.

      So fair enough.

  • MC Hockey

    I can tell you with 98% certainty that people are overvaluing the pucks system. it’s more a way to sort certain on-ice events rather then actually evaluate the players based on non-subjective criteria.

    I asked once about an otr talk with snow, but I never heard anything back.

  • RexLibris

    @ everton fc

    Your listing of the center depth looks like a dog’s breakfast. Cammalleri is the most talented and able of the players listed and yet he would have to move to from the wing in order to play that position.

    Backlund might not be ready yet for 2nd line center duty unless he is paired with strong wingers who can help him succeed.

    Stajan’s position on the depth chart should speak for itself, and then Moss, Horak and Jones are all 3rd/4th line centers or AHL players at this point.

    Adding Cervenka, aside from taking a gamble on him potentially usurping Backlund’s 2nd/3rd line spot, will likely only muddy the waters and add more bodies to a roster that would probably be better served adding a center like Stoll to play 2nd line minutes in a group like this.

    If Cervenka can manage 60 points, awesome. Way to go Feaster and congratulations to the Flames.

    If he scores 50, well it was a worthwhile experiment and he served his purpose.

    If he manages 40, not so good.

    35 or fewer points and ouch, this would make the contract a waste of money and a roster spot.

    Now, if Feaster wanted to sign Cervenka as a way of enticing Hemsky to demand a trade to Calgary…(sorry, I had to go there, it was too tempting to resist)

    • Robert Cleave

      40 points is a middle of the pack 2nd liner in the NHL. If the Flames get that for 925k plus a 212,000 ice time bonus and a few other bits and pieces, it’ll be a pure win.

    • Robert Cleave

      35 or fewer points, wow, you are certainly setting the bar high. I don’t think I have to tell you, but if Cervenka scores 35 points that puts him as the 6th highest scoring forward on the flames this past season. A waste of money and a Roster spot really?

      Now assuming he only scores 35 points, that probably gets rid of all bonuses so its only salary, which is about 925,000. Want a list of the guys on the Flames that were making that last season and didn’t get half of 35 points? Backlund, Stajan, Kosto and Comeau are all one it(well Stajan is one point above half 35 points).

      So if Cervenka scores 35 points as a rookie in the NHL making less than 1 million, he’s doing better than all the forwards on the team outside the top 5 guys (Iggy, tangs, Jokinen, GlennX, Camm).

  • RexLibris

    low risk signing, but you have to be skeptical when feaster speaks. personally, i never trusted carnie sucksters or snake oil salesmen. the khl maybe the third best pro league in the world. nhl first ahl second and perhaps the khl. the level of corruption in russia casts long shadows.

  • @ChinookArch

    There is a general consensus, yes. We generally all use Corsi-based tools and zone starts, as well as on-ice save/shoot %, all of which largely came from two people – Vic Ferrari and Gabriel Desjardins. There’s very little that achieves the consensus-level standard without their endorsement or initiation.

    While people who venture outside the Ferrari-Desjardins consensus are usually on their own, there are some other stats that have achieved some general level of acceptance, including mainstream media and NHL front offices, like GVT/GVS and Quality Starts, for instance.

    • ChinookArchYYC

      @ Kent Wilson

      Kent & Robert, thanks for the detailed responses. I’ve been trying figure out where the Flames are in terms of using advance stats. The simple fact that Snow looked to Gabe Desjardins for info on Corsi, or even knows what “Behind the Net” is, is at least a start. It’s disappointing he didn’t give you a call, but as you said it’s understandable.

      Robert, I read through your player predictions and reviews this past year. Pretty impressive in an oddly scary way. I hope the Flames are using these tools, or will soon.

  • MC Hockey

    Hi all,

    First, I assume Iggy and Kipper are staying.

    And I do think Cammy will return to 1st line Centre, so many people forget he finished the year there (and playing very well).

    Next at 2C and 3C will be Cervenka then Backlund(or Olli should he surprisingly return) because now the Flames have leverage for offering Jokinen a shorter/cheaper contract with him. Olli at 3rd line C would be a skillful guy who could also take defensive-zone faceoffs and check other teams’ top-liners well and free up Flames lines 1 and 2 to start in the offensive zone more (wow, managing zone starts, what a concept!). Unless the Flames shake things up and sign a UFA (see below).

    Then Stajan or Jones at 4th line centre and the odd man of those 2 and most other guys mentioned by others are converted to wing should they make the team(i.e. Horak and Reinhart possibly to LW as both shoot left).If the Flames shake things up see, the paragraph strating with “Finally..” below.

    Basically, With Czechbeerman (you say Cervenka but I say Cerveza) signed, the whole forward lineup is starting to look much better and I hope FLames do NOT keep Olli, Comeau, Moss, Kostopoulos (sorry but all are replaceable), neutral on Stempniak. Instead I hope Flames truly go young making it highly possible that young guys make the team like Baetschi (obvious) but maybe Reinhart, Nemisz, Ferland, or even free agents Byron/Aliu/Desbiens (if any of the 3 are re-signed), depending on what the team wants in terms of skills for bottom 6 wingers.

    Finally, if the Flames want to find a good defensive centre by signing a UFA, Gaustad or Stoll are great ideas (both faceoff aces in top 18 for FW% in league in regular season) but likely too costly. Thus I suggest Torrey Mitchell who is 27, fast, had capy hit of only 1.333, possibly offensive upside but is a good checking centre/winger who is decent on faceoffs. Similar but 28 years old and more offensive upside is Marcel Goc.

    P.S. Now if we could just get a 1D/2D by signing one of Suter, Wideman, Carle or even Barrett Jackman (a bit older at 32 and just a defensive D-man but excellent) then things would be great.

  • @ChinookArch

    As I wrote in the Dorkapalooza piece, only 6-12 teams are on the advanced statistical map (including the Oilers).

    http://flamesnation.ca/2012/3/15/dorkapalooza

    Yes – Chris Snow is at that conference and he goes to Behind the Net, so they’re hopefully on the map.

    Hopefully it’s only a matter of time before he contacts Kent (or me, or Ryan Popilchak, or one of the other great local statisticians).

    And thanks for the kind words about the Snepsts projection system.

  • supra steve

    @Burning
    Detroit may be a great organization to mimic, but the flames are going to have to draft far more effectively then they have over the last…what, 20 years. The draft is everything. Where would Det have been over the last 20+ years if they hadn’t got lucky with Lidstrom, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, etc. in the entry draft? Over a similar time frame the Flames took Kidd, Tkachuk, Stillman, and countless others. Granted, it wasn’t only luck, but a good dose of luck was involved. So until the Flames start landing some big fish on a regular basis in the draft, good luck following their lead.