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.

  • Subversive

    Yep, agree with most of the commenters. I think it’s a low risk move, in the sense that they risk nothing but money (and not mine, at that) to acquire the player.

    If it pushes Sex Panther out the door, so much the better, there’s no way he sustains his level of production from this season going forward.

  • Gange

    However Freidman said that he wasn’t aware of many teams chasing him. I’m very cautiously optimistic about this guy. I’m much more optimistic about the direction of the team.

  • Robert Cleave

    I change my stance on High Rish/High Reward as well. This signing pretty well has ZERO risk attached to it. With all the secondary bonuses(Hart/Selke/etc.) that he would have to get to get that cap dollar would mean he would have to be the best player in the league and at 3.8million thats a good deal. And if he doesn’t come close, he costs about as much as a typical 4th liner and will be shipped back to Russia.

    This is pretty well zero risk and still a high reward.

  • BobB

    1. I like this move because it fits within what I view as a promising age window for our “veteran” Flames: The ’82-’85 years. I realistically see the guys in this window being the earliest likely to be competitive in the future, and not be too old to compete in 3 years or so.

    Any forward/def. older than ’82 on this team has no future IMHO and should immediately be traded for assets if it makes sense.

    2. I think that Roman has potential to be a successful 3rd line centre on a good team. He’s not a good skater, and in this league any player who’s lacking skating is equiv. to a line lower or 5 years older. He’s small and can’t skate well…. he better be resilient and tenacious, cause he’s going to take a beating…or be invisible.

    3. Feaster deserves props for exploring less conventional sources of talent which are both coming with experience and can be had at reasonable cost (if the 900k base is true) and low risk (1 year).

    • SmellOfVictory

      I know these are outliers, but neither Cory Perry nor Ryan Getzlaf is a good skater. It’s not 100% necessary that a guy be a good skater to be in a team’s top-6, although skating deficiencies are certainly difficult to compensate for.

  • Robert Cleave

    I posted this in the other thread as well but it bears repeating. For those that want the rebuild, this is something they REALLY should be behind. He’s younger, skilled and will fit into the top 6 and shoves out our older players (jokinen).

    • Bean-counting cowboy

      Does it really say anything about a rebuild? This is a one year deal that will leave him a UFA at the season. It likely does move Olli out and it gives youngsters a year to develop, but it could just as easily be looked at as a “win now” addition.

  • Robert Cleave

    It’s a fairly risk-free move, in my view, and as I mentioned last night on Twitter, the line in the sand for me is 40 points or so. If you look at the top 180 forwards, which should cover off almost every top sixer in the NHL worth a damn, a middling 2nd liner in terms of scoring would get right in that range. Brooks Laich was the 135th leading scorer this year with 41 points, and 135th amongst forwards would obviously be right at the mid-point of second line productivity.

    At any rate, if Cervenka can hit that sort of production without hurting the team in any other way, Calgary wins. If he actually reaches his NHLe and gets into the 55 point range, that would have been good enough for 70th in scoring this year. I’m loathe to expect that much, given his decline in productivity this year without Jagr riding shotgun, but there’s still a fair bit of range in potential output between him hitting his NHLe and being a bad bet.

  • It looks like a nice signing to me and the contract appears to be fair for both side. If he doesn’t perform, he doesn’t achieve the performance bonuses. If he does, then he fills a short term need.

    His UFA status at the end of the season makes this an ultimate tryout…

  • In terms of NHL competition and ice-size, the only stats we have to look at recently are the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

    He played 5 games with the 7th place Czech Republic… 0G 2A 2PTS TOI 12:10

    Not great offensive output but the Czech’s never scored much, either. It’s also worth noting that his ice time dipped as the tournament went on. Averaging 13:25 in round robin and in their final game he only got 9:01.

    However, Pronman’s analysis is encouraging. Even at 40 points he would’ve been the Flames second highest-scoring centre.

  • One thing about the Czech league, in my KHL equivalencies post you’ll notice that the Czech Extraliga has dropped in quality significantly since those original NHLE measurements were taken. It is now closer in standing with the Swiss NLA than it is with the Elitserien (Sweden) or SM-Liiga (Finland), for example. So yes, I would be very surprised if Cervenka was putting up those kinds of numbers in the NHL that is CEL-NHL comparables suggest.

    For reference, I had the Czech league at .58 compared to the KHL, which roughly works out to a .38 NHLE if you use my numbers (0.65 KHL-NHL). Obviously, I think the sample is a poor quality one from KHL to NHL, but the CEL to KHL one I have a lot of confidence in. It’s why you don’t see players jumping from the Czech league straight to the NHL anymore. It’s clearly a step below the AHL.

  • supra steve

    Posted this in the previous thread, but thought i’d throw it up here also:

    Can’t help but be a little excited for this acquisition. Didn’t give up any assets, for a potential top six forward.

    I also recall about two years ago, possibly during the olympics, Jagr raving about this guy saying something to the effect of “he’ll be a star in the nhl someday”. Take that with a grain of salt, but I can’t help but wonder if Philly wins the cup, perhaps JJ would want to finish out his career riding shotgun with his good friend and countryman.