Jarome Iginla Now and Going Forward

 

 

During the weekend open thread, I asked everyone to envision what the team might look like in 3 years absent many of the longtime mainstays like Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff. The question of Iginla’s future with the club will continue to grow as the year progresses and we near the completion of his current contract.

No doubt a large contingent of the fan base will agitate to re-sign Iggy sooner rather than later and for whatever it is he wants to get paid – he is, after all, the face of the franchise and the best forward to ever lace up the skates for the Calgary Flames. Jarome has been the guy around which the franchise has has built in earnest since he was 19 years old and the club’s leading scorer for a decade. For many, the thought of a Calgary Flames team lacking Jarome is therefore abominable.

I have been unhappily battling against this sentiment for a couple of summers now. In 2010, I wrote about Iginla’s decline. Last summer, I put together a three part series detailing his continued struggles, while they are inevitable and what the franchise should think to do about it.

Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that Iginla leaving the Flames some day is inetivable: either because he signs elsewhere or retires. No one plays forever. For the purposes of this excercise, we’ll assume the team has the option to re-sign their captain in perpetuity, until his legs fall off or the owners finally lock-out the players forever. The question is – should the team re-sign Iginla? And if so, for how much?

Before we proceed let me note at the outset that this is not an exercise in "hate" nor an attempt to punitively run the captain out of town. Iginla is one of my favorite athletes of all time. I consider myself lucky to have witnessed his incredible career here in Calgary.

This is simply my attempt to analyze and answer a couple of questions as ruthlessly and honestly as possible:

1.) How good a player is Iginla now?

2.) And how good is he likely to be near in the future?

Given the state of the team and the impending end of Iginla’s current deal, these are the essential issues management needs to wrestle with. Jarome’s storied past and wealth of accomplishments are fixed and unchanging going forwarded – to be celebrated and respected, for sure – but they aren’t necessarily indicators of the quality of player he is currently or will be a few years down the road.

Iginla WOWY

"WOWY" or With or Without You is a useful statistical tool for teasing apart the effect one player is having on his linemates. Thanks to David Johnson’s Hockey Analysis site, this inquiry is easier to do than ever. I have filtered the results from the link a bit to clarify things:

    With Iginla             Without Iginla        
Player TOI CF CF/20 CA CA/20 CF%   TOI CF CF/20 CA CA/20 CF%
OLLI JOKINEN 645:16:00 520 16.117 675 20.922 0.435   518:50:00 458 17.655 492 18.966 0.482
JAY BOUWMEESTER 621:50:00 486 15.631 692 22.257 0.413   932:58:00 781 16.742 804 17.235 0.493
ALEX TANGUAY 574:28:00 507 17.651 613 21.342 0.453   284:41:00 217 15.245 254 17.844 0.461
CHRIS BUTLER 477:43:00 380 15.909 530 22.189 0.418   713:47:00 633 17.736 645 18.073 0.495
CURTIS GLENCROSS 423:33:00 338 15.96 434 20.493 0.438   448:02:00 396 17.677 428 19.106 0.481
SCOTT HANNAN 408:36:00 321 15.712 449 21.977 0.417   883:07:00 693 15.694 811 18.367 0.461
MARK GIORDANO 341:36:00 283 16.569 351 20.55 0.446   657:13:00 580 17.65 591 17.985 0.495
CORY SARICH 254:32:00 221 17.365 199 15.636 0.526   654:06:00 557 17.031 541 16.542 0.507
DEREK SMITH 196:13:00 186 18.959 204 20.793 0.477   456:37:00 365 15.987 401 17.564 0.477
MIKE CAMMALLERI 184:24:00 166 18.004 187 20.282 0.47   706:15:00 588 16.651 669 18.945 0.468
TJ BRODIE 181:20:00 159 17.537 144 15.882 0.525   586:35:00 506 17.252 480 16.366 0.513
MIKAEL BACKLUND 175:48:00 167 18.999 177 20.137 0.485   350:58:00 313 17.836 290 16.526 0.519
MATT STAJAN 167:49:00 150 17.877 158 18.83 0.487   517:29:00 454 17.546 443 17.121 0.506

The table shows anyone on the Flames who played 100+ minutes with Iginla last year. On the left, we have shot/corsi results when both players were on the ice together. The right hand side shows how each guy did without Jarome. I have added bold and italics to each player whose outshooting improved sans Iginla.

The ratios (CF%) are the total shots for/against at even strength, an expression of puck possession in the offensive zone. In the NHL, 0.50 is about average and typically the minimum for what every coach shoots for when he is matching lines and setting his roster. It means his line is giving as good as it getting at 5on5.

Nine of Iginla’s 13 more regular linemates improved when apart from him – some of them significantly. Jay Bouwmeester and Chris Butler went from getting their heads beat in (41.8% and 43.5%), to nearly treading water (48.2% and 49.5%).

Only two players of the 13 actually saw their numbers go up when skating with Iggy: Corey Sarich and TJ Brodie. We can assume that is an effect of competition quality and zone starts since Sarich and Brodie were mostly third pairing/bottom of the rotation options for Brent Sutter last year. It’s a fair bet during those minutes that Iginla was facing nobodies and probably starting more often in the offensive zone as a result.

To be fair to the captain, there’s no doubt he saw some of the heavisest sledding last year and playing with him meant seeing the other team’s best players. You can bet that accounts for at least some of the improvement for guys like Backlund and Stajan who were probably playing against some lesser lights when not skating with Iginla.

That said, even all the regular high-end duties guys saw their shots ratios go down with Jarome. Glencross and Jokinen were consistently matched against other team’s good players both with and without Iggy and their ratios went up in his absence. Ditto Bouwmeester and Butler.

Also distubring isn’t just the general shift towards better results without the captain, but the fact with him on the ice the club’s possession consistently sits below that mediocre 50% mark. A fifty/fifty split in possession isn’t even in the "good" territory when it comes to controlling play as a forward. Anything around 45% or lower means the team is losing the territorial battle handily with said player on the ice.

Iginla Versus The Big Guns

Hockey Analysis also allows us to see how Iginla fared against other skaters in the league. This sort of inquiry will give us an indication how the Flames controlled play against specfic competition when Jarome was one the ice last year.

The following table contains the 29 skaters against whom Iginla spent at least 30 minutes of ice time against in 2012-13:

Player TOI CF CA differential CF%
MARC-EDOUARD VLASIC 48:06:00 41 48 -7 0.461
NIKITA NIKITIN 47:38:00 31 39 -8 0.443
STEPHANE ROBIDAS 47:36:00 45 46 -1 0.495
LADISLAV SMID 47:22:00 41 52 -11 0.441
DANY HEATLEY 44:30:00 48 47 1 0.505
OLIVER EKMAN-LARSSON 44:01:00 22 49 -27 0.31
DREW DOUGHTY 43:54:00 27 53 -26 0.338
RYAN SUTER 42:49:00 42 43 -1 0.494
ROB SCUDERI 42:48:00 26 47 -21 0.356
DAN HAMHUIS 41:05:00 32 36 -4 0.471
RYAN O’REILLY 40:46:00 30 39 -9 0.435
IAN WHITE 40:30:00 29 46 -17 0.387
NICKLAS LIDSTROM 38:58:00 29 47 -18 0.382
GABRIEL LANDESKOG 38:50:00 34 40 -6 0.459
JEFF PETRY 38:13:00 28 47 -19 0.373
DEVIN SETOGUCHI 37:38:00 33 42 -9 0.44
JAN HEJDA 36:39:00 34 34 0 0.5
DAVID BACKES 36:24:00 25 46 -21 0.352
MATT CULLEN 36:01:00 32 37 -5 0.464
ALEX PIETRANGELO 36:00:00 19 40 -21 0.322
KEVIN BIEKSA 35:37:00 28 35 -7 0.444
MARCO SCANDELLA 35:12:00 38 29 9 0.567
RAY WHITNEY 34:53:00 14 42 -28 0.25
SAM GAGNER 34:53:00 27 40 -13 0.403
TOM GILBERT 33:55:00 29 37 -8 0.439
RYAN O’BYRNE 33:45:00 29 27 2 0.518
JARED SPURGEON 33:42:00 45 27 18 0.625
HENRIK SEDIN 33:41:00 18 32 -14 0.36
DANIEL WINNIK 33:37:00 17 31 -14 0.354
FRANCOIS BEAUCHEMIN 33:24:00 23 32 -9 0.418
DUNCAN KEITH 33:19:00 34 38 -4 0.472
NIKLAS BACKSTROM 33:18:00 29 30 -1 0.492
SHAWN HORCOFF 33:10:00 20 38 -18 0.345
PATRICK MARLEAU 33:04:00 27 36 -9 0.429
ANZE KOPITAR 32:07:00 22 41 -19 0.349
MICHAL ROZSIVAL 32:04:00 15 45 -30 0.25
DAN BOYLE 31:58:00 25 27 -2 0.481
RYAN SMYTH 31:20:00 18 36 -18 0.333
JORDAN EBERLE 31:20:00 29 34 -5 0.46
TJ OSHIE 31:00:00 22 29 -7 0.431
ANTOINE VERMETTE 30:54:00 22 24 -2 0.478
ALEX BURROWS 30:45:00 14 33 -19 0.298
DUSTIN BROWN 30:29:00 22 40 -18 0.355
FEDOR TYUTIN 30:29:00 16 27 -11 0.372
BOBBY RYAN 30:27:00 14 35 -21 0.286
NICK SCHULTZ 30:22:00 30 25 5 0.545
JUSTIN WILLIAMS 30:07:00 18 39 -21 0.316
Total   1293 1787 -494 0.420

It’s a long list with a lot of good players on it. Only in four cases (highlighted above) did Iginla come out on top of the total shots ratio: Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon, Nick Shultz, Dany Heatley. Not coincidentally, all four of those guys are Minnesota Wild, one of the very worst teams in the league last year at controlling play.

At the bottom, I have totaled the Flames total shots for and against at even strength for this sample. It show that the team was nearly 500 shots (!) in the red with Iginla skating against this collection of other team’s top-end skaters.

In other words, Calgary managed just 42% of the total shots with Iggy on the ice against these folks. He was especially dominated by guys like David Backes (35.2%), Sam Gagner (40.3%), Henrik Sedin (36.0%), Anze Kopitar (34.9%), Dustin Brown (35.5%), Ryan Smith (33.3%), Bobby Ryan (28.6%) and even Daniel Winnik (35.4%).

To make things a little more explicit, I pulled out the various defenders and put together the list of opposition forwards:

Player TOI CF CA differential CF%
DANY HEATLEY 44:30:00 48 47 1 0.505
RYAN O’REILLY 40:46:00 30 39 -9 0.435
GABRIEL LANDESKOG 38:50:00 34 40 -6 0.459
DEVIN SETOGUCHI 37:38:00 33 42 -9 0.44
DAVID BACKES 36:24:00 25 46 -21 0.352
MATT CULLEN 36:01:00 32 37 -5 0.464
RAY WHITNEY 34:53:00 14 42 -28 0.25
SAM GAGNER 34:53:00 27 40 -13 0.403
HENRIK SEDIN 33:41:00 18 32 -14 0.36
DANIEL WINNIK 33:37:00 17 31 -14 0.354
SHAWN HORCOFF 33:10:00 20 38 -18 0.345
PATRICK MARLEAU 33:04:00 27 36 -9 0.429
ANZE KOPITAR 32:07:00 22 41 -19 0.349
RYAN SMYTH 31:20:00 18 36 -18 0.333
JORDAN EBERLE 31:20:00 29 34 -5 0.46
TJ OSHIE 31:00:00 22 29 -7 0.431
ANTOINE VERMETTE 30:54:00 22 24 -2 0.478
ALEX BURROWS 30:45:00 14 33 -19 0.298
DUSTIN BROWN 30:29:00 22 40 -18 0.355
BOBBY RYAN 30:27:00 14 35 -21 0.286
JUSTIN WILLIAMS 30:07:00 18 39 -21 0.316
 Total   506 781 -275 0.393

That cuts us down to 21 names and the list of guys Iginla was in the black against to just Dany Heatley (by a single shot). In sum, this group outshot Jarome by over 275 shots on net and controlled the puck over 60% of the time at even strength against him. 

That’s a very steep hill to climb for the Flames and is particularly noteworthy because it’s not like they are yielding ground to the Johnny Stonehands of the world in this sample. Many of these guys are the best players on their respective teams, meaning the oppositions top-end is spending a lot more time at the Flames end of the ice when they are matched against Iginla these days

Implications

This is all very much in line with the decline in Iginla’s general effectiveness which I began to chart in 2010. A couple of seasons ago, he was merely average at controlling play and lagged behind many of his peers in terms of stature and pay across the league. Now, Iginla has entered liability territory at even strength – he consitently yields shots and possession against while he’s on the ice and almost universally pulls down his linemates ability to control play as well.

No doubt some will ask what the value of a shot/possssion based inquiry is when Jarome is still scoring 30+ goals and 60+ points per year. I’ll respond with a metaphor –

When a coach gives a player ice time, it is essentially an "invesment" in the player. The potential profit is shots/chances/goals for. The potential expense is shots/chances/goals against. The goal is to have the profit margin exceed the expenses as often as possible and in aggregate.

There are some factors that can help overcome a negative shot differential so that the most important line item – "goals" – remains in the black. Specifically, high SH% and SV% can help mititgate possession issues. Of course, skaters only exert modest influence over those things and they are mostly swamped by issues of randomness and variance.

Meaning – to overcome Jarome’s issues of volume (shots/chances against) Calgary will need to control the frequency of goals (the percentages) to a non-trivial degree ir order to come out even or above water. And even though Alex Tanguay is one of the few skaters who can probably amp his linemates shooting by about 1% above normal, the truth is it would take a season of extraordinary luck (well above average percentages) for Iginla’s ice time not to cost the club dearly in terms of goal differential.

To get back to the inital question – Iginla can likely continue to put up 30+ goals and 60+ points in the next few years if the team keeps giving him a lot of ice time. The issue is, Jarome’s an asset now in the red; his ice time (and therefore production) costs the team shots, possession, chances and goals against. And it will likely continue to do so more and more now that he has crested 35 years old.

Conclusion

None of this means Iginla is worthless and must be immediately sent to the glue factory. He’s iconic in the city and invaluable to the Flames marketing department. He carries a lot of weight and respect with other players and youngsters. He is highly competitive and still has a great release and shot, so is dangerous in particular circumstances. As a third line, PP option Jarome would probably still be a boon to most clubs in the NHL. 

What it does mean is simply that Iginla isn’t the player he was when he was 28. It means the team can’t continue to deploy him as a top-line, power vs power option and pretend it’s making a meaningful dash for the post-season. And in evaluating the club’s needs and his upcoming free agency, the Flames have to properly assess where Jarome is in his career, how he is likely to continue to age and decline and weigh that accordingly with potential trade options or salary demands.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    So if ownership (leave Feaster out of this – who are we kidding, he has no say in the Iggy decision) re-ups Iggy to a 4 year deal worth 7 + million, what’s the over/under on how long it takes the die-hard Iggy fans to realize what a mistake that was?

  • Performance metrics? Why Kent?

    Jersey sales, his ability to schmooze with season ticket owners, his ability to drive season ticket sales, and his ability to sell a new arena to taxpayers are all more important metrics to the Flames front office than these ‘performance’ based ones.

    You nailed it at the end. Iggy is still on the team so that ownership can “pretend it’s making a meaningful dash for the post-season.”

    • BINGO

      They don,t come much more marketable than Jarome,and this team is all about the overall value of this team.Who and what this team is ,is secondary.

      I have enjoyed watching Iginla over the years,espicially in 04 when he dominated games against Vancouver and Detroit.IMO the fans would be fine if we traded Iginla but only if he asked to be traded.That may be the dillema

    • SmellOfVictory

      Keep the first line in name (Tanguay, Cammalleri, Iginla), and split the ES minutes about equally between it and the other two lines, while trying to shelter it to some extent. I think the agreement is that Iginla’s greatest deficiencies (and Cammalleri’s as well) are in the defensive zone, so if you try to focus their ice time in the offensive zone with lower TOI, I think the ES results would be comparatively good.

      • Kent, How dare you mention Iginla and the glue factory in the same sentence.

        Re: WOWY analysis. I think you touched on this a little bit, but I think it’s important to consider that Iginla still has a mantra (whether it’s true or not) of being the big dog on the Flames, and therefore pretty much everybody puts their best possession players out against him to shut him down. You can even see it in your ‘opposition list’, where it’s the Backes’, Marleau’s, Kopitar’s of the world who are getting the most time against Iginla. It would only make sense that when Jokinen and Bouwmeester and Butler are out there with them they do worse as well. No one is consistently making an effort to match up their big guys against Jokinen if Iginla’s on another line.

        Also, i think it’s fair to say Iginla isn’t a elite player anymore, but I have trouble believing he isn’t even a top 6 forward anymore. Maybe in a couple years that will change, but I can’t think of any teams in the league where he wouldn’t be in the top half of the forward ranks.