2012-13 Reasonable Expectations: Roman Cervenka

 

 

The Calgary Flames have a few question marks on the roster heading into the new season, but none bigger than 26-year old winger/center Roman Cervenka. The Czech born KHL sniper has spent his entire career on the other side of the pond and has therefore never tested himself against the North American game. His better than average numbers in the second toughest league in the world are encouraging, but it remains to be seen if he can translate that production against the bigger players on the smaller ice surface in the NHL.

The Good, The Bad and KHL Equivalence

Cervenka landed on the NHL’s radar during his rookie season for Avangard Omsk, where he tallied 31-goals and 61-points in just 51-games skating with Jaromir Jagr. His production fell last year during his sophomore effort in Jagr’s absence, although he still lead Omsk in scoring with 23 goals and 39 points. That was 12 points clear of second-placed Alexander Perezhogin (former Montreal Canadien). Alex Frolov (former King) was third on the club with 24-points.

So even without Jagr around, Cervenka paced his club in points, well ahead of of former capable NHLers like Perezhogin and Frolov, which is encouraging for Flames fans. He was recently named the second best prospect in the organization by Corey Pronman based on his output in the KHL and collection of skills, including puck handling, vision and hockey sense.

On the bad side of the ledger, Pronman notes that Cervenka isn’t overly big and doesn’t have the sort of speed or skating one would expect out of a smaller forward. Also of note is the fact that Cervenka had the second worst plus/minus on Omsk last year despite leading them in scoring. Plus/minus is of course a flawed stat that can be misleading in such small samples, but finishing in the red suggests either he was dependent on PP scoring to inflate his totals or he was a liability outside of the offensive zone. Or maybe his goalies just couldn’t stop the puck when he was on the ice…

The lackluster defense possibility accords with what Cervenka himself has said about his play. In an old interview with then teammate Jaromir Jagr, Cervenka said "here in Russia centers are supposed to skate back and help their defensemen. We don’t do this in Czech Republic. I didn’t play defense over there. I like it better here because I play on the left wing and there’s no problem."

Not the best sign for a club looking to fill in their depth at center.

In terms of scoring translation, based on Bruce Peter’s work at Puck Worlds the KHL’s NHLE (NHL equivalence) is about 0.65. In 105 games in the KHL, Cervenka managed 100 points for a PPG pace of about 0.95. That makes for an NHLE of roughly 51 points over an 82-game schedule, which is a respectable total.

Some caveats obviously apply to that expected output – first, Cervenka was no doubt a top-3 forward on his KHL squad, whereas in Calgary he’ll be top-6 at best. We can reasonably assume his role and ice time will be somewhat reduced to some degree.

In addition, the season Cervenka spent as Jagr’s linemate is propping up his KHL PPG pace – if we take his production sans Jagr as more indicative of his abilities, his NHLE falls to just 38 points. That may or may not be a fair assumption since we can’t fully investigate how much of an effect Jagr had on Cervenka’s production.

Opportunity

It was noted when he signed that Cervenka picked Calgary from amongst his NHL suitors because of the perceived opportunity to jump directly into the top-6. If Cervenka can indeed play center at the NHL level, he will more or less be guaranteed a second-line scoring spot with, say, Hudler, Glencross or Baertschi as his wingers. If he excels, it’s not inconceivable Cervenka could land with guys like Iginla, Tanguay or Cammalleri (if Cammalleri plays wing) as well. If that happens, the upper bounds of the range mentioned (50 or so points) isn’t beyond his reach. 

On the other hand, if Cervenka slides to the wing like he did in the KHL, he’ll be battling a lot of other bodies for ice time. Tanguay, Baertschi, Comeau and Glencross patrol the left wing while Iginla, Hudler and Stempniak fill out the right. Absent injuries, Cervenka will have to bump either Baertschi or an established NHLer out position in order to get the opportunity to put up a some points. If that happens, 40-points is probably a better expectation.

Assuming, of course, Cervenka can effective play in the NHL at all. There’s a much longer list of European stars arriving to great fanfare in the show and flaming out than there is of guys who have come over and succeeded. Fabian Brunnstrom is a good recent example of a player who was conservatively tabbed to be a top-6 forward before arriving and soon proved to be basically replacement level. Ville Leino is likely considered a success story owing to his time in Philly and big deal with the Sabres, but it took butter soft minutes and a season of high percentages to make him into a reasonable facsimile of an NHL scorer – outside of those circumstances (for both Detroit and Buffalo), he was a marginal NHLer.

So there is a wide range of potential outcomes. If Cervenka is an NHL quality center, he could challenge the 50+ point barrier. If he’s an NHL scoring winger, we have to scale back expectations a tad, if only because there are only so many minutes to go around.

There’s also the non-trivial possibility Cervenka can’t hack it on NA ice and will spend much of the season struggling to keep his head above water. If that happens, expect a 25 points or less before he flees back to Europe.

At this point, it’s impossible to know which road the KHL star will travel. He has some positive arrows and some red flags, but for now we can’t be sure which will prove to be the dominate factor(s). If he translate his abilities to the NHL game, the organization has added a quality player in the peak age range for next to nothing. If he can’t, however, he’ll just be another failed experiment.

 

  • Michael

    I basically liked the Cervenka signing, other than money and a contract spot, it is a pretty low risk signing.

    The Flames themselves are taking a pretty big risk down the middle, we are entering the season without an established 1st or 2nd line center. IF Cervenka struggles to adapt to the NHL, or even to playing at center, their is very little support behind him. Backlund is due for a rebound year, but he mght not have one… that leaves Stajan and Jones.

    We seem to be operating on hope, lets hope Cammy can center the first line and produce, that Cervenka is an effective 2nd line NHLer, that Backlund has a reboud year….

  • xis10ce

    “Or maybe his goalies just couldn’t stop the puck when he was on the ice…”

    lets hope this wasn’t the case as most of the time the starting goalie was Karri Ramo

      • xis10ce

        That’s fair to say, no one (to my knowledge) is calling David Krejci a defensive liability, yet in 79games last year he got 62pts and still only managed a -5 on a +/- stacked team given his on ice save% 0.887 which is totally out to lunch compared to Thomas/Rask’s GP/SV% 59/0.920 and 23/0.929 respectively.

        So I agree it can happen, but it’s rare and usually indicative of something else. Shame we don’t have some corsi and PDO breakdowns from the KHL to give us a better idea of what really happened last year.

  • Vintage Flame

    One thing that has always stuck in the back of my head is the fact that Cervenka has no experience over here.

    While I do not dispute this reality, I am curious as to whether we can say he has no experience at all with the North American game? He has played against North American players before and given the NHL’s involvement with International hockey, is Cervenka really coming into this situation blind?

    This of course might just be my over-developed sense of optimism showing through, but hey it’s almost that time of year so … “Yay Optimism!!”

    • xis10ce

      I’m hoping that Hudler being Czech as well and formerly of the KHL and having successfully made that transition gets Cervenka up to NHL ready quality alot quicker than it would have happened otherwise.

  • xis10ce

    I think this was a solid signing, one that is evidence that the Flames are ready to step outside the box.

    I understand that Jiri Hrdina had some influence on this signing.

    My expectation is that he makes the team and, revealing perhaps more of my age and comparative era, would like to see him be an addition not unlike Mr. Hrdina. I thought that Jiri was a very competent centre, one that played well in both ends of the rink. Yes, he was on a very offensively talented team here (and in Pittsburgh), but I always thought he used his wingers well as a good passer and may have had higher goal totals if asked to be in that role. Cervenka comes here with a similar resume.

  • BurningSensation

    Are Detroit fans suffering from this much angst over the Damien Brunner signing?

    Czervenka’s signing is pure win. If he can play we have a you g skill forward with offensive ability at a position we ate thin. If he doesn’t he collects an NHL minimum salary for a year and goes home.

    • supra steve

      But what if he sucks, and the Flames suck, and they place 15th in the conference and 30th in the league?….Oh, guess that wouldn’t be so terrible after all. Never mind.

        • supra steve

          Who do you think is closer to challenging for a cup? In which city do you think there is more optimism about the coming season(s)? My $$ is not on the Flames.

          • supra steve

            Sorry, but I will not be bashing the Oil just because they are the Oil. I cheered for them in ’06, though not as loudly as I cheered Calgary in ’04. I lived in Edmonton for 5 years. It’s a great city, and so is Calgary.

            In my years as a fan both teams have had periods where they sucked. Seems the Oil are begining to emerge from such a period and the Flames are currently falling into one of their own (though management has yet to admit it). A large part of their pain seems to be behind them, ours seems to be ahead. As a Flames fan I envy that position and their recent acquisitions (quality draft selections) and would love a shot at rebuilding in a similar manner.

          • Reidja

            No one needs to bash the oil just for being the oil. There are plenty of legitamet reasons to bash them… Regarding the optimism and potential of their club compared to ours, I’m with you 100%. I’ve been advocating blowing up our core for a few years now. Whether the oilers are the model, whatever that means, I don’t know. Ask Rex. I’m not convinced that sucking as bad as they have for as long as they have would go over very well in Calgary.

            One anecdote, I saw probably 8 flames games live last season and two oilers games (including Gagne’s tremendous 8 pt night). I can say that there was absolutely more enthusiasm in Rexall than at the Dome. This is why I’m only half joking when I post that the Flames should trade Kipper and Iggy for picks and prospects and ride Irving to a lottery pick.

          • supra steve

            Then it is agreed, time to tear it down and start to build it back up. I’ll let Jay know. We have a modest start with Sven, Reinhart, Jankowsky (hopefully), and a few others. Now time to load up on those 2013 draft picks. Enjoy your weekend.

    • BurningSensation

      So how long does it take you to read the article & report back 🙂

      Well if he sucks & we suck, really, what could we have done that would be better at this point? What top 6 centre was available that we could have signed or acquired without giving up assets that we can compare how he does to? Maybe we should be looking for a number 1 centre to play between Baerschte & Cerevenka for our #1 line. Play a year. Then we can be like the Oil & sign them all to 7 years at 6.0mill per. Sorry Rex, that just blurted out, cant help myself.:(

  • RKD

    It’s only a one year deal, so if it doesn’t pan out it’s not like the contract is an albatross for the organization.

    Hard to tell how his game will translate over from the KHL to the NHL. He might do well under an offensive system under Hartley. Only time will tell.

  • Reg Dunlop

    So, Cervenka chose the Flames because he thought it gave him the best shot at a top 6 spot. Similarly, J Schultz chose Edmonton because it represented his best shot at a NHL gig, i.e. the oil have the weakest defence corp among the Canadian NHL clubs. From what I recall, Cervenka was not limiting his choices to Canadian based teams so can I assume that Cervenka sees the flame top 6 as the weakest in the NHL? Just like I do?

    Not a good sign for southern Alberta fans:)

  • Reidja

    Sounds about right. I think the Flames would be lucky if he turns out to be a top 6 forward. If not, his problem will be the old line about “he has to play in the top six.” He isn’t the type of player that you put on your bottom six for the reasons Kent stated (size, speed etc.) and those he stated himself (doesn’t back check). I think it will be a one year stay with the Flames, which won’t be entirely his fault but more of a function of the team around him and his ceiling as a support scorer. Its a poor team and he will be a support scorer in too important a role to come out on top in the NHL. But it sounds like he wanted a prominent role, so he made the bed.

    One thing I want to clear up is that this is not a low-risk signing from all angles. Actually it’s a very high-risk signing from where I sit. Feaster is taking a gamble on an unproven player who takes a roster spot, is listed as a centre but probably can’t hack that position, is slated for top-six, supposedly fills a need down the middle on probably one of the worst groups of centres in the NHL. This is not like signing Hannan for 1 year, $1 million to fill out your 5/6 d-core positions. This is more like signing Jagr to spearhead your offense. Except Jagr is proven.

  • RedMan

    It’s not nice to make fun of oiler fans… they can’t help it, the way they are.

    AS for Cervenka, I just wonder what happens when half or all of the season is lost to a lockout.

    I am so disgusted with the owners this time around.

    • supra steve

      For every stupid long term contract, yes there is a management team/owner who agrees to and signs it. However, there is also an agent (working for a player) who had no small part in drawing up the contract to circumvent the “spirit” of the current CBA.

      Those that say the “owners are entirely to blame” for agreeing to these deals are only half right. If owners agree amongst themselves to draw a line in the sand on duration or total dollar or dollars/yr, that is collusion. Owners have obviously not colluded on this matter, that is why the next CBA needs to be more restrictive. Then the agents can go about circumventing the spirit of that deal, for the enrichment of their clients.