Random Thoughts – Baertschi and Brodie



Beyond trying to bring a more evidence-based approach to NHL analysis here, the other primary goal of my writing and criticism is to shed light on the degree to which randomness is infused in the league’s results on any given night (or series of nights, that is). Mostly because without constant reminders pretty much anyone can underestimate the influence of luck.

Calgary’s season to date, culminating in the rather bizarre victory over the Red Wings, stands as singular exemplar of lady luck’s sway over the proceedings. The Flames have had the worst combination of save percentage and shooting percentage in the entire league for most of the year, resulting in their plunge from relevancy and the subsequent sell-off and rebuild. Logically, and if a GM’s roster decisions were as rational and weighty as we often assume, the Flames should have fallen off a cliff.

Instead, the club’s underlying numbers have remained steady (implications of which we’ll investigate later), but the team’s aggregate save percentage has actually improved lately. Despite the fact the team needs to lose, is featuring raw rookies throughout the lineup and has the same goaltenders, Calgary’s draft position is being threatened because…well, the bounces are evening out for them a bit. Bad timing, but it’s not really on the coach, GM or the players. Aside from firing pucks into their own net, the Flames really can’t do any more than it has to try to lose, at least in terms of roster decisions.

Stuff happens. Here’s hoping the goaltending doesn’t continue to rebound for the rest of the season.

Other Thoughts

– TJ Brodie is now the team leader in terms of relative corsi rate, meaning the difference between the team’s shot differential with him on and off the ice has actually gone up since the departure of Bouwmeester and the kid’s resultant promotion.

In 99% of cases, a sudden move up the rotation for a young player means his possession rates are due to go down, at least in the short term. Tougher circumstances, more ice time is not an easy thing to tackle…especially if your promotion is because the club has sold off former cornerstone veterans.

So Brodie’s apparent improvement is something of a paradox, especially because it has happened mid-season. It’s also visible on the ice – earlier in the year, Brodie was being beaten wide pretty often, they youngster still not quite used to the sudden speed and strength of NHLers. That doesn’t seem to be happening anywhere near as often these days however. If my eyes and memory are accurate (caveat emptor) then we’re talking about a significant evolution in his game over a matter of weeks.

I can honestly say I can’t remember such a rapid development slope for any Flames yogunster, at least in the post-lock-out era. Dion Phaneuf more or less leapt into the league fully formed, so he began at a pretty high level. His development from that point, however, was fairly glacial – Dion still wasn’t a capable all around defender by the time Darryl moved him for magic beans and that was some 6-7 years after he was drafted.

We’re talking about a small sample of games here and just over half a typical regular season to boot, so maybe Brodie shows up in October and things go south a bit for him for whatever reason. Still, he has me wondering just what his ceiling really is…

– Speaking of developing, Sven Baertschi looks much more comfortable in his second time up with the team. He has points in three straight games now and was one of the few guys with a positive chance differential against the Wings the other night. Baertschi’s underlying numbers were dreadful over his first handful of games, but he’s now sitting at a +2/60 relative corsi rate, the best number amongst rookies on the Flames right now.

Sven has a ways to go yet, but there’s evidence of improvement and he has certainly looked much more offensively involved in the second tour of duty. If he can finish the season strong, there’s no chance he spends any more time on the farm next year.

– All of the kudos out of the way, I feel like the exuberance surrounding some of the kids is getting a little irrational recently. The Flames still have a long way to go in reconstructing the roster and this brief spate of not terrible results doesn’t in any way portend guaranteed future success for the likes of Max Reinhart, Ben Hanowski or any of the other hopefuls. Expecting nothing and being pleasantly surprised is a good way to move the goalposts in your mind which can sometimes lead to unrealistic extrapolations. As an Oilers fan on twitter mentioned to me the other night – Flames fans are in their ‘Ro-bear Nilsson phase" (paraphrased).

This refers to the early days of the Oilers tear down when Edmonton fans were projecting Robert Nilsson, Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano as future stars and saviors of the club.

In truth, we have no idea of any of these guys outside of Backlund and Brodie will ever be regular NHLers and, if they are, just how much of an impact they’ll have. There’s way more rocks than nuggets when you’re panning for gold, unfortunately.

Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t be excited or encouraged to see things you like in, say, Max Reinhart right now. Just be careful not to expect his foretasted "ceiling" to become considered rapidly approaching or even inevitable. It’s probably neither of these things.

– Ive been asked a few times recently how much I think Backs and Brodie will re-sign for this off-season. If the Flames are smart, they’ll aim to sign both long-term, perhaps with an eye to buying a few UFA years. Brodie Im certain the team will value to this degree, but who knows with Backlund (although I no longer think they’ll look to trade him for beans either).

Of course, both players agents may council them to take shorter deals with an eye to getting paid a few years down the road. As a result, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them both settle in the 3 year range, although if I had to hedge my bets, I’d say Backlund signs longer term than Brodie since he and his agent may be less assured of a a big deal down the road (given Backs will probably never be a huge point producer).

That’s obviously all speculation though.

– Feaster is busy tying up organizational lose ends these days, signing Ben Hanowski, Reto Berra and Jonh Ramage to entry level deals recently. From what I’ve seen Hanowski will have to spend some time ripening on the vice in the AHL – although he’s big and 22 years old already, his skating needs serious improvement and, of course, there’s learning to process the game at a pro level as well. Berra, Im guessing, will get a chance to battle for at least a back-up role in training camp (unless the Flames acquire an establsihed NHLer). 

Ramage is a middling prospect in the typical Darryl Sutter mold. He has good genes, was a respected leader in his college days and is known to be a hard worker who will battle tenaciously. He’s not very big, however, (6, 205) and doesn’t have any offense to speak of – his career high NHLE came this year and settled in at about 16.

I always got the impression the current regime was ambivalent at best when it came to Ramage, so it’s somewhat interesting they chose to sign him. He’ll be destined for the AHL and will probably be something of a project.

– Finally, the Charlie Simmer Drinking Game goes from inside joke to reality tonight. Myself, Justin and whoever else wants to stop by Tilted Kilt to watch the game tonight can play with $4 pints (only for FN readers). Come in, identify yourself as such (or say you’re there for the Charlie Simmer Drinking Game) and make a mess.

The rules will be posted in today’s gamethread.


  • While the “Nilsson phase” is a valid point, there is one important difference between Cogliano/Nilsson and Reinhart/Horak. Cogliano and Nilsson were sheltered 4th liners in their “breakout” seasons, whereas Horak and (especially) Reinhart have been thrown to the wolves in their little window here.

    Of course, with Reinhart, we’re looking at an extremely small sample size, and in Horak’s case, he still hasn’t shown what sort of pro player he is (will be) on a consistent basis. And neither has scored all that much.

    It’s also worth noting that Cogliano’s underlyings are actually fairly decent this season with the Ducks.

    • Yeah, in Horak I see some Dustin Boyd. A guy who flashes stuff here and there but still needs to get over the hump in terms of his ability to reliably drive play. Boyd never did, but we’ll see with Horak.

      As for Gagner, Cogs and Nilsson, they are all probably NHLers of varying qualities. It’s just that nobody would get overly excited about having them on their team at this point, nor project them as future key pieces.

      • Thanks for the honest article Kent. I’ve been saying we need to temper our expectations for the kids and people jump all over anyone who isn’t hyper optimistic about our young prospects.

        As @beloch notes, things are improving and we are for the first time producing talent.

        But fans have been screaming from the mountain about how awesome Backs is, and how we are ahead of the Oilers rebuild and our kids are so awesome and JG is an ‘elite talent’ even though he hasn’t played against pros at any level yet…

        Anyways my point is, I think it is comparable to the Bear-nilson how however you put it. Gagner & Cogliano are good NHLers with good value to almost every team in the league. But they aren’t elite superstars, nor should we expect that from anyone we have in the system. Its setting ourselves up for dissapointment and putting undue pressure on the players.

        Thats why I hope we can figure out a way to get into the top 3 of the draft this year. We really need an elite prospect. Just 1 and I think we are well on track with our secondary level of developing kids… Who knows, maybe one of them will be a homerun!? But expecting that is a bit foolhardy.

      • SmellOfVictory

        Backlund being Gagner’s equivalent (same draft year even!) I’d say the Flames win that battle, at least, despite Gagner’s recent scoring pace. Luckily I don’t think anyone outside of CalgaryPuck is crazy enough to think that guys like Horak and Reinhart are destined to save the team.

        • beloch

          No offence but this is again a bit of the rose colored homer analysis I was noting….

          Gagner is playing in his 6th full NHL season. He has averaged close to 50+ pts per season which is a fair feat in todays NHL (I see he was low 40s a few seasons with 15+ games missed – not sure why he missed?). This season Gagner is on pace for 70’ish pts pro rated over a full season.

          Backs is more on the 50pt season pace pro rated. Until he can put those numbers up for 3-4 more seasons, and Gagner’s season this year proves to be an abberation its a bit of stretch to say we win that battle. Its possible, but given the numbers and career results Gagner has ‘in the bank’ its a stretch at best to say they are comparable.

          Myself, I hope we offer sheet Gagner and really screw the Oilers. As per usual, they bumbled his management and only made a 1 year deal. Now they will have to pay big bucks this summer when he is an RFA. I’d love to see him in Calgary, or at least force the Oilers to match some sort of ugly contract.

          • SmellOfVictory

            Understandable opinion. Gagner has been in the league a long time (and was clearly rushed), and has a better history in terms of counting stats. Having watched a lot of Backlund, however (and a decent amount of Gagner), I’m confident that they are roughly equivalent offensively; the difference being that Backlund appears to be substantially better defensively and in terms of, to get a little cliched, driving the play.

            I won’t deny the fact that I’ve been a long-time Backlund supporter, however, even when his numbers were quite lacklustre. In his case I suppose you could say that I am working somewhat off of a faith that he’ll continue his play from this season.

          • seve927

            You obviously don’t care about advanced stats, and that’s fine, but there is no homer slant on thinking Backlund is the better player. A guy who only scores 50 points needs to be good defensively as well. The underlying numbers are hugely in Backlund’s favour.

            I would hope there is 0 chance we offer sheet Gagner. His stats are inflated by a very good Oiler power play as well. Far from what we should be looking for.

          • SmellOfVictory

            “Far from what we should be looking for”. Ya, the last thing we need is a 23 year old proven offensive skilled player…. We need more old vets or Cervenkas.

            “Only” scoring 50pts is no small feat, he would have been 3rd in scoring last year on our team…. And he is on pace for 70pts, quite a bit different than 50. He is slightly ahead of guys like Corey Perry, Evander Kane and Jamie Benn and would lead our team in scoring quite easily.

            My point stands that many fans have a very optimistic view of our players based on a very small sample size. But really I don’t care and don’t want to talk about Gagner, I don’t care….

          • Double Dion

            If points (goals) were all that mattered in hockey the LA Kings don’t win a Stanley Cup. They had the second fewest goals per game last year. If you possess the puck and have a dogged persuit game you tend to do better than high octane teams that have no defensive accountability. The Blue Jackets have no business being in the playoff picture from a talent/scoring perspective, but their commitment to a 200 foot game allows them to compete with teams that have far more firepower. You can deploy Backlund in more situations than you can Gagner.

          • seve927

            Once again, you’ve missed the point. I’m saying it’s not being a homer to prefer a Backlund type of player, which is based on underlying numbers, which is not optimism, it’s just fact. Optimism would be saying that I think Gaudreau is going to be better than Yakupov.

          • beloch

            Gagner’s counting stats look great this season, but he’s riding about a 3-4% higher shot% than his career average. His underlying possession stats don’t look great but, then again, not many Oiler’s stats do! He’s been playing with some pretty good wingers, which may be propping him up a tad. This might be a year for the Oilers to sell him high.

            Should the Flames spend big money on him? It’s a difficult choice. He won’t be a bargain buy this off-season, especially if he can only be had via offer sheet. He’s young and obviously has upside, but he’s probably learned a lot of bad defensive habits in the last few years. Let’s face it, those kids play a “high event” game, to put it diplomatically.

            Gagner’s output is bound to drop due to Sh% regression, playing with lower quality linemates, and also if he’s forced to play in a system that pays any attention at all to defensive play. He is highly unlikely to be a 70 pt player for the Flames.

          • Double Dion

            My view is that Gagner is a below average defensive player and needs sheltered minutes to be a positive force on a team. Backlund is just the opposite. He plays a 200 foot game. The whole reason the Oilers rebuild is continuous is the lack of value the organization places on 200 foot players. Guys like Horcoff and Jones are thought to have no value, while the Eberle’s and Hemsky’s are beloved. The LA Kings and Chicago Blackhawks are good examples of teams chalk-full of 200 foot players.

        • T&A4Flames

          In the spirit of “rebuilding” this, to me, would be reasonable expectation:

          Reinhart- back to Abby to start the season

          Horak- starts as the 3rd line C or wing if needed

          Sven- starts 2nd line LW

          Hanowski- starts in Abby

          Carson- starts as #7 D

          Bouma- (can’t forget about him)- starts as 4th line C or LW (think he played C before- junior)

          Did I miss anyone? This would require movement. With Sven up, we have too many LW, try to move Cammi or Tangs if not both. Hudler, GlenX and Stemp start as other top 9 wingers. Unless a deal is made for Stajan, he and Backlund start as the #1 and #2 C.

          I would rather not start any 2013 draftees but lets say we get MacKinnon and he kills it at camp. He start as 3rd line RW. Assuming he goes back to junior, and also depending on what deals Feaster works out to trade cap space, we look at signing Clarkson or Horton for top 6 RW. Try to sign one of Filpulla or Weiss. I would try to aquire a decent top 3-4 Dman with our cap space via trade.

          • beloch

            Tanguay is 33 and has a near-zero chance of staying productive through this rebuild. His contract is super-long, but his $3.5M cap-hit is low. This off season might be a good time to move him since cap-strapped teams may find a top-3 playmaking winger with Tanguay’s cap-hit attractive. He should be Feaster’s #1 priority to move. His value will likely be somewhat reduced by the length of his contract and, of course, his NTC.

            Cammalleri is in the 29-30 veteren group. There will likely not be much demand for him this summer due to his $6M cap hit. It may be possible to ship him out for decent return at the trade-deadline, but he may also walk as a free agent. This one is going to be a little tougher for Feaster to handle. Again, a NTC may limit options.

            Unless the Flames make some very shrewd/lucky acquisitions in the off-season, the rebuild will probably take too long to justify retaining the 29-30 group of players (which now includes practically all of the Flame’s top talent). Feaster should be shopping this group around, but holding out for good returns. Players like Glencross, Wideman, Hudler, and Giordano shouldn’t rapidly depreciate for at least a year or two. There’s time to line up good deals.

        • 24% body fat

          Backlund has never achieved a scoring pace that gagner has, even excluding this year. This is not close. No GM in the league would give up Gagner for Backlund unless the needed to shed cap/

      • Captain Ron

        The one thing Horak has on Boyd is he is much better at staying on his feet, thus he has better balance and lower body strength.

        I think Boyd had NHL talent, just spent too much time on his butt.

      • stretch14

        When are you gonna man up and finally admit that you’ve been completely hypocritical in regards to your supposed “anti-tanking” position. As soon as the flames get a whiff of a top 3 pick you want them to lose just as bad as everyone else. Bet you never thought there would be a day where you’d actually be cheering for the flames to lose eh?

  • beloch

    I’ve been saying for years that the Flames need to start producing NHL talent rather than being mere consumers who pick up most of their players in trades or free-agency. Elite players and high performance/cost players rarely come to consumer teams.

    Aside from Backlund and Brodie, there is practically no talent currently cemented in the Flames’ roster that has come from the Flames farm system (Despite his recent adventures in making goalies look foolish, I’m not counting Begin as an asset the team can rely on going forward). However, for the first time in ages there are several rookies who have a decent chance of making the team next year. Even if only Baertschi actually makes it, it’s a huge shift for the organization to finally have some support from its farm system. It means that not every vacancy must be filled with expensive veterans who are, as often as not, past their prime.

    If the Flames continue to draft well we could see rookies making the team every year, perhaps even so many that decent older players need to be traded to make room, netting the team pure profit. That’s what it means to be a producer of talent.

    • Franko J

      Besides a lack in preparation and a few blunders this season by Feaster, the one thing he has done is made the farm system better.

      I agree the only way a team stays competitive is drafting and developing players within their own system. Under the past regime they had no clue in either aspect. As well, Feaster, Wiesbrod and the scouting staff have an agenda and plan in place in regards to drafting and developing players.

      In regard to rookies, I think part of the teams plan is to stagger them into the lineup. For example, I look at a player like Ben Hanowski who skating may not be at the NHL level, but at the very least the team provided him with the opportunity to see what it takes to play in the big league. Over the summer and come training camp he knows what I will take to make this team next season.

      After next season, you could possibly see more infusion of youth with Gaudreau, Agostino,and maybe Seiloff. THe season after that Jankowski is a possibilty.

  • Why did we let Tom Kostopoulus go? He has the 7th best 5 on 5 Corsi rating in the league. In fact Jersey has 9 of the top 20 players. Is Corsi a good judge of an individual’s worth or more of a team strategy and philosophy?

      • T&A4Flames

        That was my little immature dig at Kent for his reliance on stats. There is a lot more than just 5 on 5 Corsi value. My personal belief on 5 on 5 Corsi is that it is so heavily influenced by a teams ability to turn pucks over by a solid forecheck and a great neutral ice system of gap control and support. I feel it is over valued by some as a very strong indicator of an individual players value. It doesn’t distinguish between shot quality either.

          • mattyc

            All those numbers still need context too. If we wanted to get all technical we could talk about his sample size, the fact he only plays 8 minutes a night, plays against weak competition (below average QoC). Corsi’s not a silver bullet though. As you say – shot quality, something that really hasn’t been quantified much, is omitted.

        • Shot quality is by and large a myth at the team level over large enough samples in the modern NHL. There’s real differences at the margins between your Tim Jackman’s and Sedin twins, but the difference is so minute between a large segment of the NHL population that it is often swamped by randomness. Which is why team wide PDO and even individual player PDO’s tend to regress towards the league mean (85% regression) over time.

          To put it another way, SV% and SH% often show next to no correlation at the team level year-to-year, whereas corsi is much more persistent, especially when we correct for circumstances like strength of linemate, strength of opposition and zone start ratio.

    • Context is important in judging any player or metric.

      The Devils are one of the best outshooting teams in the league for whatever reason (probably a mix of talent and strategy). Tom has only played 14 games this year too, so not much data there.

  • T&A4Flames

    I would expect Backlund and his agent to lunge at a longer contract given his injury issues.

    As for Ramage, he’s a college kid and we all know how much Feaster and Weisbrod love their college kids. I’m not at all surprised he was signed. I’m glad they did. He may be one of those guys that processes the game better at the pro level.

    • seve927

      And he showed some offense for the first time in his career in the last half of his senior year. I think he’s worth a look. You never know what happens when you put guys in a different situation. He may have just taken some time to even try to provide some offense when Schultz provided all they needed from the blue line for a long time. Given how long it typically takes D to develop, I definitely wouldn’t toss him aside right now. Our D depth is very poor for the next couple of years. Cundari, Breen, Carson… I’m glad to see Wotherspoon and Ramage added to the list.

  • seve927

    I’m still wondering where all the “Baertschi doesn’t need any more time in the AHL” folks went. Obviously, that stint in the minors worked wonders for him, by his own admission.

    I couldn’t agree more with this article. I’m encouraged by our prosepcts, including Hanowksi (who has decent speed, but his stride is very choppy) who, and I’ve said it before, needs a year in the minors.

    I’ve also stated numerous times that Reinhart needs another year in the AHL to get stronger and develop his offense.

    I like JG too, but when I read comments that are essentially slotting him in as a 40 goal guy when he’s years away from even making the NHL or that Reinahrt can be our #3C next year, well, people are setting themselves up for disappointment.

    Calgary is NOT ahead of the Oilers rebuild. We’ve barely even started ours.

    • seve927

      In my world, Reinhart would ideally spend the first half in the A next year, and after a couple more trade deadline sales, come up and finish the year and become a regular.

    • You assume too much my friend 🙂

      I never said he belonged in the NHL for the whole season. I wanted him to get a long look. He got it. You wanted him gone after three games.

      Let’s not all forget also – Baertshi was injured a lot for the first half of the season.

  • flamesburn89

    When TJ Brodie was first drafted in 08, I was somewhat surprised, because the move wasn’t in keeping with Darryl Sutter’s usual philosophy on drafting defenceman. The Flames had a past of drafting big, strong, and ‘hard to play against’ d-men like Pelech, Baldwin, Aulie, and Pardy under Darryl. The scouting report on Brodie was that he was an offensive defeceman that had good skill and skating, but still needed to learn the defensive side of the game. That certainly doesn’t sound like a guy that Darryl would love.

  • beloch

    Kent – what is your expectation for JohnnyG the next season or two? Do you know what his year end NHLE looked like? Are there recent comparables for players in that league jumping right into the NHL and how did they do? Very curious and I don’t know how to look that stuff up….

    • beloch

      Kent : Also, sorry for so many posts, forgot one thing… Is there any statistical analysis or adjustment for NHLE and the size of a player? Probably getting a bit carried away with expecting stats to tell the story, but you’d think there would be some correlation between smaller players performance dropping between the CHL, NCAA, AHL and finally the NHL. You’d think the farther away you are from the NHL the more forgiving the league is on smaller players. Likewise certain leagues would be more or less physical, or more or less strict with penalties resulting in smaller players doing better in 1 league or another.

      Perhaps not? Just wondering aloud…

  • beloch

    The thing about finding good players is that after the 2 most significantly tangible areas, those being skating and puck handling, scouts start looking for intangibles. That has not changed. What has though and I think this is good is that once that player has caught a scouts eye, the use of measurement has become much more of an aid. What is measured varies from team to team but I hope the Flames are taking advantage as much as possible to at least really check out a player thoroughly before decisions are made.

  • Michael

    @ beloch

    ‘Players like Glencross, Wideman, Hudler, and Giordano shouldn’t rapidly depreciate for at least a year or two. There’s time to line up good deals.’

    With Feaster as GM, is that good deals for us or good deals for them? We can always use some more college kids with little chance of making an impact in the NHL…

    • beloch

      I’d love to see Feaster replaced with somebody who can make shrewder deals. The question is, who is that somebody?

      As fans, we should be mindful that there’s a disconnect between our perceived value of players and their actual league market value. e.g. The return for Iginla was disappointing for many, but I can see how his market value may not have been as high as we thought. I still think the return Feaster got for Bouwmeester was awful by any standard.

      Then again, the J-Bo trade did dump cap right before a summer when there’s going to be a league-wide cap-space squeeze. Feaster may look smarter after the summer depending on what he does with that $7M.

      Yes, I know we’ve been saying “reserve judgement” about Feaster’s moves for a while now. The funny thing is, a lot of moves he made that looked idiotic at the time (e.g. The Regehr trade) have turned out to look absolutely prescient (Regehr fell off a cliff after being traded). After loosing J-Bo and Iginla we fans feel nothing but butt-hurt right now but, based on Feaster’s record as Flames GM so far, things could look different in a year or two.

      Signing Reto Backuperra is another move that I simply cannot fathom. I’m really curious about what I’m going to be thinking about this guy a year from now.

      • beloch

        Ok with the Iginla trade, we didn’t lose much there.

        JBo trade still sucks – he was the one guy that should have gotten us a bonafide upper tier prosepct back.

        Regehr trade still sucks – 2 years later and Sabres get two 2nds for him.

        • MC Hockey

          @beloch and the-wolf. I cannot agree the return for Iggy or Jaybo was poor given their ages, salaries, the first round choices received (which may get bundled to move into top 2 or 3 or just be useful in a DEEP draft), and the fact the players recieived in return really DO have talent if you objectively consider numbers and Hanowski’s decent start. Plus Feaster has set himself up to be WELL below the cap and thus can acquire big names if it makes sense. Another example, Cundari from JayBo trade is a top D-man prospect and has real talent while Berra was great in the Swiss league so could be a decent #2 goalie. Did I mention the first rounders in both trades in a DEEP draft?

          • stretch14

            Berra was… unimpressive in Switzerland (though he seems to have a cult following, so what do I know?) and Cundari is anything but a top d prospect. He’s the same age as Brodie, he’s 5’9″, and he hasn’t played a game in the NHL yet. I think it’s a stretch to think he has 2nd pair upside, honestly, but there’s always room to be wrong.