Should We Be Worried About Sven Baertschi?

Sven Bärtschi, Puck Juggling


He’s had a significant amount of expectations placed on him for many reasons – being the team’s “best” first round draft pick in a decade, his 5-game call up, the 2PPG draft+1 season, etc.

But there’s an increasing amount of concerns for the 2011 draftee coming from fans and management alike. Should we be worried?

The Issues

There seems to be three big problems with Baertschi: first, his injury problems. People love to throw around the term “injury-prone” without basis in reality, and I believe this is one of those cases. Since being drafted in 2011, these are his injuries:

  • Concussion
  • Neck Injury
  • Hip Flexor Strain
  • “Lower Body Injury”

So, a muscle strain and two dirty hits (especially the one he suffered last year while with the Heat) makes Sven Baertschi injury-prone. I find that asinine. Hip flexor strains happen to everyone and concussions/neck injuries are very rarely the fault of the player who sustains them. Certainly, there’s an understanding about how one concussion leaves you vulnerable to more going forward but every player in the NHL has that to worry about.

To me, the above list doesn’t really make me think that you have to view his time missed in an overly negative light. I’m thinking the tag “injury-prone” is mostly because of his size and how people equate that with toughness/health in the NHL more than anything.

The second issue is that some, most notably Brian Burke, are disappointed with his defensive play. As everyone knows, the best defense usually includes a significant amount of offence – and no, I don’t mean points. Producing shots (or, rather, possessing the puck) makes it easier to prevent goals – and Baertschi’s positive Corsi Rel suggests that the team prevents goals better when he’s on the ice rather than when he’s off it.

In terms of traditional “defending”, sure, maybe he doesn’t hit or block shots and sometimes during the preseason he got lost in the defensive zone. But he’s playing against the best players in the world as a 20-year old and basing a player’s defensive quality in preseason games seems like it would be difficult for a number of reasons (sample size, quality of opponents and teammates, adaptation to new situations).

Lastly, his scoring pace seems to be lacking to some. Let’s take a look at his comparables for his 20 year old season (i.e., last year).

First, his draft comparables – forwards picked within +/-10 spots of Baertschi who played in the CHL and scored within .1PPG since 2007. This is to find out what players with Baertschi’s pedigree did in their 20 year old season.

Matt Duchene 34.0 39.6
Zach Hamill 33.2 22.2
Angelo Esposito 32.4 9.0
Scott Glennie 31.3 19.1
Brayden Schenn 30.9 27.3
Cody Hodgson 30.8 20.8
Brett Connolly 29.2 37.8
Mikkel Boedker 29.0 36.0
Average 31.4 26.7
Sven Baertschi 31.7 39.9

Not only does Baertschi do better than the average in his draft season (despite the fact that 6 of the 8 players listed were top-10 picks), he had the best 20 year old season of any of his comparables. That doesn’t exactly scream “worry!” to me.

Second, his NHL comparables – these are guys who have all of the above qualifications, except instead of Draft Year CHL PPG we’ll use 20YO NHL PPG.

  20 PPG
Jordan Staal .60
Brandon Saad .60
Milan Lucic .59
Jeff Skinner .57 
Brandon Sutter .56 
Sergei Kostitsyn .52 
Jamie Benn  .50 
Peter Mueller .50
Josh Bailey .48
Gabriel Landeskog .47 
Bobby Ryan .43 
Nazem Kadri  .41
Average .51
Sven Baertschi .50 

Baertschi is a little below average here but 8 out of 12 of these guys are or will be first liners in the NHL, so that’s not much to be worried about.

Regardless, once again, Baertschi is right where his peers are and were.


In short, no need to worry. He’s only 20 (21 this weekend) and here’s a list of players who have scored better at the NHL level in their 20-year old seasons. That, along with what’s above, tells me that he’s right on track. Hell, he might even be a little ahead without considering his lateish birthday. 

Baertschi is basically in the same boat as most blue-chip prospects: significant offensive skills that have peeked through, a harsh adjustment to the defensive realities of the game and questions about being physically NHL-ready. Every blue-chipper has been described that way at some point and all blue-chippers to come will be described that way.

I think there are two main thought processes for most people when it comes to forward prospects: there’s the “if the guy hasn’t scored or doesn’t score well, he’s generally a project and deserves a couple years at a lower level to figure it out” type of thinking and the “if the guy has and does score well he should be able to translate that into NHL-level scoring because all of these other first rounders did it'” type. Both reek with confirmation bias among other things but neither are correct. Baertschi has rough edges that need smoothing, but so does every other youngster in the game, to one degree or another. 

Be patient with this guy, Flames fans.

Around the Nation

  • loudogYYC

    Love these numbers and I still think he’ll be great, but he comes across as entitled to me.

    I can’t really quantify this view and it’s not like it’s the end of his career either – I just don’t want to see a promising kid limited by his own big head. Not on my team at least.

    I’m 100% ok with the wake-up call Burke and Feaster gave him on Monday.

  • Parallex

    Burke should shut his big yap and keep to the background like he said he would. If people ask him questions he should just defer to Feaster and Hartley and have that be that.

    • Burke should shut his yap when he’s not GM, but he won’t. He’s gunning for Feaster’s job. If he’s not then I it’s illogical for him to have accepted the President of Hockey Operations title.

  • loudogYYC

    I remember something Sven told Vicki Hall when he got sent down last year. He phoned his mom feeling down and she said something like “Get over it, you think everything’s going to be easy for you?” I take Burke as saying roughly the same thing. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Burke read the same news story in deciding how to approach Sven’s so-so camp. Hopefully Sven remembers the lesson this time.

  • RedMan

    Im tempted to buy good tickets just to hold up a sign that somehow cleaverly calls out Burke and takes a dig at him.
    Beartchi is alright and right on course… yes he was slugish but its prolly all that strudle and lutafisk he was eating. he be good once adapted back to ribs and pasta.

  • Craig

    I am a little worried about Sven, just beause confidence in young players can be so fragile, as we saw with Backlund, luckily he gained a lot of confidence and is starting to translate that to consistent play.

    I think Sven will be alright even if he has a down year, one of the best things about him when e was drafted was his work ethic, first one on the ice last one off, that’s something that will continue wth him.

    What I’m most worried about is Burke putting so much emphasis on two way players that we lose players that flash brilliant offensive skills. We need a balance, so I hope that Baertschi has a good start to the season, and proves some people wrong.

    I want Monahan to be sent down, but I hope he and Sven can show a little chemistry, that would be cool.

  • McRib

    Sven Baertschi on Brian Burke’s comments “They are good for me. When a guy like that says things, you had better listen”

    That doesn’t sound entitled to me?!?!?

    Sven Baerschi’s struggles to meet lofty immediate expectations on a bad club reminds me of Nazem Kardi’s struggles the past couple of years as well. Elite offensive puck skills got both of these kids to the NHL, but learning defense and play away from the puck are a must to have a long career at the NHL level. But look at Kadri last season he finished 21st in league scoring and is two years older than Sven. Not to mention I think Sven has higher end offensive talents and is already a better skater. When Burke said “I’ve seen kids at that age with those holes in their games turn into players”, he is speaking about Kadri.

    The worst thing Brian Burke could have done was not have said anything, plain and simple Sven still needs to work on rounding out his overall game. If no one mentioned that and just blew rainbows up his ass all day that would just be setting him up for failure. Because hopefully the Flames don’t suck forever and when we turn it around we don’t want a team full of offensive players that cannot keep the puck out of their own net. Cough Cough Edmonton (see Justin Schultz, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov, Sam Gagner, Ales Hemsky, etc)

    • Captain Ron

      Your exactly right on all counts. Blowing smoke up a kids arse too often when he is young can destroy his drive to grow and reach his potential. No point in telling him constantly how great he is when he hasn’t done anything yet. Good constructive criticism and proper guidance from his peers is just what he needs right now.

      Sometimes the best players have to travel the hardest roads to get there.

      As for Sven no worries here.

    • ChinookArchYYC

      “The worst thing Brian Burke could have done was not have said anything, plain and simple Sven still needs to work on rounding out his overall game. If no one mentioned that and just blew rainbows up his ass all day that would just be setting him up for failure”

      I don’t take issue with the message, I just don’t like how the message was delivered. Why in public? Why make it personal? In my view, the conversation should have taken place in private and one on one. Outing individuals in public illustrates lack of respect for employee(s) as well as a lack of professionalism. Frankly it was classless.

      If the Murray Edwards went on camera and verbally undressed Brian Burke, I would expect Burke to quit, pack up his bags and go home. After all, what does a man have, if he’s left with no dignity?

      • Captain Ron

        As a business owner I completely understand what you are saying.

        I think the world of professional athletes is a little bit different than the casual workplace though and operates under a different set of rules. I also think a good manager will recognize the limits to which he can go when speaking publicly about certain individuals.

        Personally I like it when Burke or anyone else in management for that matter is candid and honest when asked by the media what their assessment is of a certain player. I find people like that can be easier to trust than someone who waffles or ducks when asked a question, even if it is sensitive in nature.

        • ChinookArchYYC

          I don’t subscribe to the view that public figures should be treated differently. They’re human beings and should be treated fairly and with respect, just like everyone else. It’s too far to easy for Burke to sit on a pulpit and bully his employees with no repercussions because ‘their professional hockey players’, the problem with that is they are people too.
          More importantly, what was the point? What was he trying to accomplish? He’s been on the job for less than a month and unloads with both barrels on a 21 year old kid.

          I agree that it’s hard to trust someone that ducks questions and swerves away from actually answering questions, but in the case of Burke I doubt he’s being candid or honest, when he is speaking to the media.

          • Captain Ron

            Fair enough if that’s your view but I think you are way over reacting. You must have issues with a lot of Coaches and GM’s in pro sports then. Or maybe you just don’t like Burke no matter what he says or does. His comments were hardly “unloading with both barrels”. Did you listen to what Bryan Murray said about Zibanejad after he sent him down? I think he was a lot harsher than Burke was about his player.

            Your last paragraph is confusing. Burke answered the question by being candid and honest about his player which is why you are upset to begin with. Then you doubt he is being sincere. Doesn’t make any sense to me.

            I didn’t think he was trying to make a point, or accomplish anything other than to answer the question he was asked candidly and honestly. Sven Baertshi is hardly going to wilt like a dying flower over that and quit on himself because of it.

      • loudogYYC

        It’s not about dignity, it’s about being effective. Obviously Sven cares about what the fan base thinks of him, so that’s why they brought it up in public. At the same time you send a message to all your other young players right before the season starts.

        If you watch the whole thing again it all seems orchestrated. Jermaine Franklin randomly bringing up Sven and Burke speaks candidly about him. Then Feaster speaks and he confirms the concern, just a lot more gentle than Burke.

        I’m sure if they didn’t think Sven could handle it, they wouldn’t have used him to communicate their message.

        It’s pro sports, not Montessori preschool.

    • McRib

      How many Stanley Cups does Patrick Kane have again? How about Brad Marchand? It was a looong time ago, but when the Flames won a Stanley Cup it was in large part due to the play of Doug Gilmour, Theoren Fleury and Mike Vernon. Ya, because those guys didn’t have just a smidgen of “cocky confidence” either… Haha.

      “But he has an ugly girlfriend. What does that mean? Ugly girlfriend means no confidence.” Moneyball

  • RexLibris

    “Be patient with this guy, Flames fans.”

    I’m not sure it is necessarily the fans to whom many would direct that sentiment.

    The title of the article had me thinking that fans were worried about the future of Baertschi within the Flames organization in so far as it might be a repeat of Brett Hull and Martin St. Louis based on the reaction I’ve read about Burke’s statements on Baertschi.

    One other item to note, Justin, your list of his injuries and specifically the line that some of those injuries in no way reflect on the player. I agree wholeheartedly. In the same way that Hemsky is not “injury-prone” for needing two shoulder surgeries, but the tag nevertheless is applied by those too lazy or prejudiced to bother to look at the nature of the injury.

    Baertschi has been dinged because he plays with the puck, is a threat to score, and is willing to play in the high-traffic areas. That combination means that people are going to try and hit him in order to prevent his scoring. That he has been injured is a reflection of luck and circumstance, not some mysterious inherent trait.

    Solid article. Baertschi will come along just fine, I think. My biggest concern is whether Burke begins to sour on him and who wins that contest of the wills (Burke or the remainder of Flames management who argue for Baertschi).

  • Lober

    Already bought Svens jersey… The last player jersey I bought was Iggys. You do the math 12+47=59-40(Tangs)+ (80 the year flames moved CGY)=99…… Thats right Baertschi is the next Gretzky!

  • Colin.S

    I’m not worried at all about Sven himself. I’m worried in this management “team” and what could happen. I still think it was a big mistake that Burke had to deliver this message, because who is Burke? Is he a upper management guy and is then speaking for the owner, because if there is a problem with his game, why didn’t the ACTUAL GM or coach bring it up.

    Yes Sven does have some holes in his defensive game. Almost every single offensive forward is going to have holes in their defensive game. But it’s a lot harder trying to find someone that is already an elite defender and try to teach him to score goals than it is to find someone who can be an elite scorer and teach him defense.

    Also I don’t buy any of these media stories about him being a me first player, or cockiness or whatever. I want a guy that has confidence that is willing to play with an edge and has a passion to play the game. As we all saw during the Kadri negotiations and how Dreger was a mouth piece for the leafs org, the media likes to play a part in the story, so I’m not going to believe a bunch of backhanded stories about the kid.

  • Captain Ron

    The person who needs to be the primary delivery of these types of messages needs to be the coaching staff. What is Burke’s coaching experience? If Hartley is not getting through to any of the players then management and upper management should speak. In saying that both Burke and Feaster are correct in saying his game needs work and maybe every ones expectations may be to high at this point. However this is a skilled kid who could possibly be a cornerstone good to high end forward in this league in the not to distant future. Keep working Sven, keep believing in your abilities but work like you need to.

  • Captain Ron

    It’s funny we’ve been deprived for so long we worry about everything…

    We were all convinced Guadreau was gonna play out his tenure in college then leave as a free agent. But he’ll likely don a Flames jersey, along with Arnold and Agostino, before the season is up.

    Sven will be a great player, I honestly believe that. So will Monahan and Guadreau.

    We have a bright future, stop worrying so much.

    Young players need time to adjust to the NHL game, be patient fellas we have a lot of gems coming….

  • Schmenkley

    I find it incredibly ironic that ever since Feastie came on board the good ship Flame, almost every involved fan clamored for a “hockey” guy.

    Now we have Burkie, a “hockey” guy on board ready to help man the oars, and people are complaining because he delivered a “hockey” assessment of one of our top prospects?


    The first game hasn’t even had the puck dropped yet…..

      • piscera.infada

        His hockey assessment is hardly “incorrect”. He said the kid needs work – which he does. He didn’t say “Sven’s a horrible player. Traded.” So yes, your worry on this particular issue is misplaced.


        I call bull…. Having your performance subject to judgement (by the media, by fans, by management) is part and parcel of being a professional athlete. Right or wrong, it’s going to happen. I’ll agree Sven is a human (I hope, I’m not sure how proficient aliens are at hockey). The point is that professional athletes are employed by an organization that also doubles as a community institution. Thus, their actions on and off the ice are and should be routinely questioned.

        Was what Burke said harsh? Yes, but it was a) warranted, and b) overblown by everyone not involved (the fans and the media). Is Sven young? Yes. Is this going to ruin his career? Hardly, and spare me any reasoning that it might.

        • Schmenkley

          This. Full Stop.

          In an age of entitled athletes who:
          A) Post pictures of their “money” from their “money phone” from Vegas while their profession is in a work stoppage,and

          B) Beat up a cab driver for 60some cents in change,

          should we really be concerned about an honest public assessment of what they are bringing, or what they need to bring, to the company that will (hopefully) make them VERY RICH because of their, and subsequently the company’s, success?

          I am quite sure Sven will be thankful for this constructive criticism when he is negotiating his Multi year, Multi million dollar contract….(mind is wandering to KESSEL for some reason)

          Tough love is tough, but it is love, and you don’t waste energy like that unless you see a substantial potential return.

        • Schmenkley

          he needs work, sure, but burke was very specific and very (overly?) negative in his assessment.

          to clarify, I thought the implication was that sven needed more work to become a productive nhler than other first round talents. i disagree with that.

      • Schmenkley

        No disagreement here, but I think the message is getting overblown somewhat.

        Name me a Blue-Chip prospect in recent memory that couldn’t have the same constructive criticism directed his way….not too many come to mind.

        I agree the BurkieBluster can be unsettling, but I would favor that over the FeasterFollies that we have been subject to…..

        I am hoping that the two opposite viewpoints can some how offset each other and theGood Ship Flame will experience a harmonious balance……

        (This is me not holding my breath….!)

  • RexLibris

    Hey, I’ll be patient with Barts. A lot of Flames fans have given up on Backlund a long time ago. Some things about Burkie’s comments: 1. He doesn’t like Barts 2. His evaluation of a player compared to Feaster are far apart or 3. he using it as a motivational tool. The reality is that Sven came in and scored 3 goals in 5 games and lit up the entire city. Guess what? Unrealistic expectations have been put on him. It’s not his job to carry the team or be the face of the franchise yet despite what he tells the media. His job is to go out and improve as a player and be as consistent as possible. Barts can be a great offensive player but he has to be responsible defensively as well.

  • Rockmorton65

    What I liked most about Burke’s comments on Sven was it showed that the Flames have a specific style they are going to play, and you need to be a certain type of player to play here – strong in all three zones, uptempo and play with intensity. It appears the days of cherry picking (Iginla) and phoning it in (Tanguay) because you are “elite” are over. I love that even the “Next Big Thing”, Baertchi isn’t exempt.

  • Michael

    Burkes comments are interesting because he has years of experience judging talent, and is a new ‘fresh’ face in the organization who wasn’t part of the team that drafted Sven. Perhaps a more independent view than Feasters, not that Burke dosent have his own set of biases.

    Sven is showing the normal ups and downs of a developing player, so no alarm bells at this point. However, I do feel that Sven has been over hyped, and that fans need to have a more realistic vision of the role that Sven will play. I have always seen him developing into a second liner, anything more would be a pleasant bonus.

    • piscera.infada

      Of course. I’m sick of the view: “who is Burke to judge Sven?”.

      No one, he’s only a guy who’s been an NHL GM for close to 20 years, was a player agent for 7 years before that, played in the NCAA, and worked under Pat Quinn in a hockey ops position.

      While I’m not trying to claim he’s God. The guy knows hockey, and he knows hockey players and development. If he calls out Sven – it’s only for the betterment of the player. I remember when people in Toronto were losing it about how Burke viewed Kadri. He didn’t trade him, he just made sure the kid knew where his holes were and that he fixed them.

      Player development isn’t a zero sum game – where a kid becomes a defensive forward, or a scorer; a superstar, or a bum; a goon, or a finesse player.