Random Thoughts – The First 10



October is just about in the bank and we’re starting to get a feel for step one of the rebuild. The Flames haven’t been as bad as many expected, though with 12 points in 11 games they are still 6th out of 7 teams in the difficult Pacific division, ahead of only (haha) the Edmonton Oilers.

Here’s some thoughts on the thr first 10, including Hartley’s habits and some words on Iginla’s reputation as a slow starter…

– For those wondering if the Flames will be bad enough to pick first overall this year, it looks like the race to the bottom is led by the Buffalo Sabres with everyone else a distant second. Buffalo has been pretty unlucky to start the year to be sure, with just a 5.7 SH% at even strength, but they also have the very worst possession rate in the entire league (43%). If we narrow that to close score situations (in order to correct for score effects), BUF sinks to just 38%. Which is, uh, one of the worst 10-game runs I’ve seen in a long time. 

To be blunt, the Sabres will have to get much luckier and better at driving play just to be bad.

Here’s hoping they don’t pick Sam Reinhart.

– Back to Calgary – Bob Hartley’s decision making has been somewhat erratic so far, but we can put that down to a coach experimenting and tinkering with things in effort to discern just what he has with this roster. A few things have been consistent, though:

1.) Hartley doesn’t like playing the bottom end of the roster

Hartley is okay with dressing a tough guy or two, but he doesn’t want to play them more than 5 minutes a night. Ditto any new body or kid who shows up – Colborne was relegated to 5 minutes or less when he arrived and Roman Horak saw that treatment too on his brief call-up. Hartley also has very little use for Shane O’Brien, who is only averaging about 10 minutes of ice per night (which is miniscule for a blueliner). 

2.) Hartley is channeling Alain Vigneault (Vancouver version)

The Flames have some of the most extreme zone start discrepencies in the league. Unlike Brent Sutter, who more liberally spread things around, Hartley is gifting the high ground to a select set of players (Colborne, Russell, Wideman and the kids) and absolutely burying a few others (Backlund, Brodie, Giordano and Butler). Colborne and Russell are north of 70% while Brodie and Giordano are south of 37%.

3.) Hartley rates Backlund defensively but not offensively

Related, but it seems like Bob Hartley sees Backlund more as a Manny Malhotra figure than Frans Nielsen (the latter at least gets PP time). Backlund got a few reps in the top-6 rotation this year, but recently he’s been restricted almost exclusively to d-zone draws and the PK.

Of course, this type of stuff becomes a bit of viscous circle for a guy like Backs – he needs to show he can produce to stay on a scoring line, but that’s difficult to do when you aren’t put in a position to score. I don’t know if this is because Hartley trusts Backlund more than guys like Colborne and Monahan to take the tough minutes, or rather if he doesn’t think Backs can do much with offensive zone time anyways. Maybe it’s a little of both.

– Related: it probably makes sense for Backlund to get the lion’s share of d-zone draws and such, but it certainly doesn’t make sense to play one of your best possession forwards seven minutes a night as happened against the Capitals on Saturday. I’m not sure what the solution is given the log-jame at center though.

– Unrelated: I heard Eric Duhatschek on the FAN960 last week talking about Jarome Iginla’s slow start and he noted with annoyance that an "advanced stats guy" upbraided him on twitter about that particular narrative. He responded that everyone – even Iginla –  knows that Jarome is a slow starter. 

I have a lot of time for Duhatschek as a hockey analyst. He’s thoughtful, engaging and typically writes good material. But on this topic, I think he should consult the evidence.

In an effort to investigate the "Jarome is a slow out of the gate" angle, Mitch Smith put together a chart of Jarome Iginla’s first 15 games of each season going all the way back to 2001. The result? Iginla scored at nearly a PPG pace or better to start six of those seasons.

To put it another way, he scored at a pace equal to or better than his overall season pace in seven (63%) of those 12 years. In fact, in only in three of those years did he manage a total that was significantly behind what he finished with.

Last season, Jarome scored 10 points in his first 15 games (0.67 PPG). He finished the season with a 0.75 PPG pace, although mostly because he managed 11 points in 13 games with the Penguins to end things off.

Maybe we’re talking about merely goal scoring rathern that overall points? Same thing. Iginla scored seven or more goals in his first 15 games six times in Mitch’s sample. He scored five or less in the other six. So 50% of the time, he started with a 40 goal pace or better.

So why do people (including Jarome) think that the erstwhile Flames captain is perennially slow out of the gate? During his time in Calgary the spotlight was always bright and the expectations always high for Iginla. So whenever Iginla struggled to score points over the first month, it was a big story, meaning everyone remembers the times when he struggled because they were considered unusual. In contrast, his strong starts aren’t considered as noteworthy and kind of fade from memory.

Stanley Cup of Chowder took another look at this issue in response to Iggy’s lackluster goal output in Boston. Same result.

– About the only points I can give this myth is that Iginla has had more relatively slow starts lately as opposed to earlier in his career, which would contribute to the story’s persisteance. Of course, he’s also reaching the sunset of his time in the league, so that’s as much to do with him slowing down in general than some kind season opening malaise I think. 

– "Stats guys" like myself are often derided for taking the fun out of hockey/sports coverage, mostly because of investigations like the above. I personally have a lot of time for narratives in hockey, but I prefer them to be unique, engaged with the facts, and not merely recycled scripts or fuzzy conventional wisdom.

– Of course, it’s kind of silly to talk about a slow start for Jarome this year. He has eight points in 10 games and his goal scoring struggles are entirely percentage based (30 shots on net, but only 2 goals or a SH of 6.7%). Pucks will start going in at a higher rate for him eventually no doubt.

– There is still no obvious answer to Calgary’s goaltending question. Neither guy has been good in aggregate, although both MacDondald and Ramo have made some highlight reel saves in each of their starts. Ramo has the better ES SV% and we know that Joey Mac is mediocre at best, so the way forward is to play the former as much as possible in order to get a feel for his true talent level. The more shots Ramo faces, the better the org will be able to peg his abilities at the end of the year, at which point they can determine if they should start shopping around for another starter or not.

– Part of the reason Hartley may be gifting offensive zone starts to the kids and Russell/Wideman is because all of those guys lead the team in on-ice SH% (about 12% or better). Backlund and Brodie are at the other end of the spectrum (4.5% and 3.5% respectively).

As such, the coach seems to be reacting by playing the guys who are scoring more often in the o-zone and the guys who can’t seem to score in d-zone. Of course, the percentages are going to regress towards the mean (about 8%) for both groups eventually, so it will be interesting to see if the player deployment changes as the bounces change.

– Another guy with a high on-ice SH%? Joe Colborne (12%)…which is probably why he’s stuck in the top-6 recently. He has looked a lot more like an NHLer since getting a bump in ice time. Of course, it’s tough to properly evaluate Colborne when he is starting so rarely in the defensive zone at even strength, but at least he doesn’t look as slow and hesitant as he did when he first arrived.

– Here’s hoping Curtis Glencross’ goal from the other night snaps him out fo whatever funk has been haunting him. Rough start for a guy I usually have a lot time for. Good news is – he can only get better.

– The least talked about pleasant surprise for the Flames so far? TJ Galiardi, who leads the team in possession (52.3% fenwick) and isn’t a dude who gets butter soft assignments. Could be a keeper.

  • beloch

    I’m not an advanced stats guy myself, but this is very interesting stuff..


    Maybe the return the Sabres got for Vanek might be a indication on what the Flames might get for Cammellari? any thoughts?

      • beloch

        I don’t think the point was cammi = Vanek, I think the point is if he is worth a top 6 a 1st and a 2nd then maybe cammi is at least a 1st if not more maybe?

    • Parallex

      I don’t think it’s much of an indication… Vanek is better then Cammellari and Vanek is also two years younger which, if you’re operating on the assumption that the team acquiring him will want to extend him, makes a difference.

      Although I think it’s a pretty good sign that Cammy can be worth a 1st round pick. I mean Buff basically got a 1st and two 2nd round picks (assuming that Buff will also trade Moulson later on this season and that his prospective value is a 2nd rounder). On that scale I could easily see Cammy fetching a 1st.

    • BurningSensation

      I’d have to say ‘No’.

      Vanek is younger, bigger, stronger, and has elite goal scoring ability compared to Cammalleri.

      I’d think we’d be lucky to get a guy like Moulson and a 2nd for Cammi.

  • McRib

    A bit random but I am still wondering if Flamesnation would be happy now in hindsight if we now had Ryan O’Reilly instead of Sean Monahan and Keegan Kanzig, the potential 1st and 3rd picks the Flames would have forced surrender if the offersheet had been successful?

    And what Darcy Regier? Looks like he made out like a bandit again. I suspect he will trade Moulson by the end is the year.

    • piscera.infada

      Imagine a scenario where Colorado had the #1 and #6 pick in this past draft. Mackinnon #1, as you expect. But would they really take Monahan #6 with the number of young centers they already have? Probably not. Monahan ends up an Oiler. We’re stuck with ROR. That’s literally a nightmare I had recently.

      • Parallex

        IMO if the Flames have O’Reilly they finish better then they did. Probably not in the playoffs but out of the territory where they’d be able to pick monahan. And no one is ever “stuck” with ROR, ROR is a damn good hockey player.

  • McRib

    Buffalo absolutely fleeced the NYI in that trade (IMO) Matt Moulson is basically the same player as Thomas Vanek, plus they get a first rounder and second rounder, after both leave in the offseason anyway (since 2011-2012 Vanek has 121 Pts, Moulson has 122 Pts). I also think Vanek is a very overrated player, as anytime I have watched him the last couple of years with Buffalo he really doesn’t have the effort he used to. Just seems to be going through the motions, maybe a change of scenery helps but I don’t know if he was so good why was Buffalo so bad?!?!?

    Vanek reminds me a lot of Olli Jokinen’s value when he was coming out of Florida to play with Phoenix. People overestimate his talent because he was a high draft pick, playing easy minutes against teams that would not show up to play his basement dwelling team.

    Buffalo’s GM Darcy Regier has done a great job getting value fire saleing Vanek and Pominville (Two Prospects, a first rounder and second rounder with Pominville). If only we traded Iginla & Bouwmeester 2+ years ago.

  • beloch

    Cammalleri is going to be tough to unload until near the trade deadline I suspect. He’s (hopefully) going to be pricey enough that teams will want to know they’ve got a shot at the cup before trading for him. A player who might be worth shopping around at this point in the season is Stajan.

    1. Last season fixed his reputation. Soft minutes (which he isn’t getting) probably won’t fluff it up that much.
    2. He’s not a blue-chip player that a Stanley cup chasing team will want to push them over the top. He’s a solid second or third line center who could play a role all season in a team that needs “solid” to fill a hole rather than “exceptional”.

    3. His contract is up at the end of the season and he won’t bring much in return as a playoff rental traded at the deadline. Trade him now and you’re selling a whole season.
    4. The Flames will certainly miss him in defensive draws and on the PK, but the team probably won’t make the playoffs this season anyways[1], so letting the kids cut their teeth on tougher minutes is a good thing.
    5. Trading Stajan means the centers who will actually be with the club in 3-4 years will all get more ice-time.

    Stajan has really turned things around since his whipping boy days, and trading him would hurt the team in the now. However, it’s a hurt that could lead to growth of other players who are clearly ready to step up and, if it hurts to give him up, the return should be decent.

    [1] This is based on their current pace. However, given that they’ve been playing MacBackup so much and they just finished one of the more challenging road-trips of the year, this might be pessimistic.

  • @vowswithin

    I agree but I still think we would have been forced to trade Iggy as ROR would not have been able to get the Flames over the line at the end of the day. I always liked Jbow despite is hefty ticket but I suspect they would have traded him also.

    I, however, wanted to say that I think Kent has highlighted a very disturbing trend in this column, which is I think Flames management (especially Burke) and coaching staff simply DO NOT LIKE Backlund.

    I hope I’m wrong but I do not believe Backlund will be part of the Flames core nucleus in the future. Given his very affordable contract I think Burke could trade him for either a pick or could be packaged off for a live body. And I believe there would be many GMs who would love to have Backs.

    Similarly, I think Stajan is also good as gone as I can’t see the Flames trading him or resigning him. He will exit as a free agent. So their departures will create space for Knight, Reinhart or even Granlund.

    However, I hope we do resign Stempniak but I’m not sure what to do with Cammi though. They could both bring decent returns but I also think we need to keep experienced players who lead by example.

    • MichaelD

      I don’t think he was saying management doesn’t like Backlund. He mentioned it as a possibility but also suggested that the coaches trust him the most. I believe the latter.

      I think he’s playing great defensively, and though I don’t like to quote advanced stats too much because I don’t follow it, but they talking about him being one of the better possession forwards. So by all accounts I really think Hartley trusts Backlund a lot, and young centres who the coach trusts are not something teams just throw around.

      The only scenario I see where Backlund leaves in the near future is that he grows a ego and doesn’t what to be a defensive forward and whats out, which I think is unlikely. Or I guess if he’s a piece of a deal too good to pass up. He won’t be shopped though.

    • McRib

      I disagree with your take on Backs. Hartley is trying to win games & Backs has been our best PK but has been struggling converting offensive chances. He probably wanted that 1st home win after a pretty rough road trip & Backs on that 4th line didn’t sacrifice offence, upgraded that 4th line & kept him fresh for the PK. Backs will be a very important core member, just leave the flash to Monomoney & Sven.

      @Mcrib: Vanek had pretty decent numbers last year& evidently this deal was in the works since summer, so I would think the Isles feel pretty confident they can resign him or they wouldn’t have given up so much. Moulson hasn’t carried a line, Tavares did where Vanek carried & made players better. If & a big “if” the Isles manage to get Vanek resigned, this deal isn’t as one sided. One thing I do disagree with you is that we didn’t need to rush to trade JBO 2 years earlier to get a better return, I just don’t feel Feaster did a very good job on that trade. JBO is a top 2 dman playing on a pretty damn good team in St Louis. That means he would have been a top 2 dman for many teams. Cundari & Berra have not been able to crack a rebuilding team right after ground zero of the blowup & we are all praying for Pourier to pull this deal out of the fire. I just cant believe that was the best deal out there or we couldn’t have waited to trade JBO, because we have done didly squat with our Cap space. I like a lot of what Feaster & Wiesbrod have done, I just don’t like the trading record of Feaster very much. This is why I am so happy Burke is on board. You can only draft so many pieces to get this train back chugging , at some point, you have to make some trades & actually win them big time with respect to the timing & the type of piece you are bringing in.

  • McRib

    “Of course, it’s kind of silly to talk about a slow start for Jarome this year. He has eight points in 10 games and his goal scoring struggles are entirely percentage based (30 shots on net, but only 2 goals or a SH of 6.7%). Pucks will start going in at a higher rate for him eventually no doubt.”

    Nice article, I also have been a big fan of the way TJ Galiardi plays (always was), as he seems to put pressure on opposing teams with an uptempo approach (and kind of sporadic yet effective decision making process) that opens up opportunities for linemates, but as much as I’m warming to advanced stats the one thing I cannot help and notice with Iginla is the quality of shots he has been putting on goal.

    The last couple of years he has lost that lightning fast release that was his bread and butter to be honest he is now a very mediocre shooter in the league (IMO), even the goals he has scored they are more because of veteran positioning, heads up plays rather than blowing them past goaltenders. I think that’s why the asking price for him last year was so low, team recognized the fact that he is no longer a big game, big time scorer.

    When was the last time you saw him go down the wing, raise the left leg and beat a goalie straight up with a shot?!?!? It’s been at least two years for me, likely three. Goal numbers obviously have to improve from two this year, but I still think he is going to be a much lower percentage guy from now on and that should be factored into his value. Still a great player, but even from the two goals he has scored no way does it suggest to me he has anything more than 20 goal seasons left in him, just doesn’t have the release/shot he used to.

    • piscera.infada

      I would like to see it, but I also think they’ll keep Stemps over Cammy – you’d likely have to make a much greater commitment to keep Cammy on board, both monetarily and years. I think Stempniak has shown a little bit more leadership in terms of attitude towards the rebuild – but that’s just from an outsider’s prospective. Not to mention, with the right team, you probably get far greater return on Cammalleri at the deadline as his career playoff numbers are off the charts.


      In terms of Vanek, I agree. I don’t think he’s a game-breaker per se. I mean, he’s a good hockey player, but I don’t think he’s a guy who gives anyone a better chance to win a cup – especially when you’re sending Moulson the other way. That said, Tavares could probably make me look like a bonafide NHL first-liner – so there’s always that to consider.

  • Parallex

    I think Hartley has to many lines that he’s trying to shelter (or to be more accurate too many minutes).

    It’s a huge waste of talent to give Backlund so few minutes. IMO if they want to have Colborne play top 9 minutes and they don’t want to play him on the wing then they ought to explore trading Stajan now and not at the deadline.

    • Parallex

      Indeed. It makes the center group… well, terrifying (in a bad way) but they do seem to want to give Colborne decent ice time at center ice. (and even if they wanted him on the wing, who would they demote in his place? I mean, the wings are ridiculously crowded on this team when everyone’s playing).

      Of course, Stajan hasn’t been all that good since he came back. Still injured perhaps, but even so.

  • In regards to GlenX holy crap he was horrible the first two periods. Couldn’t take a pass, couldn’t make a pass, was all over the ice. I swear that goal he had was the first pass he actually took properly.

  • piscera.infada

    Hartley was a guy was I fairly positive about when he came on, but I’m starting to quickly turn on him. Backlund represents the Flames going forward and playing ihm 7/game is ludicrous.

    As for sheltering Colborne, wasn’t BB just telling us that he could be a dfeensive specialist type, yet Hartley is shelterign him?

    Once agin, left hand & right hands aren’t in sync. Doubt HArltey is here next year.

    • piscera.infada

      To be fair, that’s only one game where Backlund was played that little. He was getting the most icetime among Flames forwards for a while (exempting Jiri Hudler).

      The simple truth is, Backlund hasn’t scored for a while. I think Hartley is just sending him a message.

      That is, I hope..

      • Parallex

        That’s a horrific message to send if true. What message is that… “We want you to play other guys toughs, start in the defensive zone more often then not, kill penalties and not playing on the power play… and we expect you to score as much as the other guys while doing it or else we stick you with goons and pluggers”?

        If so that put’s Hartley into a pretty high level of dumbassness.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    I still don’t have a clear read on Hartley, and I haven’t decided if he’s good, bad or merely an adequate coach.
    He’s obviously much more offensive minded, and I quite like seeing the zone starts divided based on player strengths (or weaknesses). He seems to group players as either defensive or offensive weapons, and doesn’t mix a player up as both. He more obviously loves his tough guys, yet curiously doesn’t trust him (nor should he).

    He does strike me as a coach that has a list of favourite ‘go to’ guys, and then he has his $&!+list (where rookies and Blair Jones live). Within his lists he also is brutal and unapologetic in giving guys a chance. I fear Backlund is a bottom forward on this team, and B. Jones never players on the big team again (barring injuries of course.)

  • @ MichealD & Kevin R

    I agree with you that Kent didn’t say Hartley or Mgmt dislike Backs but I just have a bad feeling the way Backs has been treated/utilized during his time in a Flames jersey that he probably isn’t their long-term thinking.

    As I said, I hope I’m wrong. I think if Backs had some high-skilled creative/hard-driving wingers, he could pile up the points as he drives the net so well. I just think Backs has a lot more to offer than centering the 4th line and take up a primary PK role.