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.
– 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.