FLAMES’ CORE DRIVING POSSESSION

Brodie, Backlund and Gio

-Pics via Halifax Drunk

The Flames
are seeing a remarkable upswing in their possession in the last few
months.  At its lowest point, right
before and after New Year’s, the Flames rolling 10-game 5v5 close FF% was 39.4%
(near the bottom of the league).  It has
been steadily climbing since the dust up with the Canucks in January and today
(March 26, 2014) the rolling 10-game 5v5 FF% sits at a respectable 53.6%.  

Calgary Flames 2013-2014 rolling 10-game 5v5 close FF%

-Courtesy of Extra Skater (a very outstanding website)

The question is what is happening with this
club that is creating a constant and significant improvement of possession in
the past two months?

Recent
visualized Corsi analysis, provided by Justin, gives a hint to what might be
happening.  We can see there are a few
guys that are driving the boat – those being Backlund, Brodie and Giordano
(BBG) with honorable mentions to Cammalleri and Galiardi.  It’s clear that those three in particular are
possession beasts, despite facing the toughest competition on the team. BBG has
been so dominant, compared to the rest of the team, that Kent and I discussed
whether or not it was possible that it was these three that could equate to the
dramatic increase in possession.  The
theory we came up with was that the coaching staff was strategically placing BBG
on the ice together and this was leading to a positive feedback loop of
possession dominance that was boosting the team up from disaster possession
rates to pretty darn good. 

To
investigate whether or not this was the case, we took 10-game snapshots of the
dark days (the memorable low scoring streak around New Year’s) and the
entertaining and admirable March performance. 
Each game in the 10-game snapshot has been broken down, play-by-play, to
parcel out the Corsi (total shot attempts for – total shot attempts against) of
various scenarios (e.g., Backlund solo, Backlund and Giordano, Backlund and
Brodie, Backlund, Giordano and Brodie, etc.) to suss out if there were any
differences between the scenarios. 

Let’s have a
look…

THE NUMBERS

Low Point (Philadelphia, Dec 2013 – Vancouver,
Jan 2014)

Backs (Tot)

Gio (Tot)

Brodie (Tot)

Backs (S)

Gio (S)

Brodie (S)

BaG

BaB

GB

BBG

None

CF

180

249

202

43

56

35

45

19

75

73

179

CA

151

201

191

42

58

55

31

24

58

54

189

Total

331

450

393

85

114

90

76

43

133

127

368

Corsi

54.4%

55.3%

51.4%

50.6%

49.1%

38.9%

59.2%

44.2%

56.4%

57.5%

48.6%

High Point (Edmonton, March 2014 – Buffalo, March
2014)

Backs (Tot)

Gio (Tot)

Brodie (Tot)

Backs (S)

Gio (S)

Brodie (S)

BaG

BaB

GB

BBG

None

CF

246

286

242

70

30

38

68

17

95

91

132

CA

166

165

162

70

31

38

24

13

53

59

228

Total

412

451

404

140

61

76

92

30

148

150

360

Corsi

59.7%

63.4%

59.9%

50.0%

49.2%

50.0%

73.9%

56.7%

64.2%

60.7%

36.7%


Editor’s Note: While Corsi is
often broken down by circumstance (5 vs 5, 5 vs. 4, etc.), this initial analysis
is all situations combined. The reason is Backlund, Brodie and Giordano
play in all three situations.  In retrospect, special
teams are likely confounding the results to some degree but the results are still
quite incredible and warranted the initial post.  As we dive deeper with this type of analysis
in the future, we will likely parse out special teams.

At the low
point, every combination of Backlund, Giordano and Brodie, whether playing
together or by themselves, was better than when none of them were on the
ice.  The only exceptions were Brodie
playing by himself and Brodie playing with Backlund.  Those two situations were slightly worse than
when none of them were on the ice.  Both
instances had rather small sample sizes, however.

Today (the
high point), the same trend emerges, without the Brodie exceptions.  Every instance where any of Backlund, Brodie
and/or Giordano is on the ice leads to a higher possession rate than when none
of them are on the ice.  Interestingly,
the Corsi when none of the big three are on the ice has actually decreased
quite substantially in the current 10-game set to a pretty horrible 37% (keep
in mind: there are several instances when none of BBG is on the ice for the PP
and it’s still this bad). Obviously, BBG is having a huge effect on how the
Flames perform. Additionally,
some interesting things emerge between the two 10-game sets. 

First, the three
are clearly playing more together these days. 
Based on the possession rates, the three are on the ice at the same time
about 14% more now than they were earlier (about 33% overall). Whether it’s two
of them on the ice at a time or all three, it has increased in almost every
instance except for the Backlund – Brodie combination (coincidentally, the only
combination that hasn’t proved to work extremely well). 

Second,
Backlund is being used much more effectively nowadays than he was earlier.  His ice-time has only increased by about a
minute but the total Corsi attempts (for and against) when he’s on the ice has increased
by approx. 20%.  The increase in attempts
both ways can likely be attributed to playing with more skilled linemates and
in all situations (5v5, PP, PK and final minutes of a close game).

Third,
unlike Backlund, Giordano and Brodie are not playing any more now than they
were in the low-point 10-game set. 
They’re actually playing slightly less. 
However, Gio, today, finds himself on the ice with Backlund and/or
Brodie 86% of the time compared to 75% of the time before.  Brodie, less noticeably, is on the ice with
at least one of Backlund or Gio 82% of the time now compared to 78% of the time
before.

Fourth,
Backlund and Giordano are playing together much more now and they are
especially dominant.  Their Corsi over
the most recent 10-game set was a ridiculous 74%.  This is likely due to the fact that the two
of them are playing on the #1 PP together while Brodie is on the second unit.
But what’s important to note is that they also often play together on the top
penalty killing unit and the astronomical Corsi still persists.  Their penalty kill shift will often be much
shorter than their powerplay shift which provides some insight into the stark
difference in CF and CA but still.

Fifth, over
the past few months, Giordano and Brodie (aka Brodano) have solidified themselves as the # 1 D
unit for the Flames.  In the first
10-game set, Brodie and Gio were together only 58% of the time.  Today, the two are paired 67% of the time and
seem to be getting better by the game (as noted by the drastic change in their Corsi
from the first 10 game set – 56%, which was still incredible, to today – 64%).  The only time they don’t play together
nowadays is on special teams and the adjustment time after the PP or PK ends. 

Sixth,
Brodie appears to have had a rough patch in the first 10-game set but is back
in form now which is helping the Flames’ rising possession rates. His possession
when just he was on the ice was 39% in the ugly set.  Conversely, today, playing about 16% less by
himself than he was, his possession rates are right up there with Giordano and
Backlund at 50%.  It is important to note,
this possession rate includes significant penalty kill time without Giordano
and Backlund. 

Last, and
perhaps most interesting, is the difference when one of those players is on the
ice without the other two compared to when they are on the ice with one or
both.  Backlund, Giordano and Brodie are
still admirable possession players playing by themselves (50%, 49% and 50%,
respectively).  But together, any
combination, has yielded an average possession rate of 64%.  The eye test suggest that BBG feed off of
each other when they’re on the ice and this certainly provides evidence that
they should continue to do so forever and ever.  

SUM IT UP

The Flames
possession rise over the past few months is likely due to a multitude of
variables.  However, one significant
variable that appears to be playing a large role is the increase in mutual
playing time of the big three – Backlund, Giordano and Brodie.  Alone they can hold their own,
possession-wise, but in combinations of two or all three together is a whole
different story.  When playing together,
their possession rates are off the charts, verging into the elite category.
What’s more, based on the 10-game snap shots of now and the low-point of the
season, they seem to be getting better the more they play with each other.  This is something to be excited about as the
Flames, assuming they realize this dominance, can build around these three
players.  If the Flames can add a few
more possession dynamos to go along with the high-end skill they will likely be
drafting over the next couple of years, this rebuild could be shorter than
anybody ever anticipated.  

  • Lordmork

    Great post. My question is, if this possession upswing is being driven mostly by just three players, is it sustainable? Are there any comparisons that might indicate these players can continue to do this well, or could we see a regression next year?

    • It’s hard to say, but the real issue for the Flames is surrounding them with a better team if they want to be competitive. Calgary basically gets the crap beat out of them when these guys aren’t on the ice.

    • Byron Bader

      The answer is I’m not really sure. I haven’t seen much related to this type of stuff (i.e., chemistry between three possession guys when they’re on the ice together). Between the three of them they’re basically playing the whole game. It might be sustainable if they continue to be used like this. Backlund’s only getting better, Brodie too. Gio really came on this year but he’s in his 30’s now. He might regress next year but my stars has he been unbelievable this year. A broken ankle didn’t slow him down an ounce this year. Who knows!

  • ChinookArchYYC

    The pe-December numbers were made worse due to Harley’s bizarre player selection and line combinations, early in the season. Demoting Backlund to the 4th line duty with McGrattan & Jackman, while elevating Colburne to 1st and 2nd line duty was ridiculous, and I believe your examination here verifies this. Unfortunately, now Galiardi seems to be the new Backlund.

    Full credit to Hartley for finally figuring it out.

    • RedMan

      I think you’ve got it wrong. Hartley was challenging the players in question to get their acts together and to step it up to another level. Fortunately they did. Great coaching which is also seen in many, many other players on the team. Brodie and Backlund are way better now than they were at the start of the season. They shouldn’t have automatically gotten ice time, they needed to earn it, and the same needs to hold true with others. The Colborne issue all had to do with not being able to send him down and trying to figure out what we had.

  • Lordmork

    @Kent Wilson @Byron Bader

    Thanks both for answering. I guess we’ll see. I’m looking forward to more of this kind of analysis. It’s really made me enjoy both hockey and watching the Flames a lot more.

    • Byron Bader

      The comment refers to Backlund in that mix as well. But just having a quick look at stats.hockeyanalysis.com for WOWY numbers. Gio/Brodie – 57%, Keith/Seabrook – 57%, Pietrangelo/Bouw – 54.5%, Chara/Hamilton – 55%, Doughty/Muzzin – 60%, Subban/Markove – 52%, Vlasic/Braun – 58%. Gio and Brodie are right up there with some of the best tandems out there.

  • Byron Bader

    These 3 along with Monahan and Bouma are the players I wouldnt trade, under any feasable circumstance, on the current roster..

    I wonder if Cammalleri is an honourable mention because he has played so much with Backlund or because he actually drives possession himself?

      • seve927

        Brodie away from Gio: 46.9, away from Backs: 48.7;
        Backs away from Gio: 47.3, away from Brodie: 46.4. Gio is the only one to break 50 when away from one of the others. I’d say Gio is in his own league, and Backs, Brodie and Cammalleri are just behind.

        Galiardi on the other hand posts the best numbers when away from any of those guys (including those guys!), as he’s actually close to 50%. I really hope they give him another go next year. If pucks start bouncing for him, he could be a huge part of a successful year next year.

    • Byron Bader

      I don’t want the Flames to trade Giordano but they may serious need to look at it in the off season depending on how free agency goes.

      The rewards for an NHL team are either being the playoffs or at the very bottom of the league to draft elite players. The Flames are currently in no mans land between those rewarding positions.

      The Flames need to add a #3 dman and a top six forward while keeping or replacing Cammalleri to realistically have a shot at the playoffs next year. If they are not able to get those players they need to look very hard at trading Giordano. Not good enough to make the playoffs with him but too good to finish bottom 3. By the time the Flames are ready to compete Giordano will be in the downside of his career.

      • beloch

        Ya in that group Gio is the one I would let go first, due to age, but the intangables he brings to the table is too important to lose.

        Gm’s don’t like trading good players unless they have a replacement, don’t feel like they can re-sign them or they are just not part of the plans…

        If you take a guy like Gio out you need to replace him with someone else or else Brodie et al. will be asked to do too much and it may hinder development.

        Gio is also the heart and soul of the team and is at his peak. Do we trade a guy that we found as an undrafted FA and invested all this time and money into developing and he is now looking to be part of an elite group only to trade him away? Right after giving him the C? After the team has responded so well under his and Hartley’s leadership?

        I get it! Maximize your assets by selling high! But I think the true way to maximize Gio as an asset is to re-sign him and let him lead this team out of the basement!

  • Great post Byron.

    I am interested to see how Poirier does this summer. Also what Burke/Burke’s guy does at the draft and over the summer. This team with the coaching and system now in place is not as far off as some might think. Perhaps 1 or 2 superstars from being competitive. Will be interesting to see where we at next season.

    • Truculence

      Isn’t every team one or two superstars from being “competitive”. Heck, if you got two “superstars” on your team, you’re pretty much a contender.

  • beloch

    Just for the heck of it, I plotted individual rolling 10 game averages for corsi, quality of competition, and offensive zone starts. I eyeballed these rather unscientifically to get a sense of how players are doing. Here are the results for players who are still with the team and have played a significant number of games. Players who have either improved their corsi without receiving more shelter or who have held their ground while getting less shelter are in the upwards group, and so on.

    Upwards:
    Giordano: CF% up slightly. QoC up slightly. ZS up slightly.
    Brodie: CF% up slightly. QoC up slightly. ZS up slightly.
    Backlund: CF% up slightly. QoC up. ZS level.
    Cammalleri: CF% up. QoC down slightly. ZS level.
    Colborne: CF% up very slightly. QoC variable, but increasing lately. ZS level.
    Bouma: CF% up. QoC up. ZS down.
    Stajan: CF% up. QoC down slightly. ZS up slightly.
    Monahan: CF% level. QoC up slightly. ZS down slightly.

    Hudler: CF% up slightly. QoC up. ZS down slightly.
    Byron: CF% up. QoC up slightly. ZS level.
    David Jones: CF% up slightly. QoC up slightly (sharply in latter half of season). ZS level.
    Holding Steady or Unclear:
    Smid: CF% up slightly. ZS up. QoC down.
    Butler: CF% level. QoC down slightly. ZS level.
    Downwards:
    Russel: CF% down. QoC down. ZS level.
    Westgarth: CF% level. QoC down. ZS level.
    McGrattan: CF% down slightly. QoC down slightly. ZS up slightly.
    Glencross: CF% level. QoC down sharply. ZS level.
    Galiardi: CF% level. QoC down. ZS up.

    There’s a fair bit of variation in how quickly upwards players are trending. Bouma’s deployment got a *lot* tougher and his corsi got significantly better, making him one of the most improved players, although he still isn’t very good. Monahan has only seen subtle improvement. He’s holding steady as his shelter is very slowly removed. Galiardi is quite good in terms of possession, but he’s been getting a bit more shelter and hasn’t really taken advantage of it. Glencross really struggled mid season and is clearly still recovering from his injury, as he’s facing much weaker competition than he was early in the season. Russel is not headed in the right direction at all, which I found surprising. Giordano, Brodie, Backlund, and Cammalleri were all pretty good to begin with but have just gotten better as the season has gone on.

    While it’s good news that more players are trending up instead of down, what we might be seeing here is, as the above article suggests, the big advances of a few key players impacting everywhere. Russel and Butler, especially later in the season, have played together almost exclusively, so they don’t really benefit much from the rise of Brodie and Giordano. Westgarth and McGrattan are also players who are seldom out there with Backlund or Cammalleri. Byron and Galiardi are though. We’d have to do a WOWY comparison on Galiardi, but he might be the only player who has gotten worse while playing with the team’s progression engine. Still, it’s only a slight decline and he remains clearly better than the team average in terms of possession.

    What is clear is that Westgarth, McGrattan, Russel and Butler aren’t very good and aren’t headed in the right direction on their own. These are some of the team’s clear weak points that will hopefully addressed by developing rookies or acquisitions in the not-too-distant future.

    • Byron Bader

      Good stuff.

      Russell paired with another possession guy like Brodie or Gio (not one of those cause they’re great together… another one that doesn’t exist on the Flames yet) would be fine as the 4D with Russell getting lots of 1st PP time with Gio.