Reasonable Expectations: Brandon Bollig

On Draft Day, Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving made his first trade as the team’s architect, swapping Calgary’s second third round selection to the cap-strapped Chicago Blackhawks for Brandon Bollig.

Bollig is basically a younger, better version of Kevin Westgarth. Westgarth’s 30, has 16 points in 169 NHL games and has a Stanley Cup ring. Bollig is 27, has 14 points in 125 games and has a Stanley Cup ring. Westgarth played zero games during LA’s Cup run. Bollig played 15 in a checking role.

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Season       Corsi %              PDO          
2011-12 43.8% 95.7
2012-13 57.2% 97.5
2013-14 51.0% 98.4


Kevin Westgarth was a spare part in Calgary, though often praised by teammates for being “good in the room.” Bollig’s a little bit smaller than Westgarth (6’2″, 220 instead of 6’4″, 230) and didn’t go to an Ivy League school, but otherwise he’s an upgrade on Westgarth in almost every way.


Last season was Bollig’s first full season in the NHL after yo-yoing between the Blackhawks and the AHL’s Rockford Ice Hogs for a few years. He primarily played with Ben Smith and Marcus Kruger in a checking role. Of the seven players he played more than 200 even-strength minutes with, only one (Kruger) didn’t have better possession numbers without him. Here’s why.


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Bollig’s actually a pretty good hockey player, granted he’s only played one full season in the bigs. His tandem with Smith and Kruger regularly got second-line opposition (only Patrick Kane’s line faced tougher opponents) and were absolutely buried alive in terms of zone starts, with Bollig starting just 18% of his shifts in the offensive zone. Given these circumstances, that he had his head above water possession-wise at even-strength is a minor miracle.

If you use Michael Parkatti’s adjusted Corsi metric – which allows for comparisons by adjusting for Quality of Competition, Quality of Teammates and Zone Starts – Bollig comes in at an Adjusted Corsi of 2.19, which would be about the same as Jiri Hudler. Granted, Bollig was on a stacked team, so even if you downgrade Bollig slightly due to this advantage, his first full year compares (possession-wise) to Joe Colborne. Well, minus the offense: Kruger (27) and Smith (24) both had significantly more point production at even-strength than Bollig (14).

Bollig’s a perfectly fine hockey player and seemed to work reasonably well for Chicago given his role. But he was obviously a piece they felt they could go forward without given their salary cap constraints.


Bollig was thrown to the wolves in Chicago and kept his head (ever-so-slightly) above water. Part of that was due to his linemates – Smith and Kruger are both pretty good players given their roles.

If I’m Bob Hartley, I look at Brandon Bollig as a useful player. The Flames have plenty of young players that will need the high ground in terms of zone starts and to be protected by playing against the lesser lights of other teams. And for the low, low price of a third round pick, the Flames got a player that doesn’t have a lot of offensive upside but can eat up minutes against the other team’s better players while being completely adequate at driving the play. Granted, Bollig probably won’t get the same kind of line-mate support he got in Chicago, but if he’s out there with Stajan and David Jones, for instance, I don’t think people will complain too much, as it means guys like Monahan and Gaudreau will get more opportunities in the O-zone.

Brian McGrattan is Calgary’s heavyweight dancing bear. He needs to get offensive zone starts and very few minutes. Brandon Bollig is Calgary’s middleweight, but he is likely much more useful because of his ability to start in the defensive zone, move the puck up the ice (or at least not give up ground) and give the coaching staff the ability to deploy the offensively-talented players more often in the offensive zone. If Bollig gets 15 points next season, I think the Flames will be happy as long as the kids make the most of the O-zone starts Bollig helps provides them with.

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  • Parallex

    Reasonable expectation: Play your opposition to a draw and do the facepunchy thing good enough that the coach can stapple McGrattan’s buttcheeks to the pressbox for most of the season (and thus get the benefit of addition by subtraction).

    • yeah, I know he’s “replacing Westgarth” (a job best suited for the average coke machine), but if he’s good enough to warrant keeping McGrattan out of the lineup (I can’t believe I just said that), that’s a plus.

      I don’t think I’d call a third rounder a low price for Bollig considering his upside is real low, but I agree he’s not useless. He won’t generate any offense, but at least he won’t get rag dolled possession wise in his own end.

      It’ll be a bit tougher for him in Calgary for sure though. I wonder if he would have been averaging ten minutes a night in Chicago if he wasn’t usually on the ice when the Hawks were up a couple goals. You’d definitely see his ice time slashed if the Hawks defended as many one goal leads as Calgary did.

  • “Bollig’s actually a pretty good hockey player”. But wait – FlamesNation has already proclaimed this deal as the worst ever. Sometimes the panic assessments on this site are painful to read and demonstrate the lack of hockey intelligence by some of the readers. Bollig is a good example as were the comments on draft day. Relax folks and let these things play out. Some will work and some won’t but don’t fret over every move.

    • seve927

      There’s a pretty good demonstration of lack of general intelligence, hockey or otherwise. wtf has played out? I don’t remember anybody proclaiming it the worst deal ever. And if someone did, that doesn’t mean ‘Flamesnation’ proclaimed it. He hasn’t proven too much in the six weeks of inactivity since the trade.

      Relax and let something happen before you proclaim victory.

    • ChinookArchYYC

      I just looked back on the comments from the Bollig trade post ( If anything the comments were split. Some for, some against and some wait and see. I understand your frustration with the immediate condemnation of the player, but you are painting with a very broad brush.

      I was certain Bollig would be better than Westgard, now after reading this, I hope his presence in the line up means more rookie opportunities and less of McGrattan (except agaist the Canucks and teams with a nuclear threat).

  • seve927

    If the Flames can somehow manage to ice a 4th line of Wolf-Bouma-Bollig I would be thrilled. They aren’t gonna score much, but they can fight and hopefully not get crushed by the opposition.

  • Bollig’s a very strange case. His underlying numbers are actually surprisingly good given his deployment and if he is indeed worthy of them he’ll be a useful player.

    That said, Quenneville more or less gave him enforcer ice time, particularly in the playoffs. And then the team moved him for a relatively nominal return in the off-season. This is strange because a tough guy who is also very capable defensively would be a pretty valuable commodity in the NHL.

    So the question is – to what degree was Bollig driving those results and to what degree was he simply floated by his elite team? I guess we’re going to find out this year. I hope it’s the former because it would mean a step towards establishing functional toughness in the bottom-6.

    • Parallex

      I dunno, they (Chicago) did get a third rounder for him. Considering the usual return for a straight up goon tends to be somewhere in the vacinity of either a 7th round pick or a career AHL player to help out the farm team I’d say that it isn’t so strange. It’s not like they got him at goon prices… they paid a premium on top of that price. If anything I’d think that, given other transactions, 3rd round pick for the tough guy who is also capable defensively is probably market (as opposed to merely nominal) return.

      Random question: Of all the goons in the NHL which one is the least bad? By which I mean if you ignore the sideshow dancing bear routine which one has the best (or alternately least worst) actual hockey skills?

      • without looking at any numbers, a cursory thought off the top of my head is Zenon Konopka. I imagine he has a high offensive zone start percentage because he’s a strong faceoff guy (I know, I know, faceoffs). You could make an argument for Zack Kassian too, if you consider him to be a facepuncher.

      • Byron Bader

        I imagine the straight-up goons are all relatively the same. I’m not sure it matters who’s least bad. They’re all pretty, pretty, pretty bad. They’re used very seldom and get kicked around in their own zone. The only ones that are any good don’t fight that often and aren’t traditional goons. They’re just great hockey players that are also pretty good fighters. Guys like Shannahan, Iginla and Lucic will mess you up in a fight (in their prime) but also have amazing hockey skill. Then you have the Prust-types who are great 3rd line guys and can hold their own in fights despite a height disadvantage.

        I hope Bollig is the best of the goons but even if he is, we might not be able to tell. Especially once he suits up for a team that isn’t a top 3 elite team.

    • DoubleDIon

      If Wolf, Bouma and Bollig can be our functional toughness I’d be a happy camper. They’d score a combined 2 goals a season, but if they can tread water and prevent management from acquiring less functional toughness than they’re doing a good job. If McGratton could be dressed about 10-20 times per year in those games where guys like Jon Scott are on the ice that would be perfect.

      Bollig by the eye test looks like a significant upgrade on Westgarth to me. Not quite as good a hockey player as Bouma, but a bit tougher and can play around 10-12 minutes.

      • piscera.infada

        If Wolf, Bouma and Bollig can be our functional toughness I’d be a happy camper. They’d score a combined 2 goals a season…

        I’d also be happy, but I’m not willing to write Wolf off as a non-contributor this early. He seems to me to have some (albeit limited) upside. Obviously it all depends on how he makes the adjustment to North America, but I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility for him to actually put up some offensive numbers when he gets his chance. He showed some skill/finish in development camp.

    • everton fc

      An excellent article….good reading for anyone wanting to learn about D-zone draw tactics and why Bollig had certainly one of the highest D-zone draws (82%) in the NHL last year. Also provides some good insight into overall team strategy employed by Quenneville.

  • As far as David Wolf go, I’m hesitant to have him as an NHLer at this point, but this is without the luxury of seeing him play at any relatively high level of hockey. My sense though is he and Bollig essentially make each other redundant, and while functional toughness is a nice thing to have, if Wolf earns a roster spot at the expense of, say, Max Reinhart, I don’t think that’s particularly good roster management.

    But I’ll give both Wolf and Bollig the benefit of the doubt until we see what they can do. If they’re no more than just gritty, protect-the-kids options, scrap them both (having said that, I doubt that will be their role)

    • “Functional Toughness” by definition (if I interpret Kent correctly) is for players to possess skating and skill but also add size, toughness and tenacity which add to the team’s overall compete level.

      Just looking at the height/weight comparisons of the top 5 western conference teams that Jason Gregor on Oilernation did back in May, and then comparing the Flames:

      Ave Height & Weight
      LA 6’2″ 215lbs
      STL 6’1″ 211
      COL 6’2″ 210
      DAL 6’1.3″ 209
      SJS 6’1.5″ 205
      ANA 6’1″ 205
      CHI 6’1″ 203

      EDM 6’2″ 196

      CAL 6’0.5″ 193

      Top 9 Forwards:
      LA 6’0.5″ 208lbs
      STL 6’0″ 205
      COL 6’0″ 199
      DAL 6’1″ 202
      SJS 6’1″ 207
      ANA 6’1.3″ 208
      CHI 6’1″ 204

      CAL 6’0″ 192 Top 9 2013-14 Top 9
      CAL 6’0″ 181 Top 9 2014 under age 29

      By these stats I’m more than willing to give Wolf and Bollig the benefit of the doubt. The top team are averaging 205lbs for Forwards and are 208+lbs for D-men. Meanwhile the Flames are at 181 and 193 respectively.

      The Flames ability to compete with top Western competitors is limited the moment they step on the ice. In order for the Flames to increase their overall compete level by at least neutralizing the size/weight disadvantage, then they need to add more players like Wolf and Bollig who presumably can bring both size and skating/skill.

      Regarding McGrattan, although a locker room and coaches’ favourite, I see him riding the pine except when requiring nuclear deterrence (VAN/EDM games, top heavyweights like John Scott are playing etc)

      • More specifically, I mean guys who are tough but also aren’t complete liabilities on the ice. The Oilers have tried for years to bolt on non-functional goons to the bottom end of the roster in order to “get bigger and tougher” and all it has done is made the team worse.

        I talked about Functional Toughness in my next steps series back in May. Of note: I reference Chicago’s bottom-6 roster and deployment tactics.

        • Thanks Kent. On the “Functional Toughness” (FT) note…as a fellow armchair GM:

          – how does functional toughness fit in to your team construct?
          – how much does FT affect your decision for shaping the team? What’s your limit for small (under 6′) skilled forwards…two, three, four? Does this affect plans for Hudler, Gaudreau, Baertschi, Granlund, Klimchuk?
          – if we forecast forward current trends in team composition, what kind of team will be needed to win the cup in 5 years? If we only had 10 marbles, how many marbles should we invest in speed/skill vs size/toughness, particularly when looking at the large size of virtually all the top contenders e.g. LAK, ANA, SJS, STL, CHI, DAL, BOS

          Guess what this comes down to for the Flames is there are going to be a lot of tough choices as to who is chosen. Is Knight’s chances diminished as he’s soft compared to Ferland and others who bring more grit and toughness but less skill?

          Lots of many interesting days ahead..:)

          • Both.

            Given the large number of prospects with NHL potential, I think this year more than any other in memory the Flames have real choices to make, and can follow divergent paths depending on philosophy and team concept.

            Virtually all teams require skill as an underlying constant. However some teams like Detroit have chosen to have a higher quotient of skill in their mix to the detriment of “functional toughness”.

            The majority of current top contending teams have and continue to focus on size…look no further than LA with 2 cups in the last 3 years fielding the largest heaviest teams of any in the NHL. The Flames this year will potentially average 22 lbs lighter on Defence and 27 lbs lighter at Forward…a major difference in the Flames ability to compete!

            Other teams like Montreal, Colorado and Dallas have a high focus on speed.

            Most teams are increasingly focusing in on puck possession, regardless of their underlying team composition.

            So…it would be interesting to hear the philosophies and ratings/rankings of FlamesNation armchair GMs for each of the basic elements required to develop a cup contending team in 5 years…and how this is reflected in the choices the Flames “should” make in building the current and future roster.

          • So…it would be interesting to hear the philosophies and ratings/rankings of FlamesNation armchair GMs for each of the basic elements required to develop a cup contending team in 5 years…and how this is reflected in the choices the Flames “should” make in building the current and future roster

            Stubble Jumper: Would you be so kind as to provide us with your plan, I have over the last year outlined bits and pieces of mine but I would love to hear yours.

  • I think McGratton plays every game his health allows this season. And honestly that’s not a bad thing: for the Flames, this is the last season where everybody accepts and understands that we are a lottery pick team in a great draft year. By 2015-16, we’re all going to want to see improvement on the ice and in the standings; it’s not a coincidence that in 2015-16 McG is UFA.

    And, coached potatoe, I think 2015-16 is where we start to get past the face-punching line era. I don’t think Bollig’s just a puncher, and I believe Bollig-Bouma-Wolf could be an effective hockey line. But in 2015-16, every one of those guys is going to be in a battle just to make the team.

  • Personally I don’t see Bollig necessarily as a 4th line (only) player for the Flames. I see them spreading out a bit of the size/toughness and using him perhaps on a 3rd or even 2nd line at times.

    I don’t think you get the same kind of usefulness out of players like this if you pile them all on the same line and give them 7min a game.