It’s Friday, March 20th which means it’s the first day or spring and it’s time for another mailbag session. I’ll apologize up front if you don’t see your question answered here. Unforunately I tend to receive a lot of requests, so I have to pare things down a bit.
This week we try to explain the Flames unexpected scoring prowess, the value of hits and the organization’s depth down the middle.
@Kent_Wilson re: Flames shot selection, some have suggested that we take a higher % of shots from ‘good areas’, is it true?
— Cameron Hilton (@cameron_hilton) March 19, 2015
While that is a plausible hypothesis give Calgary’s above average SH%, there isn’t any evidence that the Flames take more shots from scoring areas than average. Just the opposite in fact. From War on Ice:
These graphics display the relative shot rates from various areas of the offensive zone for (left) and against Calgary (right) this year. Blue = less relative shots. Red = more relative shots.
As you can see, Calgary is below average at generating shots from areas of the offensive zone, be it from the slot or otherwise. On the other hand, they tend to give up more shots from scoring areas than average. Which makes their performance this season all the more amazing.
@Kent_Wilson how come the Habs don’t take near as much flak as the Flames for overachieving with their CF% and PDO? Was Gio our Price?
— Ron (@ronipedia) March 19, 2015
Likely because the Flames are grossly overachieving relative to pre-season expectations, whereas the Habs were considered to be playoff contenders at the very least. In addition, the fact that Carey Price has been excellent for a long time makes his propping up his club less noteworthy.
That said, most knowledgable Habs fans that I follow acknowledge that the club is more or less riding elite goaltending and is in deep trouble if Price regresses or gets hurt.
@Kent_Wilson why haven’t the Flames signed Backlund yet
— hunter (@HunterMurphy101) March 19, 2015
Backlund is a very tough player to accurately value and predict. His outstanding defensive capabilities are harder to measure and put a price on and his frequent injuries the last few years means a smaller body of work (and therefore more perceived risk for the decision makers).
That said, Bob Hartley has come to lean heavily on Backlund since he warmed to him last year. No centre on the Flames sees tougher circumstances and it’s clear Hartley rates Backs as his most dependable two-way forward. If Backs can finish the season strong (and healthy) my guess is the club won’t take long to offer him an extension in the off-season.
@Kent_Wilson what will center look like next year? With monahan, bennett, backlund, Stajan, granlund, jooris, Byron, colbourne, shore, etc
— Keith Harrison (@KHarrison44) March 19, 2015
The good thing about having a lot of centres is it is relatively easy to convert them to wingers. Right now I would say Paul Byron and Joe Colborne aren’t even considered pivots by the team. Josh Jooris will probably be moved permanently to the wing as well. I would image Markus Granlund will be shifted to the flank at some point as well.
That leaves us with Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, Matt Stajan, Sam Bennett, Drew Shore and maybe Bill Arnold in the mix next season. Stajan will likely stay as a placeholder on the 4th line until the day a kid convinces the Flames to bump him for good. That could come as early as next season if Shore can take a step forward.
@Kent_Wilson do you think that Johnny Gaudreau will like living in San Jose? Do you think Mike Brown will readjust to Alberta winters?
— SC (@stace_ofbase) March 19, 2015
San Jose fans dreams. Flames fans nightmares. Luckily still just the stuff of fiction.
@Kent_Wilson Flames are light on depth from the backend, if you were the GM what would you do to improve this?
— Jeff (@nhlflamesfan) March 19, 2015
This will definitely be one of Brad Treliving’s main concerns this off-season. The Flames have two options: sign a couple of decent UFA’s or pursue a trade.
Calgary will have ample cap space this summer and there might be a few UFA options worth considering, including Andrej Sekera, Cody Franson and Jeff Petry. Otherwise, Calgary could dangle a draft pick and a prospect or two during the draft to try to pick up another top-4 guy.
Right now we don’t really know who will be available on either market, so it would be foolish to be prescriptive at this point.
@Kent_Wilson Do you think a higher amount of hits correlates with less puck possession and is it a bad thing to have lots of hits?
— Lance Street (@lancestreet12) March 19, 2015
Hits are kinda like blocked shots in that they aren’t bad in isolation and you’d never tell players not to do them, but nevertheless they don’t tend to correlate to wins or shot rates. That’s because, as posited, players who are hitting a lot don’t tend to have the puck. Also, it something that is difficult to test since there is no clear definition of a “hit” in the NHL. As a result, every building counts hits differently, meaning the data is “dirty” and not terribly reliable.
Here’s a recent look at hits correlating with shots rates on the team and player level. Most of the correlations aren’t significant. There’s some suggestion that hits and shots against have a positive relationship (more of one, the more of the other), but it’s not terribly strong or conclusive.