Calgary Flames Final Expectations Update

   

Fair to say we all more or
less guessed that this is where this Flames team would end up by season’s end,
right?

It might be worth Brad
Treliving making some calls about upgrading the suspension system for the team
bus with all the media jumping on the Flames’ bandwagon as this season has
worn on.

Whether they made the
playoffs or not, one would have had to look very, very hard to find a complaint
about the way the season rolled out.

But the Flames are in and the
only Canadian teams on the outside looking in right now are the Oilers and
Leafs so I can only imagine the warm and fuzzy feelings that elicits in the
hearts of Flames fans right now.

There are questions about
repeatability given some of the underlying numbers behind the success the team
had this season (for the record, the Flames were 4th worst in the
league for scoring chances differential, 4th worst in score-adjusted
Fenwick %, and had the 4th highest PDO). There are many people
suggesting that the Flames season, by eye and by numbers, carries a distinct
resemblance to many of the recent performances of the Colorado Avalanche.
Fellow FN blogger arii wrote a piece on this comparison in March and, if you
haven’t already, I highly recommend you give it a read.

There are some details in the
standard Avs/Flames comparison that don’t necessarily jive, the Avs have had
superior goaltending behind a definitively subpar defense while the Flames have
had some good-to-great goaltending behind a very strong defense. The
relationship between defense and limiting shots on net, quality of shots on
net, and more specifically save percentage of a goalie is a tricky subject that
is being teased out by some in the blogging community as we speak. However, for
our purposes today let us just make the leap of faith that having a strong
defense can make up for less-than-world-class goaltending.

So on to specifics.

Here’s the stats update with
the original RE article for forwards, defense and goaltending, and prospects, the first follow
up here and the second here

First up we’ll look at the ppg numbers for each player, their estimates, progress and final results. (All numbers taken from nhl.com)

Flames 1 

Next we’ll examine the sh% for each player under the same situations.

Flames 2

Hudler, Monahan and Gaudreau are the standouts, far exceeding the points estimate.

Now, a look at goaltending.

Flames 3

Flames 4

Estimates were fairly close here to start, but Hiller and Ramo had better seasons than expected as well.

Interestingly, the Goals For estimates were 206 at the start of the season. By the first update the Flames were on pace for 253. The second update had the pace slow to 232 and they finished with 241. A difference of 35 goals, approximately the amount by which Hudler, Monahan and Gaudreau exceeded their individual performance estimates.

So now let’s look at a few
standouts.

Mark Giordano had a career
year cut short by injury. He’s a Norris finalist (or at least should be) and
but for injury might even have a chance to win it. I think Doughty and Karlsson
will get more love and attention from the PHWA but that comes down to markets,
time zones, and, frankly, publicity. Think what it took for Jarome Iginla to
finally be noticed.

Giordano played top-pairing
minutes against the best quality of competition alongside Brodie and both
posted some of the best numbers on the team. He’s a true top-pairing defender
by every measure in the NHL.

Sean Monahan is probably one
year away from being recognized as a bona fide 1st line center in
the NHL. He’ll start to get Getzlaf and Benn comparisons on account of his
production and size. His possession metrics are starting to move in the right
direction but he’ll need to continue to improve on that as next season he’ll
likely be called upon to help shelter Sam Bennett.

John Gaudreau has largely
dispelled any concerns about his size relative to his ability to play in the
NHL. Next season will tell us a great deal about him as teams will begin to
target he and his linemates more precisely and defensemen will study his game
to make adjustments in order to better cover him. My advice to them would be to
forget about trying to hit and injure the diminutive player but instead focus
on maintaining precise gap control and taking away his time and space to make
plays. Containment is a far wiser policy with high-skill players than trying to
lay them out with big hits. They’ve often seen it all before and wouldn’t have
survived as long as they have without developing some spider-sense when someone
is coming.

Gaudreau and Hudler were
given the most favourable zone starts on the team outside of the brief
appearances from Corban Knight and Corey Potter. Gaudreau performed well but it
will remain to be seen if Hartley can continue that kind of sheltered
deployment next season, or if he even needs to.

Jonas Hiller had an excellent
year and next season offers at least the opportunity for the Flames to execute
a succession plan with he, Ortio and Gillies in between the NHL and AHL. I would
suggest that he and Radim Vrbata were two of the most astute free-agent
signings in the Western Conference last off-season.

TJ Brodie and Jiri Hudler are
who we thought they were. No surprises to those who knew them going into the
season. Hudler showed a greater degree of offensive leadership than in past
seasons and Brodie was offered an opportunity to demonstrate that he is capable
of playing at a high level without Giordano. Most fans and followers of the
team knew this, but to those who didn’t, they now have evidence.

I could write another 5000
words about teams that had a precipitous drop in the standings for a year only to
rebound the following season and what history can show us about such teams.
Typically they have veteran cores that suffer a rash of injuries or
catastrophic performance aberrations and then revert to career averages the
following season. This was not the case for the Flames so comparisons to the
Flyers in 2007 to 2008 or the Canadiens in 2012 to 2013 are not necessarily
appropriate. It remains to be seen whether the Flames continue to find success
next season or fall into a peaks-and-valleys performance rotation similar to,
there’s that team again, the Colorado Avalanche.

So is this repeatable? If I
knew I’d be placing calls to Vegas right now. History says that it is unlikely,
but history is as much a study about the rules as it is the exceptions.

We can look to a few
particular items as a clue because they can be scanned easily both back in time
and across the league contemporaneously. Shooting percentage is one such
category that has good tracking value as it is fairly closely associated with
success and is a good measure to delineate the difference between good players
having career years and the elite players who can sustain it over long
stretches.

According to
SportingCharts.com, the average shooting percentage for forwards from 2005 to
2014 was 10.82% using 44,523 goals scored on 411,576 shots on goal. Defensive
sh% was 5.23% using 7,360 goals on 145,486 shots on goal. 

The Flames’ had six players
exceed their career sh% this season, and had twelve players post greater than
average shooting percentages than the established league average overall.

There is an aspect of this
argument that is in danger of becoming circular in that good teams have good
players who, naturally, one would expect to have higher than average shooting
percentages as their ability to post points is what makes them good players and
drives success. This is where we weigh that shooting percentage against their
historical record for context and the concern over repeatability begins to
enter the conversation.

Now, balance that against the
prospect of development and we can start to parse the difference. Players past
a certain age aren’t likely to show significant, sustainable improvement in
their production year over year. Take the top line as an example. Jiri Hudler
had a career year by many standards. Repeating that feat isn’t impossible but
it must be considered that it could represent a high-water mark that cannot be
expected without exception next season. Sean Monahan has posted two excellent
campaigns in back-to-back seasons now, maintaining a high sh% and solid
production and is still very young, leaving room for improvement and continued
development. As such it is reasonable to expect that he will continue to
improve gradually and in time will emerge as a bona fide 1st line
center. We didn’t know what to expect from John Gaudreau in statistical terms
and so what he has posted this season will be compiled along with the results
from the next two or three seasons to establish his baseline abilities and to
try and discern a development trend for him as a player.

All three players had
phenomenal years and each one of their results has to be placed within a
separate context specific to the player’s circumstances.

Repeatability? It will depend
a great deal upon the depth the Flames can add over the off-season. The Flames
had tremendous offensive support this season from their defense and history
suggests that this can spike one year and regress another, so adding some
qualified secondary and tertiary scoring forwards would be a wise move.
Alternatively, adding depth to the 3rd pairing of the defense could
help to continue the production from the Flames current depth contributors like
Granlund and Bouma. A defenseman who can collect the puck and move it to an
attacking forward quickly and effectively is a key component to success in the
NHL today and has a knock-on effect for the rest of the roster.

If I had my choice, that’s
where I’d spend the Flames’ cap space this off-season, be it by free-agency or
trade.

Why this song?

It’s jazz. It comes from blues
and folk, a little more urban, borrows from the old standards but takes them
apart, lays out the pieces on the floor and puts them back together in a new
order with a little improvising to suit.

It’s jazz. A close-knit group
whose whole is better than the sum of their parts and everybody looks like
they’re going they’re own way but it all comes together. There’s the rusty old
dude on bass who makes things swing, some young bright-eyed kid on trombone who
doesn’t know the world doesn’t owe him a dime but can play like God put him
here for nothing else, the jaded seen-it-all on piano who can hide in the
rushes for stretches and then come out with a few notes to remind you just how
incredible he is, the quiet one on guitar who keeps up all the live long day but
sets the tone and holds the tempo and the voice at the microphone that can
bring everything together.

Too crazy for you?

These Flames were a mixed up,
jumbled collection and nobody really knew what to expect. Everyone saw good
pieces but couldn’t guess how they’d all go together. But when the music
started things clicked and kept on. They had some rough patches but mostly they
just moved in time and made do with what they had. They were down almost every
night and still won more than they lost. Underdogs even when they were on top.

That’s jazz.

It was so hard to pick one
song and one artist to feature as a headliner. I went with Nina Simone because
it just felt right. Chet Baker was in the mix. As was Duke Ellington, JohnColtrane, Billie Holiday, Charles Mingus, Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Williams, Lena Horne and so many others.

That being said, one of the
best things about preparing this article was setting up my turntable, bringing
out some old albums and sitting down to listen. Most of the records belonged to
my grandfather so it seems fitting that we end with one of his favourites.

 

I hope you enjoyed the series
and thank you for reading.

  • WildfireOne

    “However, for our purposes today let us just make the leap of faith that having a strong defense can make up for less-than-world-class goaltending.”

    RexLibris, nice read overall. But it’s not much of a leap — How on earth the Red Wings won the Cup or were in contention for it with Chris Osbad in net can be mostly attributed to the strength of the D in front of him. Can we say ‘Nick Lidstrom’?

    • RexLibris

      But it’s not much of a leap

      Wasn’t really meant to be. I was being facetious.

      Just about every Oiler fan knows what a good D can do for a team, and what a bad D can do to a team.

      By the same token, ask Lance Bouma what it feels like to get a pass on the tape in flight with time and space.

  • Derzie

    Count me in on jazz, vinyl and Flames references. In that vein, Hartley is coming across as a modern Count Basie. Pulling together a rag tag bunch of phenoms and pluggers and making them swing together, hard. I was going to say Duke Ellington but his collar is much too white for a Flames reference.

    • RexLibris

      Thanks.

      I’ve found that the more I learn of the advanced analytics the more it makes sense and actually coincides with many of the things I’d always more or less believed of the sport itself.

      ie: It is better to have the puck than to not.

      Passing is an underrated skill.

      Good goaltending covers a multitude of sins but isn’t necessarily sustainable.

      Smart players are good. Smart players with skill are deadly.

      There is a reason the NHL has tracked shots on goal for so long, in addition to goals and assists. It is because the number matters. Corsi and Fenwick are just slightly more refined versions of shots on goal. And the entire premise is more or less an derivative of Gretzky’s old phrase that you miss on 100% of the shots you don’t take.

      There’s nothing scary or magical about the numbers.

      Compare it to the “debate” over metric v imperial. You’re still talking about the same distance or weight or whatever. Saying a team is losing the corsi battle is, at its core, pretty much the same as saying that a team was badly outshot. And shooting rates are so closely tied to possessing the puck that it stands in basically as a proxy.

      So, logically, getting outshot by the Corsi measure, which is just taking into account shots that missed the net and were blocked, is functionally the same thing as saying that the team spent most of the night chasing the puck.

      The same old phrases and concepts come back in, but are verifiable and to a greater extent than before.

        • RexLibris

          Thanks for the kind words.

          What are you going to do? It’s playoffs, the Flames are fighting the Canucks and the kids are showing well.

          I put it out on twitter as well, but there’s so much happening in FlamesLand right now I can’t blame anyone for looking ahead rather than behind.