The time is almost upon us. Way back in the dark days when summer was first upon us and hockey over, the Flames went out and got the shiniest toy they could find: a 27-year-old Michael Frolik, freshly ready for his fourth NHL team.
And then we waited, because it was July, and people don’t usually play ice hockey in July.
They kind of start to in September, though, and – hey! It’s September! We finally get to unbox our Frolik and see what he can do.
Over his seven seasons to date, we know he has two main modes: defensive, and really, really defensive.
A tale of two Froliks
Frolik was a first round choice of the Florida Panthers, where he played from 2008-11. In 2011, he was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks, a team he stayed with from 2011-13. Following the conclusion of the 2013 season, complete with a Cup win, he went to the Winnipeg Jets, and stayed there from 2013-15, until he was let go to sign with Calgary.
With the Panthers, Frolik scored 45 points, then 43, and was on pace for 46 before he went to Chicago. With the Jets, Frolik scored 42 points in back-to-back seasons.
But we skipped one over there. With Chicago, when extrapolating to full 82 game seasons, Frolik would have scored 26, 20, and 18 points.
That’s a massive drop from someone who seemed guaranteed to put up at least 40 points a season both before, and after.
There are a few reasons for this. For one thing, when playing five seasons with Florida and Winnipeg, Frolik’s teams made the playoffs a grand total of one time. He was doing well enough, but the overall group he was playing for was not. Chicago, meanwhile, actually won a Cup while he was there.
With Chicago, Frolik received reduced minutes, and played behind teammates of greater quality. He wasn’t a requisite top six guy (although he had the ability): he was a depth player.
Also: zone starts
Two seasons really stand out here: the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, and the only full years Frolik played for Chicago.
Look carefully at those zone start figures, though: he was buried in Chicago. Frolik has never exactly been the beneficiary of sheltered zone starts. This past season is the only one he’s had a noticeable positive uptick when it comes to starting in the offensive zone; otherwise, he’s been held just on the edge of evens relatively, or still getting more defensive zone starts (and coming out of them a positive relative corsi player).
Frolik will be a positive relative possession player for you, unless you put him so far back in the defensive zone he really, really, really has to claw his way up to see the light of the opposition’s net.
For further perspective on just what happened to him in Chicago, here’s how Chicago used their players, from 2011-13:
Sure, others had it worse, but not many. Dave Bolland, Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell, and Marcus Kruger were the only other players to consistently be buried so deep back, and if you had to play a tougher quality of competition at the same time, you weren’t going to be a relative positive possession player.
This does highlight a key aspect of Frolik’s usefulness, though: if you need somebody to take the really tough minutes, he can do it. If you need to really, really, really shelter Johnny Gaudreau or Sam Bennett or whatever offensively gifted youngster you have, Frolik is someone who can take the collateral damage.
The only downside to this is the fact you’re doing it to your highest paid forward. If you have him start that far back, well… Yes, he can handle it, but no, he’s not going to be scoring 40 points.
Compare this to how Frolik was used in Florida:
And the picture paints a much, much different tale. Chicago used its players in much more distinctive roles, but in Florida and Winnipeg, Frolik was part of an overall crowd (and a top six player in that crowd, too – guaranteed at least 40 points a season).
So where do you put him?
Here’s how the Flames distributed their players throughout this past season:
In noticeably defensive roles, you have David Jones, Lance Bouma, Matt Stajan, and Mikael Backlund. (Surprise surprise on Backlund: a player Frolik has been compared to since the Flames signed him.) Their relative zone starts are comparable to what he experienced in Chicago, rather than in Florida and Winnipeg.
Frolik’s most common linemates in Chicago were Bryan Bickell and Dave Bolland, whom he primarily started in the neutral or defensive zones with. In a purely defensive capacity, though, Backlund is more likely to experience success than they are; give him a linemate like Frolik, and he’ll almost certainly score more points, too.
So Frolik with modest defensive zone starts and with a capable, defensively sound linemate might just be the best option for him. On a team with so many young forwards to shelter, Frolik is a guy who’s proven he can do just that – and as long as you don’t bury him too deep in the defensive zone or give him lower quality linemates, he can still score.
After all, even when Frolik got more offensive zone starts than he was used to this past season, he still only scored 42 points: not as many as he had with worse zone starts before.
You want your highest paid forward to be scoring, obviously, but he has a proven track record of being able to do that even when not sheltered. So try him out there – and the effects could ripple their way throughout the entire team, positively.