How to use your brand new Michael Frolik

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.

Or August.

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

frolikcareerwoi

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:

frolikchiwoi

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:

frolikflawoi

And Winnipeg:

frolikwpgwoi

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:

cgywoi201415

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.

  • DestroDertell

    Frolik had a bad CF%Rel in his two years with Chicago because he played 28% of his ice time with Bolland.

    Away from the boat anchor, Frolik had a CF% of 55.8. The rest of the team in the same circumstances? 54.8. He had a +1.2 CF%Rel with a ZSO%Rel of -6.3 on a Bolland-free elite possession team.

    He’ll handle the tough minutes just fine with Backlund.

    • piscera.infada

      Would you put him with Backlund, or what if you played him with Gaudreau/Monahan, Hudler with Bennett, and then Byron with Backlund?

      Is that doable? Would it have a positive impact on the first line’s ability to drive possession against heavies?

      I mean, on the surface, you could then shelter Bennett/Hudler.

      I guess this comes down to a question I had awhile back. Is it ‘better’ to place all your eggs in one possession basket, or to spread them out across your line-up and hope for macro improvement?

      • SmellOfVictory

        It’s a tough call. I’d really like to see how Backlund and Frolik play together, because they could be amazing. I do, however, think it’s probably better overall to spread the wealth a little, and consider Gaudreau/Monahan/Frolik + Byron/Backlund/Jooris(?), as you discussed.

      • DestroDertell

        One way to improve possession number is by pairing possession players together. That is to say, making sure they play a lot and often together.

        Pair / CF% / CF%Ovrl / CF%Off

        Hamilton/Bergeron / 64.02 / 51.7 / 50.2

        Staal/Staal / 60.0 / 52.4 / 51.35

        Kopitar/Gaborik / 60.33 /55.3 / 54.13

        Toews/Keith / 59.5 / 53.6 / 52.86

        Tatar/Datsyuk / 60.43 / 54.6 / 52.33

        Kunitz/Crosby / 58.19 / 52.8 / 51.79

        CF% – Corsi Together

        CF%Ovrl – Overall raw Corsi of the pairs’ team

        CF%Off – Team’s Corsi when at least one of the two players is off the ice.

        Of course it’s not the only way – Jets and Stars didn’t have such pairs, for examples. But given how, together, each players played around ~500 minutes, they’re in some pretty good possession teams and all of them are pretty good possession players on their own, those 1.2% differences between the 2nd and 3rd columns are pretty significant.

      • everton fc

        I think part of the beauty with a player like Frolik is that you can do all of the above and more as circumstances dictate, thanks to his versatility.

        JMO, but at least to start, I think Hartley will be very hesitant to break up that top line.

        Raymond – Bennett – Frolik ???

        I think the only thing truly certain is that we’ll see a lot of different line combinations for probably the first half of the season, if history is any indicator.

  • mk

    I like the idea of running a Frolik/Backlund/Byron line, with the aim of dumping the hard minutes on them. This should let the team prop up the other forward lines to a fair degree.

    The big challenge up front (IMO) is what to do with Bennett and Monahan. Running Gaudreau-Monahan-Hudler keeps that great line together, but leaves Bennett with poorer options to play with (Jones, Bouma, Ferland, Poirier, etc.). The idea of a Ferland-Bennett-Poirier line (in the future) as an aggressive line that has a fair amount of scoring punch does tickle my fancy, but that is a lot of inexperience to pile together. If I had to choose, I’d take the training wheels (Hudler) off of the Gaudreau-Monahan line. Put Hudler with Ferland-Bennett, and move Poirier to play with Gaudreau-Monahan.

    Another way of looking at it is to choose pairs to create the top-9: Backlund-Frolik (for tough stuff), Monahan-Gaudreau (offense, sheltered a bit), Bennett-Hudler (for good veteran-rookie pairing), with Byron/Ferland/Poirier/Jooris/Colbourne/etc. filling in the spots via the line-blender.

    – – – – – – –

    It seems strange to say that he is our highest paid forward – but it really does signal a change from the problems the team faced 2+ years ago. Now, our top forwards are either young players (possibly stars in the making) or savy veterans that are in their primes (but not on bad contracts).

    Once the team clears away the not-as-savy veterans on meh-to-bad deals and signs the young guys to proper contracts (as they come up over the next couple years), this team will return to a more standard contract structure. Frolik will not be the top paid forward for long.

    As well, I expect the d-core structure will change too. Wideman will almost certainly disappear eventually – then the top 3 will be the lion’s share of the money on the back end, as it should be.

  • piscera.infada

    The only argument I`ve got against Byron-Backlund-Frolik is I`d like to have a right shot on the right side of that line because the other two are so good at getting the puck up the ice.

    I would like:

    Gaudreau-Monahan-Hudler
    Byron-Backlund-Jones
    Bouma-Bennett-Frolik
    Ferland-Stajan-Jooris
    Shore/Colborne (man, even Stajan and Jones and their 7.5M cap hits are looking a bit expendable right about now)

    • wot96

      I would switch Jones and Jooris in your lines. Jooris pushed possession the right way better than Jones last season, iirc, and the speed on the wings on that line would likely force some respect. Plus, Jooris is a right handed center turned winger so you can deploy the line on either face off dot in the defensive zone, depending on what you need.

      Just a thought.

      • SmellOfVictory

        I put Jones there because his size and ability to play a “big game” offsets Backlund and Byron’s lack thereof – balancing out the line.

        As far as pushing possession I don’t think there’s a big difference between Jooris and Jones. The reality is Jooris played much easier QoC and had sheltered zone starts while Jones was buried defensively. I posted this on HFboards a few days ago: In reality they’re probably more similar than not individual possession players playing in not-so-similar scenarios.

        That said, Jooris’ faceoff ability is definitely noteworthy. That’s what makes Shore such an interesting case, not only is he big, but he’s a natural center and I think he’s also a bit more naturally skilled than Jones or Jooris. If he can earn himself a roster spot and get himself up to speed, a backlund line that looks like

        Byron-Backlund-Shore

        could actually be a true second line.

        • wot96

          I don’t have any real issue with your line construction but Jones will likely be gone at the end of the season if not at the TDL while Jooris will play for the Flames longer, if they want him to. Plus Jones has a history of being a bit…brittle though maybe that is just bad luck. Playing Jooris with Backlund would allow some longer term chemistry to develop so ultimately that would still be my preference. I see your reasoning too.

          I like your true second line though.

          Man do we need to get rid of some of the less useful forwards we have.

      • everton fc

        If Ferland signs…

        I think you keep Ferland, Stajan and Jones together. They had great shifts during the playoffs, and Ferland can learn the pro game with these two crafty vets. It would be one f the best fourth lines in the league.

        Byron’s stock seems to be rising when you hear the positive comments coming from Hartley, and the fact he “fits” in a lot of different scenarios. I bet Byron gets “looks” with both Backlund and Bennett. If with the former, Jooris (or Poirier) could play on the right side, though Poirier may get another year in the AHL unless they move Jones. Byron/Bennett/Frolik might also work.

        I do like Bouma/Backlund/Jooris as a line. But what about Colborne? They are not going to move him, me thinks.

        Still a lot up in the air, and probably a lot of young guys who are going to have to be patient one more season in the “A”, unless Treliving has some training camp deals up his sleeve. One must assume a goaltender is moving. Who else?

        Phoenix seems a good destination for some of our “leftovers”! 🙂

  • SmellOfVictory

    I suspect he plays with Bennett to start, however if Poirier develops the way we hope he does this I could see him being with Bennett and Frolik moved. I would be quite happy with these lines at the end of the season: Johnny/Monny/Hudler, Ferland/Sam/Poirier, Bouma/Backs/Frolik, and Byron/Stajan/Jooris with Colborne as the 13. This would mean we have moved Jones, Bollig and Raymond on in some way or another.

  • RedMan

    What really stands out to me in all this is that the biggest unknown going into this season is 2LW. All Other positions we k ow generally who the options and likely choices are, but 2nd line LW is a major question Mark. Will one of Bouma, Ferland or Raymond take it, and if they do will they deliver?
    Or does the team pull a fast one and try stajan at 2LW? Two centers on the line, capable… way too good to be 4th line Center.
    What think you guys?

  • RedMan

    Arizona signed Keith Aulie and Corey Potter to tryouts. Because if anything’s going to dig them out of their hole, it’s more bad defensemen.

    Yup. They’re definitely in tank mode.

    • mk

      This just screams “Austin Matthews” desperation. Which is ridiculous.

      Because everyone knows that the Edmonton Oilers will get that first overall pick next year.

  • RedMan

    I think the flames should play Frolik with Bennett to start, not with Backlund. Allow his offensive side to show, shelter Bennett, and spread the possession skill around.

  • everton fc

    Interesting, Franson finally signs 2 year deal with Buffalo. Amen, now we can end any whispers of Franson to Calgary :-}
    Wonder if that is a domino to opening up the trade market for one of our veteran Dmen, cough…Smid…;cough….Wideman. Might see some activity toward the end of training camp when injuries around the league stir up some demand.

    Interesting, Gormerly got traded to Colorado for a kind of underwhelming return. Elliott could have been had on waivers couple of years ago. Does that close the book on Oli Joki trade?