*Note: this article is LONG. 10000+ words. Feel free to skip down to the conclusions, or if you don’t want to tackle it you can skip it altogether. Thanks!
This is the third article in our where we look at what we
might expect from NHL teams this coming season based on past performances. I’m
warning you know, this is a long one so you might want to bookmark the page and
come back to it when you have the time.
Click here to read about my methodology.
Previously we have examined the Canucks (linked above) and
Oilers. Today, we get to a subject some of you might find a little more interesting:
The Calgary Flames.
About bloody time! Now we’re getting to the good stuff. So, are talking
Western Conference finalists? Conference championship? Stanley Parade down the
Red Mile? Uh, yeah, I think maybe somewhere a little south of that, to
You know, Rex, I never really liked you, all twitchy-eyed and
machete-wielding. Don’t blame me for the company you keep.Touche. Let’s get started then. Agreed.
Last year I ran some basic calculations to determine what
would be a reasonable line on the 2014-2015 Calgary Flames.
I had predicted a finish somewhere between 13th
and 10th in the Western Conference with 206 goals for a 0.909 sv%
and a 2.6 goals against average. You can find the original article on the
forwards, defense and prospects using the links.
The final tally the Flames put up was 97 points, 8th
in the Western Conference, 241 goals for, a 0.913 sv% and a 2.49 goals against
They’d added 35 goals to my estimate, improved sv% by 0.04
and shaved their goals against by 0.11 on their way to a phenomenal season that
exceeded virtually everyone’s expectations.
A season for the ages. Until this year, that is! Always the
optimist. It was an incredible year and the fan base needed it.
It should be noted that some recent work by GMoney delved
into the repeatability
of some statistical categories and team sh% and team sv% are not highly
repeatable team effects, so any data on those two categories needs to be taken
with the proverbial grain of salt.
Don’t worry, Rex. We do that with everything you write. Your
kindness is what keeps me coming back.
I’m going to start by outlining the major changes from last
- Additions: Frolik and Hamilton.
- Subtractions: Diaz
That’s it? That’s it, without getting into the draft
acquisitions. The Flames chose to stay the course bringing back Karri Ramo as a
free-agent to back up Hiller with both scheduled to become free-agents this
Next we’ll look at deployment, specifically, who faced what
competition and to what effect, using Rob Vollman’s (may angels’ sing his
praises) player usage charts. I’ve added a marker to represent the space
Michael Frolik occupied on the corresponding chart for the Jets. However, and
this is significant, playing with a different team means that any data is
influenced by the performances of that team. What you can take from the chart
is where these players might have
ranked in the Flames’ system had they been on the team last season.
In the other articles I used spreadsheets to show the data,
but in this situation I think the Vollman graph is the best tool for the job.
Hartley uses zone starts heavily to shelter or bury his players and the Flames have
some stark contrasts by way of QualComp on their roster that really translate
Everybody and his dog knows the Flames were the 3rd
worst possession team in the league last year, so the chart is set to Corsi Relative
to the team to denote those better amongst the Flames in that category against
the Quality of Competition. Remember, the higher the bubble the tougher the
competition played, blue is good, orange is bad, left side means shutdown,
right side means offensive weapon.
So, about Brandon Bollig… Yeah, I’m not a fan. These guys
always seem to find a roster spot on NHL rosters so we won’t spend too much
time railing on the subject. Suffice to say, every minute he plays is one fewer
for a more effective forward.
Frolik looks like another Hudler. Could the Flames have landed two 1st
line wingers through free-agency? Frolik is a big addition for the
team. He joins Hudler in the upper right quadrant meaning he can play tough
competition without losing his shirt. He is as advertised. But he won’t score
like Hudler unless he has an out-of-body experience this season and that body
looks like Yasmine Bleeth circa 1994.
The big three look pretty dominant. Hudler and Gaudreau are the
offensive weapons gifted with great zone starts. Hartley sheltered them by
throwing Backlund, Bouma and Jones out against the tougher comp when he could,
but I expect teams will see Gaudreau coming this year and will plan for it.
Monahan is in a good place. I’m concerned about his 5v5 numbers but we’ll get
to that soon enough. He’s facing the best competition and is producing strong
possession numbers despite it.
Wait. Is that Raymond overlapping with Jooris? I don’t believe it.
Jooris was miles better last year. See! I told you this analytics stuff was
worthless. Yeah, well Raymond came as advertised, which means he moved
the puck in the right direction. That he couldn’t do anything with it beyond
that is another matter. Raymond, Granlund and Jooris are gathered there in a
cluster while Colborne looks a little worse than Setoguchi from here, something
I wouldn’t necessarily argue in favour of.
What about the young kids? Ferland has some room to grow but
he’s young and new to the league. Drew Shore is a project.
And Bennett? Patience. We’re getting there.
And the rest? Hartley owes Lance Bouma, Matt Stajan and David
Jones a bottle of whisky and a handshake.
Those three have to catch a bus and transfer twice to get to the
offensive zone from where they start.
No kidding. Why is Hartley so hard on them? They do this job so
nobody else has to. None of them will ever win a Rocket Richard trophy, but the
strategy Hartley uses means that the success of players like Gaudreau stands on
the shoulders of guys like Bouma while they’re neck-deep in quicksand.
The chart below is the same data but the vertical axis is
Quality of Teammates, meaning this data gives us a glimpse into how Hartley
perceives his roster – who he values and in what role.
Oh joy! More graphs! Does it have some arrows, and different colours
and an X and Y axis? Oh, don’t mind me if I’m boring you. I’m sure
there’s a mason-jar salad recipe on Pinterest you could read while the
Jerk. If I have to pull this blog over you are not going to be
Say it with me…Backlund is a beauty. He is that. If he ever
scores 45 points the league may finally stand up and take notice. He’s buried
next to Matt Stajan and the corpse of Brandon Bollig and he’s putting up some
Frolik is back in that same spot again. Frolik was gifted with
good linemates in Winnipeg (Wheeler and Scheifele, by my reckoning) so I expect
we’ll see Backlund-Frolik to become a thing this season. That’s good news for
Do they have enough weapons up front to win? The graph shows
that the Flames were a one-line team with a lot of help last year. They need to
get that supporting cast up to speed again this season or teams will lean on
Monahan’s line and their nights will get long fast.
What about the rest of the team? Stajan is a $3.75 million cap
hit this year and two more after. I wonder if the Flames don’t look at buying
him out next summer if they can’t trade him. He’s moved into the “replaceable”
range and that’s a lot to pay for a 4th line center when your top line
contracts are going to start coming on line.
And we have Brandon Bollig. Yes we do. I’m convinced Hartley
finds value for players like these. Recall the rumble in Vancouver a few years
back. Bollig is that kind of player and Hartley isn’t afraid to send them on
the ice, albeit in a very specifically defined role.
Okay, so I think from this we can ballpark some lines of
Monahan, Hudler, Gaudreau. Frolik, Backlund, and one of Granlund, Jooris,
Jones, Raymond or Bennett. The 3rd and 4th lines will be a flexible rotation,
likely with Stajan being an anchor at center.
Does Hartley change anything from last year? We can assume that
Hartley will continue to use Zone Starts to give his scoring forwards their
best chances to score and bury the 4th line so deep they’ll have to look up to
read the Devil’s shoe size. I’d bet money he’ll do his best to protect Sam
Bennett until the young man gets his feet under him.
The major storyline will probably be the top line and the
Monahan-Gaudreau connection as well as Sam Bennett, but pay close attention to
the development of Ferland, Shore, Granlund, Byron, and Bouma.
Finally, Bennett! Is this his Calder season? I’m not projecting
any trophies. He lost almost the entire 2014-2015 season to injury and
rehabilitation so it is a little tricky trying to ballpark his production.
Instead I looked to the recent work by fellow Oilers
blogger GMoney suggesting that the NHLE calculations are best applied to
the standard prospect rather than those taken at the top and bottom of their
draft classes (Note: if the excerpt “let’s run a multiple regression on Gpg and
Apg correlated to NHL Ppg and use the resulting model in the prediction
process” sets your heart aflutter, click the link. If not, then Here Be
Great, another number-nuts Oiler fan. He’s a smart guy who has
put in a lot of work scanning various statistical areas of the game. Don’t let
his affiliations blind you, he has some valuable insights. And he lives and
works in Calgary, so, you know, he walks amongst you. I should also note, in
several conversations I’ve had with him, against his better judgment, he feels
Bennett is as high a prospect as the Flames have had in some time and believes
that he will develop into a more dynamic player than Leon Draisaitl.
Well, this guy obviously knows his stuff. Maybe. Or there could
just be something in the water down there.
I’ll detail the point projection numbers further down.
Now for the defense
What are we seeing here? A number of things. Defensemen are
harder to break down than forwards because their job is to prevent an
occurrence, and how do you measure a non-event. They are also asked to take the
puck away and quickly give it to another teammate and, fingers crossed, not
have to repeat that process very often. Most of the best defenders are the ones
who only ever have to have the puck when it is necessary and then not for very
long stretches at a time. I’d suggest ranking them by time on ice and quality
of competition, as coaches generally rely on their most capable defenders.
Who are the best and who are the worst? We’ll start at the
bottom of the chart and work our way up.
Smid doesn’t come off quite as poorly as Bollig here, but it
doesn’t look good. A few years ago he looked like he was ready to become a 2nd
pairing shutdown guy. The Oilers traded him and since then the wheels have come
off. His career is in jeopardy right now, not just in the NHL but
professionally, due to injury. I wish him the best, but I think the Flames are
ready to move on.
Diaz and Schlemko looked like good additions but the Flames now
need to add players who can play higher in the order.
I expected more from Diaz. I did as well. He had some name
recognition coming out of Montreal, but of the two, Schlemko was the better
addition and made a bigger impression. Neither is above replacement level, in
my opinion, though, and the Flames would be well-advised to look elsewhere.
What does this say about Engelland? He faced below-average
competition, was on the ice far too often and gave up more shots on net than
anyone else on the team, no small feat for the 3rd worst possession
team in the league.
Anything to look forward to with this player? Only 600 more
sleeps until he is a free agent!
What about Hamilton? That looks like a good trade from here!
Absolutely. The Flames paid a very reasonable price (putting aside what the
Bruins did with those selections for the moment) and got a young defender who’s
had all the growing pains with another organization. He should climb the chart
this season and will likely graduate to replace Giordano on the top pairing as
the veteran captain ages.
What can we expect from him? Hamilton should slot in fairly
well, but it will be very interesting to see who he is partnered with (I’d
guess Wideman although Kent
says Giordano could be a fit) and whether he can help bolster that player’s
Boy, Brodie and Giordano can play something fierce, can’t they! Yes,
they are a very good 1st pairing. However, Brodie and Giordano need
help. They’re humming along, but relying on this duo to carry the mail every
single game isn’t a plan for success. Flames fans saw it play out with
Kiprusoff and Iginla for a decade and it ended in frustration.
That’s what Hamilton is for. To some extent, but he’s still a
young man, even if his ceiling is very high. If I were Treliving I’d have signed
Christian Ehrhoff and tried to buyout Smid at the first available opportunity
once he’s off injured reserve. I’d also move Engelland at the deadline. Hamilton-Ehrhoff
as a 2nd pairing with Wideman-Russell on the 3rd pairing
would be something.
Here’s the same defense corps with the vertical axis shifted
to Quality of Teammate, similar to the forward graph above.
Why does Quality of Teammate make a difference? If you’ve got a
weak forward line you give them some defensive backup so they don’t spend all
shift chasing the puck around their own zone. Give them two defensemen who
excel at retrieving and passing the puck so the forwards can do forward-y
Smid is sunk here. Its tragic in a way. He came over to
Edmonton from Anaheim (1st round pick 2004, 9th overall)
and was rushed into the roster to try and deflect some of the pain from the
Pronger trade. He was miscast and spent a season trying to bail the Titanic
with a teacup. He showed progression, peaking in 2011-12 but quickly fell back
and has since been done in by injury and the evolution of the game away from
his skill set. The worst season of his career was 2014-2015 and it is hard to
imagine him having a significant resurgence.
I guess Diaz is worse? Sample size. He was brought in as roster
filler. Smid is on contract for this year and next.
Did the Oilers win that trade? No, at least not yet. Brossoit
is their best goaltending prospect right now and tracking well. Horak is
overseas but I believe the Oilers retain his rights. Had the Oilers used the
cap space on an effective defender, then I’d say yes. They spent it on four
years of Andrew Ference though, and the Flames will likely be free and clear of
Smid before the Oilers are of Ference, so at this stage I’d say it was more or
less a saw-off.
So aside from Hamilton, who’s a good 2nd pairing D here?
Wideman, Schlemko, Engelland and Russell all platooned the 2nd
pairing last season and Engelland was the least successful.
Hamilton played last season with Zdeno Chara and I’ve heard
he’s pretty good so that explains why Hamilton sits so high on the chart. It remains
to be seen how Hamilton does within the Flames D corps.
This chart looks kind of funny. Yeah, it’s all or nothing. The
Flames have three top-pairing D now, two last season, and then a whole whack of
also-rans. One other thing that stands out: notice how all the defensemen’s ZSs
are at or below the 50% line on the right hand side? That’s what comes from
being a terrible possession team.
A quick scan of the rest of the teams in the league shows
that of defenders who played at least 50 games in the NHL last season,
approximately 40% got most of their zone starts in the offensive zone, this
includes players ranging from Adam Pardy to Kris Letang to Justin Schultz to
The Flames haven’t got a single one.
Why is that a bad thing? In the 2013-2014 season Wideman had a
roughly 63% offensive zone start because Hartley wanted to give him the best
possible chance to use his primary skills.
When critics say the Flames need to improve their possession
game this is one facet that illustrates that argument.
Oh we’re going to go back to the possession debates again aren’t we!
Listen, this is a serious problem that the team is going to have to fix. They
were the 7th worst team in the NHL two years ago and the 4th
worst team the year after. Last year was phenomenal, but it was precisely that,
a phenomenon. The link between a positive possession metric and long-term
success has been well-established, and Travis
Yost recently ran an article looking at teams who had outstanding seasons
despite poor possession numbers. It showed an almost ironclad trend of teams
having serious corrections the following year.
In 2012/2013 the Flames were the 7th worst
possession team in the league at 47.4CF%, according to War On Ice, and finished 25th
overall drafting 6th.
In 2013-2014, they had the 4th worst (46.3CF%)
and finished 27th overall drafting 4th.
In 2014/2015, the 3rd worst (44.5CF%) and
finished 16th overall drafting 15th.
That’s a trend that is, at the very least troubling, if not
Now, Hamilton and Frolik should help, but can they really be
expected to improve the team’s CF% by a full five or six percentage points?
So what’s next? The following chart shows the points projections
for the estimated roster.
55 pts for Hudler? That’s proof you’re just trolling us now! He’s a 1st
line winger on any team in the NHL! Hudler had the highest EVp/60 of
forwards with 10 games or more with 2.94. He faced the 5th toughest
competition, which means 2nd pairing, and got the 2nd
best teammates. Hartley sheltered him as
best he could and sent him off to battle with a clean barrel and a full clip.
Can’t ask more than that of a coach. His sh% is pretty high, traditionally, but
he had a tremendous year last year even by his own standards. Now, I haven’t
given him a “contract year” bump here so maybe he does match last year’s
production. The point is that while I’m not betting against it, I’m not betting
on it. I have Hudler scoring 55
points, more than all but two of his previous NHL seasons: last year (76pts)
and 2008-2009 (57pts). That is reasonable.
What about Monahan and Gaudreau? Are you suggesting you don’t have it
out for them, too? Those three are a line. I’m anticipating that the
phenomenal sh% they all enjoyed last year comes down a touch and that fewer
opponents are taken surprise by this line next season. Predicting adversity
isn’t a bad thing. If they score 180 pts as a line (I’ve predicted 175) then
they’ve met or exceeded expectations. That’s still a very good year for all
involved. My one concern is Monahan’s 5v5 vs 5v4 points. One-third of his total
of 62, 30.6%) were scored on the powerplay and while it is commendable to
have elite powerplay execution (Getzlaf and Perry are prime examples) in many
cases it is a very hard skill to repeat year over year and introduces a measure
of volatility to his point projections. I’d like to see improved 5v5 scoring
from him if he is going to become a true 1st line center in the
I loved watching other teams try to shut down Monahan line last year
only to have Bouma or Jooris kill them when they least expected it! The Flames had some terrific depth
support last season and it made life difficult for opponents. It may not happen
quite the same way this year, but at least it’ll keep opponents thinking about
the depth players. Bouma scored 2.04/60 at evens facing the toughest
competition and with the 13th best teammates. The Flames have a
hockey player there.
Gaudreau is third at 2.03/60 5v5 but faced the 7th
toughest competition, that’s bordering on 2nd/3rd
pairing, with the 3rd best teammates (those players being he,
Monahan and Hudler).
Johnny Hockey™! He’s not going to face the same competition
this year. Other teams are going to be gunning for him and treat him as a
legitimate offensive threat rather than just the NHL’s version of an internet
meme. I’d bet he adjusts after a short while, but I’m uncertain yet as to where
he lands. I’ve got him tied with Monahan because those two are going to be
joined at the hip at evens and on the powerplay. As goes one, so will the
Jones had 1.88/60 5v5, 2nd toughest competition
and 4th best teammates. Flames are deploying him as a 2nd
line winger and he’s hanging in there. He’s a UFA next July so if Bennett can
come in and play the wing for a season the Flames could move Jones at the
deadline to clear some cap space for extensions for Hudler, Monahan, Gaudreau
Raymond had 1.87/60 5v5, 12th toughest comp and 9th
best linemates. Disappointing results, but if the Flames can add some depth at
the top of the roster his numbers should improve. He’s proven to be a useful
utility player in the bottom six in the past.
The Flames need to buy this guy out today! I think they need to
give him some more time and see if he can come around. Raymond made a career
for himself through hard work and consistent play. Throwing him away for one
injury-plagued season isn’t the prudent thing to do. If it doesn’t get better
this year, you buy him out next summer or trade him.
Backlund scored 1.81/60 at evens facing 3rd
toughest comp and playing with the 6th best linemates. He’s pretty
squarely in the 2nd line center/shutdown role here and doing well.
The sooner Bennett arrives the better for the Flames because it eases the
burden on Backlund and gives him a chance to see daylight. He’s signed for
three more seasons.
Monahan scored 1.75/60 at evens facing 4th
toughest comp and getting the best linemates (Hudler, specifically) the team
could offer. His Qualcomp numbers are very encouraging, but he’ll need to find
a way to get more points at even strength this season. A contract extension
will come soon enough, eight years at $6.5 million would be my guess, but a
bridge deal wouldn’t surprise me.
This kid is looking like the best player taken in the 2013 draft! Well,
let’s hold off on that for now. Seth Jones is one heck of a player and Barkov
and Drouin are being brought along very gradually. McKinnon is developing
nicely and there are many others who are being developed patiently by their
respective teams. Right now, things look fantastic for the Flames, but I think
we’ll need to look again in the summer of 2018 to make a proper call on that.
Today? Monahan is a young, potential 1st line center developing into
that role and the Flames should be eternally grateful he was available at 6th
What about the rest of the kids? The Flames were loaded with young
talent last year. I’m always reluctant now when I see young prospects
of modest means come in and tear up the NHL. Call it the Oiler effect, but as a
fan and observer of the game for many years now I’ve been burned too often. The
Flames had notable young players jump out last year. I don’t know if it is
sustainable or whether they will develop further, but here’s a look at the
Granlund came in with 1.70/60 5v5 facing the 10th
toughest competition and with the 7th best linemates. He was gifted
some soft time with the best of the rest after the top six and did well enough
but will need to take on some tougher assignments this year and next otherwise
he’ll never grow beyond “replacement level”.
Shore had 1.62/60 5v5 facing the easiest competition (16th)
Hartley could get him and playing amongst the top six (5th in
QualTeam) for a spell. He likely won’t be as lucky this season so we’ll have to
keep an eye on his development.
Stajan managed 1.55/60 5v5 facing 15th toughest
comp, a huge drop from last season where he was often sent against the toughest
opposition, playing with 16th best linemates. Coaches and drill
sergeants have favourites and then they have guys they’d order to jump on a
live grenade. I hope Stajan doesn’t take it personally.
Colborne got 1.52/60 5v5 against the 11th
toughest comp with the 10th best linemates. He’s an effective 4th
line winger who gets attention because he’s big and goes to the crease.
Jooris scored 1.37/60 5v5 facing the 9th toughest
comp and playing with the 8th best linemates. 3rd line
epitomized, but he needs to score more at evens. He doesn’t PK so his 5v5
offense will need to improve if he wants to carve out a longer NHL career.
Byron came in with 1.30/60 5v5 against the 8th
toughest comp playing with the 11th best linemates. He’s a shutdown player, easily replaceable.
Ferland scored 0.91/60 5v5 facing the 15th
toughest competition, 2nd easiest compared to Shore and what one
would expect from a newly-arrived rookie, and played with the 12th
best linemates. He’ll need to take a step forward this year both in terms of
production and consistency to develop into a top nine forward. The good news is
he did well enough with the roster cast-offs and brings an element to the team
that Hartley and the Flames cherish.
Bollig came in with 0.46/60 5v5, faced the 13th
toughest competition and played with the 14th best linemates. Out of
curiosity I checked out Matheson Iacopelli, the player taken with the pick the
Flames traded for Bollig. 6’3”, 205lb RW headed to Western Michigan this season
and 0.89ppg in the USHL the last two years. The kid is a prospect, still, and
there’s nothing to suggest he’d be a Flame if the trade wasn’t done, but I’m
always curious about trades to see if the other team made hay with the assets
sent away. Oh, and Bollig is the NHL equivalent of a paperweight in a digital
In defense of Bollig, he may not have the possession numbers or the
fancy skills, but teammates love these guys and if the Sharks can dress Tim
Jackman then the Flames could do worse than Bollig. The problem is that Bollig is overvalued relative to his on-ice
contributions. I don’t know jack about what he delivers off-ice so I won’t
speak to it, but on the ice you have to make a difference somehow, someway. And
in Bollig’s case I looked all over Hell’s half-acre to see if there was
something quantifiable to show for his work and nothing came up. He gives up
too many chances, can’t play against the tougher competition, takes more
penalties than he draws, and doesn’t make the players he skates with better.
He keeps the other team’s players honest. No. There’s not a
shred of evidence to say that actually happens. The Oilers ran tough guys for
years and it didn’t do a damned thing for Ales Hemsky when he was flying down
the wing. Did Georges Laraque ever prevent Robyn Regehr from pasting Hemsky
against the boards? Brandon Bollig didn’t make anyone think twice about trying
to take off Gaudreau’s head last season. The only thing that changes a team’s
approach is if while they’re trying that you put the puck in their net. A
pissed off goalie fishing the puck out of his net while the coach is screaming
at you will get your attention more than eight and a half minutes of Brandon
Bollig on the ice ever will.
You missed a few names! We’re getting there. I wanted to cover
the usual suspects before moving on down the line.
The top line remains dominant amongst the roster with the
defense carrying the mail on complementary scoring.
The second tier of offensive forwards includes Bennett,
Frolik, Colborne and Jones. Bennett still has some runway ahead of him while
the other three are more or less at peak performance right now.
Interestingly, even though I’ve rolled back almost
everyone’s shooting %’s, Granlund,
Stajan, Raymond, Jooris and Shore are still cracking the double digits as
support players. That tells you how far last year’s numbers skewed their
averages. We should be prepared for them to fall short of even my mark. They
could still post the points provided they consistently direct more traffic to
the opposition goal, but the Flames were a terrible possession team last year
and those statistics are derived straight from shots on net.
And what if the Flames have a collection of players who, either by
skill, luck or coaching stratagem, just have a higher shooting percentage
compared to the rest of the league? Then the team will have a great
deal more success and could use any improvement in possession metrics to really
do some damage to the Western Conference. However, that is a big “if” and I’ve
yet to see anything that would convince me that this is the case. It is the
same argument used by the fans of other teams who have overachieved relative to
the underlying numbers: “maybe we’re exceptional?” The crushing answer is
almost always – “no, you are not”.
The great strength of the Flames roster is the sheer number
of complementary support players who appear able to make modest contributions
in the middle of the forward rotation and from the blueline.
Frolik, Colborne, Jones, Granlund, Stajan, Byron, Russell,
Bouma, Backlund and Bennett are all projected to score between 20 and 40
points, a wide margin I’ll grant you, but populated by so many that a down
season by one could very well be compensated for by an up season from another.
Can we please just get to the rookie Bennett already! It’s like you’re
trying to waste time out of spite. Not at all, I just think Bennett is
kind of a curious case compared to the rest of the roster. Monahan was a raw
rookie when he came in, Gaudreau to a lesser extent but he’d been watched and
hyped for several years already. Bennett is, to some extent, the most highly
anticipated prospect in quite a long time. Baertschi had people excited, and
his mid-season debut in 2011/12 certainly stoked that sentiment, but even then
he didn’t have the draft pedigree that Bennett does. And none of the others
came in to play eleven playoff games, scoring four points.
The kid is going to kill the league this year. He’s finally healthy and
is joining an already dominant NHL squad. He is healthy, that is good.
And he does have a lot of talent. And the team he is joining won’t be relying
on him solely to bring them out of the basement.
Ahem… Yes, he won’t be put in the same position Taylor Hall was
with the Oilers.
AHEM… Or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
AHEM*cough*cough*hack*… or Nail Yakupov.
Seriously! Do I have to go there? Or perhaps Connor McDavid.
But we’ve already discussed the differences in Oilers management and team
structure in this regard so we’ll move along.
I’ve pushed Bennett back to 60 games based on his junior
history where the closest he played to a full 68 game season was in 2012-2013
with 60. In his draft year he played 57 regular season games and his draft +1
only 11 regular season games. If we assume some time lost due to injury and an
occasional scratch I think 60 games in his first full NHL season is an acceptable
place to begin.
I’d have bet 70 games. Maybe, but this isn’t about gut
feelings, its reasonable objectives we can set for these players and everything
in Bennett’s playing history says don’t put money on a full season, especially
at this age.
As mentioned, his ppg projection is based on GMoney’s work
on adjusting NHLEs for elite-level prospects. Here’s
the link again for those who missed it. The gist of what GMoney argues:
NHLE averages out expectations based on large sample sizes over time, but this
throws the Mario Lemieuxs in with the Tim Jackmans, so a better method needed
to be determined to provide NHLE numbers for those exceptionally gifted prospects.
Okay, so what did this Shelbyville savant come up with?
Technically, he’s a Springfield man, remember his 403 area code. He determined
a range based on historical examples and worked out a formula that could be
applied. The article applies directly to Connor McDavid but I looked into it
and the formula can be used on a variety of high-end prospects to see the
difference between the traditional NHLE model and this hybridized approach.
Here’s an illustration of the difference between the new
formula and the old using two forward prospects drafted in the top five who
have had a history of close comparisons.
The difference between the two NHLE models is marked and is
a better reflection of the impact a top five pick could be expected to have on
the roster as a forward, at equal stages of development. The difference between
the two prospects remains quite narrow, demonstrating that in both systems the
subtleties are well-represented, but the hybridized system is likely a better
estimation of potential.
Which one is Bennett? Not saying, but I’ve got him pegged for 28
points this year and I think that’s reasonable for 60 games played. That’d make
him a 0.46 ppg player in his rookie season.
If I were Hartley I’d likely start Bennett on the wing with
Backlund and Frolik. That’s two possession-strong veterans who have shown
enough offensive instincts that they can keep up. It’s as soft a landing as he
is going to get and sets him up well for at least the first half of the season.
So, when a high-end prospect comes in with a good NHLE using this new
model, can we say “He’s so GMoney”? I’m sure he’d like that.
A word on the defense corps
Best in the league. Defense wins championships and the Flames did it
without having to break a sweat. Well, the Flames do have one of the
better defense corps’ in the league right now, but there are caution signs
How about the captain? Giordano scored 1.29/60 5v5, 4.13/60
5v4, playing 1st comp and 2nd best linemates. He’ll be
the 2nd best PP option for Hartley this coming season. The new
contract kicks in next season and he’ll be a Flame for a while yet.
He and Brodie are both potential Norris candidates. They
deserved to be in consideration last year, but that usually goes to the flashy
scorers or the tough-as-nails behemoths with a cannon shot. Brodie scored
0.66/60 5v5, 3.04/60 5v4, faced the 2nd toughest comp with the 4th best
linemates. He’s not taking anyone by surprise this year, but people will be
watching to see if he can play as well away from Giordano as with.
What about the Wideman/Russell pairing? Wideman scored 1.28/60
5v5, 4.97/60 5v4, played 3rd best competition because there was only
so long that Giordano and Brodie could be on the ice (it doesn’t show here, but
the TOI difference from Giordano and Brodie to Wideman is dramatic) and played
with the best linemates available, meaning the Hudler, Monahan, Gaudreau line. He
has two more years on his contract with a cap hit of $5.25 million, a full NMC
and an owed salary of $6 million. This trade deadline would be an ideal time to
move him with salary and cap retained. His stock could be high, defensemen are
almost always in demand at the deadline and if you retain some cap it opens up
your list of potential buyers. I’m
anticipating a drop in his sh% and if he struggles at all on the powerplay
Hamilton, Giordano and Russell will all be available to pick up the slack.
Russell managed 0.71/60 5v5, 4.19/60 5v4, played the 4th
toughest comp with the 3rd best linemates. Flames need to find a way
to push him to the 3rd pairing and they’ll be rolling. I’m
estimating a correction for him as well as teams will try to get matchups
against his defense pairing on the road.
That’s a pretty sweet group and we haven’t even discussed Hamilton.
Dougie Hamilton scored at 1.12/60 5v5 and 5.06/60 5v4 facing the 2nd toughest
comp for the Bruins and playing with the 8th best linemates. Obviously Julien
has some different deployment tactics than Hartley, but those numbers suggest
an effective 2nd pairing defender to pair with a rover like Wideman and a
brutal assassin on the powerplay.
Ready for the bad news?
I’d rather not. Too bad, we all have to hear it sometime.
Engelland scored 0.53/60 5v5, 0.00/60 5v4 (which is a good
thing), faced the 5th toughest comp and played with the 5th
best linemates. He is a 3rd pairing defender signed for two more
years at a cap hit a hair under $3 million per.
Schlemko scored at 0.20/60 5v5 and 5.75/60 5v4, faced the 7th
toughest comp and played with the 6th best linemates. He’d be my
candidate to replace Engelland on the roster if it were possible.
Diaz managed 0.20/60 5v5, 2.19/60 5v4 and faced the 8th
toughest comp with the 7th best linemates. He is no longer with the
Smid scored 0.15/60 5v5 and 0.00/60 5v4 (another good thing
as it means he and Engelland saw virtually no PP time), facing the 6th
toughest comp with the 8th best linemates. Smid’s career may be over
by the end of his current contract which runs until July 1st, 2017.
I don’t think he has any trade value but if anyone can move him for more than a
bag of pucks it’d be Brian Burke.
Meh, I’m not worried. Engelland keeps guys on their toes and Smid will
come back from injury. Engelland takes penalties and coughs up the
puck. Smid is on his second neck surgery and had a limited range of skills
before he went down to injury. He turns 30 this season and his body has a lot
of hard miles on it. He’s a warrior, but the scars are showing. He’s helped
this year by essentially playing 3rd pairing minutes.
So then what gives? You think this defense still isn’t good enough?
Given this information I would suspect that one of Hartley’s tactics will be to
encourage a stronger forecheck and emphasize speed in his forwards and a more
aggressive attack from his defenders. The goal being to try and draw penalties
from slower-footed opponents and defensemen caught facing the wrong way. With
the 5v4 production from the blueline he has to try and find ways to exploit it
as often as possible.
Last season the Flames got 18.6% of their goals from the
blueline, among the highest in the league whose average was somewhere between
15% and 16%, and on par with Winnipeg and San Jose (18.6% and 18.4%, respectively).
I don’t foresee this changing much as I’ve estimated the Flames blueliners
scoring 40 goals, or 17.9% of the estimated total.
You didn’t answer my question. I think the blueline is plenty
good, but we have to wait and see how it all comes together. So many things
went off-script last season that we have to have patience to see what Hartley
does this time around and how the players execute.
What this tells us about the defensive side of the Flames is
that they now have three 1st pairing defenders in Giordano, Brodie
and Hamilton. Wideman can be a decent to good fourth defenseman and Russell can
succeed in a 3rd pairing role. The defense today is better than it
was this time last year and the three at the top of the range all move the puck
in the right direction and are capable of facing tough competition without
losing their shirts.
This could have a knock-on effect with the forwards if they
aren’t having to come back as far into their own zone to defend all the time
and can receive the puck on the tape and in stride. We’ll wait to see how
things look once pre-season is underway and what Hartley does with deployment
A look at the goalies
I thought goalies were voodoo. Can we trust these numbers? I’m
ballparking starts here and not taking into account relief duty.
Ortio’s numbers aren’t particularly flattering, but we don’t
have a great deal of NHL data to use on him so I’m lowballing a bit.
The Flames gave up 29.2 shots per game last year, 12th
in the league. I’ve taken the same number and applied it to Hiller’s estimates
this year because I think the team will have enough confidence in him this
season to play a more aggressive style.
Ramo’s shots per game are a touch below as there often seems
to be a subtle change in a team’s psyche when the starter gets the night off
and they will deploy more defensively, cautiously.
Ortio’s shots are higher as I’m anticipating games he gets
will be scheduled losses, third game in four nights, extended road trips and
such. A tired defense and a predatory opponent could see a spike in shots allowed.
The save percentages are all based on drawing a rough median
from past work and therefore the estimated goals against per game is merely an
extrapolation of the two.
Does any of this reflect the improved blueline? No. There’s
really not much evidence to say that defenders actually impact sv%. They limit scoring
chances against, but that isn’t the same thing. If the sv% stays the same and
the Flames can cut down on the shots taken against then the goals against will
drop and they won’t have to rely on exceptional shooting percentages and a
baker’s dozen 6 on 5 late-game heroics to win.
Okay, so where does all this math get us? The points totals
listed add up to 677 pts, rounded up. If we assume that points scored break down
to being approximately 33% goals and 66% primary and secondary assists, that
gives us 223 goals scored for the Flames.
Last season I had predicted 204 goals with the team tallying
241 by season’s end. The new line falls right down the middle and reflects the
growth of Gaudreau and Monahan, the addition of Frolik and Hamilton and the
potential impact of Bennett while also rolling back on last season’s tallies
from the likes of Bouma, Jooris and others.
Not bad. You were only off by 37 goals last year or about the entire
offensive production of Lance Bouma. Thanks.
223 goals for would have put the Flames 17th in
the league last season tied with the Winnipeg Jets.
A team sv% of 0.910 would rank anywhere from 20th
to 17th overall, tied with Columbus, Tampa Bay,
Philadelphia, and would only be a drop of 0.001 from last season.
A team sh% of 8%, based on the estimates listed above, would
rank 26th, just ahead of last season’s Chicago Blackhawks (7.92%),
and represent a drop of 2.52% in team sh% from last season .
We all know the debates about regression and coming back
down to earth.
Here we go.
We are all familiar with the Flames’ extremely high team
sh%’s last year.
I mentioned the Yost article earlier. Please, read it.
And maybe the Flames are not the team everyone thinks they are. Maybe
Hartley can win without your precious advanced analytics. Let’s not get
hung up on this debate again right now, but rather accept that expecting league
average shooting percentages from a team is a logical and rational thing to do.
Hoping that they exceed is equally reasonable but it is just that, hope. Set
the mark where it is likely to be hit and celebrate successes that reach beyond
Also, a team sv% of .910 along with a team sh% of 8% would
equal a PDO of 990, a touch low but within an acceptable range of possibility.
The numbers suggest a team that will fall in upper to middle
end of the bottom half of the standings. However, let’s look at the division
itself and see if we can’t learn a little more.
Of the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings,
Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers and Arizona Coyotes only the Ducks could be
said to be guaranteed to be as strong this coming season as last.
Los Angeles and San Jose have some ground to make up on last
year while Vancouver and Edmonton are still trying to improve and build their
rosters. Arizona will likely be pulling out all the stops to secure their best
chances to draft Auston Matthews
The Flames will need to outpace Edmonton, Vancouver and San
Jose to earn a playoff berth as I expect Anaheim and Los Angeles will be the
strongest contenders from within the division.
Edmonton has the appearance, once again, to have made some
improvements this off-season but have to come from a long way’s back to make a
difference. Meanwhile, San Jose will have a new coach and a veteran team firmly
in the “one-last-kick-at-the-cat” mode.
Vancouver made the playoffs last year but have made more
roster moves this off-season, not all of them wise, and could go either way. We’ve
already looked at them and my estimate isn’t terribly flattering.
Beating Edmonton and Vancouver shouldn’t be that hard. We’ve been doing
it fairly regularly for a few years now. The Flames aren’t that same
team anymore and neither are the Canucks or Oilers.
I would suggest that the Flames could find themselves in
similar territory this spring as last, close to the playoff cut line and
playing important games into late-March, early-April. Finishing anywhere
between 10th and 6th in the West in entirely possible
depending on the outcomes of a number of teams such as Minnesota, Dallas,
Edmonton, Winnipeg, Colorado, Vancouver and San Jose.
9th in the West and missing the playoffs by fewer
than four points sounds like a reasonable bet at this time.
That’s as good as you’re going to give us, is it? Yes, and to
be honest I think that may be fairly optimistic.
So why Blue Suede Shoes, then? Elvis hit the music world like a
hurricane. The fans loved him, the establishment didn’t know what to make of
him and before long he was the best thing since sliced bread and was used in
every commercial enterprise his managers could faintly cobble together (don’t
believe me, try watching Blue Hawaii).
The Flames didn’t give a hoot what anyone thought they
should be last season and the fans had one heck of a party watching them defy
the odds all year long.
The song is about superficial things, things important to
the young and carefree and having the time of their lives in the moment without
worrying about tomorrow. It’s simple and it works and remains one of Presley’s
best known hits.
The Flames played a simple game with enthusiasm and energy
last season and they found success in spite of what everyone had told them
going in and was telling them all year. Eventually they found more and more
fans outside the traditional base because they defied the odds.
And Suspicious Minds? That’s for Kent and the rest of the avid
fan base who study the numbers behind the play. It can’t be easy cheering like
heck for a team that seems to want to flirt with disaster as often as the
Flames do. They love this team intensely, but have serious concerns about the
math behind the men and want to see it corrected .
That’s not a bad comparison, Rex. So the Canucks get Tom Petty, the
Oilers get Johnny Cash and the Flames get Elvis! The King of Rock and Roll-wait…didn’t
he die on the crapper?! Well, goodnight folks, you’ve been a wonderful
audience and don’t forget to tip your waitress!
Before I go I’ll leave you with this last Presley song that
best sums up most hockey fans’ sentiment right now. Don’t forget to check in
during the season when I’ll post updates.