I don’t understand how this team can be so bad.
That was my thought on Sunday morning, as I reflected back upon the first five games of the 2015-16 season. The Flames had added bodies over the summer, but otherwise it’s the same team as last season. Seeking some understanding, I had some coffee and dug into the individual player underlying numbers, seeking a pattern.
Now I get it, somewhat.
The Calgary Flames are under-performing, to put it kindly, because their best players are playing very poorly right now.
The Flames have played three of their first five games at the friendly confines of the Scotiabank Saddledome, giving Bob Hartley and his staff a huge amount of control over the situations, match-ups and deployments his players face. (For ease, we’re focusing just on 5-on-5 play.)
Coaches have two ways of giving players easier ice-time: offensive zone starts and deployments against lesser lights on the other team. (Generally-speaking, you can use the ice-time of the other team’s players as a proxy for how good they are; the best players usually play the most, the worst the least.) Offensive starts make it easier to generate chances, regardless of opposition, while playing against easier opposition also makes it easier to generate chances.
Here’s who’s gotten the two kinds of high ground (the six of each type, in decreasing order):
- Time On Ice: Sam Bennett, Mason Raymond, Dougie Hamilton, Dennis Wideman, Mark Giordano and Kris Russell
- Zone Starts: Jiri Hudler, Josh Jooris, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman
On the flip side, here’s who’s gotten the toughest sledding:
- Time On Ice: Lance Bouma, Markus Granlund, Josh Jooris, Brett Kulak, Deryk Engelland and David Jones
- Zone Starts: Matt Stajan, Michael Frolik, Brandon Bollig, Sam Bennett, Mason Raymond and David Jones
Based on the deployment factors, you’d expect a particular series of outcomes in terms of their possession stats.
Good Numbers: Dougie Hamilton, Mason Raymond, Mark Giordano, Kris Russell, Jiri Hudler, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Dennis Wideman
Middle-of-the-Road: Sam Bennett, Mason Raymond, Josh Jooris (and everyone not explicitly in the “good” and “bad” groups)
Bad Numbers: Lance Bouma, Markus Granlund, Brett Kulak, Deryk Engelland, David Jones, Matt Stajan, Michael Frolik, Brandon Bollig
Deployments are used, especially at home, to allow the team’s best players more ample opportunities to create chances, score goals, and win games.
You can probably guess where this is going.
Based upon all of this preamble, you probably have expectations – as we all did – regarding which players would be driving the bus for the Flames. Those expectations haven’t been met, most likely.
Players At 50% (and Up) In Corsi For: Deryk Engelland, Brett Kulak, Sam Bennett, Lance Bouma, Brandon Bollig, Josh Jooris and Markus Granlund
Players At 50% (and Up) In Scoring Chances For: Deryk Engelland, Brett Kulak, Sam Bennett, Josh Jooris, Lance Bouma and Matt Stajan
Players At 50% (and Up) In High-Danger Scoring Chances For: Brett Kulak, Deryk Engelland, Sam Bennett, Matt Stajan, David Jones and Josh Jooris
The players that who were given the most high-ground in its various deployment forms? Awful, awful numbers, among the worst in each of those three measures. It’s downright scary that the players giving Calgary the best chances to win games are their third defensive pairing and the odds and sods that are making up their fourth line. (And Sam Bennett, for what it’s worth.)
It’s only five games, but it’s a pretty disappointing start given that Calgary’s best players have been rather ordinary, leaving it to their depth guys to carry the mail.