Four seasons ago, the Calgary Flames were in trouble.
They had an aging core, the majority of which had seen their best seasons already. Their key assets were depreciating in value rapidly, notably Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester. Miikka Kiprusoff had seen his best years and was readying for retirement. The bottom was about to fall out on the team’s dreams of playoff contention.
Flames management finally threw in the towel and began their rebuild. Here we are, roughly 185 games into the rebuild, and Calgary’s struggles (at times) this season have led to questions regarding the team’s progression since hitting the magical reset button.
So where are the Flames relative to where they started in the rebuild, and relative to last season’s season of wild bounces and magical comebacks and playoff games?
A LOOK BACK
The 2012-13 season was notable for many reasons. First, we had a lockout that (a) coincided with me joining the FlamesNation writing staff (sorry, guys) and (b) wiped out the 2012 portion of the hockey calendar. Second, it was the first season for Bob Hartley as Flames head coach, inheriting a veteran-laden team that had habitually under-performed versus expectations.
The 2012-13 Flames were many things. They were unlucky, with a 97.3 PDO – driven by the last gasp of Miikka Kiprusoff, with the club posting an 89.4% even-strength save percentage. They spent a ton of time in their own end, with just 44.8% offensive zone-starts. They were a tremendously mediocre possession team, with a 47.4% Corsi For, combined with playing a rather low-event, plodding style.
In short: they weren’t a very good team, and ownership was spending a lot of money on that team. For hockey reasons, economic reasons and just out of a sheer love of chaos, it made sense to blow it up.
Now that we’re into the third season of the rebuild, have they improved? Yes, but not immensely.
Corsi For Percentage:
This acts as a proxy for puck possession, comparing what percentage of the shot attempts in each game are toward which team’s net. The Flames have been a sub-50% team for awhile, even preceding the rebuild. However, they immediately dropped like a stone during the first few years of the rebuild and have recovered a bit this season. This is nice progress, and the stat dropping like a stone as the team transitioned towards untested youngsters is as expected. But they’re not “good” yet.
High-Danger Scoring Chance Percentage:
While Corsi acts, somewhat, as a proxy for how much a team has the puck, High-Danger Chances look at what they do with it. Focusing exclusively on shots immediately in front of the net – the area most likely to have chances result in goals – it can showcase offensive prowess or defensive awfulness. (Or both.) The Flames have improved a ton in this respect, likely due to moving towards younger players with high-end offensive talent such as Gaudreau, Monahan and Bennett. In short: they now get more “good” chances than their opponents.
This is arguably the only area where the Flames have progressed into being a “good” team.
Zone starts look at what percentage of face-offs are in the offensive zone. Like the other stats, this can be used to paint a picture of what zone a team plays in. Many offensive zone face-offs likely means that a team spends time there and forces whistles in that end. Many defensive zone starts likely is an indicator that a team spends a lot of time hemmed into their own end. The Flames are noticeably better in this respect, both compared to the Iginla years and compared to last season. They’re not “good” yet – that would require them to start more than half of their shifts in the offensive end – but they’re getting there.
Face-offs are important for puck possession, generally, but mostly in key situations – tremendous success at face-offs doesn’t definitively mean a team gets more goals or wins. The Flames are about as good as they were last season, and a fair bit better than they were when the rebuild began.
PDO is used as a proxy for puck luck, and has two components: even-strength save percentage and even-strength shooting percentage. Presuming talent and luck are both perfectly distributed, over an infinite number of games all teams should have PDOs around 100. They don’t, obviously, but that’s the theory behind it. The Flames have been an “unlucky” team every season except for last season, where their PDO crept just north of 100.
Even-Strength Save Percentage:
High save percentage at even-strength means a team has good goaltending (or defends well to the point where a goalie doesn’t have a ton of dangerous chances to fight off). Either way, the Flames goaltending is now as bad statistically as it was when Miikka Kiprusoff was sharing goaltending duties with Joey MacDonald.
So they have regressed there in a pretty significant area.
Even-Strength Shooting Percentage:
High shooting percentage means a team is getting off good shots, is getting to the “high percentage” areas, or are just getting the bounces. Often, many of those factors weigh in on it. As you can see, the Flames are appreciably worse than they were (a) back when Iginla was around and (b) last season. Their shooting percentage was really high last season, but it probably shouldn’t have dropped by nearly two percent either.
ARE THE FLAMES GOOD?
By these general measures, they’re better than they were before the rebuild. That’s good, as they’re making progress in a lot of important areas. High-danger scoring chances are the only percentage-based metric that they’re over 50% on, which means they’re decently good at it, but they’ve also gotten worse at save and shooting percentages at even-strength both compared to before the rebuild and last season.
In short: they’re better than they were, but they’re worse in a few key areas that detract from our ability to say that they’re a good hockey club as of yet.