A tale of two Deryk Engellands

When the Flames signed Deryk Engelland to a three-year, $8.75 million contract on July 1, 2014, the universal reaction seemed to be incredulousness. 

With no offence to him intended: seriously? This was a then-32-year-old who would be defined as a goon more than anything else. He doesn’t really score, he doesn’t play big minutes, and he has more penalty minutes than anything else. All that, and he got a 500% raise out of nowhere. It was bizarre.

It’s a tough cap hit to live up to, but by no means is it Engelland’s fault; if any of us were offered that amount of money, we’d sign that deal in a heartbeat, future perceptions of our value be damned. But while Engelland likely won’t escape the label of costing too much, it’s not all bad: his 2015-16 is going much better than his 2014-15.

It’s not ideal, but it’s liveable. Something changed between this season and last, and while the Flames have fallen in the standings, Engelland, at least, has been a bright spot.

Easier circumstances, less usage

There’s one way to have just about any player perform to his peak potential: have him play in circumstances meant for him. Last season, when Mark Giordano was injured, Engelland ended up playing in the top four alongside T.J. Brodie. That was not an ideal position for either player: Brodie was, at worst, a number two defenceman; while Engelland is, at best, a number five guy (and that’s a pretty generous best). Playing Engelland in such a prominent role was basically setting him up for failure.

This season, though, Engelland is playing on the bottom pairing. His ice time has dropped from 14:23 in 2014-15 to a career low 12:22 this season. His relative zone starts have gone up, too: last season, he was at -7.86%; this season, it’s a more manageable -3.25%. His possession has improved accordingly, as he’s gone from a 5v5 40.20% CF up to 45.71%.

Engelland is now being played in a role appropriate for his skill set. He’s not exactly thriving, but he’s been much improved since too much was asked of him the season before, and it’s made a very real on-ice difference. His GF60 has improved from 1.49 to 1.88; the Flames are scoring more with him on ice. His GA60 has dropped from 2.68 all the way down to 1.48; the Flames are giving up way fewer goals with him on the ice.

Just about everything about him that matters has improved. His personal scoring is down, but Engelland wasn’t signed to put up points. His main job is to keep pucks out of his own net (and be truculent, too, I suppose), and so far, this season has gone better than last.

Greater depth, better partners

When Giordano went down, the Flames had three options with which to replace him: Engelland, Raphael Diaz, or David Schlemko. Since Calgary acquired Dougie Hamilton over the off-season, any scenario such as that would not have to repeat itself; Hamilton is a capable, regular defender, and one much more suited to such a role than any of the other previous options.

This works in combination with the above section. It’s not that Brodie is a bad player to have as a partner; it’s that elevating Engelland into the top four was the problem. With more capable defencemen, though, that means better players are getting pushed down the lineup. For example, Dennis Wideman was a staple of the 2014-15 Flames’ top four; nowadays, he’s on the bottom pairing. That’s due to Hamilton providing the defence core with better depth.

Let’s compare just how drastic the change has been.

201415engowowy

Engelland had pretty terrible numbers throughout the 2014-15 season, though none were worse than when he was elevated into the top four with Brodie. Diaz actually looks to have been the best partner for him, and his play didn’t even bring Diaz down as much as it did for all of his other regular partners from that season.

201516engowowy

The sample sizes this season are smaller – Engelland has played over 200 5v5 minutes with Wideman, but only about 40-55 minutes with the others – and that does play a factor in assessing his overall improvement between seasons.

But however you slice it, there’s an improvement there. His 39.00% CF with Wideman isn’t much worse from how he performed with Ladislav Smid or Kris Russell the season before, and only noticeably trails Diaz. 

Then there are his other partners. Engelland played 55:32 with Brett Kulak, and the two excelled with one another. He was a positive possession player alongside Hamilton and Smid as well; the reasons for his improvement alongside Smid this season as opposed to last are likely a combination of less ice time (42:41 compared to 220:17) and improved zone starts (52.2% this season, as opposed to last season’s 40.3%).

Hamilton and Engelland likely won’t find themselves in a partner situation again, but there still remains some intrigue with Kulak – especially considering how their time together came when the rest of the defence was a tire fire.

Managing the bad contracts on defence

There are basically three contracts on the backend the Flames could really do without:

  • Dennis Wideman at a $5.25 million cap hit
  • Ladislav Smid at a $3.5 million cap hit
  • Deryk Engelland at a ~$2.917 cap hit

The good news is all three contracts will be off the books following 2016-17; the bad news is that’s still going to make it difficult to sign other players, particularly with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan’s new contracts coming up. The Flames want to retain Russell? That’s nice, but finding a way to fit him in under the cap may very well be impossible thanks to those three.

But of those three, Engelland’s deal may be the most manageable. For one thing, his contract is the cheapest; for another, he may be performing more optimally than the others. Smid is more in the pressbox than anywhere else, which is a lot of wasted money. Wideman had a career season in 2014-15, but his production has completely plummeted this year. He has the second highest cap hit on the entire team, and for him to be on the third pairing with that little production while costing that much is pretty much an inexcusable use of funds.

  • KACaribou

    Nice to see some positivity here to be truthful.

    Deryk’s not the most skilled guy, but he gets the puck out of the corner and out of his zone old-school.

    While he’s doing that, he’s the most punishing hitter on defence. He’s a character guy who will drop the gloves with anyone in the league to help out his team.

    There’s no analytics for that but the last time I checked hockey was still a contact sport… so far.

  • FeyWest

    At least the others are free of NMC/NTC but I think that’s what really has handcuffed Tre is Wideman’s NMC/NTC, that may be a huge reason why we never saw a trade last year involving Wideman.

    But on the Engelland front I really like him where he’s playing and I think playing with Brodie may have contributed a bit to his improved play this year. It’s like shock treatment it’s easier playing in the bottom pairing after being exposed to top line minutes and starts last year.

    • hulkingloooooob

      There’s nothing stopping Treliving from retaining some of Wideman’s salary for 1.5 years. The NMC would be a hinderance if trying to trade him to CBJ or Buffalo, but not to a contender. He needs to play for his next contract, so playing 3rd line in CGY versus top 4 on a contender is likely a consideration.

      Keep Engelland on the 3rd pair, but give him an offensive LHS to play with. Currently, the only LHS’s are Russell and Smid, neither of which I am high on. Trade both Smid and Russell (if possible) and promote some guys. Wideman may not get dealt before the TDL, but we can try to do that one in the summer.

  • hulkingloooooob

    Nice one Ari! I’ve been waiting for some Engelland love . . . and no, I NEVER thought I’d be saying that. But seriously, he’s kept it simple and played well this year. The odd gaff, but we all know everyone, even saints Gio and Brodie are capable of that. Not a bad 6D but I still say if there is any way to move one of those three contracts (as mentioned above) then you do, and at this point he might be the easiest asset to sell, though still unlikely.

  • Cfan in Vic

    The Engelland deal was a big head scratcher at the time… But in comparison to the Smid and Wideman deals (Feaster), it’s not nearly as bad. Wideman’s deal alone is such a gigantic boat-anchor, he isn’t even worth a quarter of that this season (or probably ever again).

    I’m really happy that Engs is looking decent in his roll this year. We probably wouldn’t be talking as much about his value though, if the other two deals weren’t on the books.

  • MontanaMan

    To me he looks lighter, quicker and is positioned to not get beat wide like he did last year. I think he’s been solid in the 5/6 slot and there’s several d-men I would be looking to move ahead of him.

  • SmellOfVictory

    Even though I think the Engelland contract is an atrocity and he’s an infinitely replaceable player, if he’s with a guy who can actually move the puck, he’s an acceptable 6th dman. His main issue is zero puck skills and low mobility, but he’s not a dumb or defensively irresponsible player.

  • Parallex

    There was an eerily-similar piece done on Engelland not ten days ago over on M&G, and I posted a reply to that, so I’ll point out some things about Engelland and his two seasons so far over here too.

    One thing I think we need to watch out for when comparing his two seasons is that we actually need to consider them in three distinct chunks of games: the first 56 games last season as 3rd-pairing, the last 20 games as 1st-pairing, and this season. If you take out the 20 games where he was hopelessly outmatched and misused, what you get as a comparison is as follows:

    TOI/gm: 12:25 to 12:22
    ZSO%Rel: -1.1% to -3.25%
    ZSO%: 44.8% to 47.5%
    5v5 CF%: 41.7% to 45.7%
    5v5 CF%Rel: -4.5% to -2.5%
    TOIComp: 16.7 to 16.8

    So have there been improvements? Sure, but perhaps not as profound as they seemed when last season was taken as a whole. His performances have certainly been very deployment-sensitive as well as partner-dependent. By that, I mean he got killed last year playing with Brodie in tough situations (37.5% 5v5CF), and he’s getting killed this year playing with Wideman in more sheltered situations (39% 5v5CF).

    One thing I’d like to point out is that while his ZSO%Rel has gone down, his absolute ZSO% has gone up, as the whole team’s ZSO% overall has improved. The net effect is that he’s had 30% DZFO this season, compared to 31.5% pre-Brodie last season. I’d say that’s easier circumstances, not harder.

    Simply put, even when deployed in the appropriate circumstances (i.e. soft opposition, easy zone starts, bottom-pairing), Engelland fails to assert himself without the right kind of partner. Last year, his best spell came pre-Brodie, playing with Diaz, with whom he posted a 45.6% 5v5 CF (almost on par with the team’s overall numbers), while taking 33.2% DZFO. The problem was they had a PDO of 93.8 together, resulting in a 31.6% 5v5 GF. Who knows, maybe their CF% was decent *because* opponents too often scored on their initial shots while they were on the ice?

    My view is, Engelland is a serviceable bottom-pairing guy, but only with the right partner, and so far Wideman hasn’t proven to be the right partner.

  • hulkingloooooob

    Honestly I haven’t noticed him much at all this year which is a lot better than last year, where I wanted to dig a hole and hide inside of it when I watched him play

  • hulkingloooooob

    Retaining some salary is the best way to approach moving out one or two of these guys as a buyout extends the hit into 17-18.

    Obviously moving out Smid or Wideman is the ideal although least likely possibility. Moving Engelland may be necessary just to move out a contract.

    So whats preferable – trading Engelland or buying out Smid? I suppose if we retain 2+mil on the Wideman contract a trade could be possible. So lets see here… lets say 2.25 retained on Wideman. What is the best outcome?
    Free up 3 mil and keep Smid and Wideman around
    Move Eng freeing 2.9 mil keeping Wide+Smid
    Buyout Smid keeping Wide+Eng
    Or do you try to move out two of them with buyout as the last resort? If you do that and kulak and Nakladal arent ready then you must resign/replace Russell.

  • Parallex

    Signing Russell is problematic and so is our D moving forward. We realistically have upgrades in our system that are a couple years away.

    Do you sign Russell as a top 4 dman? He is a decent enough #5 but to resign him you probably have to pay him like a top 4 on a multi year. It would be ok if it was reasonable dollar amount for a short term. Even then to resign Russell we would have to clear up space and move out one or two Dmen. Potentially this could necessitate a buyout(s) which could impact our team in the summer of 2017.

    Signing Russell probably takes at least a 3-4 year deal for top four money. This sends a message to our prospects that there is no available top 4 spot. This is not good. Paying Russell second pair cash to skate on the third pair is not good especially if it involves buyouts.

    This is problematic and it may be best to move Russell for a return and slowly replace the three bad contracts with Andersson Nakladal Kulak and eventually Kylington or Hickey. On another note it probably makes sense to move a D for a RW.