A little while back, Kent wrote about Troy Brouwer. More specifically, he wrote about the many reasons why a bounce-back year shouldn’t be expected from the veteran Calgary Flames forward. His reasoning got my curiosity going: if Brouwer isn’t expected to have a bounce-back year because of a few specific reasons, could any Flames be due for a bounce-back for those same reasons?
The reasons players struggle
As Kent outlined, there are five basic reasons why players underperform:
- Poor usage
- Tied to boat anchors
- Bad on-ice percentages
- Bad personal shooting percentages
Brouwer’s bad year wasn’t tied to any of these five factors. But what players didn’t perform well last season and seemed to have their poor performance tied to one (or more) of these factors?
Sam Bennett had a weird year in 2016-17. He played primarily middle six minutes, but was basically shelved on the third line as he committed to becoming a full-time center. He wasn’t great at it, and his lack of offensive production in that role (for reasons we’ll get into in a bit) wasn’t propped up with a ton of power-play time.
Bennett’s even strength usage made sense given his role, but he was a distant seventh among forwards in PP ice time – behind Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Troy Brouwer, Kris Versteeg, Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk. If you’re trying to keep your young center’s confidence up as he struggles to learn the ins and outs of being a full-time center, it doesn’t make much sense to not give him a ton of PP time.
Tied to boat anchors
For the sake of argument, let’s presume that Brouwer, Lance Bouma, Deryk Engelland and Dennis Wideman are the team’s primary boat anchors from last season. Which players spent the most time with them? Three players spent over 200 even strength minutes playing with three of the four boat anchors:
- Bennett spent over 200 minutes each with Brouwer (376:45), Engelland (350:55) and Wideman (230:20)
- Brodie spent over 200 minutes each with Brouwer (338:55), Bouma (226:22) and Wideman (655:45)
- Versteeg spent over 200 minutes each with Brouwer (431:27), Engelland (275:25) and Wideman (200:04)
Brodie played more with Wideman than with anybody else. Versteeg played more with Brouwer than with anybody else. Depending on what happens with free agency this summer, Versteeg may once again be with Brouwer (but Brodie will definitely be far away from Wideman this year).
Bad on-ice percentages
Bad on-ice percentages manifest themselves in two ways: the puck won’t stop going into your own net or it won’t go into the other team’s net. A couple of Flames got nailed by both of those impacts in a big way last season: Brodie and Bennett.
Among Flames regulars, Bennett had the lowest on-ice shooting percentage (6.28%) and the lowest on-ice save percentage (90.53%). Brodie’s bad percentages were very close to Bennett’s: a 6.71 shooting percentage and a 90.95 save percentage. When Bennett and Brodie were on the ice, the Flames couldn’t score and couldn’t keep the puck out of their net.
Bad personal percentages
Bennett had a bad shooting percentage compared to his prior full NHL season, with 10.7% of his shots going in compared to 13.2% the season prior. His percentage definitely dipped, but it’s hard to say whether it was due to situational issues or swapping from the wing to center, and there are the usual sample size questions given we’re comparing his only two full seasons.
Sum it up
Bennett, Brodie and to a lesser extent Versteeg seem like decent candidates for bounce-back seasons in 2017-18. Bennett had to drag around boat anchors, never got PP time and had both bad personal and on-ice percentages. Brodie had to drag around boat anchors and had bad on-ice percentages. Versteeg had to drag around boat anchors.
So long as these guys can get some significant ice time away from Brouwer, they should be good bets to bounce back in 2017-18.