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Photo Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel / USA TODAY Sports

The Flames are a mirror image of the 2016-17 Nashville Predators

For months now, myself and an ever growing contingent of Tweeps have noticed damning similarities between this year’s Calgary Flames and last year’s Stanley Cup runner up Nashville Predators.

For starters, both teams started their summers by making a blockbuster move for a defenceman, resulting in their D-corp earning “best defence in the NHL” compliments from fans and pundits alike. Am I comparing Travis Hamonic to P.K. Subban? No. But both deals involving the two were blockbuster in nature. They also went into the season with a starting goaltender well into their 30s.

Then, both teams made cameos in preseason Cup predictions, and featured prominently as likely division leaders (everywhere except the Edmonton Journal, of course).

Usually, that’s where similarities between teams like this end. The regular season starts and off they go, forging a new, divergent path for themselves.

Not so fast.

After 65 games, the 2017-18 Calgary Flames were 32-24-9. The 2016-17 Nasvhille Predators, after 65 games, were 32-24-9. Three games later, their records diverge a little – 33-24-11 for the Predators while the Flames sit at 33-25-10 – but both teams had lost four consecutive games going into game 68, and both teams won said game.

The fortunes for the Predators changed after that, winning six of their following seven and climbing firmly into a playoff spot as a result. They would go 8-5-1 in their final 14 games to finish the season with 94 points and secure the final playoff spot (losing the tiebreak to the Flames who took the final playoff spot and got shellacked by Anaheim).

It’s up to the Flames to continue the uncanny similarities and do the same – if not a smidge better – and grab the last playoff spot in the West.

Underlying similarities

The uncanny similarities are not simply restricted to their record – which alone would be an unlikely, but possible coincidence. When comparing the finer details of the 2017-18 Calgary Flames to those of the 2016-17 Nashville Predators, they practically look like carbon copies.

Flames 5v5 NHL Rank Predators 5v5 NHL Rank
Goals For 152 (82g adjusted) 15th 160 10th
Goals Against 148 (82g adjusted) 12th 142 11th
Goal Differential +4 (82g adjusted) 16th +18 9th
Goals For % 50.69 16th 52.98 9th
Corsi For % 52.93 4th 51.36 5th
Scoring Chances For % 53.18 4th 50.75 14th
Scoring Chance SH% 7.09 20th 7.74 9th
High Danger CF% 55.03 2nd 51.91 9th
Shot Percentage 7.23 21st 7.85 13th
Save Percentage 92.51 14th 92.65 9th
PDO 99.7 16th 100.5 13th

The league relative comparisons are incredibly similar. Both teams controlled play extremely well, although the Flames were more proficient at out-chancing their opponents, especially in the high danger category, and both teams received above average goaltending.

A comparison of special teams is where things get wild.

Flames NHL Rank Predators NHL Rank
Power Play % 18.1 24th 18.9 16th
Scoring Chances 490 (82g adjusted) 1st 359 20th
HD Corsi For 210 (82g adjusted) 2nd 125 24th
Scoring Chance SH% 9.83 16th 11.42 9th
Shooting Percentage 11.80 19th 13.61 11th
Penalty Kill % 80.9 15th 80.9 15th
Scoring Chances Against 463 (82g adjusted) 20th 379 20th
High Danger CA 184.5 29th 119 2/3rd  
Save Percentage 87.74 14th 87.47 14th  

Identical penalty kill results and near-identical power play numbers? Unbelievable.

A deeper dive reveals the Flames have perhaps been lucky to have their PK where it is, with good goaltending keeping out league-worst scoring chance numbers, while the power play is very unlucky to be ranked 24th league-wide when they generate better than anyone. The Predators are the opposite, with fortunate shooting on the PP and excellent PK suppression.

Nonetheless, the results are once again uncanny.

Circling back to the even strength results, the biggest, starkest differences are where the teams ranked in conversion categories. The Predators rank better in goal differential, goals for percentage, shooting percentage and scoring chance shooting percentage. That’s because we are comparing the current Calgary Flames to the year-end Predators. The Preds turned up the heat, and ran into the playoffs on the back of their good play finally paying off into results. They got better shooting percentages down the stretch, and were all around more fortunate, upping their PDO to above 100.

That’s an area the Calgary Flames cannot control. Lady Luck has largely frowned upon the Flames this season, as she did the Predators for most of last season before readjusting her attitude. The Flames have been less than the sum of their parts, never seeming able to put it all together at once, riding the fits and starts of random lines, pairings and special teams. The only constant until recently was their goaltending, which too has run cold with the injury to Mike Smith.

However, if there is one law in the universe, it is the Law of Regression. Things will always regress to mean – positively or negatively. The Flames are due for a positive regression; the only question is, when will it happen? It could very well be beginning, given they got a couple weak goals against the Sabres, and if so, they have a good shot at riding it into a playoff spot. It could very well also wait until next season.

Like the Predators of last season, the Flames don’t have robust forward depth, and get most of their scoring from their top line. Unlike the Predators of last season, the Flames’ defence corps has not lived up to preseason expectations. The struggles of T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic at times has hampered this team tremendously. They seem to be potentially turning a corner of late, but we’ve said that before.

The Flames and Preds share other fun fact similarities: a starting goalie at or over the age of 34, a struggling 2014 draft pick trying to find their way (Sam Bennett/Kevin Fiala), all the way down to a Gaudreau (Johnny/Frederick)! Hockey is chock full of similarities and comparables, but few seem to come as indistinguishable as this.

There is no doubt the Calgary Flames of this season and the Nashville Predators of last share abundant similarities – from roster construction to results – but there still remains one significant trait of the Predators that the Flames have yet to parallel: good fortune. Here’s how the final 14 games for the Predators played out last season.

Predators 5v5
Corsi For % 52.42
Goals For % 56.86
Scoring Chances For % 51.13
HD Scoring Chances For % 46.98
Shooting Percentage 8.33
Save Percentage 93.35
PDO 101.7

They continued to be a dominant possession team – with a random blip in HDSC% – but things actually converted for them. They owned the Goals For at even strength at a monster 56.86% rate. They shot nearly a percent better and got a percent better goaltending: a +2 uptick in PDO. At this of year, unquestionably huge. Their PP continued to struggle along at 11%, their PK upticked five points to 85 over that stretch. It is, without question, that the Nashville Predators befell a run of good fortune down the stretch in 2016-17.

The processes of the Predators down the stretch won’t be difficult for the Flames to emulate – they’ve been doing things right all year – but the results aren’t in their control. We’ve learned that this year, more than any other.

The Flames have shared an awful lot of traits with the Predators of last season, but luck down the stretch will be the one trait that determines whether the Scotiabank Saddledome will host playoff hockey this spring.

    • McRib

      ““ Solution” is simple. Score on more shots which is mix of skill and luck”

      That’s the thing though we have a roster made up of a ton of low percentage shooters who aren’t that gifted offensively. We have a lot of shots because our coaching staff preaches just taking bad shots, but we don’t have any pure finishers (outside of Monahan, Hamilton and sometimes Gio, Ferland. Gaudreau is more of a setup man as well).

      • McRib

        The fact that we can’t score more than two goals against Ottawa’s backup goaltender should really tell you something. We make goaltenders look great because we have a team filled with players who miss the net in key situations or have their shots blocked because they delay too long. 40 shots right at a goalies chest or pads isn’t the same as 30 strategically placed shots.

        • Stu Cazz

          Agreed McRib….been saying it all season Flames lack ‘pure finishers’. BT was asked during preseason what keeps him awake at night his answer was goal scoring. It is still an issue and it’s on him to address it during the offseason. Flames defensive depth is well documented so a trade(s) that will bring in skilled forward(s) needs to happen.

        • Jumping Jack Flash

          I would venture that the Flames have played in the most games where the opposing goalie has been the first star…our lack of finish has been instrumental in making average goalies look good.

          Take the Ottawa game for example, Bennett’s goal was a greasy hard working goal but it was one of our least dangerous opportunity. Ferland’s cut across the crease missing an open side of the net, Johnny’s break away, and Backlund’s deke and shot while in alone on the keeper were far more dangerous. Janko, Sam, and Johnny have poor breakaway records which could have finished games if they could have scored.

          It is one thing to struggle against elite keepers like Dubnyk, Bishop, and Lunquist but teams start back ups against the Flames who make them look live Vezina candidates. I have watched Junior clips of Johnny and he was money on breakaways, often times roofing a backhand or wrist shot but we don’t see that often at this level.

  • canadian1967

    Why does the 3rd chart which has only 2 columns, have such wide formatting that we need to constantly move it sideways to see what is what?
    And what is the deal with constantly being re-directed to 3rd party websites?
    Are you using our complaints to generate comments?

    • BendingCorners

      The advertising could be a result of FN’s contract with the hosting service company. Free hosting but mandatory advertising with the service company collecting the revenue.
      Even if FN self-hosts on their own server they need revenue to pay the bills. They would have some control over that but popups would still be an unavoidable feature – forced clicks generate revenue.
      Pay wall or popup – every pays somehow.

    • Cfan in Van

      I only view on desk-top and laptop. When it’s lap top, I get mysterious audio-only adds that pop out of nowhere. Sometimes they’re 2 seconds long, sometimes they continue.

  • McRib

    Our goal differential is not the same in the slightest…. Nashville was 9th we’re 16th. Which is exactly what is wrong with this team, our lack of scoring depth is killing us. If we had more offensively gifted players on the bottom of the roster I do think we could be a contender as our top half of the roster is that good, but we don’t. It’s honestly as easy as benching Stone for Andersson and Troy Brouwer for Spencer Foo or Andrew Mangiapane, but it appears Treliving & Co want to wait until this season is lost next summer before doing those things.

    • McRib

      Spencer Foo has 10 Points in his last 8GP and shoots Right. He’s exactly what the Bennett-Jankowksi line needs right now, a shooter. Nothing against Hathaway, but he isn’t anything other than a fourth line checker and is holding those two back offensively. Anytime Bennett-Jankowski have a shift with a Gaudreau, Ferland they produce.

  • Meister Jagr

    The corsi coach y’all wanted is not the motivator coach like Hartley/laviolet. Now what doom and gloomers?? In the immortal words of mr Rhett…corsi smorsi!!

  • Honkydonk

    Our d failed to jump into the play at all this whole season and now they miraculously jump into the play? What gives?

    Move Chucky to first line RW and Ferland to second line RW then move Bennet to second line RW and Frolik 3rd lime LW and watch what happens to scoring

  • Cheeky

    So due to some analytics, we could become last year’s Nashville…?. Big difference between teams is coaching. Their defense is better and they play a defensive team system and work hard. We on the other hand don’t know what the system is and our forwards should be producing better than they do. If there is a team I would compare Calgary to it’s Philly. Not in the stats but in the inexperienced coach allowing mediocre results…

    • Christian Roatis

      So, the comprehensive comparison I provided, with a host of researched facts that show the two teams have performed very similarly, is invalid in your opinion.

      But Philly also having a young coach makes them a good comparable?

      Damn, shouldn’t have wasted my time researching this piece should’ve just sorted NHL coaches by age and called it a day!

      • Christian Roatis

        Dave Hakstol and Jon Cooper are essentially the same age, btw.

        While I agree that NSH has far superior coaching, completely discounting the comparison because of advanced stats (which are facts) in favour of a random coaching example, is in my humble opinion, ludicrous. The Flames and Flyers are also constructed completely differently.

        • Bring back Darryl Sutter

          Christian thank you for doing the research . I think the way Calgary is constructed is alot similar to Nashville than Philly. It is a good measuring stick of where we need to go as a organization!

          • Jumping Jack Flash

            The old GD stat holds a lot of weight in determining teams making the playoffs. I don’t remember if Nashville was on the right side of the ledger last year but if Calgary isn’t by the end of the year I doubt they get in. The addition of Versteeg is going to kickstart the PP.

        • SydScout

          Hoping for a reply as you seem to be good at answering follow up questions to your articles. This one has been bugging me for a while and I don’t know where to go to research the data myself.

          If you have a F shooting over his career at 12%. You also have a D shooting at 4% career. The D takes three shots, the F one. That’s four corsi events but they aren’t made equal. Yet we think of corsi as predictive over the long term. The real question (maybe one for Skylardog given his ‘fire GG’ argument / articles) – does the Gulutzan system reward low shots the same as high? In other words, is he preaching a simplistic game of just ‘get it on net, regardless of the quality of shot’?

          I’m guessing the way to measure his system would be to nuance corsi to adjust for players SH% within and outside of GG’s system, as well as look at his team’s SH% relative to an aggregated estimate of where the team ‘should’ be using their individual SH%.

          Note: I don’t really know hockey all that well so I could be completely out to lunch. Just love it, and the Flames (of course)

          • Skylardog

            Already have the article close to ready to go on offense and who is shooting. Of the “New” corsi events this season, 54% are by defensemen that shoot at 4% while the forwards shoot at 9.5%. Shooting by forwards was down last season compared to the last Hartley year, but has rebounded this season and at last check we had 11 more goals 5v5 by forwards.

            Shooting percentage WILL NOT regress to the centre when the defensemen are the ones increasing percentage of shots they take compared to the forwards. This is not unique to the Flames. League wide all defensemen shoot at about half the percentage of the forwards.

          • Christian Roatis

            Good question. I use corsi as a baramoter of sorts for “controlling the play”. Shots aren’t made the same, but if a corsi event occurs, it’s usually taking place in the offensive zone, meaning that team had possession of the puck prior.

            For seeing who actually creates dangerous chances, I use scoring chance and high danger corsi data, because those usually will be stat eliminates the noise. To your question, the Flames are one of the best teams at creating scoring chances and high danger corsi, so I suppose GG’s system is working from that respect. Their conversion on said chances is horrible though. I chalk it up to bad luck moreso than coaching.

            My issues with GG relate to player usage, not systems. Brouwer still being on the power play boils my spinal fluid.

            As for where to find these stats, naturalstattrick.com is my go-to. You’ll find the Flames are among the league leaders in each and every generation category, and below average in conversion categories. Story of the season!

          • YWC

            I’m with Christian. Anyone blaming GGs system for our current standing needs to look at the number. As for player usage, that’s a different question. Though I think GG is getting more right than wrong these days I think. You know he is also learning as he goes.

            But one thing I would like more seeing is bit more dynamism. Especially, I like seeing Dmen having more creativity playing offence, which I see bit more these days. But who am I to judge. I’m just an everyday fan never reached professional sports.

          • FL?MES

            @YWC

            I think a big thorn in the side of those opposed to GG has to do with how slow he can be change things that are obviously not working. I realize that some things take time but when it gets to a point of beating ones head against a wall, changes should have been made well before getting to that point.

            I always played for coaches who could adapt and change on the fly, usually with great results. Herein lies my frustration this season

          • Skylardog

            What is hidden in the Stats is that this team is giving up Corsi, Fenwick, and shots against/60 worse than what the Flames did under Hartley. There is NO Way ON EARTH, that this team should be worse than the Hartley teams in overall defensive play.

            Also keep in mind that CF, FF, and SF are the worst predictor of team success of all the stats commonly used to determine success.

            How bad is CF in predicting success? Of the top 6 teams in CF/60 at all strengths, Only San Jose, in 5th, is in a playoff spot. In order, Chicago (1st), Carolina, Calgary, Edmonton, and Montreal (6th) are all out right now and all 5 are unlikely to make the playoffs based on their current standings and games played.

            Only 1 of the top 5 in scoring chances per 60 is in a playoff spot, and only 1 of the top 6 in high danger chances for per 60 is in a playoff spot.

            Corsi is a tool that can tell you what is happening on the ice but it is useless at determining team success.

            In the case of the Flames, the increase in offense has been driven by defensemen, and the team has suffered immensely in their own end of the ice as a result.

            The effects of defensemen pushing forward is best illustrated in the 5 games played between February 13th and February 21st after Smith got injured. Hamilton led the team in goals with 5 and in points at 7. He has been hailed as being the best player on the ice. Offensively, that is true. He was also -6 over that period, only Gaudreau was worse. 5v5 he is the worst defenseman with a GA/60 rate of 5.08 over that period. The Flames went 1-4 in that stretch.

      • freethe flames

        Thanks for the work but it made me think of the mirrors in the Fun House; the images look the same but the reflection is frequently a little off kilter.

      • Cheeky

        Don’t get so defensive Christian, good article but saying Nash and Cgy are identical is stretching it. If we pull off what they did last yr I will eat my words but all that is similar is stats. Last yr you knew that Nash could push deep, they were built for it, they had speed and coaching that adapted, etc. Us, no chance we push deep if we make it, analytics be damned. I get the article, I don’t agree with trying to hold onto hope that maybe we can duplicate. My reference to Philly is that on paper they have a good team that underachieves, and many of their fans point that to Hakstol. No mention of ages by the way…

  • WildfireOne

    Wasn’t there an article here on this site, sometime this season that stated that it was not Corsi, but goal differential that had predictive value for a team’s success?

    Like someone already posted, that’s where there’s a big divergence between this year’s Flames and last year’s Preds. So no, I’m not planning on seeing Flames hockey past April.

    • Bring back Darryl Sutter

      Goal differential means nothing. You could win four games by one goal then lose one game by five goals and have a 4 and 1 record and be a minus 1 goal differential. The record at the end of the year is more important.

      • Bring back Darryl Sutter

        Why are the kings a plus 29 and have one more point in the standings then we do. Two words Johnathan Quick. They have allowed only 166 goals against. Goal differential is overrated.

  • Al Rain

    The other day I was thinking about an old girlfriend who I hadn’t seen in years and later that day she called me. It was totally uncanny. Until I realized that I thought about her hundreds of times previously and not got a phone call.

      • Christian Roatis

        I’d like to clarify, the shot at Flames fans is what sold this. You can have a counter argument as to why you disagree to the premise of this piece, but dragging the fans – who are 8th in attendance vs Nashville – makes it obvious.

        • GetOn'Em

          Oilers fan..your originality in your attempted burn rival your writing skills..keep trying pal, go write a few ideas and try them on yourself in the mirror. Attendence is a weak guideline, but what I meant is look at the stands and listen to the fans at a Nashville game. They are wild! They sing, they have chants to opposing goalies etc. The Flames game is full of corporate boring zombies in the lower bowl, but I will agree, sold out. I am far from an Oilers fan young, wet behinf the ears Christian, I am a through and through Flames fan who is objectional when it comes to hockey.

        • GetOn'Em

          Did you even play hockey Christian? I am curious, my guess is that if you did you never playes at a competitve level. Corsi and advanced stats are for the nerds. Next you will tell me scouts do not need to go and watch games, we can just look at the players stats and advanced stats to draft them. Bush league article

          • Christian Roatis

            I did play competitive hockey. For 10 years. And up until 2014/15 I thought advanced stats were BS. But if you open your mind and take the time to really understand their meaning and value, you’ll see why so many buy into it.

            Also, neither you nor I played in the actual NHL so your “played the game” argument holds no water anyways.

          • GetOn'Em

            I have studied it and looked into it, especially corsi. It is not reliable in my eyes. Tell me eho you think were the best forwards durung the isles game tonight and i will do the same and then compare to corsi..just curious. I knoe one game is a small sample size