When the Flames signed Michael Frolik in free agency, it looked like they were picking up a player who would be the ideal fit with Mikael Backlund: impeccable defensively, adept offensively. This past season, though, was well below Frolik’s standards – but with two years still left on his contract, there’s plenty of reason to believe he can bounce back.
2017-18 season summary
Frolik, in the best of times, should be considered a capable second liner; in the worst of times, a good third line guy. This season just didn’t work out for him, though: he played primarily in a defensive role, but the pucks continued to go in against him, including one very notable, horrible mistake against the Golden Knights that took a regulation win to a multi-goal loss in the final minutes.
He shot plenty, but the pucks would never go in for him. And just when he seemed to be turning a corner, he broke his jaw, a puck deflecting up into his face in a Dec. 28 game against the Sharks, and things never quite got back up to speed. Frolik missed a month due to that injury.
By Frolik’s standards, it was a pretty bad year: one largely dominated by horrific luck.
|Games played||Goals||Assists||Points||TOI/GP||5v5 CF%||5v5 CF% rel||OZS%||PDO|
In 13 games in which he had at least four shots – including a seven-shot outing – he scored all of three goals. His .949 PDO was the worst out of all Flames regulars, with only Backlund coming close with a .951 – try as both might, very little would go right for either of them.
Frolik fell to tied for 10th on the team in points (had he played a full season, it pro-rates to 29 points: still a bad year by his standards), though he was seventh in shots taken. He was 14th in team powerplay time with 40:50 played (for reference, Troy Brouwer played 93:52 on the man advantage), but seventh in penalty kill ice time with 141:20, with some time no doubt lost due to injury – not to mention the aftermath, when Brouwer inexplicably replaced him as Backlund’s shorthanded partner even after he returned from injury. That said, he still was tied for the team lead with two shorthanded goals, both assisted by Backlund.
Speaking of Backlund, he was, undoubtedly, Frolik’s most common linemate. The duo played 803:43 5v5 minutes together, and both elevated one another’s game by a couple of corsi percentage points. He spent 640:07 with Matthew Tkachuk with much the same effect in place. The problem with the 3M line wasn’t anything to do with any of its players, and more that the veteran two-thirds of its makeup just fell on particularly hard times over the course of the year.
Frolik’s third most common linemate was Brouwer, with 126:33 played together: a steep drop off, and one in which he suffered, but also elevated Brouwer’s game into someone with a CF% over 50 (54.39%, in fact; a solid jump from Brouwer’s otherwise 49.07%).
For the Flames, Frolik is someone they need to contribute on both ends of the ice. He’s found his home on one of the most consistent line configurations across the entire NHL, but whether that gets modified with a new coaching staff or not, at the very least, the sheer chemistry both he and Backlund have is undeniable, and that particular duo should at least remain the Flames’ top defensive zone starters and penalty killing team.
He couldn’t contribute offensively this past season, though, and for a team with already limited scoring depth, every single loss was a blow.
Compared to last season
Frolik went from 44 points in 2016-17 to 25 in 2017-18. It was the worst points total he’s had since he played for the Blackhawks and started almost completely exclusively in the defensive zone (their zone splits were madness: for them, Frolik was only a defensive player and absolutely nothing else). A four-year string of being at least a .5 point-per-game player – basically ever since he escaped from the depths of Chicago’s defensive end – was unceremoniously snapped this past season.
The good news? It may not last. His PDO in 2016-17 was .984 – still a little unlucky, but not nearly as drastically so. His 2016-17 shooting percentage of 8.4% plummeted to 6.0% this past season, and even that’s well below his career average of 7.8%. Give him his career average shooting percentage and that’s another three goals this past season; restore Backlund’s PDO to something nowhere near as unlucky and that’s probably a fair more assists that come for Frolik, as well.
Quite simply, there isn’t any evidence that indicates Frolik’s poor showing this season is a sign of a career drop off. His underlying numbers remained exceptional, as they have been for almost his entire career. It would be cause for concern if Frolik fell off the board completely, but he didn’t: only his counting numbers did. If he does everything exactly the same next season as he did this past year and as he has done for most of his career, he should be in line for a good 2018-19.
What about next season?
Of course, it’s really not a good idea to pin hopes on a player bouncing back. Just because the underlying evidence indicates he’s a good candidate to recover from an off-year doesn’t mean he actually will.
But the Flames’ problems don’t lie in Frolik: they lie in a forward lineup that wasn’t deep enough to recover from a down year from one of their previously most reliable top six forwards. The entire team benefits if there’s a way to realistically bump him down to the third line, and they benefit even more if he returns back to his old self: a defensive and penalty killing specialist who’s still good for at least half a point per game. And there’s very little reason to think that won’t happen; every single number favours him.
What Frolik’s place in the lineup next season could come down to is what centres the team has available. Right now, their top two centres are Sean Monahan and Backlund, and it’s not even a debate. (It’s fine to be hopeful for Jankowski, but he isn’t on Backlund’s level; that’s fine, because he’s played literally one season.) And Frolik just works exceptionally well with Backlund: if Johnny Gaudreau and Monahan are the Flames’ de facto offensive pairing, then Backlund and Frolik are the de facto two-way guys, and splitting them up seems unconscionable (and that’s before you get into the fact that the Flames have basically no right wingers).
Frolik will probably recover. He’ll probably do it on Backlund’s wing. But just how big a part of the Flames should he be? That’s going to go a long way to answering whether their forward group will be good enough to compete in 2018-19.
|#5 – Mark Giordano||#7 – TJ Brodie|
|#8 – Chris Stewart||#10 – Kris Versteeg|
|#11 – Mikael Backlund||#13 – Johnny Gaudreau|
|#15 – Tanner Glass||#18 – Matt Stajan|
|#19 – Matthew Tkachuk||#20 – Curtis Lazar|
|#21 – Garnet Hathaway||#23 – Sean Monahan|
|#24 – Travis Hamonic||#25 – Nick Shore|
|#26 – Michael Stone||#27 – Dougie Hamilton|
|#33 – David Rittich||#36 – Troy Brouwer|
|#41 – Mike Smith||#44 – Matt Bartkowski|
|#61 – Brett Kulak|