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Photo Credit: Terrence Lee/USA Today Sports

The Flames should keep giving Josh Leivo chances to produce

Josh Leivo probably should have scored by now.

11 games into his tenure with the Calgary Flames, Leivo still remains without a single goal and has just two secondary assists to show for himself.

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At his $875,000 salary, it’s hard to call Leivo that much of a disappointment. That said, the Flames likely expected more production from the right-handed winger after he scored 17 goals and 37 points in 85 games with the Vancouver Canucks.

Leivo saw just 7:16 of ice time in Tuesday’s wing over Winnipeg and skated on the fourth line with Byron Froese and Joakim Nordstrom. The Flames healthy scratched Leivo in favour of Zac Rinaldo for their Battle of Alberta tilt last Saturday.

Even beyond his recent demotions, Leivo has failed thus far to hold down a consistent spot in the Flames’ lineup. He bounced around between the Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm, Mikael Backlund, and Derek Ryan lines before his stay in the press box, spending significant amounts of time with each of the Flames’ four best centres.

JOSH LEIVO CENTRE 5v5 TOI Corsi For % Expected Goals For %
Josh Leivo Elias Lindholm 24:51 68.89 81.65
Josh Leivo Sean Monahan 29:36 49.12 47.57
Josh Leivo Mikael Backlund 55:31 54.55 51.75
Josh Leivo Derek Ryan 9:28 70.59 77.93
Josh Leivo Byron Froese 6:49 50.00 72.05

Unlike many of his fellow bottom-six forwards, Leivo has managed to find good chemistry with some of the Flames’ highest-paid and most-trusted pivots. In particular, Lindholm has seen his possession numbers skyrocket during his time with Leivo, going from a 49.07 xGF% in the 137:10 spent away from Leivo to 81.65% with him.

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The Tkachuk/Lindholm/Leivo combination controlled 86.20% of the expected goals in its 17:30 of ice time at even strength and outchanced its opposition by a count of 12-3. The trio mustered five high-danger chances in that time and surrendered zero. Now, Leivo is toiling on the fourth line and has even been booted from the power play.

That line’s shooting percentage? Zero percent, a figure bound to regress positively with continued reps. Conversely, over the last five games, the Tkachuk/Lindholm/Dube line has controlled just 47.73% of the shot attempts and 44.60% of the expected goals at even strength.

Leivo has appealing physical tools. At 6’2″, he has the frame to take command of open space. He’s not particularly fast but he has a hard, accurate shot. With some additional luck, he could thrive as the finisher on the power play or while skating beside a gifted playmaker like Tkachuk. If Tuesday serves as any indication, Leivo also has the vision to start plays with crisp passes.

Prior to skating in the season-opener on Jan. 14, Leivo had not played in an NHL game since Dec. 19, 2019 after fracturing his kneecap. 2020 was an irregular calendar year for most players, what with its sporadic scattering of hockey in unusual months, but at least the majority of the Flames managed to stay somewhat fresh by playing games in the summer. Leivo missed all of it. Now, the Flames are barely giving him anything to work with.

Even with his limited assignments, Leivo has been driving play at an admirable level to begin his term in Calgary. He currently ranks seventh on the Flames with 12.84 shot attempts/60 at even strength. Only Mikael Backlund and Noah Hanifin more frequently shoot for rebounds. His 57.01 5v5 CF% sits fifth on the Flames and his 58.59 5v5 xGF% is good for seventh; his 4.92 on-ice shooting percentage is the third-worst on the team, only ahead of Derek Ryan and Joakim Nordstrom.

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In short, the Flames generate a lot of dangerous chances whenever Leivo is on the ice and, at this rate, him beginning to produce is less a matter of if, but when. Of course, all bets are off if the Flames’ coaching staff keeps playing him beside penalty-killing specialists like Nordstrom.

The Flames would do well to try reuniting Leivo with Tkachuk and Lindholm. Dube can shift down to play with Gaudreau and Monahan, forming a relatively untested combination that has only existed for 2:09 at even strength this year. The “Dough Line” of Mangiapane, Backlund, and Lucic can stay together; finally, with Ryan out, maybe Nordstrom, Bennett, and Simon could form a low-stress unit as the fourth line.

This article features numbers from Natural Stat Trick.