Expectations versus reality for the Flames 2020 off-season additions

Photo credit:Bob Frid/USA Today Sports
Shane Stevenson
1 year ago
In the off-season after the playoff bubble and before the 2021 season the Calgary Flames made a flurry of roster moves to try and improve their depth. As they made their additions I went to twitter (@Flash_33) to try and analyze how each addition would play out and what kind of impact they could bring to the Flames on-ice product. Now – with the season over – I can reflect on what I predicted (the expectation) and compare it to what actually occurred (the Reality)

Jacob Markstrom

We start with the position that has the least amount of numbers to use in our analysis – goaltending. Before they signed any goaltender I had the opinion to bring Cam Talbot back and use the cap savings to try and improve the roster in front of the crease. Talbot himself had a strong season, but the one major positive Markstrom’s contract brought was long-term stability between the posts.
Well to analyze let us look at how the two goaltenders compared in the tweet played in 2020-21. The easiest (and maybe most simplistic) stat we can start with is goals saved above expected. Using Evolving-Hockey.com’s model we find Markstrom (-6.69 GSAx) and Talbot (-3.33 GSAx) both had negative numbers at 5v5, albeit Markstrom’s goals allowed were higher. Talbot did have the better year, and Markstrom finished JUST below about average. Late in the season we saw him round into a better form under Sutter than we saw in the final weeks of the Geoff Ward era.
Going forward this still isn’t a bad signing by any means. If the Flames want to see Markstrom’s numbers improve significantly they need to be more consistent in defending High Danger chances as the season progresses. Ice a stronger roster in front of him and he’ll easily provide the goaltending needed to help you win.

Chris Tanev

This is the first section where I will (somewhat) eat crow. I did in fact still say Tanev would be an NHL player in the first two seasons of his deal, but he went beyond that… and then some, in his first season as a Calgary Flame. With how his play had been going in the seasons leading up to this one it was almost impossible to predict just how big of an impact Tanev actually brought.
The back end of this deal still could very well go off the rails, but my confidence level in the player has risen significantly. Playing in a more structured defensive system in Calgary than Vancouver played right into his style of play. I fully expect another NHL calibre season from Tanev – but I do doubt we see him bring the same level of defensive impact again throughout the remainder of his contract.

Josh Leivo

Josh Leivo was the player I was most excited about getting in the off-season. I felt he could be a good addition to the third line and could effectively help contribute to the Flames depth scoring in a manner that would see him possibly get 8-10 goals
Now Leivo actually had a great play driving season. He helped contribute both positively to shot rates for as well as shot rates against – at some of the highest levels on the team. The real issue was the overestimation in his shooting talent. Leivo’s ability to finish off plays is a little lower than what i initially gave him credit for. He’s still a very good NHL player – one that doesn’t deserve to be scratched – that can help contribute to a teams success. I would love for the Flames to bring him back again, but with how his season went in Calgary it’s doubtful he would want to return.

Joakim Nordstrom

The Nordstrom signing went pretty spot on for how we thought it would. He struggled offensively to extreme levels, and was really only in the lineup to be utilized as a specialty penalty killer. The problem was (and still is) the fact that he is a net negative to the roster. When analyzing championship level rosters (Tampa Bay, Colorado, Vegas) they don’t utilize PK players in their bottom six that can’t also play above replacement level. Nordstrom is a player I would not recommend re-signing.

Dominik Simon

Talk about an absolute tire fire of a prediction. Not one thing about this went right. It was only a depth signing to begin with, but nothing about Simon’s play meshed with anything the Flames were trying to do from the start. He didn’t show anything in his performances this year to warrant a shot on the big club and spent pretty much the whole season on the taxi squad. I don’t expect him back on the Flames, but I do expect some team to give him another NHL contract.

Brett Ritchie

Brett Ritchie – a polarizing topic amongst Flames fans. He was never signed as a player to play a significant role, yet spent a significant chunk of time getting top six minutes 5v5. It went about as well as you’d expect. Ritchie is a fourth line player at best – one that can play the “no event hockey game” with the right linemates. Him being the solution to the Monahan/Gaudreau woes was a pipe dream from the start. He didn’t really do enough to earn himself another contract, but as a player Sutter clearly liked you might see him make a return to the Flames roster. His season went just about as well as I had predicted (albeit I didn’t think he’d get into 30+ games).

Nikita Nesterov

While he played better defensively than he had in the past the speed and big shot he used to possess seemed to have had evaporated. When Michael Stone supplants you for a roster spot (albeit Stone surprised me) you know you were having a rough year. It started hot – playing very well with Valimaki – but quickly descended into subpar play that wasn’t good enough to stay in the lineup. It was a questionable prediction to see Nesterov having an impact and he was just about impactful as advertised.

In summary

Using the tools at our disposal we were able to see that Nesterov, Nordstrom, Ritchie, Leivo & Markstrom came just about as advertised. Simon was extremely underwhelming and Chris Tanev blew the doors off. Even the Tanev pick wasn’t terribly far off as it was predicted he would be a decent NHL player still in his first few years, the only one that went terribly off the rails was the Dominik Simon one.
The faults of the team this year were certainly not due to any of the new additions, but willingly spending cap space on a multitude of negative impact players (Ritchie, Nordstrom, Nesterov) and then promptly playing them regardless did contribute. Hopefully this off-season sees the team acquire some more depth that’s better suited to contribute at the NHL level – or at least try and see what some of the kids can do.

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