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What are the best Calgary Flames line combinations from a stats perspective?

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Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Lacoste
1 month ago
With the season coming to an end soon, the Calgary Flames and their fans must maintain a careful but optimistic attitude toward the future. This season was meant to be a transition period, so let’s look at what has been working since the transitions occurred and the best options among players remaining on the Flames roster. 
More specifically, let’s look at the best line combinations statistically among current Flames players and the best defensive pairs since the 2024 trade deadline. This article will be using “full season” Even-Strength (EV) data from Moneypuck.com on forward lines, as well as 5v5 data from March 9th through April 3rd on D pairings from NaturalStatTrick. I will primarily be using “rate” statistics to attempt to evaluate all lines on the same level (stats per 60 minutes).

Best “pure offence” lines

To find the best “pure offence” lines, we can look at the following metrics:
  • xGoals For Per 60 (Expected Goals)
  • Corsi For Per 60 (Shot attempts)
  • Fenwick For Per 60 (Unblocked shot attempts)
  • Goals For Per 60 (Goals)
  • High Danger Corsi For (High Danger shot attempts)
These stats concern what the players do in the offensive zone. 

Forwards

Huberdeau-Kadri-Pospisil (62 EV mins together via MoneyPuck)
Among Flames forwards to play 40+ mins together:
  • 3.6 xGF/60 (best on Flames)
  • 83.7 CF/60 (best on Flames)
  • 55.8 FF/60 (best on Flames)
  • 1.92 GF/60 (9th of 13)
The only area of concern among these stats is the finishing ability, dictated by the weak Goals For Per 60 number. However, positive shot metrics should result in better luck/finishing in more minutes together. I’d like to see more of these three together.

Defenders (since Mar. 9)

Weegar-Andersson (44 5v5 mins together via NaturalStatTrick)
Among Flames D Pairings to play 40+ mins together:
  • 3.69 xGF/60 (best on Flames)
  • 68.35 CF/60 (3rd on Flames)
  • 52.3 FF/60 (best on Flames)
  • 4.02 GF/60 (best on Flames)
  • 16.1 HDCF/60 (best on Flames)
These stats are in the top 20 in the entire NHL. Despite full-season stats showing a weaker picture for the pairing, the last month has been elite. The new pairing of Weegar-Miromanov (164 mins since March 9th) has been good. However, the Flames have produced fewer unblocked shot attempts, goals, and expected goals with Weegar-Miromanov than Weegar-Andersson at 5v5 in the last month. I wonder if Weegar-Andersson can put together a good year next season without the noise and moving parts that may have distracted the Flames team this season. 

Best “pure defence” lines

To find the best “pure defence” lines, we can look at the following metrics:
  • xGoals Against Per 60 (Expected Goals)
  • Corsi Against Per 60 (Shot attempts)
  • Fenwick Against Per 60 (Unblocked shot attempts)
  • Goals Against Per 60 (Goals)
  • High Danger Corsi Against (High Danger shot attempts)
These stats concern what the players do in the defensive zone. 

Forwards

Greer-Sharangovich-Duehr (52 EV mins together)
Among Flames forwards to play 40+ mins together:
  • 2.33 xGA/60 (5th of 13)
  • 38.48 CA/60 (best on Flames)
  • 24.49 FA/60 (best on Flames)
  • 2.33 GA/60 (5th of 13)
There are few standout “pure defence” forward lines on the Flames, and Greer-Sharangovich-Duehr seems like an unrealistic long-term forward line (mainly because of Sharangovich’s top-6 offensive impact). However, in over 50 minutes together, this line has prevented opponent shots in the DZ at a high-level rate, better than any forward trio on the Flames this season. Compared to the traditionally denoted “shutdown line” of Mangiapane-Backlund-Coleman, this line is better in every metric above, albeit in 400 minutes fewer. It would be interesting to see forward lines like this get larger samples to see if this line could truly be a strong defensive line, but this is unlikely overall.

Defenders (since Mar. 9)

Hanley-Pachal (46 5v5 mins together)
Among Flames D Pairings to play 40+ mins together:
  • 1.29 xGA/60 (best on Flames)
  • 52 CA/60 (best on Flames)
  • 35 FA/60 (best on Flames)
  • 1.3 GA/60 (2nd of 6)
  • 2.6 HDCA/60 (best on Flames)
The Hanley-Pachal pairing has been borderline elite, with most of the numbers above being top 20 in the NHL, and the 1.29 xGA/60 being 3rd in the NHL (among all D pairings to play 40 mins together since March 9th). If you’re looking for a shutdown 3rd pair, this duo is exactly what you need.

A quick note:

Keep in mind that “best defensive lines” in this article will be categorized as giving up the fewest xGoals, shot attempts, or other opposing offensive metrics per 60 minutes, which are more reactive than proactive statistical findings. Specifically, saying that Yegor Sharangovich is a great defensive forward because he concedes fewer chances per 60 than his teammates does not paint the whole picture of Yegor Sharangovich, or the idea of being a “defensive forward”, though the results do show a potentially untapped defensive ability.

Best “overall” lines

To find the best overall lines from a statistical perspective, the following metrics can be used in comparisons:
  • xGoals % (Expected Goals)
  • Corsi For % (Shot attempts)
  • Fenwick For % (Unblocked shot attempts)
  • Goals For % (Goals)
  • High Danger Corsi (High Danger shot attempts)
When deciding on the best overall forward line or defensive pair, any or all of these metrics can be used. With that in mind, here are the top lines the Flames can deploy with their current roster:

Forwards

Kuzmenko-Sharangovich-Huberdeau (101 EV mins together)
Among Flames forwards to play 40+ mins together:
  • 64.3% xGoals (best on Flames)
  • 57.9% CF (3rd of 13)
  • 56.2% FF (best on Flames)
  • 33.3% GF (T-12th of 13)
Again, we have a line with poor finishing but extremely strong shot metrics. With a pass-first player like Huberdeau and two shooters in Kuzmenko and Sharangovich, it is puzzling that they’d get out-scored but still heavily out-chance and out-shoot their opponents. I’d argue that more time with this line could cause a heavy regression to the mean and improved on-ice results from a pure goals perspective.

Defenders (since Mar. 9)

Hanley – Pachal (46 5v5 mins together)
Among Flames D Pairings to play 40+ mins together:
  • 61% xGF (best on Flames)
  • 54% CF (2nd of 6)
  • 56% FF (best on Flames)
  • 75% GF (best on Flames)
  • 83.3% HDCF (best on Flames)
Two waiver claims have turned into an elite pairing for the Calgary Flames since the Trade Deadline. With opportunities on a Calgary D core due to trades and roster moves, Joel Hanley and Brayden Pachal have risen to the occasion. I’m excited to see more of this pairing with such a great past month, but I am again worried about the small sample.

Conclusion

Overall, there are still reasons to cheer for the 2023-24 Flames, as there are promising offensive, defensive, and two-way line combinations for the team among current roster players. Whether or not some of these players return next year, multiple promising pieces in this lineup are statistically proving their worth.
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