A Statistical Look at the Calgary Flames

Ryan PopilchakCorrespondent IMarch 15, 2010

For those that read any of my analysis columns during the NFL season, you’ll know that I trust offensive & defensive statistics such as DVOA and DYAR as created by the Football Outsiders.  You’ve probably also seen my reference to Win Probability on Advanced NFL Statistics to help evaluate coaching decisions.  I use stats in my day job all the time, so I understand their importance in providing a measurable method to evaluate players and systems.

However, I’ve never delved too deep into some of the stats used to describe my first sporting love, hockey.  Until now.

Now that we’re in the stretch drive of the NHL season, I find myself increasingly wondering what the chances are that the Flames will make the playoffs.  I’m also curious as to how good the new Flames players really are.

I want to know if Darryl Sutter’s apparent quest for depth over top-line talent was successful.

While my opening week of research may not answer all of these questions, I’ve found some valuable resources and discovered a new obsession with hockey analysis.  While stats don’t tell us everything, when paired with experience and observation, they can help us answer some important questions.

What Do GVT, ESTR and Comparitive +/- mean?

To begin with, I need to give credit to the people that create and maintain these stats.  GVT was created by Tom Awad of Puck Prospectus.  ESTR was created by Timo Seppa of Ice Hockey Metrics and Puck Prospectus and Comparative +/- (or Rating) is found on Behind The Net, which is maintained by Gabriel Desjardins.

In the words of Timo, here are explanations of the first two.

GVT stands for Goals Versus Threshold and is a measure of a players total worth.  GVT counts all contributions – ES, PP, SH. A great benefit of GVT is that you can compare players across positions and eras with the stat.  GVT approximates playing time.  GVT is a counting stat, not a rate stat, so e.g. goalies getting more starts will be valued proportionately more and players getting more ice time (and power play time) will be valued proportionately more.

ESTR is a rate stat that gives the offensive, defensive and total contributions per 60 minutes of even strength ice time. Empty net goals are excluded, and strength of teammates and opposition is included in the calculation. Zero equals league average (not replacement level) – probably between a second or third line level of play.

Comparative +/-, or Rating, as they call it on BehindTheNet is probably the easiest to understand by the casual fan.  It is just like the +/- rating that the NHL publishes, but instead it is the difference between a players +/- and the the +/- of his team when he’s not on the ice.  It’s a great way to show how much better the players team is when he’s on the ice, versus when he’s not.

So What Do All These Fancy Numbers Mean For the Flames?

To start with, let’s take a look at the forwards.  The GVT numbers highlighted in yellow indicate only the accumulation of value since they joined the Flames.  Jokinen’s GVT numbers are just for his time with the Flames but the other 2 are for his full season.

The top line appears to be as good as the Flames could hope for right now.  Rene Bourque has emerged as a very good complement to Iginla on the wing and so far Stajan has been a good match with the two big wingers.

But looking at the breakdown, the Flames 2nd and 3rd lines don’t appear to be all that effective.  While Langkow’s GVT looks decent, his ESTR and C+/- are below zero, indicating that he is worse than average NHL player and generally his team is better when he’s on the bench. 

I personally tend to prefer the rate stats because they don’t reward players who just got a lot of icetime, even if it was unjustified.  For example, I’d rather have a player who has scored 20 goals in only 7 minutes of icetime per night, than a player who scored 20 goals playing 15 minutes per night.  Obviously that’s over-simplified, but you get my point.

Curtis Glencross definitely needs more icetime.  Buried on the 4th line, he has still amassed the third highest GVT by a Flames forward and both his ESTR and C+/- indicate that he is an above average player who makes solid contributions to the team. 

Nigel Dawes would appear to be in the same boat as Glencross.  While he has been effective, he is currently wallowing as a healthy scratch.  With the Flames so low on goal-scoring, it would seem logical to remove Jamal Mayers in favor of the 25-year-old Dawes.

Finally, the debate among many fans, and coach Brent Sutter, is whether to play Mikael Backlund or Craig Conroy.  Sutter has sighted Conroy’s experience as a reason for keeping Backlund from dressing, but the stats don’t make it such a clear decision.  Backlund has been far from good, but Conroy isn’t much better.  I’d prefer to see Backlund in the lineup.  He’s younger, has some upside to his performance and would be a much more cap-friendly option if the Flames decide to part ways with Conroy in the offseason.  If anyone deserves some bench time due to being a liability, it’s Ales Kotalik.

As for the defenseman, take at look at the next table.

Apparently my friends who are Oilers fans were right, Steve Staios IS a disaster.  Why Sutter traded a promising young defenseman for him is still a complete unknown.  In the games I’ve watched since the trade, I was unimpressed and definitely worried, apparently those thoughts were justified.  Unless Staios elevates his play in the next few games, the team would be better served with Pardy in the lineup.

Matt Giordano and Ian White appear to be the Flames best defensemen, not Jay Bouwmeester and Robin Regehr.  This is good news, since it means the Flames have solid defensive depth. 

The bad news is that Bouwmeester doesn’t seem to be earning his immense salary.  The Flames signed him with the hope that he could log Lidstrom-like icetime but so far it hasn’t been justified.

Did Sutter Make Positive Trades?

Yes, and no.  Trading Phaneuf to the Leafs for Ian White, Matt Stajan and Niklas Hagman seems like a very beneficial move.  The Jokinen trade, however, hasn’t yielded anything close to another above-average forward. 

 And as for the Staios deal, it would appear that the Flames should have just asked for some new waterbottles and a bag of pucks.

Related posts:

  1. Chemotherapy for the Flames?
  2. Battle of Alberta – Oct 9, 2009
  3. The Flames’ Momentum Swings Both Ways


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