THE CALGARY FLAMES – BURNING INTO 2016

For those of you who follow us at hockeyfreeforall.com, (@hockeyfree4all) you may be familiar with our quantitative retrospective work on what we term the Advanced Bracton Score. We have constructed the AB in the context of player age and round drafted. We have found a high look-back correlation between AB score and playoff appearance/success as well as a lack of association between player age and propensity for mistake minimization. No better was our thesis represented than by the performance of the Calgary Flames in 2015 versus their 2014 campaign. The moves made by management last summer, coupled with the addition and improvement of players with limited NHL experience (versus assumedly higher paid veterans) resulted in an amazing turnaround for Calgary in 2015 over 2014, despite a rash of injuries. It appears that if past is prologue, 2016 is shaping up to be an excellent season for the Flames as well.

In 2013-2014, the Flames finished with a -43.64 team AB, which was 24th in the NHL and resulted in a 27th place points finish in the league. By contrast, in 2015, Calgary had the 7th best AB score at +13.11 even though they were 16th in the NHL in points. They were among the 8 of 8 teams that won their first round matchups against lower AB teams, and surprisingly the only team to lose their second round pairing to a team with a lower AB. How did Calgary reconstitute its squad to become a contender in one short year?

First, for all the fanfare about teams ridding themselves of enforcers, we would opine that they are not doing that per se. What NHL teams may be thinking, Calgary being no exception, is that shedding guys like Kevin Westgarth (as much as we love Eli K. Westy as a person), improves stats such as those within the AB score. Westgarth in the 2014 season cost Calgary 9.48 AB goals due primarily to his propensity to take, as opposed to draw, penalties. His style of “pugnacity and truculence” detracts from winning – see John Scott, Arizona for more details.

Second, Calgary also parted with some of the lowest AB players on their 2014 team (and, by extension the NHL as a whole) – Chris Butler and Shane O’Brien combined to cost over 13 goals. Throw in Mike Cammalleri and Curtis Glencross and they amounted to another negative net 5. The losses of Baertschi, Galardi, and McGrath, although positive AB players in 2014 believe it or not, were largely compensated in spades by less experienced players – clearing the way for the twofold boost to team AB our models suggest.

Third, Calgary had massive improvement over former players such as the ones mentioned with low cost guys such as Johnny (Hockey) Gaudreau, Ferland, Jooris and Granlund. Other players of limited experience, albeit statistical improvement due to age were the likes of Monahan, Colborne and Bouma. Their performance also aided the veterans, whose AB’s also increased drastically.

2014 additions by subtractions

Westgarth – 9.48

Butler – 7.17

Obrien – 5.85

Glencross – 2.75

Cammalleri – -2.28

Smid – only played 31 games in 2015 allowing for a team improvement from -6.89 in 73 games in 2013-14 to -3.64 in only 31 games.

2015 additions by subtractions versus flat or negative players replaced

Gaudreau +4.67 – first year

Ferland +0.48 first year

Jooris + 1.60 first year

Granlund +1.34 first year.

Colborne – 5.01 to -1.49 second year

Monahan -3.44 to +3.32 second year

Bouma – -0.64 to 3.66 second year.

What our study found is that younger players, can often times if scouted properly, offer enormous, low cost benefits, to teams that value AB style metrics over players who do not demonstrate mistake minimization as part of their skill set. Net penalty margin is a part of the AB, and Calgary also improved mightily team wide in this metric as well.

To follow up a terrific prior fan post at Matchsticks and Gasoline, most of the players listed above, especially the rookies, were outstanding at producing net penalty minutes on which the Flames scored 6 goals 5×4 per 60 versus allowing 6.2 and scoring 1.5 while 4×5 shorthanded. While this cannot account for all of the positive difference demonstrated year over year, it was a robust contribution, as the writer aptly opines.

This brings us to Mark Giordano and (Teach me how to) Dougie Hamilton. Giordano, barring injury, is an exceptionally talented defenseman (who actually has a positive AB score, no easy feat). When he is surrounded by teammates who are as skilled at mistake minimization as he is, he can dominate games. He is also on the right side of 10 seasons, which our work suggests is around the time NHL veterans begin to decline statistically. If his recent spat of injuries is not an early sign of breakdown, he could have a great 2016.

With respect to Hamilton, please see our piece regarding the possible reason he was shipped from Boston to Calgary. We are not sold on the virtues of Dougie just yet. However, for the reasons mentioned above, Calgary could be a decent place for him to mature. The current construction of the Flames may mask some of the limitations Hamilton demonstrated in Boston thereby allowing him to surmount his growing pains in a rising AB situation.

We will be posting projections once depth charts are better known for the upcoming season. We believe that Calgary, at least preliminarily, should be much closer to the top than the bottom in the Western Conference in 2016.

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