CALGARY FLAMES 2012/13 – PLAYER BY PLAYER SEASON PREVIEW
In preparation for the 2012-13 NHL Season, IceNationUK will be taking a look at each team on a player-by-player basis. This isn’t really about predicting overall how well the teams will do, where they’ll end up in the standings, line combinations, or even guessing at individual player stats, but is more about analysing the make-up of each roster. Of course rosters are yet to be finalised, but I will be using the rosters as stated on each individual team’s website.
I am by no means an expert on every single player in the league, but through looking at traditional “box car” stats (G, A, P, PIMs, TOI, +/-, etc.) and also using Robert Vollman’s Player Usage Charts, I hope to piece together a reasonable, realistic view of each player. Please don’t hesitate to comment if you agree or disagree.
So without further ado, here is the anticipated 2012-13 roster for the Calgary Flames.
- MIKAEL BACKLUND – C (11-12: 41GP, 4G 7A 11P)
The once highly-touted Backlund had a poor season – at least by the traditional numbers – that was also hampered by injuries. He had an atrocious year in terms of shooting percentage (4.7%), although he’s always been a well-below-average shooter at the NHL level so you can probably count him out for ever turning into a high scoring sniper. 11 points in 41 games extrapolates to 22 points over a full season, which is a lower output than 10-11 when he put up 25 points – this year was supposed to be the one when he broke out, but the opposite kind of happened. However, there is a bright side to Backlund, a big one. He has become a darling of much of the advanced stats crowd due to his underlying numbers. Backlund plays against tough competition, with some of the most extreme zone-starts on the team (around 45% in the offensive zone). But he doesn’t just play against them; by shot differentials, he destroys them. He is absolutely dominant in those situations, and whilst he perhaps doesn’t have the talent everybody initially thought he would have when drafted to finish plays, the ability to drive the play away from your own end and create chances at the other is absolutely invaluable. To do it in tough circumstances when you’re not a dominant NHL scorer is pretty rare, so I hope that both Flames management and fans realise what a gem they have here in Backlund. He may not be that coveted 1st line center they hoped he’d be, but if he can be a tough-to-play-against 3rd line center who can chip in offense and play in all situations (something he does already) then that is a great guy to have.
- LANCE BOUMA – C (11-12: 27GP, 1G 2A 3P)
Bouma is a young (22), stocky center was drafted to be a physical, hard-working, defensively responsible “energy” player, and to be fair that’s pretty much exactly what he’s been. Scoring won’t be his calling card at the pro level, although he evidently isn’t inept at that either putting up some solid numbers last season in the AHL, although he struggled somewhat this year. His high end is almost certainly as a 4th line center, and there’s nothing wrong with that, particularly as he showed the ability in his time in the NHL this year to take on the toughest zone-starts on the team and not get completely destroyed; he should almost certainly get even better with age. He also saw spot-duty on the PK whilst he was up. I’d expect another season with more games in the AHL and an extended look with the big club with much the same stat-line.
- MIKE CAMMALLERI – C (11-12: 66GP, 20G 21A 41P)
The former fan favourite Flame returned in a mid-season trade in exchange for former fan favourite Flame Rene Bourque, although his second time around wasn’t nearly as productive as the first as Cammalleri’s production continues to slide as it has done since he left the Flames via free agency in 09-10. He did pick up his production a small bit after the trade, going from 0.57 PPG with Montreal to 0.68 PPG in Calgary, but he struggled a small bit by the shot metrics, playing reasonably tough competition whilst receiving some of the easiest zonestarts but getting outshot. He wasn’t terrible, but wasn’t great, and certainly isn’t the speedy sniper of old. He did still reach 20 goals though, and is a big feature on the powerplay. With a(nother) full season with the Flames I’d expect his production to go up to somewhere between 50-60 points; he’s not as good as before, but he ain’t done yet.
- ROMAN CERVENKA – C (11-12: 54GP (KHL), 23G 16A 39P)
Ever since the Flames signed Cervenka from the KHL this offseason, a myth seems to have developed among (some) Flames fans that he is their brilliant new number 1 center. I hate to break it to those in Calgary, but he will not be the answers to your prayers. There is no denying he’s had a pretty glittering career in the European leagues, scoring 83 goals and 174 points in 193 games over 4 full seasons with Slava Praha HC of the Czech Extraliga, and 54 goals and 100 points in 105 games for Omsk Avangard of the KHL. That’s pretty impressive production, and he has improved exponentially year over year since he turned 20. With the exception that is, of the 11-12 season, where his assist totals nearly halved and he dropped by 7 goals from the previous season. However, he did still lead Omsk in scoring by 12 points this season on a team with little star power even by KHL standards. The slip in scoring is probably explainable by the return of perennial superstar Jaromir Jagr to the NHL, leaving Cervenka to carry the load in terms of offence. It would not be unreasonable to suggest that he benefited greatly from playing with Jagr; that’s not necessarily a bad thing, you still have to be reasonably talented to put up those numbers, but it might push up the numbers to make us believe he’s something he’s not. He’s evidently pretty highly rated by his fellow countrymen, given his chemistry with Jagr, his increasing production over the years playing on the Czech National Team, and also his friend NHL star Ales Hemsky pushing Oiler’s management to sign him a couple of years back (they didn’t, obviously). So, he’s pretty highly regarded. He has good traditional stats. He’s gotten better every single year, pretty much. So why don’t I think he’ll be that great in the NHL? It’s not that I categorically believe he’ll be a bust, a complete wash-out etc., I don’t; it’s just that he’s 27 and has only just now managed to get signed by an NHL team. He’s a late bloomer that’s for sure, but history shows us that not many of these guys who dominate the European leagues and come over to the NHL later in their careers actually have much impact. Without researching it I can’t actually think of the last impact NHLer to come over and do that since the days of Russian players coming over after the fall of the Soviet Union. Correct me if wrong. There is also the matter of the NHL being significantly better than all those other leagues, with depth players in the NHL (hello Patrick Thoresen) becoming stars in European leagues. Finally, we also don’t have underlying stats such as shot metrics to determine his effectiveness overall on the game, or secondary stats such as hits, time on ice, what situations he was played in etc. He’s just too much of an unknown for me to see him as an NHL scoring star. He may well turn into that and I might be completely wrong, but until we see it, I’d rather not set myself up for disappointment.
- BLAKE COMEAU – LW (11-12: 74GP, 5G 10A 15P)
Picked up off waivers from the New York Islanders, Comeau came into 11-12 off the back of 2 strong seasons, recording goal totals of 17 in 09-10 and then 24 in 10-11. Unfortunately, in his first 16 games of the 11-12 season, his scoring vanished as he posted zeros across the board. The Islanders were, suprisingly given the lack of talent across their roster, impatient and put him on waivers for reassignment to the AHL, where the Flames picked him up. His scoring marginally picked up for the rest of the season in Calgary, as he posted 5 goals and 15 points over the remaining 58 games. His crash in scoring was due in part to poor luck, as he experienced a crash in shooting percentage from a career average of 11.73% down to 3.64% this year – if he’d scored at his previous average rate he would have gotten approximately 16 goals; far more “acceptable” production. I would expect his production to go back to more normal levels, IF he is given the opportunity on the Flames roster. That said, he does provide other things aswell, namely the ability to face reasonable competition and out-shoot it significantly, as well as PK ability and a physical game. He was definitely a good pick up for the Flames – finding decent players from other teams’ scrapheaps (even if that team was as lowly as the Islanders) is what good GMs do.
- CURTIS GLENCROSS – C (11-12: 67GP, 26G 22A 48P)
Ah yes, he of the sky-high shooting percentage. Glencross is a valuable player for the Flames, as he provides a good all-around game and has developed into a highly capable secondary scorer on a team that has been bereft of them, having now scored 40 or more points in 3 of the last 4 seasons for Calgary, has two straight 24+ goal seasons, and has scored at least 13 goals in the last 5 seasons. He’s not undersized, he’s fast, he’s relatively physical, he plays heavy minutes in all situations, at 29 he’s one of the younger (!) players on an increasingly old roster. He plays against tough competition, which would explain the minus and negative shot-differentials, but it would be nice to see those get better to make him a more complete player. But back to the shooting percentage. It appears to me as though Curtis Glencross might be one of the most intelligent shooters in the league. Whilst on the whole his career average of 14.7% is well above average, he has bounced around with seasons ranging from 8.6% to this past season’s unsustainable 23.6%. And yet he hasn’t ever scored less than 13 goals in a full season. You see, when you look at his shooting stats, it becomes clear that when his shooting percentage is high, he doesn’t take a lot of shots; but when his shooting percentage is low, he takes a lot more shots. To me that is the sign of a guy that probably doesn’t have a lot of natural talent, but recognises that a great deal of hard-work will create chances which will create luck which will create goals. Simply put, if he isn’t scoring, he’s gonna damn well shoot until he is scoring. That, my friends, is a guy you want to have on your team. And the Oilers let him go because they were chasing Marian Hossa. Frick.
- JIRI HUDLER – RW (11-12: 81GP, 25G 25A 50P)
Signed as a free agent from the Detroit Red Wings, Hudler had something of a resurgence in his second season back with the Wings following a season spent in the KHL with Dynamo Moscow in 09-10. Whilst 10-11 was a disappointing return for him, but thanks to our old friend shooting percentage, he returned to being a capable secondary scorer off a 19.7% success rate. Whilst he is historically a high percentage shooter, he is not that high, usually coming in at around 14% in a good year. Unless he drastically increases his shot totals, I would not expect him to record those totals again this year, but that is not out of the question as he has posted 155 shots in a season previously. For a guy who doesn’t have defensive responsibilities and barely outshoots his competition, $4m per year is a lot to pay. Far too expensive a signing, and one I fear won’t live up to it. Like the player overall, the Flames need all the scoring they can get, but not the contract.
- JAROME IGINLA – LW (11-12: 82GP, 32G 35A 67P)
“Iggy” continued his scoring ways this year, being the lone guy to hit the 30 goal mark (and doing so for an amazing 11th consecutive season). He is definitely slowing down though, and should not be asked to shoulder the load again as sooner or later people are going to be disappointed. He sees tough competition and plays over 20 minutes a game – a big ask for any player, particularly forwards – although he is put in more offensive situations than many of his team-mates. Whilst he is still an effective scoring forward now, he is 35 years old and is obviously slowing down to the point where he is going for fairly long stretches with little production. The Flames must find other players to help him out, as along with his physical brand of hockey, his body I fear will not hold out. They’ve relied on him for far too long, and he has gotten little in return. Wonderful player, brilliant career, an absolute warrior – he’s done everything asked of him and more; but I would like to see him flourish in a secondary role on a Stanley Cup contender – although even I have to admit it would be wrong to see him in anything other than a Flames uniform. I’m sorry to Flames fans, but I fear the 30 goal season streak will come to an end this year.
- TIM JACKMAN – RW (11-12: 75GP, 1G 6A 7P)
The Flames’ resident tough guy, Jackman had a disappointing season compared to his previous outing of 10 goals and 23 points. Jackman is a slightly different breed of enforcer however, in that he can actually play hockey, relatively speaking. He has always posted solid totals in the AHL, and last season’s breakout was not the result of a massive push in playing time or shooting percentage spike. A lot of it probably had to do with Jackman taking a lot more shots, going from 51 in 09-10 to 131 the following year. Rather, this season’s slump had to do with a complete absence of luck when it came to, yes, shooting percentage. He scored on only 1% of his 103 shots. One percent! If he had reverted to his previous 2 years average of around 7.7% he would have scored around 7 goals, far more respectable for a player of his type. Jackman is given weak competition but significantly outplays it, meaning he doesn’t hurt his team like many other “goons” hired to throw punches, and is very physical. He’s by no means irreplaceable, but he’s a capable 4th liner who should return to somewhere between his 09-10 and 10-11 seasons.
- BLAIR JONES – C (11-12: 43GP, 3G 5A 8P)
Acquired for Brendan Mikkelson from the Tampa Bay Lightning, Jones was brought in to shore up the Flames’ 4th line. He played tough zonestarts against weak-ish competition and came out ahead, just. He plays minimal minutes but in all disciplines, and chips in some offense, though not much. He’s a proven scorer in the AHL however, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a small jump in production if he spends the entire year in the NHL this season.
- MATT STAJAN – C (11-12: 61GP, 8G 10A 18P)
The lone holdover from the Dion Phaneuf trade in 09-10, Stajan has turned from a highly capable secondary scorer in Toronto into a flop in Calgary. A massive disappointment, he went from being a 0.73 PPG player his last 131 games in Toronto, to a 0.39 PPG player in the 164 games since. Not what the Flames were hoping for. He plays soft-ish competition and does out-shoot it, though not massively, so isn’t hurting his team in that sense, but isn’t helping it a lot either. He does play some on the PK however and can win face-offs, which does redeem him somewhat. On the whole, I imagine the Flames are looking forward to when they can replace him and his $3.5m per year salary with someone a lot more valuable to team success.
- LEE STEMPNIAK – RW (11-12: 61GP, 14G 14A 28P)
It’s not very often a player, particularly one who isn’t a star so to speak, has a hockey “incident” named after him. A Gordie Howe Hattrick is probably the most famous one I guess – a goal, an assist, and a fight. But a popular phrase arose amongst fans in Alberta following a somewhat infamous game between St Louis and Calgary on January 30th 2006. The game was important for the Flames, who were leading the Northwest Division at the time, whilst St Louis were selling off the team in a write-off of a season and had just traded leading scorers Doug Weight and Mike Sillinger. The Blues called up then-rookie forward Lee Stempniak from the AHL, and he proceeded to dominate the Flames, scoring the tying goal in the 2nd period and then scoring the game-winner in the shootout’s 5th round. A popular blog at the time, Battle of Alberta, where many of today’s popular Alberta-based bloggers cut their teeth, coined the term “Stempniaked” following this devastating loss. To be “Stempniaked” means “To be unexpectedly defeated by the singular efforts of a player on a sub-standard team.” And the term stuck. Nowadays the term is used somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as Stempniak hasn’t turned into the dominant NHLer everybody thought he might be, but he is still a pretty good player providing solid secondary scoring. He does have a habit of going on scoring tears from time to time, particularly after getting traded to the Phoenix Coyotes in 09-10 where he proceeded to score 14 goals and 4 assists in 18 games, helped mightily by a 29.2% shooting percentage. His first season with the Flames was perhaps slightly below average for him, with only 28 points, but this was his first NHL season where he suffered a significant injury, missing 21 games due to an ankle problem. Stempniak pushes play in the right direction, frequently dominating the shot metrics against middling competition, and plays in all situations. Combine that with his ability to provide a bit of scoring punch from time to time and you have a pretty valuable guy.
- ALEX TANGUAY – RW (11-12: 64GP, 13G 36A 49P)
The NHL’s active shooting percentage leader (18.6%), Tanguay didn’t quite follow up his impressive 2010-11 return to Calgary with another high scoring season, but he was still an effective player. He took on relatively tough competition and played heavy minutes at all disciplines. He’s certainly not the player he once was, but he is still a quality second line scorer/playmaker who with a healthier season would have put up closer to 60 points than he did. He is 32 now and appears to be getting more inconsistent, but I wouldn’t expect a big drop-off for another couple of seasons as he appears to always play well in a Calgary uniform.
- ANTON BABCHUK – D (11-12: 32GP, 2G 8A 10P)
A pretty bad NHL defenseman who happens to have a big shot. That sums up Babchuk for the most part. He’s always put up some offence, but has always neglected to play anything resembling defence. And to be honest, when you’re a defenceman, putting up points should almost always be secondary to actually being able to play your position unless your offensive dimension is off-the-charts good (i.e. Mike Green, Erik Karlsson), and Babchuk’s just isn’t. Aside from one 16 goal season, which was helped by a 12.6% success rate in shots (a very high total for a d-man), he has been average on offence and terrible on defence. Don’t be fooled by his +/- rating. This past season he played some of the easiest competition on the team and with more favourable zone-starts than most, and was outplayed, bleeding shots against, and he doesn’t play on the PK at all. I bet the Flames can’t wait for his $2.5m per year salary to be off the books after this season.
- JAY BOUWMEESTER – D (11-12: 82GP, 5G 24A 29P)
Bouwmeester seems to be despised by a lot of Flames fans, an I can’t really figure out why. He isn’t an absolutely dominant number 1 defenceman in the Pronger/Chara/Weber/Lidstrom mold, but he’s still most definitely a top pairing guy. For sure I can understand the disappointment that a lot of his offence didn’t come with him from Florida, which is partly why the Flames traded for his rights back after the 08-09 season. But consider the fact that most defenceman generate a majority of their offence on the powerplay as opposed to 5v5. When you see that Bouwmeester was averaging over 4 minutes a night on the powerplay for the Panthers, but has never averaged over 3 minutes a game in Calgary (he average only 2:10 this year), that is perfectly reasonable explanation for the scoring drop. And to be fair 29 points is still pretty darn good on such a poor Flames club. It could also be noted that his last 3 seasons in Florida, where he scored 12, 15 and 15 goals respectively, he had shooting percentages that were above average for a defenceman, so perhaps he was riding a bit of a hot streak combined with insane powerplay time. He still plays mega-minutes (nearly 26 minutes per game, almost 3 minutes more than the second placed player Mark Giordano) in all disciplines, takes on some of the toughest competition and has tough zone-starts (explaining the negative shot differential and the +/-) and given Calgary’s lack of depth on the blueline doesn’t really have many nights when he is paired with a capable partner and on a team that had a -24 goal differential overall. He is a brilliant player, perhaps overrated offensively but definitely massively underrated defensively, and the Flames will be sorry if and when they trade him. Overpaid? Yes. Under-appreciated? Undeniably.
- TJ BRODIE – D (11-12: 54GP, 2G 12A 14P)
A former 4th round draft pick in 2008, Brodie finally got to show his stuff in an extended NHL stay. He’s still a work in progress, but showed good offensively capability with fairly limited ice time (though he did see PP time), and according to Hockey’s Future he is an excellent skater and passer, with the need to add more size to his 6’1″ frame. He was handed cherry minutes, playing easy competition and easy zone-starts, but had among the best shot differentials on the team, proving that he is ready for a full NHL season and more responsibility. He should look to add NHL-level penalty killing to his résumé this coming season and will hopefully take the next step in all areas of the game. A very good young player.
- CHRIS BUTLER – D (11-12: 68GP, 2G 13A 15P)
Receiving difficult minutes, though not nearly as many of them due to not being as much of a PP option, alongside his most common D partner Bouwmeester, Butler acquitted himself quite well, posting solid scoring numbers and playing heavily on the PK and at 5v5, whilst posting pretty good shot differentials and +/- considering the situations he was put in. He’s not a top pairing guy however, and I do wonder if he can keep up that level of play, particularly if not being aided by Bouwmeester. He seems to be a capable number 4 defenceman who can help out in all disciplines.
- MARK GIORDANO – D (11-12: 46GP, 1G 10A 11P)
Often said to be the future captain of the Calgary Flames, Giordano appears to be a solid-if-unspectacular player who plays strong, heavy minutes against above-average competition in all situations and just about comes out on top in shot differentials. He did suffer a bit of a drop in scoring from last year to this, but scoring by defenceman does have a tendency to fluctuate from year to year as they’re not as often involved as the primary playmaker on scoring plays. As such I would reckon that he’d be good for around 30+ points next year, and provide more of the same quality play for the Flames.
- CORY SARICH – D (11-12: 62GP, 1G 6A 7P)
Sarich has often been on the receiving end of the fans’ scorn over a difficult 5 seasons in Calgary, as his play has been inconsistent (his scoring went from 7 points, to 20, to 6, to 17 to 7 from 07-08 to present) and their had been reports of trade demands until he surprisingly signed a new 2 year deal to stay with the Flames for $2m per season, which is actually pretty reasonable. Sarich played soft-ish competition last year with great success by shot metrics and plays a bit on the PK but little on the PP, and is very physical. All in all, a good 3rd pairing guy but not much more, though he probably can step up to the second pairing if needs be. He is 34 now and so is probably winding down his nearly 900 game career over the next few seasons.
- DEREK SMITH – D (11-12: 47GP, 2G 9A 11P)
A replacement level defenceman, Smith had spent the last few years in the Ottawa Senator’s system before coming to Calgary this past year, where he put together a fairly respectable first NHL season. He doesn’t see big minutes, and at age 27 likely won’t ever, but he can contribute on the powerplay. He played soft-ish competition and had a negative shot-differential, and like I said, at his age he is unlikely to improve much on that, so is likely nothing more than a number 7 d-man.
- DENNIS WIDEMAN – D (11-12: 82GP, 11G 35A 46P)
The Flames’ big free agent signing of the summer, and a much-maligned contract of , Wideman will have a lot of pressure on him to match the season he just put up with the Washington Capitals, particularly in the hockey hot-bed that is Calgary. He has long been a pretty effective offensive d-man, generally putting up between 30-40 points per season but with a high of 50 points with the Bruins in 08-09. Wideman was relied upon with the Capitals to play big minutes (nearly 24 minutes per game) at all disciplines and is pretty physical, although he was generally only playing middling competition with around 50/50 zone-starts, but he did just come out ahead on shot differentials so that’s probably his established level of ability. I’d say he’s a fairly high-end second pairing guy, but definitely not a top-pairing guy (not consistently anyway), and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Flames end up regretting signing the 29 year old to such a rich contract at $5.25m per year for 5 years. That’s top-pairing money, and he ain’t top-pairing. Good, but not that good.
- HENRIK KARLSSON – G (11-12: 9GP, 1W 4L 2OT, .900SV% 3.17GAA)
Despite a moderately successful rookie year backing up star goalie Kiprusoff in 2010-11, Karlsson wasn’t nearly as good this year, although he didn’t see much ice-time thanks to Kipper’s outstanding year in which he was leaned on yet again to get this overpaid, over-raged and under-achieving team to the playoffs (which, again, he couldn’t do because pretty much no goalie can). Karlsson appears to be below average for a backup, and is probably just holding the fort until highly-touted prospect Leland Irving is ready to take on the role, which could be as soon as this coming year.
- MIIKKA KIPRUSOFF – G (11-12: 70GP, 35W 22L 11OT, .921SV% 2.35GAA)
As mentioned above, Kiprusoff is – along with Iginla and Bouwmeester – pretty much the only reason the Flames have been able to contend for the playoffs the last few years. However, he’s 35 and is getting inconsistent from season to season, and likely won’t be able to stand up to the barrage he faces night after night much longer. Hopefully he can hold out until Leland Irving is ready to take the reins, but that likely won’t be for a while yet and he isn’t a sure thing. The Flames would be screwed without this guy in net, he’s had a wonderful career and I’d like to see him, like Iginla, get a true shot at the Cup before he’s done. It might be in the Flames’ best interest to trade Kipper at the deadline to a Cup contender looking to shore up their goalie position (Chicago?) and get a nice package of prospects/players/picks back to kickstart what I’m afraid to say might be an inevitable rebuild.
PROSPECTS MOST LIKELY TO MAKE THE TEAM / EARN A CALL-UPIt was only a year or 2 ago that the Flames’ prospect cupboard was looking as bare as any in the league, but they have actually managed since then to stockpile some useful players. Top of that pile has to be WHL standout forward Sven Baertschi, who flat-out ripped up the Dub this year playing for the Portland Winterhawks scoring 33 goals and 61 assists for 94 points in just 47 games. He isn’t big at all, but is a good skater, hugely creative with the puck and is reportedly very hard-working. He has 1st line forward written all over him, and Flames fans even got to see a sample of him for 5 games this year as an emergency call-up, and he showed how good he was by putting up 3 goals in 5 games. Don’t expect that kind of production over a full season, but if he makes the club this year (I expect he would) he could challenge for the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year. A long shot maybe, but he could do it. [Hat-tip to Corey Pronman at Puck Prospectus for the scouting report.]
Greg Nemisz seems to be a perennial “nearly there” kind of prospect for the Flames, a big guy with all kinds of talent but who hasn’t been able to score much at the AHL level let alone in his short NHL stints. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t make the NHL eventually, even if just as a depth player (3rd/4th line center perhaps), he seems to have too many tools not to, but at this point he has to be considered a disappointment. Will likely still see NHL time this year though.
Leland Irving, as mentioned above, will quite possibly challenge Henrik Karlsson for the backup job in Calgary this year as he has paid his dues playing for some pretty bad AHL teams over the years and still putting up solid numbers, similar to the Oilers’ Devan Dubnyk.