Fancy stats: A look at the Calgary Flames through analytics

Jan 5 2017, 7:56 am

As the calendar year turns for the Calgary Flames, I thought I would inject a little more math into these weekly posts.

Now before you rush to close this window and head back onto social media scanning through your co-workers’ trip to Mexico from three years ago, advanced stats have paved the way for some interesting routes to look at NHL players.

For someone who relied on plus/minus as a be all, end all stat for a number of years, it’s safe to say that analytics have taken some getting used to.

But, some of the more commonly used stats such as Corsi, Fenwick, PDO, and time on ice at even strength have shed some light on some of the Flames who have punched above their weight class to begin the season, along with those who might be expected to regress down the stretch.

Rookie standout Matthew Tkachuk has enjoyed a blazing hot stretch recently, and the results of that are showing in his advanced stats.

Only 19 years-old, Tkachuk is currently leading the Flames in Corsi For percentage (CF%), at 57.4%. CF% calculates shots, blocked shots, and missed shots for and against while on the ice. Usually anything over 50% shows good possession numbers, as that means the player is on the ice for more offensive chances for than against.

Tkachuk extended his point streak to seven games with an assist against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night, and has put up 11 points over his last 10 games.

Overall, Tkachuk ranks twelfth in the NHL in CF%, which is impressive due to his age and is the top ranked rookie in the category. His puck possession has been a big part of Calgary generating offence over the last few weeks.

Flames vets such as Michael Frolik (54.8%), Dougie Hamilton (54.8%), and Mikael Backlund (54.1%) round out the top CF% on the team, and it’s no coincidence that all three are putting together career-best seasons.

PDO is often considered a measure of luck, as it adds both the the team’s shooting percentage and save percentage with the theory that most players should fall around 100 points. Players above this are considered more lucky and more likely to regress, and the opposite for those in the mid-to-low 90’s.

Kris Versteeg holds the top mark for Calgary through 40 games, with the Flames holding a 12.8% average while he was on the ice. Combine that with a 93.9 save percentage on those same shifts and Versteeg’s PDO comes out to 106.7.

These kind of results are often considered unsustainable, as Flames stars such as Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau are sitting between 97 and 98 points and are prime candidates to see their shooting percentage climb in the second half of the season.

Other players ranked deceptively high for Calgary include Garnet Hathaway, Matt Stajan, and Deryk Engelland, while someone like TJ Brodie has the potential to turn around his mark of an 88.3 save percentage while on the ice, which is the lowest for any current Flame.

Much of these so called ‘fancy stats’ are calculated at even strength to provide a better gauge, as players consistently on the power play are more likely create more scoring chances than those on the penalty kill.

That’s where time on ice even strength comes in, as it accurately shows how minutes are dished out to all players from lines one to four.

It should come as no surprise that defenders Giordano, Brodie, Hamilton, and Dennis Wideman are rated at the top with all usually playing over 15 minutes per game at even strength. They are the defensive core of the team, and head coach Glen Gulutzan likes to lean on all four for big minutes.

One surprise is the minutes munched by Gaudreau, as he ranks higher in five-on-five ice time than Engelland, Brett Kulak, and Jyrki Jokipakka at an impressive average of 14:59. That’s over a minute longer than the next forward, who is Monahan at 13:58.

Gaudreau has showed the ability to play long stretches for Calgary at even strength, and is developing the endurance to double-shift if need be due to injury or Gulutzan playing with the line combinations.

There aren’t too many other surprises when it comes to Flames ice time, though grinder Lance Bouma has only enjoyed around 9:19 of even strength time on the ice as he continues to battle the injury bug this year.

When looking at the numbers, it’s clear that the Flames recent hot stretch has plenty to do with keeping the puck out of their defensive zone and using players like Tkachuk and Frolik to win battles in along the boards to maintain possession.

It also shows that while players like Versteeg and Stajan are likely to come back to Earth, core players such as Gaudreau, Monahan, Brodie, and Bennett have yet to reach their expected potential for the second half of the NHL season.

In the thick of the playoff race and holding a wildcard spot, the Flames are looking up but will need an equally strong back half to hold off teams like Winnipeg, Dallas, and Nashville who are all on the outside looking in.

Analytics are still a debated topic in the NHL, but it’s easy to see how they can (and are) being used by teams to get an advantage any way they can.

And even if you disagree, at least you now know what PDO means.

Scott RoblinScott Roblin

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