Flames With and Without Backlund

Kent Wilson
March 05 2013 01:51PM

Mikael Backlund has been injured since the 8th game of the season. He is scheduled to return sometime this month and the team has played about 10-games without him, so let's take a look at what his return might mean for the club.

The Flames stumbled out of the gate, again, but a great deal of their poor results can be attributed to terrible percentages, particularly near-league worst goaltending. As we discussed earlier in the season, however, Calgary actually had surprisingly strong shot and possession numbers through the first five-to-ten games or so. In fact, the Flames were a top-5 team in the league by these sorts of measures at the time. That's good, because teams that rely on outshooting rather than percentages for their success almost always enjoy greater long-term success. Just ask the 2011-12 Minnesota Wild.

Unfortunately, Calgary's underlying numbers have sunk rapidly since Backlund was injured. They are currently 16th in the league in terms of fenwick close (a possession stat that excludes block shots and corrects for playing to score effects) at 50.78, which is just barely treading water. If that downward trend continues, they'll be in the red by this weekend. 

With or Without You

We can look at a number metrics beyond fenwick to determine how/if Backlund's absense has affected the team. First up, here is how the Flames scoring chances have fallen with and without Backs on the roster:

With Backlund For Against ES For ES Against
game 2 ANA 18 17 16 16
game 3 VAN 14 14 11 11
game 4 EDM 18 13 14 10
Game 6 CHI 35 14 23 11
Game 7 DET 12 12 10 8
Game 8 CBJ 16 9 14 6
         
Total 113 79 88 62

The above table shows total chances for and against as well as chances at even strength. As you can see, the Flames were above water in both respects, particularly at ES where they were +26 in the 6 games counted (I missed the first contest of the year and another was counted by Justin).

That total is propped up by the Chicago game where the Flames put together their most dominant period in recent memory, at least in terms of shots and chances. They were +12 at even strength that night, pretty much entirely because Backlund's line finished +14, -2.

Still, Calgary was never in the red in this sample and above water in 4 of the six games by my count.

Now, here's how they have done without Backs:

Without Backlund For Against ES For ES Against
Game 9 VAN 13 20 11 16
Game 10 MIN 10 8 8 6
Game 11 DAL 20 18 18 12
Game 12 STL 15 18 12 16
Game 13 DAL 19 11 14 8
Game 14 PHX 15 16 13 13
Game 15 LAK 18 14 13 11
Game 16 PHX 17 15 15 13
Game 17 MIN 13 25 5 14
Game 18 VAN 16 19 12 17
Total 156 164 121 126

Obviously not as good. Calgary has marginally won the chance count 5 times in this sample but are in the red overall. They were also absolutely pummeled by St. Louis and Los Angeles through the first half of those losses and then pulled closer when their opponents sat back to protect the lead.

The difference at ES with and without Backlund for the Flames this year is +26/-5 or +31. Per game, that's +4.33/-0.6 or a delta of +4.93 chances differential/game. 

Discussion

I hesitate to attribute the entire difference to Mikael Backlund, even as good as he was playing in the early going. Calgary played strong fundamentally to open the season and had a pretty favorable, home-heavy schedule. There's no doubt at least some of the difference is due to natural variance via chance or circumstance. Also, I don't correct for playing to score effects in my chance counts, so there's a possibility that has skewed things somewhat. Teams with leads tend to sit back and allow shots/chances, while chasing clubs amp up their efforts, inflating their totals. 

Still, there's evidence that Backlund was a key figure nevertheless. In 8 games, his relative corsi (possession rate relative to the rest of the team) was +22.4 corsi/60. In other words, the Flames directed 23.87 more shots at the net than they gave up per hour when Backlund was on the ice. When he was on the bench, that rate plummeted to just 1.47/60. That's a huge difference.

In addition, if you peruse Backlund's individual player WOWY tables here, you'll notice almost everyone who played with Backlund saw his possession rate increase. Some notables include:

  • Stempniak: 65% with, 49% without
  • Cammalleri: 61% with, 47% without
  • Glencross: 61% with, 52% without
  • Baertschi: 56% with, 42% without

Of course, aside from the small sample caveat and schedule issues mentioned, this analysis also points to how poor the Flames alternatives at center are absent Backlund thanks to their lackluster depth chart.

Conclusion

None of this suggests the return of Backlund to active duty will instantly turn the Flames around - they will need at least average or better goaltending to do that and a single skater has next to no impact on a goaltenders SV% from game-to-game. 

Still, the kid was tilting the ice in the Flames favor to a non-trivial degree when he was around, something that has more or less evaporated since he left. HIs return this month may be too late or not enough to save Calgary's playoff hopes by that time, but this is pertinent information to keep in mind if Feaster and company are making decisions about who to keep and what direction to go around the deadline.

39d8109299a9795cb3b41a4e9b49d501
Former Nations Overlord. Current Fn contributor and curmudgeon For questions, complaints, criticisms, etc contact Kent @ kent.wilson@gmail. Follow him on Twitter here.
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#1 jeremywilhelm
March 05 2013, 01:57PM
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Hopefully he is actually good to go when they force him back on the ice. Although the decision making of the organization has me doubtful.

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#2 Parallex
March 05 2013, 01:58PM
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When should Mickis be back anyways? I know he has the yellow jersey on now but how long do guys typically wear the yellow before coming back (assuming no setbacks)?

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#4 SmellOfVictory
March 05 2013, 02:04PM
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VINDICATION. Haters walk.

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#5 SeanCharles
March 05 2013, 02:10PM
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Well know more about this team soon enough. When Backlund and Kipper return to game shape we should see our fortunes change. Those two along with Wideman are more central to our success than I think most realize.

Given our depth charts we don't have replacements for both and we've struggled as a result. Our PP not being sharp lately has contributed to our failure also....

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#7 Jeff In Lethbridge
March 05 2013, 02:24PM
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what I find interesting is that we are talking about Backlund, Stempniak, Stajan(!?!), and even Brodie and Baertschi...

while we have all been busy arguing for or against a rebuild (or at least the style of rebuild), it looks to me like we are well into the process of passing the torch from Iginla (&Cammy/Tanguay).

Unfortunately, we are passing from a franchise right winger to a solid two-way 2nd line center that can fill in the first line once in a while in bursts if necessary.

Still, I can't help but think that somehow the sum is still less then the parts - that they have more to give... this group. I guess I have a cool-aid hangover?

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#8 icedawg_42
March 05 2013, 02:40PM
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Backs was a beast to start the season. I hope his return isn't being rushed. Was initially supposed to be 6 weeks right? I guess another week or 2 would put that right about correct. Hopefully he picks up where he left off - he sure was fun to watch.

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#10 RKD
March 05 2013, 02:49PM
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Backs had a strong start to the season, had he not gone down I was thinking this would have been his rebound season. It's obvious that Roman Cervenka is far more comfortable playing on the wing.

Backlund is pretty good defensively, something we lacked since we traded away Daymond Langkow.

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#12 the-wolf
March 05 2013, 02:54PM
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One of our few bright spots. He was making real strides from being a 3rd line center to a legit 2nd line center this season so here's hoping he gets back on track.

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#13 Parallex
March 05 2013, 02:54PM
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@Kent Wilson

I don't think they're pretending that Jarome is elite. If they were Hartley wouldn't have shifted the lines to put Iginla with Hudler and Cervenka vs. the Canucks. Nah?

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#15 Avalain
March 05 2013, 02:59PM
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@Kent Wilson

Who is pretending that Jarome is elite? From what I can tell, Hartley put him 6th in terms of ice time for forwards in the last game.

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#16 Parallex
March 05 2013, 03:08PM
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@Kent Wilson

It's really just the established media. I mean unless you know for a fact that the bigwigs talk behind closed doors as if those two were elite then really all it is is performance art so that the media can have their precious traditional narratives (and not have to be actual journalists) to sell to the public.

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#17 beloch
March 05 2013, 03:13PM
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The big wigs and media-types would probably love to sell another player as "Elite", but the Flames really don't have anyone fitting that bill. Cammalleri could probably stand up to a bit more pressure from the spotlight, but even he's a bit of a stretch. Like it or lump it, Iggy's the face of the franchise.

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#19 beloch
March 05 2013, 03:17PM
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Backlund definitely looked like he took a step forward this year, but his durability is still in question, and it'll be even more in question if his play takes a step backwards after he returns. What kind of contract do you see him being offered? I honestly can't see management giving him a big, long contract when he hasn't proven he can both play well and stay healthy on a consistent basis. Will he settle for another short-term contract so he can prove his worth, or are we in for some drama(TM) this summer?

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#21 seve927
March 05 2013, 03:28PM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

Well, Im judging the management by their actions - if they rated Iginla at all similarly to myself, they would have started shopping him two years ago. Ditto Kipper. The long tail-off was rather predictable if you were looking from the right angle, so I can only conclude they still think those guys are still high-end.

How do you shop a guy with an NTC that doesn't want to leave?

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#22 Parallex
March 05 2013, 03:32PM
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@Kent Wilson

Depends on how you look at it... maybe from a hockey ops standpoint it made sense to make transactions on them a few years ago but the flames don't operate in an empty arena, I'd be willing to wager that from a sales/marketing standpoint they concluded that it made more sense to keep them then to move them. They're probably right.

It's water under the bridge now. Random question: Assuming that he wants to stay and won't ask to waive his NMC... what does he get in extension? Doan makes 5.3 would he be the most logical comparable?

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#23 Parallex
March 05 2013, 03:37PM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

Yeah those are legit concerns. Unless he scores at PPG pace when he comes back, Backs will still have limited leverage in talks. if they're smart, the Flames management will try to get him for cheap over 2 or 3 years.

Yeah, he's 23 so he's got a ways to go before free agency I'd try to lock him down cheap for two years and then try to buy out his remaining RFA time + a couple of UFA years while they still have leverage.

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#24 icedawg_42
March 05 2013, 03:40PM
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Parallex wrote:

Yeah, he's 23 so he's got a ways to go before free agency I'd try to lock him down cheap for two years and then try to buy out his remaining RFA time + a couple of UFA years while they still have leverage.

He's RFA at the end of the season...

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#25 the-wolf
March 05 2013, 03:42PM
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seve927 wrote:

How do you shop a guy with an NTC that doesn't want to leave?

People usually don't want to stay when they're not wanted. Sundin, obviously, is an exception. But players with NTCs have been moved before.

I fully endorse the notion that if Calgary had drafted and developed another RW who potted 50 goals that that RW would now be on the 1st line and Iginla permanently on the 2nd line. Though you never really know with Calgary.

That said, they didn't and until this season they have deployed Iginla as though he were still 26. Nor have they even attempted to shop him by all accounts.

I mean, if you're supposedly not still building around Iginla and yet you're not shopping him either and thre's no heir apparents on the horizon and you can't make the playoffs either, then.....what are you doing?

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#26 Parallex
March 05 2013, 03:46PM
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@icedawg_42

Yes he is... and he will continue to be an RFA until he has 7 years service time.

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#27 the-wolf
March 05 2013, 03:50PM
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Parallex wrote:

Depends on how you look at it... maybe from a hockey ops standpoint it made sense to make transactions on them a few years ago but the flames don't operate in an empty arena, I'd be willing to wager that from a sales/marketing standpoint they concluded that it made more sense to keep them then to move them. They're probably right.

It's water under the bridge now. Random question: Assuming that he wants to stay and won't ask to waive his NMC... what does he get in extension? Doan makes 5.3 would he be the most logical comparable?

I would have to think you're bang-on with Doan as the comparable. 5/sounds about right.

I think the bigger question is term. How long do you go? I can't see Iginla agreeing to do a series of 1 years ala Selanne and Lidstrom.

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#28 Parallex
March 05 2013, 03:53PM
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@the-wolf

Ideally one year at a time, two would be the more likely... you want to limit your risk vis-a-vie the 35+ contract (or did they eliminate that in the MOU?).

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#29 FireOnIce
March 05 2013, 04:17PM
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@the-wolf

To put it bluntly, "you're" being handcuffed by an egotistical arsehole. The more I hear about Iginla, the less I think he is the "leader" and "just a real nice guy". This organization is being held hostage by someone that cares more about padding their stats and making $7M a year (for what?) than winning a Cup or contributing positively.

If Iginla really cared, he would've waived his NTC long ago. If he really wanted to play for the Flames, he would've signed one of the TWO contract extensions he's already been offered. But instead, he's chosen not to sign anything and wait until the offseason - well, Jarome, that may be too late, you clown.

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#30 FireOnIce
March 05 2013, 04:18PM
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Why can't I post a$$hole but "pile of dog sh!t" can be used in the actual written articles?

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#31 SmellOfVictory
March 05 2013, 05:50PM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

haha, TOO SOON.

If anything happens I'll find a justification for it, and I will defend his name until the bitter end.

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#32 SmellOfVictory
March 05 2013, 05:51PM
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FireOnIce wrote:

Why can't I post a$$hole but "pile of dog sh!t" can be used in the actual written articles?

The writers have their stuff edited before it's published; we don't, and presumably they want to avoid the possibility of comment threads being dominated by swearing.

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#33 Alt
March 05 2013, 06:05PM
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I,d be really surprised if Iginla is,nt moved within the next 3 weeks.

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#34 Justin Azevedo
March 06 2013, 02:31PM
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SmellOfVictory wrote:

The writers have their stuff edited before it's published; we don't, and presumably they want to avoid the possibility of comment threads being dominated by swearing.

it's an automatic thing, code in the website is difficult to change. you should see our writing platform.

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#35 SmellOfVictory
March 06 2013, 03:18PM
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Justin Azevedo wrote:

it's an automatic thing, code in the website is difficult to change. you should see our writing platform.

Like hell it is! Give me access and I'll change it real good.

It may not work, but I can change it, for sure.

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