Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Scoring Projections & The Odd Blue Jeans Reference

At the conclusion of the 2010-2011 campaign, the Calgary Flames found themselves ranked 7th in the NHL in ‘Goals For,’ scoring 241 goals in total. Based on the recent history and limited top-end skill in the line-up, this trend is not likely to continue in the fall. 9-1 wins in Colorado and a vastly improved PP in the last half played a part in this statistic, but the most significant variable comes in bounce-back campaigns. The likes of Tanguay, Morrison, Glencross and Jackman all put up decent point totals, arguably beyond expectations. Can we expect these heightened contributions a second time around? If not, how much can we expect team totals to drop off by April 2012?

Please note that this exercise is intended to be a reasonable prediction only, and thus nowhere near an exact science. As such, career years and unforeseen factors (trades, long-term injuries, etc) will not, and cannot be accounted for. Quite simply, these projections serve as a snapshot-in-time. While reading, please use this phrase: The Flames can RELY on ____ to score ____ goals this season:

Tanguay (20), Backlund (15), Iginla (32)

Glencross (18), Jokinen (15), Bourque (24)

Hagman (10), Langkow (12), Moss (14)

Morrison (8), Stajan (6), Jackman (8)

Fill-in fwds (<40 games): Kostopoulos (4), P-L-L (1)

Forward goal total: 187

Bouwmeester (5), Giordano (8)

Butler (4), Sarich (2)

Carson (0), Babchuk (8)

Fill-in D (<40 games): Brodie (2), Wilson (2)

Defence goal total: 31

Based on these assumptions, the Flames are due to score 218 goals this season. A 33-goal setback may seem insignificant over 82 games, but it would likely bury the Flames in the bottom ten teams league-wide. What does this mean?

Kipper and friends finished 19th best in 'Goals Against'  in 2010-2011, perhaps under the category of "not good." With our 'Goals For' estimate in mind, keeping the puck out of their own net will be the difference between playoffs and no playoffs moving forward. It is my belief the team underachieved defensively last season, and it will continue to be an uphill battle from here.

'Goals Against' will improve if...

A) the PK can bounce back from a tough season. The Flames gave up 48 goals when a man short, good for 22nd best in the NHL. You could also call it 9th worst, but who needs that type of negativity? A healthy Daymond Langkow may help the cause, as an upgrade over the likes of Stajan, Morrison, Kostopoulos et al on the PK. His face-off consistency has never been strong, but Langks has proven he can be a solid PK option in spite of this weakness. Bourque seems to be more effective alongside Langks in all areas, but his defensive play is arguably the most drastic example of this.

B) Kiprusoff improves his consistency: both 5on5 and in special teams scenarios. I continue to support Kiprusoff as a #1 goaltender, but the wild swings game-to-game were a concern last season. He would steal a 1-0 win in Nashville one night, and completely blow it in Detroit the next game. He would make an outstanding desperation save, before failing to make the next routine save. Here's hoping Karlsson can push him to be more consistent, but something tells me Kipper will once again play 70+ games, in another "off-year."

C) Mobility saves the day on D. The trend of recent years has been the sexy and seemingly overvalued "mobile, puck mover" on D. The loss of Regehr will hurt, no question. However, with the increased responsibility for Giordano and the additions of Butler and Carson to the blueline, you could argue this team is more equipped to "keep up" with the quicker forwards in the rugged west. The D corps may be easier to play against without Regehr, but if a mobile back-end is in fact more important in today's game, we could see a competent blueline this year... Of course, there is strong emphasis on the word "could."

The Flames seemingly over-achieved in the goal scoring category last winter, which means a significant step forward in defensive play will be the only tonic to avoid another year of mediocrity. The franchise threw out its brand-name jeans (Regehr) in favor of some Costco and Walmart alternatives (Butler, Carson). If the cheaper material doesn't fade within the first few months, the Flames will boast an understated, but effective style. Otherwise, it may be time to pull out that old pair of black cords... And nobody likes wearing cords.

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