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Calgary Flames

The Question of Eric Nystrom



2009 – Eric Nystrom 82 11 8 19 0 54 0 0 2 0 91 12.1

Eric Nystrom has become something of a fan favourite around these parts lately, and not because he has lived up to the expectations inherently attached to being the 10th overall pick in the NHL entry draft since becoming a regular contributor to the Flames three seasons ago. Nystrom scored a career-high eleven goals and nineteen points this past season and played the second-most short-handed minutes on of all Flames forwards with 168:22. He also led all Flames forwards in hits with 117 and finished second in that designation with 51 blocked shots, despite only playing an average of 10:56/game at ES.

Those numbers are fine and dandy, but it is arguably Nystrom's "intangibles" that have endeared him most to Flames fans. He played injured for months, continued to sacrifice his body by blocking shots and throwing bodychecks, and rarely looked as if he was taking a shift off. An emotional guy, he was always ready to jump to the defence of his teammates, while rarely if ever taking an ill-advised penalty as a result; in fact, he drew four more penalties than he took this past season. However, as a player whose NHL ceiling appears to be that of a career third or fourth liner, Nystrom can only do so much (regardless of how often Brent Sutter sends him over the boards after an icing call), and the Flames will have to decide if they are willing to fork over the cash for his limited skill set. After the jump, I'll examine Nystrom's possession numbers and underlying stats, and look at the pros and cons of re-signing him and letting him walk. 

Nystrom spent most of his 897 EV minutes on bottom-six duty, with the exception of an occasional shift alongside Jarome Iginla during the search for that elusive top-line winger, as shown by his QualComp rating. Nystrom faced the second easiest competition of all regular Flames forwards this past season.

QC Corsi QoC Corsi On Corsi Off GFON/60 GAON/60 GFOFF/60 GAOFF/60
-0.07 -0.551 -3.89 +6.17 2.01 1.95 2.27 2.27

One of the most persistent knocks on Nystrom is that he faced easy competition and was still unable to push the puck in the right direction. As demonstrated in the table above, the Flames had a much better corsi rate with Nystrom off the ice than on. 

Here are Nystrom's overall possession numbers this past season:

Shots F/A Shots % Misses F/A Fenwick % Blocks F/A Corsi %
356/393 0.475 155/172 0.475 195/190 0.483

Fairly unimpressive results, especially considering the quality of competition Nystrom faced; however he also had the second toughest Zone Start of all regular Flames forwards this past season at 48.4%. While he may have been fed easy minutes at EV, Nystrom's circumstances weren't always so peachy. 

When it comes to score effects, Nystrom had the best possession figures when the Flames were trailing by more than one goal (0.547/0.565/0.591), but appeared to be most effective when the score was close or the game was tied. Nystrom shot 6.7% when the score was tied and 5.1% when it was close, while the team shot 7.3% with Nystrom on the ice when the score was tied and 5.5% when the score was close, with a .951 and .942 SV%, respectively. The resultant 102.4 PDO with Nystrom on the ice and the score tied suggests that a little luck was involved, but the PDO of 99.7 with a close score and Nystrom on the ice seems to fall more in line with reality. His two goals and thirty-nine shots combined with his possession figures when the game was close (491/.476/.482) suggest that he seemed to play best in that situation, and likely saw the majority of his EV ice time under those circumstances. Conversely, Nystrom was at his worst possession-wise when the Flames were leading by more than one goal (.395/.389/.394), but the team still shot 7.6% with him on the ice, for a PDO of 100.7. 

This past season, Nystrom certainly provided good value for his salary, and quite likely outperformed his $688,000,000 cap hit, but with rumours that he could be seeking double the $775,000 he made this year, can the Flames afford to allocate that cap space to a player with some good qualities, but seemingly limited potential (future captaincy aside)? At 27, Nystrom is just entering his prime. He shot a career-high 12.1% this past season when his average is just 8.8%, and is likely in for a regression in the scoring department, but he also finished the season without a minus in front of his +/- rating for first time in his NHL career. With that in mind, in the Flames position and considering their needs, do you shell out potentially $2M+ for a checking forward/PK specialist? Darryl has doled out large amounts of dough for players of Nystrom's ilk before, and we almost always end up bemoaning the presence of said overpaid checker with his immeasurable quantities of 'grit' and 'heart' and his cap-eating contract; will Nystrom be any different? Sutter sounded less than optimistic when addressing the issue of contract negotiations between the two parties on Monday, but the fact remains that the pool of UFAs affordable to the Flames this off-season is small enough as it is, and that number shrinks even further when looking to potentially replace a guy like Nystrom with a relatively established NHL forward for around the same dollar figure. The question remains–if not Nystrom, than who? 

by Hayley Mutch