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Calgary Flames

Flames Lacking a Top Matchup Line



I was perusing the stat site of Hockey Analysis and came across something pretty shocking.  Of all the forwards in the NHL who have played over 200 minutes, there were three Flames who ranked in the top-10 for Fenwick percentage.

Tim Jackman came in at third (60.0%), Mikael Backlund at fourth (59.9%) and David Moss at sixth (59.9%). It was unsurprising that all three had zone starts higher than 56% and rather easy quality of competition measures, but it definitely sparked a train of thought for me. As a sidenote, I rarely get a new train of thought, so please keep reading after the jump.

One of the few advantages this poorly assembled squad has is a rather dominant bottom of the forward roster.  The likes of Jackman, Backlund, Moss and Glencross seem to be outplaying their opposition on a regular basis.  Sure, they're getting some pretty soft ice time, but at least they're taking advantage of it.

What the Flames need, however, are players who can match up with the opposition's best.  I realize none of this is earth-shatteringly new to you.  That said, if the Flames could at least assemble one line that could play the opposition to a draw at evens with another line that could slightly outscore the opposition – then the fourth-line-on-steroids would be a legit weapon.

I recently posted about the Heavy Lifter Index over at Hockey Prospectus.  Unfortunately for the Flames, they really don't have many forwards that even qualified for the index, let alone scored well.  The Flames best current players and their 2009-10 rankings in HLI are below:

Langkow – 61st, Iginla – 62nd, Stajan – 85th, Hagman – 90th, Jokinen – 132nd, Glencross – 233rd

HLI the last three years

Bourque – 57th, Conroy – 66th, Tanguay – 76th, Stajan – 85th, Langkow – 108th, Iginla – 110th, Moss – 133rd, Glencross – 134th, Hagman – 138th

I know we've discussed it many times in game recaps and when looking at the scoring chance summaries.  That said, when we constantly talk about how the Flames need top forwards, we should be talking about top matchup forwards.  Iggy and company are definitely capable of taking a few top six matchups.  What the Flames need are a few more players capable of playing against the big boys.

The fact that Calgary's best player ranks 57th is a sign that the organization has done an extremely poor job of indentifying and developing players who can play the tough minutes well. 

Manny Malhotra and Colby Armstrong are perfect examples. They ranked 45th and 20th in HLI over the last three years and definitely would have been money better spend than Jokinen.

If teams were willing to part ways with players like Joel Ward, Erik Cole, Steve Ott, Tyler Kennedy or Daniel Cleary for reasonable return, they all could have provided another matchup option for Brent Sutter to work with. Each one of those players ranked in HLI’s top 34 over the last three seasons.

None of it is rocket science, but I think it just bares repeating how this team was put together with little thought or insight into the way the modern game works.

Your thoughts?

by Ryan Popilchak