Sunday, March 08, 2015

Who Cares What the Analytics Say! Five Reasons Why Flames Fans Should Just Enjoy the Ride

It's been a regular occurrence all season.

Calgary falls behind, gets outplayed, gets outshot, but time and time again -- just like Harry Houdini wiggling out of his chains and locked box, the Flames somehow escape with a victory.

Winning games they have no business winning. If there's a theme to this season, that's been it and it's a quality that is driving the advanced stats extremists crazy.

I know this because immediately after Flames wins -- like clockwork, out come the line graphs from the analytics folks, insistently pointing out the opposition line and how it's way up there and the Flames line and how it's way down there. Calgary should not have won that game, this grid proves it.

Lucky, yet again.

Heck, given all the 'good fortune' this y axis-challenged Flames team have enjoyed -- now 11 games above .500 for the first time since 2010-11, the NHL should forget about putting an expansion team in Las Vegas and just relocate Calgary instead. It would be a perfect fit.

A Little About Calgary's Comebacks
  • In eight of the Flames 36 wins, they have overcome a multi-goal deficit. Six times Calgary has trailed by two goals, twice (in Los Angeles, versus Boston) by three goals.
  • The Flames trailed in the second period in 17 of the wins including five of the last six.
  • Eleven times Calgary has trailed in the third period -- 10 times to start the period, which is tied with Anaheim for the league-lead. One other time -- Jan. 19 against Los Angeles, the game was scoreless after two periods, the Kings took a 1-0 lead, but the Flames came back to win.
  • Overall, Calgary trailed at some point in the game in 21 of its 36 victories.

Whether all this is just luck and random events as some maintain, or if you are a believer in intangibles such as character, heart, a team possessing a lot of 'fight' and the notion that not all things can be measured, that's another debate for another day. (Spoiler Alert: The truth lies somewhere in the middle.)

What I'm here to suggest to Flames fans is to not get hung up on what the analytics say. If I can share some advice, it's ignore the critics and guilt-free, soak up and celebrate every improbable victory.

I'm not against advanced stats in the slightest. I'm a numbers guy myself and as a supporting tool, data can help validate what you think you're seeing and can suggest other things to watch for that maybe you haven't noticed before.

That said, here are five reasons why Calgary's advanced stats need not concern you at this time.

1. Calgary Doesn't Think They're Better Than They Are

The trap when it comes to a lucky or misleading win-loss record is management making risky and/or regrettable personnel decisions based on that. This can negatively impact the team's future.

As a fan, what you don't want is general manager Brad Treliving thinking the Flames are closer than they actually are to being perennially good and gambling away key future assets in order to help the present.

Acquiring ex-Coyotes defenceman Keith Yandle, as some were hoping, would have been a mistake. At the exorbitant cost he went to the Rangers for --  a first round pick, a second round pick, a top prospect and a depth defencemen, that would have been an example of the Flames sacrificing the future for short term gain.

But that did not happen. Instead, here's what Treliving did at the trade deadline instead:
  • Sven Baertschi traded away for a second round pick
  • Curtis Glencross traded away for a second and third round pick

Two bodies, neither in the future plans for various reasons, were shipped out for future assets, while zero bodies were brought in. The only addition came via waivers -- David Schlemko. (Who as I wrote in this playful piece, immediately became a cult hero in Calgary.)

These events should reassure fans that Treliving knows exactly where the team is at right now in the rebuild process with the personnel in the organization at the NHL level and on the way. It also was a re-assuring indicator that it's where Calgary is ultimately going that remains his primary focus.

2. Flames Will be What They'll be Next Year Anyway

By now, you've heard the comparisons. Calgary's luck will run out soon and they'll plummet back to earth next season in a fiery crash just like Toronto did this year after a deceptively good win-loss record to start the season, and just like Colorado had an analytics-defying win-loss record last year and has taken a step backwards this season.

While I think that's an over-simplistic and over-presumptuous way of looking at it that disregards impactful personnel changes looming for next season like adding Sam Bennett and Emile Poirier, that is also not today's debate.

Today, I'm going to go along with the analytics folks and agree that the luck will run out next year and the Flames record will, indeed, be not very good next season.

OK, so now what?

Is the concern that fans are getting too used to winning this year and that they'll have to deal with a regression next season?

The way I see it, one shouldn't fear regression, one should embrace it because in order to regress, it means you're playing at a high level and/or winning right now.

Would it be preferred for the Flames to be bad this year as well as next year? I think most fans are OK with the way things are playing out. Soak up this year for what it's worth and cherish every day in a playoff race because let's be honest, being legitimately in the hunt in March, aka Stanley Cup playoffs lite, is a sizeable upgrade over what Calgary fans have grown accustomed to at this time of year.

Here's an analogy:

This season is like a Friday night. Next season is like Saturday morning and maybe it isn't going to be fun -- the bathrooms need cleaning and the kitchen is a mess.

Your choice for Friday is head to the pub with your pals and enjoy some adult beverages, have a great time, and deal with a hangover in the morning. There's always Tylenol.

The alternative is you can stay home on Friday, stick with drinking water, and maybe organize the pantry so comparably, Saturday is not such a letdown,

I know if I was making the choice, it's order up the potato skins and nachos, grab me a Strongbow and I'll see you shortly.

3. There's Nothing You Can Do About It

The Flames don't have enough depth on the blue-line. You're right.

Calgary is playing guys on the second line that should be on the third or fourth line. You're right.

Anything else to add?

Wish all you want that Calgary had more elite personnel and would be a better Corsi team but they are what they are right now .

As a fan, what are you supposed to do, wallow in it? Be depressed about it?

You can't control it so why fret about it.

4. The NHL Goes by Goals

If the NHL standings were based on advanced stats, the Flames would not be in a playoff spot right now. Conversations around Calgary this morning would be about Connor McDavid and the draft lottery, not Devan Dubnyk and the race for a playoff spot.

Heck, there would have even been a segment that would have (on the inside, mind you, and in the nicest of ways possible) celebrated the Mark Girodano injury instead of turning ghostly white.

But alas, that's not how it works.

There are two types of currency in the NHL: 1. Goals. 2. Wins. You accumulate them however you can and once you've got them, they are yours to keep. Those are the two metrics that matter and the more you get of both, the better.

The NHL is not like math class in junior high school. where not only are you graded on the final answer, but you also have to show all your work. In the NHL, they just care about the answer and if you get it right -- fluke, luck, or by cheating, you get full marks in the form of two points.

Calgary has shown an inane ability to win games it has no business winning based on statistical norms. Their 5-on-5 shooting percentage of 8.8 ranks third in the NHL and is well above the historical norm. Sean Monahan, as an example, has scored seven goals on his last 12 shots. That's flat-out ridiculous and nowhere near sustainable, yet it happened, it has helped the Flames pick up a couple extra wins as a result and those wins are locked in the vault, nobody can take them away.

Sometimes it's not about getting hung up on the how, and just enjoying the end result.

A favourite expression of a friend of mine applies here, "I don't want to know what goes into making the sausages. I just know they taste delicious."

5. Non-Debatable: Flames Games are Entertaining

At the end of the day, hockey is what it is. It's a form of entertainment.

When you buy tickets to see the Flames at the Saddledome, it's over other alternatives such as going to the theatre. When you watch the games on TV, it's over a plethora of other shows you could have chosen instead.

Surely the one thing the advanced stats crowd and the traditionalists can agree on is Flames games are rarely dull. Calgary has proven the last couple seasons but this year especially that you don't have to be good to be wildly entertaining.

And isn't that ultimately what you want?

Watching a game from the edge of your couch, white-knuckling your way through every shift by Deryk Engelland. That timely desperation great save from Karri Ramo, the agonizing fourth consecutive icing as they cling to a one-goal lead in the final minutes.

In a way, Flames games some nights is like watching an animal kingdom show on Discovery Channel. You see the gazelle, grazing on some grass in an open field. It's quick but undersized. Then they show the vicious tiger, methodically stalking its prey. So big, so strong, so powerful.

You know who should prevail and part of you wants to cover your eyes, but sometimes the gazelle uses its speed and agility and gets away. The Flames winning three out of four games with Los Angeles and being ahead of the defending Stanley Cup champions in the standings with five weeks to go is proof that there are no certainties and anything can happen.


Will there be a drop off in the Flames play coming up -- either later this month or next year? Probably. Will there be a lengthy losing streak as their luck evens out? Possibly.

But from a fan's perspective, isn't that even more reason to enjoy the prosperity of today. The losses are coming. Nobody thinks the rebuild is over. So you better damn well enjoy the winning.

Lamenting that the team is getting outplayed when there's nothing you can do about it anyway just seems like a downer way to watch a hockey game. Maybe you should stick to watching movies instead -- although if you choose Rudy or Hoosiers, you might as well keep watching the Flames as the underdog story playing out in Calgary this season is just as good.

And while the luck will run out eventually, who is to say that doesn't happen at the same time the Flames start winning games on merit instead.

Remember, this is a team that is on the upswing. They have five rookies on the roster right now and eight players are 24-and-under. They are only continuing to get better. Next year, add in an enormous talent like Bennett, Poirier probably graduates to full-time duty, two good players coming in and surely Tyler Wotherspoon arrives by then too.

My flaw in the "They're going to be just like last year's Avalanche" theory is it's grossly over simplistic. Who played the role of Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie for Colorado last year? Having one of the NHL's best defensive pairings gives the Flames a solid foundation on the blue-line not many teams have and you can't underestimate the difference they make.

Plus, six draft picks potentially in the top 80 this June and with loads of cap space, who knows what personnel changes might happen this summer. With a trade or two, the Flames could very well be in the playoff race conversation to start next season based on merit, and not needing the same luck they've gotten this year.

Back in the early 80s when I was teenager watching Flames games on TV, I loved it. I couldn't tell you then or now whether they were supposed to be winning or not, whether they were lucky or not, and I didn't care.

If there's a single bit of advice for this season. Adopt that same attitude. Don't over think it, just enjoy it. Man, it's just hockey and it's been fun.


Recent Related Flames Reading
  • The Schlemko: Flames Win Again and in the most Calgary Way Imaginable - A playful look at that special moment Thursday night in Boston that turned NHL journeyman defenceman David Schlemko into a cult hero. 
  • Eight from 80 Feet: Trade Deadline Edition - Final thoughts on Sven Baertschi, the 411 on the four recall rule, and some neat thoughts directly from Brad Treliving on how much more comfortable he felt making moves at the deadline compared to when he first arrived last year and was faced with making a trade at the deadline and some summer signings.
  • Eight Flames That Could Get Dealt at the Trade Deadline - While the trade deadline could be a quiet one for Brad Treliving, there are several players in the organization from Curtis Glencross to Sven Baertschi, who I can see being moved if teams are interested and Calgary's general manager gets an offer he likes.
  • Eight from 80 Feet: Ramo Ranked No. 1, Glencross' Spot in Team History, and more -Topics included in the lastest eight Flames thoughts includes Karri Ramo -- the NHL's best road goaltender this season, Curtis Glencross and his final place in team history and Sean Monahan's evolution at the face-off dot. 
  • No, the Western Conference Sky is not Falling - Tumbling out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference has left fans feeling much consternation. Much consternation about nothing, that is. Calgary still controls its own destiny and with one of the softest schedules remaining, rumours of the death of the Flames playoff chances are greatly exaggerated


  1. TLDR version:

    GFY Ryan Lambert!!!!

  2. Who cares what the analytics say... apparently you do since you just spent time writing 2,200 words about it. Although why you think you have Solomanian wisdom to tell people what they should or shouldn't care about is the bigger mystery.

  3. Nice work Darren!

    I'm taking your advice and I'm going to the pub, but that kitchen is going to be ugly with the hangover on Saturday.

    To answer "what else do I want"? Replace Bollig and Engelland with Shore and Schemko permenantly.