The Calgary Flames wrapped up the first quarter of the 2018-19 season with an thrilling win over their rival Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night. It was a game that seemed to right the Flames ship, marking a bounceback win after dropping three of their previous four contests.
It’s been a wild ride so far, and the first 20 games have provided no shortage of compelling story lines. David Rittich is looking like a true NHL goaltender, Elias Lindholm looks poised to smash his career highs in almost every statistical category, and Matthew Tkachuk is the team’s leading scorer. On the flip side, Mike Smith is statistically the worst starting goalie in the league, Noah Hanifin has underwhelmed from the high expectations held for him to open the season, and James Neal has just four points to his name.
TWC runs weekly power rankings that assign a cumulative point total to each team in the league based on a number of statistical categories. These include winning percentage, possession metrics, and save percentage in an effort to generate a purely stats based power ranking. Unlike the other power rankings you see all over the internet, the TWC rankings hold no biases, and let the numbers speak for themselves.
Related: TWC Power Rankings: Week 6
In the same vein, this week marks the launch of a similar series. Now that the Flames have 20 games behind them, we’ve developed a similar ranking model that evaluates and ranks every Flames skater against a number of statistical categories. It incorporates on-ice metrics (CF%, SCF%, HDCF%, and GF%), individual metrics (the same possession metrics, plus point scoring), and a PDO adjustment factor. Each statistic has been assigned a prescribed weighting based on their relation to the scoring of a single goal.
Without further ado, here’s how the Flames stack up through the first quarter of the season:
No surprises at the top of the list, with Tkachuk, Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, and Lindholm pacing the team. They’ve easily been the best players so far, and are mostly responsible for stirring the drink. Same story at the bottom, with Anthony Peluso and Michael Stone as the worst Flames skaters to date. Seeming outliers from an early look are Garnet Hathaway in eighth place, Neal in 10th, and Juuso Valimaki near the very bottom, even below Dalton Prout. There’s a reason for all of these things, I promise.
The forwards appear to have separated themselves into five distinct tiers:
- The best on the team: Tkachuk, Monahan, Gaudreau, Lindholm
- Top of the middle six: Bennett, Backlund, Hathaway
- Bottom of the middle six: Frolik, Neal, Dube, Czarnik
- Bottom six: Ryan, Jankowski
- Anthony Peluso: Peluso
There really isn’t any reason that Peluso should be in the NHL in any capacity. He is, for lack of a better description, pretty useless, and hasn’t done much in the way of helping the Flames, thus he’s landed in the lowest tier all by himself.
Hathaway does look to be a lot higher up than where his on-ice deployment would suggest, but the biggest reason for that is a small sample size. His overall score is skewed by a very impressive goals for percentage: 66.7%. However, he’s only been on the ice for six total goals. Four of them were in favour of the Flames, and two he scored himself in the Flames’ win over the New York Rangers. As the season progresses, Hathaway’s ranking will fall, especially if he doesn’t fix what are quite bad possession stats.
If Dube and Neal can find a way to start burying some of the chances they’ve been getting this year, both should rise in the rankings as well. Frolik hasn’t been amazing, but has put points on the board which goes a long way.
Giordano has been exceptional through the first quarter of the season, and it shows in these rankings. He is miles ahead of the next best defenseman, his partner TJ Brodie, and is the only defenseman to earn a score comparable to the top forwards on the team. It makes sense that defenders will be ranked lower than forwards as a general rule, simply because they get fewer points than forwards, and are tasked with, well, defense.
Hanifin, despite having a seemingly underwhelming start to the year, has really picked up his play over the last week or so, and his underlying numbers still suggest he has more to give. It’s much too early to write him off, and he’s a player to keep an eye out for in the second quarter of the season. Behind Giordano, four defensemen are relatively close in score: Brodie, Hamonic, Hanifin, and Andersson. Andersson is still ranked decently highly despite low point totals so, if he can start putting a few more points up, he should soar up the chart.
Don’t give too much attention to Prout here. He has played in just one game, in which he was stapled to the incredible MMA line and really didn’t have to do much work to generate offense or play solid shutdown defense.
Valimaki is the really interesting case here. In his first 20 professional hockey games, he’s looked genuinely good. He’s been leaned on to play in tough defensive situations including big penalty kills, and seems to be fairly comfortable as he adjusts to the NHL game. However, his possession metrics aren’t all that good; he’s underwater in all three on-ice metrics. As well, he has a dreadful GF% at 30%, doesn’t receive power play time, and only has two points on the year. He has a high ceiling and still projects to be a top pairing defender down the road, but he’s had growing pains to start the year. He’s still a great player and should improve as the year goes on.
There isn’t really a point in creating a separate ranking model for goaltenders, especially with how clear cut the ranks would be so far this year. Rittich has been far superior to Smith in basically every single category imaginable. He’s among the best goalies in the NHL right now, and looks to have stolen the starting job from Smith, at least for the time being. Rittich is still new to the NHL though, and just as things have gone perfectly to start the year, they could just as easily go south in a hurry. Goaltending is the position most in flux for the Flames right now, but Rittich is doing an admirable job holding the fort. Hopefully he can prove he’s more than just a good backup goalie.
What are your thoughts? Are you surprised by where anybody landed? Let me know at @wincolumnblog.
All data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.