The Calgary Flames were an offensive force to be reckoned with last season. They scored the second most goals in the NHL with 289, and were just one of three teams that averaged over 3.50 goals per game.
On a player basis, the Flames had three players hit the 30 goal mark, five hit the 20 goal mark, and 11 players score double-digit goals. Still there were several players who underperformed, most notably James Neal whose seven goals was a far cry from the 20 he was expected to score.
One indicator of future performance in terms of goals scored is expected goals. This metric measures how many goals a player was expected to score over the course of the period analyzed, taking into account a multitude of variables including shot angle, shot distance, shot type, off-the-rush chances, rebound chances, and historical shooting percentage among others. There are several different expected goals models out there, but for the purposes of this evaluation, we chose to use data from Natural Stat Trick.
Looking at the projected Flames roster for next season, 13 players saw an actual goal output that was higher than their expected goals over the course of the 2018-19 season.
Most of the Flames’ top offensive producers outscored their expected goals last season. Topping the list is leading scorer Johnny Gaudreau, whose expected goals output was over 10 goals less than his actual output. Following him are big name players Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm, Mark Giordano, Sean Monahan and Michael Frolik. The only player not included in this list from the top-six is second line center Mikael Backlund.
If these players trend closer to their expected goals output next season, they should see a slight dip in their production.
Seven Flames skaters (Milan Lucic is also included for forecasting purposes) scored fewer goals than their expected goals suggested they would:
Surprisingly leading the here is in fact Lucic. It does appear that he was extremely unlucky last season, where he was expected to score nearly four more goals than he actually did. If Lucic had hit his xG mark, his season wouldn’t have been so putrid.
An interesting note about this list is that out of the six players who were on the Flames’ roster last season, four were first time Flames, and two were rookies. Perhaps these players’ low goal totals can be partially attributed to learning the systems on a new team and even a new league.
If we take the sum of every Flames player’s expected goals from last season, it adds up to a team-wide expected goals output of 244. This is good for the fifth most expected goals in the NHL last season, behind the Carolina Hurricanes (276), Toronto Maple Leafs (257), Vegas Golden Knights (254), and San Jose Sharks (249).
We can expect the Flames to be among the highest scoring teams in the league next year as well. While it is likely a few players will fall short of their goal totals from last year, there are several players, including a few rookies and sophomores, who are due for a sizable increase in goal output next season.
Despite the departures of several roster fixtures from last season, the Flames should be one of hockey’s most exciting teams once again.