A Tale of Two Coaches: Breaking down how the Flames have fared with Ward versus Peters

For the first time in the salary cap era, the Calgary Flames have had a season in which two different men were the head coach of the team. Since Bill Peters resigned on November 29th, Geoff Ward has been the man behind the bench, and gotten a much better record as the boss.

However, have the Flames actually been better under Ward? Or have they just been getting wins while overall playing worse? Perhaps taking a look at the data can tell us more.

Two quick notes: I fully believe the allegations made about Bill Peters and am glad that he resigned, so this is more a piece comparing the current team under the two bench bosses and not wishful prose to the coach of old. Also, I’m giving the Nov. 27th Buffalo Sabres win to Ward, because even though Peters was technically the head coach, Ward was the one actually coaching.

With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the data available B.R. (Before Resignation) and A.R. (After Resignation). All data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.

The Flames with Bill Peters

5v55v5 Score & Venue AdjustedAll situations
CF%52.04 (8th)51.06 (12th)51.11 (10th)
GF%39.58 (30th)39.37 (30th)43.54 (28th)
xGF%49.56 (15th)49.20 (15th)48.68 (22nd)
SCF%50.32 (14th)49.95 (17th)49.56 (17th)
HDCF%47.76 (22nd)47.81 (23rd)49.63 (21st)
HDGF%35.42 (31st)34.87 (31st)43.48 (29th)
SH%5.86 (31st)5.90 (31st)7.49 (31st)
SV%90.98 (25th)91.08 (26th)90.34 (18th)
PDO0.968 (30th)0.970 (30th)0.978 (27th)

Looking at the data, it isn’t hard to see why the Flames went 11-12-4 under Peters. For what it’s worth, that was good for 20th in the league, although due to the fact that Calgary had played the most games in the league when Peters resigned, it was actually 26th when going by points percentage.

Focusing specifically on the 5v5 Score & Venue Adjusted data (all data is neat, but some data is more relevant than others), it paints a picture showing a disconnect between Peters’ system and achieving results. It shows a team that could drive the play, although one that was just doing it for the sake of doing it and not performing with better results from it.

The major takeaway from this is how the Flames were just shy of being in the top third of CF%, but that number drops for any high-danger chances (HDCF%) and even more so for finishing those chances (HDGF%). It accounts for the massive disparity between their expected goals (15th) and their actual goals for (30th), more than just having an abysmal shooting percentage (31st) would (although that didn’t help either).

From a narrative standpoint, it’s easy to speculate while not being in the locker room. My gut would imagine that Peters lost the room, and started to replicate his results when he was the coach of the Carolina Hurricanes. It might be a cheap way out, but how else would you explain the difference this season and last when the Flames roster remained essentially the same?

It’s a shame, because I believe that Bill Peters was likely good at being a hockey coach, but no amount of racism and abusing players can be justified by what you bring to the table.

Enter: the promotion of Geoff Ward from associate coach to interim head coach.

The Flames with Geoff Ward

5v55v5 Score Venue AdjustedAll situations
CF%48.82 (19th)48.54 (21st)49.07 (18th)
GF%49.02 (18th)48.77 (18th)48.43 (21st)
xGF%50.02 (17th)49.50 (18th)50.80 (15th)
SCF%49.33 (17th)48.84 (20th)49.43 (18th)
HDCF%51.09 (13th)50.63 (14th)51.42 (10th)
HDGF%58.70 (5th)58.84 (5th)60.56 (3rd)
SH%7.52 (21st)7.56 (21st)9.27 (18th)
SV%92.97 (5th)92.94 (5th)90.91 (9th)
PDO1.005 (13th)1.005 (13th)1.002 (16th)

First, let’s go over the statistics that don’t change depending on the B.R. or A.R. eras. Calgary went 16-9-2 under Ward, good for 34 points (14th overall in the league during that time) and a points percentage of 0.630, which cracked the top ten!

The data is a bit more of a rollercoaster for Ward, which is fair since he’s had to create and implement his system on the fly. While he and Peters have equal amounts of games coached this season, Peters also had a full season last year as well as two preseasons to get the crew to play the way he wanted.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that we’ve got certified content here. It’s interesting to see that the Flames have essentially skyrocketed in two categories: high-danger goals for and their save percentage.

The first one is particularly interesting, as it doesn’t seem sustainable. That being said, it is also equally true that the Flames under Peters could not sustain how unlucky (or unfortunate if you’re so inclined) they were.

Will that HDGF% come down? Probably, especially if they continue to play the way they have since the All-Star break (they were in first league-wide at that point, so that slide is already starting). While it’s awesome that they are capitalizing on the big moments, it would be more relaxing as a fan if they were consistently getting better shots and driving play rather than just scoring timely goals.

That will especially be true if the goaltending decides to bottom out. David Rittich and Cam Talbot have been nothing short of sensational from an analytical perspective since Ward took over. (#goaliewhisperer) They have kept the Flames in it on several occasions, and it’s very obvious when they have an off night.

To further prove this point: take a guess without looking how many games the Flames have won in 2020 by more than a goal. Did you guess… zero? That fact is as brutal as they come, as the Flames haven’t had a multi-goal win since their 5-1 victory on December 27 over the Edmonton Oilers. The goalies have been incredible and kept the Flames in the playoff race over the past month.

To me, the data suggests that perhaps Ward isn’t ready for the interim label to be removed, which is honestly a shame because I feel as though he has a bright future in the league. From a completely personal perspective, I have found a lot of his decisions and reactions to be a bit knee-jerk, and I would love to see a bit of restraint and patience to allow the Flames some growing pains as they adjust to the first-time NHL coach.

In a hyper-competitive market like Calgary though, that isn’t a luxury he is afforded. He’ll certainly finish the season, and then it could very well be that his playoff performance (or lack thereof) ultimately seals his fate.

At the end of the day, Ward is doing an admirable, if not great, job as someone who has taken over midseason. The Flames are very hesitant to pull the trigger on a coaching change (and technically they didn’t as Peters resigned), so the pressure was there for Ward to justify his role.

Beyond some perplexing personnel decisions and possible big-league jitters, Ward has done an admirable filling in as the Flames’ man-in-charge. There’s still time to find a way through the growing pains, but with the Pacific playoff race being ultra-competitive, any hiccup along the way is costly.

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