After reeling off 10 straight wins, the Calgary Flames were on the wrong end of a drubbing by the lowly Vancouver Canucks. Despite the success the Flames had experienced before that game, head coach Darryl Sutter opted to make some big changes to the team’s bottom-six.
On Saturday night against the Minnesota Wild, Sutter scratched Dillon Dube and Adam Ruzicka in favour of veterans Brad Richardson and Brett Ritchie. The Flames would dominate and win the game 7–3, but how much of that was really the changes Sutter made to the bottom-six?
Despite winning 10 straight with Dube and Ruzicka in the lineup, Sutter clearly felt the team needed a change up the lineup after the loss to Vancouver. So that poses the debate, who should the Flames play in their bottom six, the young guys or the veterans? Let’s take a look at each players results so far this season.
The veterans can’t score
Both the young duo of Dube and Ruzicka and the veteran duo of Richardson and Ruzicka have failed to provide much offence so far this season. Each player has had trouble contributing in a big way offensively in 2021–22 and hasn’t been a major factor. Let’s take a look at each players stats so far this season.
Of the four players, rookie Ruzicka has actually provided offence at the best rate so far this season despite only having 22 NHL games under his belt. His 0.37 points per game is the highest of the four players, and he’s only two goals behind Dube in 31 fewer games.
Dube meanwhile has been a major disappointment this season. Now in his fourth NHL season, he’s currently producing at the worst rate since his rookie season in 2018–19 as he’s currently on pace for just 10 goals and 23 points. For context, he put up 11 goals and 22 points in just 51 games last season.
Richardson has been useless offensively to say the least. His four points rank second last on the Flames among forwards. He hasn’t scored in over two months with his last goal coming on November 20, 2021. He’s since gone 16 games without scoring, registering just 2 assists.
Ritchie has been even worse somehow. The 28-year-old has managed to not register a single point across 25 games played this season. Among NHL forwards to play at least 25 games in 2021–22, Ritchie is the only one without a point. Only Kevin Connauton—who is a defenceman—has matched this rate of at least 25 games without a point.
How do the underlying numbers look?
Both Ruzicka and Richardson are centres competing for the fourth line centre role, while Dube and Ritchie are both wingers. For that reason let’s see how each compares to each other when looking at their Regularized Adjusted Plus-Minus courtesy of evolving-hockey.com.
Dube and Ritchie actually come out looking pretty even, although Dube’s sample size is much larger to be fair. Dube has been better offensively, however Ritchie has fared better on defence as Dube has struggled in his own zone at times.
At centre, the better player is clear. Richardson has been downright awful this season and it shows right away. Ruzicka meanwhile, has fared very well for a player in his first NHL season. In particular he’s been very solid defensively, another impressive achievement for someone as young as Ruzicka.
Let’s take a look at how each player has fared in some key metrics so far this season. Numbers are 5v5, score- and venue-adjusted courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com.
Despite his horrific offensive totals, Ritchie has actually posted some solid underlying numbers this season. In fact he’s sitting first among the four players for xGF%, HDCF%, and iCF/60. Ritchie ranks fifth for xGF%, second for HDCF%, and third for iCF/60.
Dube meanwhile has also posted some solid numbers, although when compared to his teammates they’re a bit lacking. He ranks eighth for xGF%, HDCF% and iCF/60. That said his numbers are still better than Ruzicka and Richdardson’s.
Ruzicka has only played in 19 games so his sample size is a little small, but regardless for a rookie his numbers have been impressive. His CF% ranks eighth on the team, while his xGF% and iCF/60 rank ninth. Quite impressive for a rookie playing mainly fourth line minutes.
Richardson has struggled to say the least. He ranks dead last for CF%, xGF%, HDCF% and iCF/60. He’s one of only two forwards with a CF% and xGF% under 50%, while he’s the only forward with a HDCF% under 40. He is quite literally a black hole offensively.
Impact on teammates
When we look at how each player impacts their teammates, we find some interesting results. With Dube out of the lineup, Milan Lucic was bumped up to the third line alongside Sean Monahan and Tyler Toffoli. To say that line lacks footspeed would be an understatement. The numbers back it up as well courtesy of MoneyPuck.com.
|Dube – Monahan – Toffoli||25.0||51.9||3.37|
|Lucic – Monahan – Toffoli||29.4||35.0||1.43|
The results are night and day. Since Toffoli came on board he’s played solely on Monahan’s wing on the third line. The duo’s results have been drastically different depending on who they’re playing with.
It’s no secret that Monahan and Toffoli aren’t the fastest, so putting them with yet another slow player in Lucic has seen some brutal results. With one of the team’s fastest players in Dube however the line has seen much more success.
Monahan in particular has fared much better with Dube this season than without.
|Monahan w/ Dube||261:40||57.39||62.19||67.18|
|Monahan w/o Dube||328:22||51.81||46.67||47.42|
The results speak for themselves. Monahan has been considerably better this season when playing with Dube than without him. Without Dube, Monahan’s been one of the team’s worst players at even strength, yet when playing with Dube his numbers are drastically better and among some of the best on the team.
So how about in Ruzicka’s case? When on the fourth line since Toffoli joined the team, Ruzicka has played mainly with Lewis and Lucic. Let’s see how those wingers have fared with Ruzicka and with Richardson.
|Lucic – Ruzicka – Lewis||76.9||48.1||2.03|
|Lucic – Richardson – Lewis||66.9||30.2||1.17|
With Ruzicka in the lineup the fourth line hasn’t been tremendous by any means, but boy have they been better than when Richardson is out there. The fourth lines xGF% and xGF/60 are considerably higher with Ruzicka than with Richardson.
The 30.2 xGF% posted by the Richardson trio is the second worst xGF% among any line that has played at least 20 minutes together this season for the Flames. Their 1.17 xGF/60 is also second worst. As well the supposed defensive trio has an xGA/60 of 2.69, which is fifth worst among lines with 20 minutes together this season.
In fact, despite being labelled as an eraser type defensive forward, the Flames have been worse defensively this season with Richardson compared to Ruzicka.
In short, the fourth line is better with Ruzicka, and the third line is better with Dube.
The choice is clear
It really shouldn’t be up for debate, the Flames are a much better team with Dube and Ruzicka in the lineup compared to Ritchie and Richardson. If we look at points, underlying numbers, and impact on teammates, Dube and Ruzicka offer more in every aspect than Richardson and Ritchie.
In particular, Richardson is clearly not an NHL player anymore, while Ruzicka has played very well in just his first NHL season. With Ruzicka at centre, the Flames’ fourth line stays above water. With Richardson, they are a clear weakness.
Meanwhile despite Ritchie’s impressive underlying numbers this season, his offensive abilities are among the worst in the entire NHL. Although Dube hasn’t had the best year offensively, he’s still vastly outproduced Ritchie and his skill level and speed is lightyears ahead of Ritchie.
The Flames’ bottom-six sorely lacks foot speed, and with Ritchie and Richardson in the lineup instead of Dube and Ruzicka the team’s bottom-six becomes one of the slowest in the entire NHL. If this trend continues, their opponents will exploit it with certainty.