The Calgary Flames have had such an eventful offseason, which followed a season where a lot of things went right, and some went wrong at very crucial times. The 2021–22 season was one of the best for the team, as the Flames managed to accrue 111 points, finishing first in the Pacific Division. Those 111 points were the second highest point total finish in franchise history, behind only their Stanley Cup winning 1988–89 season of 117 points.
After a phenomenal regular season, some things went wrong during the playoffs, as the Flames just could not get anything past Dallas Stars goalie Jake Oettinger. After they finally did and the Flames moved onto the second round, Chris Tanev got injured and their goaltending caved in on itself and the Edmonton Oilers bounced their southern rivals in five games.
Regression in the NHL
Regression works in mysterious ways, and factors into many different aspects of hockey. Some call it dumb luck, but a very simple way of explaining regression would be that most things have an average. Goals assists, points, injuries, fights, hits all have averages in a player’s career.
If Player X plays thirteen seasons in the NHL and has 500 points in 1000 games, his point-per-game average would be half a point per game, or 41 points in a full 82-game season. If Player X then has an insane year where he scores 150 points in those 82 games, one would expect that he would regress back to the mean the following season, because of his average in points prior. Regression also works the other way, and if Player X only scores 10 points in a full 82-game season, one would expect him to regress back to the mean and improve in the next season, due to his prior averages.
One way that NHL analysts measure regression is through a statistic called PDO, which measures the sum of a player’s shooting and save percentages while they are on the ice at even strength. When compared against the entire league, shooting averages and save percentage averages tend to balance out at an intuitive value of 1.000.
A PDO value of 1.000 demonstrates that the player is normally distributed on the playing field, as they aren’t lucky or unlucky. A PDO value of 1.050 shows a player is really lucky, and should regress back to the mean of 1.000. Vice versa, a PDO of 0.950 means that a player was unlucky, and should have a luckier season in the next. PDO is a great way to deep dive into players and see how they will perform year after year, and will be used when we look at different players on the Flames and what we can expect from them in 2022–23.
The injury factor
Before we get into the PDO comparison of each Flames player, let’s first talk about a big factor that impacted the Flames: Injuries—or the lack thereof. While PDO is a fantastic metric to look at for on-ice production, other areas can be regressive with other variables, such as man games lost for injuries.
Last year, the Calgary Flames were the most consistent team in the NHL in terms of man games lost, with only 92 games missed. To demonstrate how lucky that is, the next least-injured team in the league was the Minnesota Wild with 175 man games lost. The graphic below, courtesy of ManGamesLost.com, demonstrates just how lucky Calgary was in 2021–22.
As we can see, Calgary sits on the far left, having lost the least amount of man games in the entire league. On the other hand, Montreal sits on the extreme right, having lost a whopping 731 man games(!), which was a major reason for their rough 2021–22 season. The size of the team bubbles represents how many standings points were lost due to injuries.
Calgary’s bubble is pretty small, meaning they didn’t lose many standings points, while Montreal or Vegas have large bubbles, showcasing a large loss in standings points due to injuries.
You can see a clear trend in the majority of playoff teams being on the left side of the graph, while most of the non-playoff teams are featured on the right side. This showcases that there is a clear correlation between injuries and making the playoffs, as injuries can weaken your lineup and decrease standings points.
It is also worth noting that some of these man games lost are COVID-19 related, so we should see a totally different landscape next year. All teams dealt with COVID-19 at some point last season, but the Flames all got it at the same time, so their games were cancelled, meaning no man games were lost. Other teams dealt with waves and a different handful of players were out in different weeks, so their games were not cancelled and therefore man games lost was present.
Fingers are crossed that the Flames injury luck can remain the same or better as 2021–22, as you never want to see a player get injured. But regression infers that the Flames should have more man games lost, as 2021–22 serves as a major anomaly.
One thing the Flames have on their side is head coach Darryl Sutter rolling his forward lines and defence pairings, as top players have less minutes played and therefore less fatigue.
Flames that should regress negatively
Turning back to PDO, here are some of the Flames may see their play change for better or for worse.
Elias Lindholm (1.052 PDO)
Elias Lindholm was one of the members of the league’s best first line for the Flames last year. Simply put, everything went right for the trio. A PDO of 1.052 is extremely high, and there is a very high chance Lindholm regresses back to his mean averages.
Essentially, Lindholm should still remain a very good centre for this Flames team, but maybe not posting the point-per-game scoring rate or being second in league voting for the Selke results. Outside factors like Nazem Kadri‘s arrival will also play a factor, as Lindholm shouldn’t be relied on as much as he was last season. With Lindholm likely to regress, a 70- to 75-point season and a top 10 finish in the Selke voting seems reasonable. Not the superstar season he had in 2021–22, but still a very key member to this Flames team.
Oliver Kylington (1.025 PDO)
Oliver Kylington‘s NHL arrival surprised a lot of people. He was waived and went unclaimed after all. He ended up making the NHL roster out of training camp and then proceeding to play top-four minutes next to Chris Tanev for the entirety of the 2021–22 season.
Kylington also posted a career-high 31 points in his newfound role, while becoming a staple of speed and agility on the Flames blueline. With that exceptional season came a 1.025 PDO, which is very high, and is due to regress back to the mean in 2022–23.
Other outside factors like the new addition of MacKenzie Weegar will also play a huge role in Kylington’s next season, as he could find himself further down the lineup. Falling down the lineup could effect Kylington in a variety of ways as he will likely face easier competition, but his ice time and role could lessen. There are many different factors that will play a role in Kylington’s season, but his 1.025 PDO suggests that regression back to the mean should occur in 2022–23 and it wouldn’t be a major surprise.
Flames that should regress positively
Tyler Toffoli (0.979 in 37 GP with MTL, 0.990 PDO in 37 GP with CGY)
Acquired by the Flames prior to the deadline, Tyler Toffoli had an insanely hot start with Calgary, but it fell off near the end. Adjusting to a new team always takes some time, especially going from one the league’s worst teams to the league’s best midseason.
A full training camp and being penciled in next to Jonathan Huberdeau and Lindholm certainly helps Toffoli’s projection of being better in 2022–23. Toffoli could find himself around or higher than his career high of 58 points should he play a full season next to Calgary’s top forwards, and positive regression expected.
Milan Lucic (0.967 PDO)
Milan Lucic started the season incredibly strong and seemed to find an extra step in his game, going five-hole every second game it seemed. But as the season trudged by, Lucic fell off, and wasn’t near the same effectiveness as the start of 2021–22. Age and style of play could be a factor in his drop-off, as 1,096 NHL games certainly puts a toll on any player, but a PDO of 0.967 demonstrates bounce-back potential. Essentially, the puck luck should turn in Lucic’s favour a bit more this season, and he should contribute more than he did in the back half of 2021–22.
Dillon Dube (0.983 PDO)
A player that found himself in a variety of spots in 2021–22, Dillon Dube did produce a career-high of 32 points, but a 0.983 PDO showcases there is more there. With the current lack of winger depth on Calgary’s roster, Dube could find himself in a top-six forward role, and with positive regression and an increased role expected, 40 points seems to be a be in Dube’s view.
Players that should stay the same
Players who were in the range of 0.990 and 1.010 included Blake Coleman, Mikael Backlund, Andrew Mangiapane, Rasmus Andersson, Noah Hanifin. That range implies that the player was close enough to the mean that one shouldn’t expect major regression positively or negatively, they should remain constant. Newcomers Nazem Kadri, Jonathan Huberdeau, Kevin Rooney and MacKenzie Weegar also fall between the 0.990 and 1.010 range.
Mangiapane with 1.001, 1.000, and 0.999 PDO in his last three seasons is the best PDO ratios I have ever seen. Essentially he has improved year after year without the essence of luck involved, which is a good sign for the Flames, as they will be giving him an even bigger role next season.
What this means for Calgary
Regression takes place in the NHL in a variety of spaces, such as injuries, goals, point totals, and more. With the insane lack of man games lost for the Flames in 2021–22, one would expect negative regression and that man games lost total to return to averages.
Lindholm and Kylington demonstrated very high PDO values in 2021–22, and should expect some regression from the very good seasons they both had last year. On the flip side, Lucic, Dube, and Toffoli posted low PDO values in 2021-22, and should expect some positive regression compared to last year.
This isn’t a complete science, and the NHL has so many different factors that come into play, but we can project positive or negative regression based strictly on looking at a players performance in one season and comparing it to their mean.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire