With an illness making its way through the Calgary Flames locker room, numerous players have had to sit out of a game or two. Most recently, both Brandon Bollig and Paul Byron were unable to dress for Monday's game against the San Jose Sharks. Both are healthy and available once again, so while David Wolf goes back to taking a seat, it's... Bollig drawing back into the lineup.
This is expected to be Byron's first healthy scratch of the year. And it's not a smart move; especially not with Bollig being chosen over him.
Bollig is the worst forward available to the Flames, and it's very obvious.
First things first: Byron is one of the Flames' top possession forwards, while Bollig is one of the worst. In fact, when you adjust for time played - because, as regulars in the bottom six, neither forward has had much ice time to work with - Byron is second amongst Flames forwards, while Bollig's numbers are better than all of three others (those three being Markus Granlund, a rookie; Joe Colborne; and Lance Bouma).
If you go by corsi% rel, then Byron is sixth on the team, at +2.3%. Bollig is last, at -4.6%.
Basically: when Byron is on the ice, the Flames are more likely to be creating offence. When Bollig is on the ice, the team is more likely to be giving up scoring chances to the opposition.
Then there's this little fact: Byron very, very quietly makes his teammates better. Bollig makes his worse. Courtesy of our own HockeyGoalieEh, we have condensed WOWY (With Or Without You) charts, indicating teams' overall performances with both players on the ice. This season's numbers have been bolded.
This season, the Flames tend to score more often when Byron isn't on the ice, but it's not by nearly as poor a margin as when Bollig is present.
Then, there are the corsi stats, or shot attempts. Yes, goals are extremely important in hockey, but remember: being a positive corsi player means you're playing well defensively, and that's especially important for your bottom six guys, right? After all, if you're not going to be scoring, the absolute least you can do is prevent the other team from doing so. This season, Byron accomplishes that feat: the Flames register more shots with him on the ice than without. Meanwhile, Bollig continues to drag the team down.
Possession Shmoshmession. Give me good ol' basic stats
I mean, we can do that too. Let's start with ice time. This season, Byron is averaging 14:33 minutes a game. Bollig is at 8:46. So one of them is clearly already trusted much more than the other - and this is without getting into the fact that Bollig has been sat for entire periods this season, while Byron sometimes gets to play on Sean Monahan's line.
Also, Byron has six goals and 17 points over 53 games this season. Bollig has one goal and three points over 45. While Byron's worth is especially proved in possession metrics, he's clearly much more valuable than Bollig at even the most basic of levels.
But Paul Byron can't even score on breakaways!
Does Brandon Bollig even know what a breakaway is?
Seriously, I'd rather have a player comically miss on the break constantly than have someone who can't get them because he's too busy being outplayed and hemmed in his own end.
Besides, it's not like Byron is completely incapable of scoring:
Well, we all know Bollig isn't here to score. He's here to bring grit
I mean, okay, I get this. I'd rather have a 12-man lineup of guys who have a hope in hell of at least getting the puck on net, but this is a team that's decided it needs someone tough in the lineup at all times, hence why Bollig is here.
Except... the stats aren't totally in his favour there, either.
Bollig trails behind Bouma when it comes to hits. Bouma leads the team with 176, while Bollig sits at 102. Did you know that Byron is third on the Flames in hits, though? Yeah, he's listed as 5'7, 153 lbs. He still has 93 hits on the season. We need to get the idea that small players can't be just as truculent out of our heads. (Granted, a point in Bollig's favour: he does have more hits over fewer games. And then, a point against him: when you're hitting your opponent, it's because you don't have the puck.)
Byron also has more blocked shots than Bollig: 22 to 13. Did you know he's a team leader in takeaways, tied with Monahan for 45? Bollig has 10.
Okay, okay, back to grit. Yes, Bollig leads the team in penalty minutes with 47 (15 of which are from fights, so let's give him 32, which is still tied for the team lead - with Mark Giordano, actually). Byron pales, with just eight. This sounds all well and good, right up until you remember the fact that penalties are actually a bad thing. Being on the penalty kill isn't ideal, especially when you have the seventh worst penalty kill in the league, at 78.9%. One of the reasons the Flames are having the success they have this season is because they rarely take penalties. Bollig is not a part of this. Byron is.
And if you still want to draw attention to Bollig's toughness... just remember that Cedric Paquette scored his first NHL goal by easily outmuscling him.
That's really not a good look for someone whose number one source of value is to be hard to play against.
Byron is the better hockey player in virtually every way, and he's among the team's absolute best in some areas, like controlling the puck. The only areas Bollig has a leg up on him are in hits and penalty minutes: two stats more counter-productive to winning games than anything else. (And if you don't think of hits that way, remember: Byron is a frequent hitter, too.)
Byron may never become a big time scorer, but our expectations of him may be elevated just because of those constant breakaways. Just remember, though: even if he doesn't score, those breakaways still prove he's doing something right. He's creating offence. He helps his teammates create offence; literally everyone he spends a substantial amount of ice time with - at least 86 minutes on the season - he's made better by virtue of his presence.
If you've spent at least 86 minutes sharing the ice with Bollig this season, he's made you worse. And he can't even score to make up for it, like those three forwards with poorer time-adjusted possession stats - Granlund, Colborne, and Bouma - have.
If Byron does end up being a healthy scratch this game, it would be the first time this season. It's wrong. The only time Bollig should see NHL ice is in an emergency situations where literally nobody else is available to dress in the lineup.
This should not even be a discussion, and yet, it looks like Bob Hartley is making the wrong choice.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Looks like Josh Jooris is out for <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Flames?src=hash">#Flames</a>...he's doing some extra work with David Wolf and Corey Potter. If so, that means Paul Byron is in.</p>— Derek Wills (@Fan960Wills) <a href="https://twitter.com/Fan960Wills/status/565966178669981696">February 12, 2015</a></blockquote>
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So... that kind of throws the whole post for a bit of a loop, eh? The point still stands, though: originally, Byron was considered for the healthy scratch over Bollig, which is the wrong approach to take for... well... every reason listed above. Bollig is the worst forward on the team, plain and simple, while Byron is quietly one of the better ones. To choose Bollig over Byron, ever, is simply ludicrous.