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Passing Project Data: Flames defensemen

Thanks to Ryan Stimson at In Lou We Trust, tens of volunteers, and Spencer Brasi we have a wealth of data to examine. Today we'll take a look at the Flames blueline and the data compiled in the passing project.

Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

An underlying issue with the growth of stats in hockey, particularly possession stats, has been finding more data to measure player performance. The world of micro-stats (passes, zone entries, exits, etc) has been one of the biggest untapped areas for writers and analysts. Mainly because, at this current time, there is no way besides manual tracking to track data there. Nothing in NHL game data documents passing information, which can be tedious when someone is trying to illustrate that player x is great at playmaking.

Ryan Stimson of In Lou We Trust has spearheaded a great campaign of tracking passing data. Not to mention, our very own CofStats was involved with tracking data, too. There is inherent value in these initiatives, which is necessary for eliminating grey area and noise from analysis.

Today, we'll start with the Flames defense that at many points was regarded as "the best in the league" by some Sportsnet panelists. Please keep in mind that David Schlemko hasn't been added yet so unfortunately we won't see what he was capable of.

Make sure you check out volume one on In Lou We Trust for a very detailed primer on the beginnings of the project.

Glossary for readers

Mark Giordano / TJ Brodie

Their skill-sets compliment each other perfectly, particularly in several columns (three, four, and seven). In virtually every category measured in these stats, Brodie and Giordano are the best on the team: all the more reason why keeping them together is key. It's worth noting a few key stats:

  • Individually, their CC% Ranks are just startling. When examining the standard possession stats, everything about them is reiterated here.
  • Giordano is typically a trigger man, shooting often as he is set up by Brodie or others on the ice. This reflects naturally in their Composite SAG/60 Rank. Both distribute the puck well, though Brodie spends more time contributing to passes.
  • Again, both Giordano and Brodie find ways to create zone entries for the Flames offense. The key emphasis with the tracking here is controlled zone entries. Something Calgary struggled with at times this last season.

Dennis Wideman / Kris Russell

The Flames second pairing of Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell received praise early on in the year and late in the season with Gio's injury. Again, this pairing's illustrious narrative doesn't hold up one bit in this frontier of statistical measurements. Some key concerns to look at would include:

  • Kris Russell as a whole, which should fully put to rest any notion that he is a capable top-four defenseman. Regarded as the stop-gap to Wideman's inability to play defense, his contributions in terms of generating offense are not up to snuff.
  • Though criticized for his deficiencies in his own end, Wideman isn't as bad as expected when measured with these metrics. Particularly of interest: his CC% Rank and scoring chance stats. However, this does open up the Dennis Wideman-as-an-enigma concept: Are Wideman's offensive characteristics worth the risk of top-four usage?
  • One thing that was very intriguing about both of them was their impact on zone entries. It's not groundbreaking, though it could illustrate a necessity of dumping in the puck over controlled entries while on the ice. Or, it could be a sign they aren't creating zone entries, and the forward group is doing it on their own.

Deryk Engelland / Ladislav Smid

With a combined cap hit of $6.4M for this upcoming season and the next, both Ladislav Smid and Deryk Engelland continue to be disasters. Both tend to fail the eye-test as well as any statistical measuring. Usage of the two is often regarded with caution as good things with either of them on the ice rarely happen. They don't create offense, nor do they prevent goals against.

Dougie Hamilton

Dougie Hamilton is a fantastic top-four defenseman. There is literally no other way to put it and Calgary is extremely fortunate to have him. Everything here, besides one stat, is just unbelievable and the perfect answer to a second pairing role.

  • Hamilton excels especially in the SCC/60 rank, illustrating his passes lead to scoring chances. Excellent vision and hockey intelligence can be intangibles that very well could be his measured impact on the ice.
  • Previously, we examined what Hamilton was capable of doing in Boston this past season. It's no coincidence that in the Passing Project's data they observed similar results. The acquisition and subsequent signing should resolve the offensive zone and possession woes from 2014-15.
  • The only concerning anomaly is the Entry Assists/60 Rank which is surprisingly low: especially for a team like Boston, who despite missing the playoffs were a possession machine.
    Previous analysis on zone entries (carried in/clean versus dumped in) tends to show that carrying the puck in yields higher results of shot attempts. This could be a byproduct of dumping the puck in over carrying it in. Or, similar to Wideman/Russell, his passes aren't leading to zone entries.
  • Moving forward to this fall, it would be worth monitoring if Hamilton's passes end up resulting in dumping the puck in and attempting to retrieve it.

Raphael Diaz

Finally, former Flame and now current Ranger Raphael Diaz, who was pretty stellar in a limited role. Diaz spent a lot of time in a bottom-pairing role, even with injuries plaguing the team. Incredibly underrated as a puck mover, he fared well with passes leading to zone entries, something worth praising. Notably, though due to sample size, his CC% Rank does indicate that he was able to generate shot attempts while on the ice.

What does this all mean in the end?

On the surface, Ryan and his army of trackers have given fans a wealth of information. They've only just begun to dive into a vast ocean of data that can be critical in determining actual playmaking in hockey. For Flames fans, it reinforces a number of assertions about the roster.

With the addition of Hamilton, again, it validates Brad Treliving's pursuit of improving the roster with logical decisions. Illustrated in the data collected, we know that Dougie Hamilton is worth absolutely every penny the Flames paid for him. In the coming days we'll take a look at the forward group and new winger Michael Frolik to see how they fared last season.