I got a few responses on Twitter last week after there was some discussion surrounding possible Calgary Flames trades or offseason moves. My contention was that I hope Daymond Langkow is on this team next year, because he’s very important to what they want to accomplish. Some didn’t agree with that sentiment, so I figured I should frame my argument.
I get it…on the surface, it all makes sense, and Langkow is dead weight. He’s counting $4.5 million against the cap on an annual basis, and his points don’t seem to go hand-in-hand with that dollar figure. Since his career-high 77 point season in 2006-07, it’s been a downward trend in terms of goals and points. On the goals side, starting with that season, the totals have gone 33, 30, 21 and 14. Points-wise, it’s been 77 followed by seasons of 65, 49, and 37. Easy to say he’s expendable and needs to be moved, especially with his age (33) and that contract. Well, I say wrong. And that’s why we look deeper.
My boy Kent over at FlamesNation wrote a similar column during the season, and he was bang on. The fact of the matter is, Langkow is one of Calgary’s most important forwards in terms of impacting the game. That impact may not come in the form of counting points, but it comes in the subtle, yet extremely, important aspects of the team.
Let’s start with Langkow from the defensive blueline in, where I believe he is one of Calgary’s most crucial players. It seems Brent Sutter and Ryan McGill would agree, as Langkow was one of the most extensively used forwards in a defensive role last season. Among players who played 60 or more games, Langkow was number one in terms of defensive starts…he was on the ice for defensive-zone faceoffs 52.3% of the time. That’s more than any other forward, and also more than each and every blueliner on the team (Regehr and Bouwmeester included). The coaching staff had faith in him defensively, and he rewarded them.
The easiest counting stat to look at is +/-, which was fairly decent for Langkow. His +2 rating was fifth among Flames forwards this past season, with Curtis Glencross’s +11 leading the way for the frontmen (Langkow was tied for 8th overall on the team; Mark Giordano lead the team at +17). But I find +/- to be an extremely overrated indicator…it only counts goals when players are on the ice and does not do nearly good enough of a job of tracking shifts and impact.
So, instead, lets look at scoring chances. Calgary’s scoring chances were tracked for almost every game last season, with fairly specific criteria. In those 70+ games tracked, Langkow’s numbers were solid, on the ice for 202 even strength scoring chances for as opposed to 160 scoring chances against. That becomes even more impressive when you take into account he was matched against quality competition each and every game. To compare, Jarome Iginla was on the ice for 291 scoring chances for and 309 against while playing 5-on-5. And Iginla was used in MUCH more offensive situations, starting in the other teams end 53.2% of the time (as opposed to 47.7% for Langkow). I think we’re starting to paint a picture of how Langkow can impact the game.
But, this is where it really becomes interesting. Remember those offensive zone start numbers…47.7% for Langkow and 53.2% for Iginla. Now let’s analyze what type of offensive action they were able to produce. A rating exists, using NHL tracked stats, comparing all even strength shots directed towards the net (shots on net, blocked shots, missed shots), for and against. A rating in the plus means you’re on the ice for more for than against and vice versa. Now, sometimes, this rating is extremely misleading, because it can be a proxy for offensive zone time (Mikael Backlund’s rating is 14.44, but he started offensively 58.0% of the time).
Langkow’s rating is 7.65, sixth on the team among regular players and third among forwards. Iginla’s number? 0.45. What does that tell you? Plain and simple…Langkow does more with his ice time than Iginla does. He drives the play from the defensive zone, where he starts a lot of his shifts, and is still able to generate scoring opportunities and shots toward the net. He becomes extremely important because of this fact.
Langkow’s ability to be sound and solid defensively while not sacrificing forward play gives you an immense amount of flexibility as a coach. You can put him and his linemates out against top flight competition, and won’t have to worry about being scored upon on a regular basis. It also allows you to get your top offensive players away from other top competition, which is needed on this team, especially with the captain. Iginla was straight thrashed against top flight competition at times last season, because his two-way game was nowhere near at the level of Langkow’s. That forces you to manage Iginla’s minutes, and if you are going to do that, you NEED a reliable player/line to throw out against names like Kane, Toews, Heatley and the Sedin’s.
Iginla didn’t do much with his time last year, so in my estimation, you’re going to need to continue managing his minutes. His linemates from last year weren’t all that much better in that respect. This is not a condemnation of the captain, I love Iginla and believe he still has a place on this team, and an extremely important one at that. But if you want him, and others, to have bounce back years offensively, your case is going to be helped in a large way by keeping Langkow on this team, high cap hit be damned.
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