Using GAR, WAR, and SPAR to evaluate the Calgary Flames 2021 roster changes

The 2021 season is underway and the Calgary Flames are off to a great start. The Flames dropped their season opener in overtime to the Winnipeg Jets, bounced back to shutout the Canucks back in the Saddledome, and had an offensive surge to win their second straight against Vancouver. Now with a 2-0-1 record, Calgary is sitting pretty with five of six possible points. They’re idle until Sunday when they will faceoff against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

As the Flames continue juggle their taxi squad to make the most of their salary cap savings, we are starting to get a sense of what the Flames expect on their usual roster.

For the most part, it looks like Derek Ryan is a main roster piece after being waived prior to the start of the season, indicating that it was completely motivated by financial reasons. It is definitely in the Flames’ best interest to have Ryan in the lineup. He’s serviceable and should not be a liability.

On the other hand, Oliver Kylington is the defenceman being moved up and down between the roster and taxi squad, but has not dressed for a game yet. Whether he will suit up sooner or later remains to be known, but Nikita Nesterov has been as engaged a third-pairing defenceman as any, and the Flames will need a strong case to swap Kylington for Nesterov at this point in the season.

So overall, the Flames’ main roster looks to be set for the time being. Let’s see what the offseason changes the Flames made might mean for them over the course of this season.

Flames roster breakdown

The most recent on-ice roster for the Flames is shown in the following table. New additions are bolded, and for all intents of evaluating this roster to the season prior, Juuso Valimaki is seen as a new player given that he did not play last year.

Forwards

Defencemen

goalies

Compared to the 2019-20 roster, a handful of notable players have departed. For simplicity, let’s look at every player that suited up for at least 20 games in the regular season. Three players are excepted from this threshold: Derek Forbort, Erik Gustafsson, and Zac Rinaldo.

Given that the two defencemen were trade deadline acquisitions and played every playoff game, it’s reasonable to assume that they would have played 20 regular season games had it not been for the COVID pause.

Rinaldo played 19 regular season games and also appeared in half the playoff games, so he’s also assumed to have reached the 20 game threshold. Chances are he won’t slot into the regular roster as often as he did last year though, so he’s considered a subtraction.

Further, we have Michael Stone, who the Flames just signed to a one-year, $700K contract coming off of his PTO. Clearly brought in a depth option, he likely falls behind Kylington and Connor Mackey as next up for the Flames. As he played more than 20 games last season, coupled with reasonable expectations that he won’t be a main roster player, he can also be considered as a subtraction as well.

Lastly, Brett Ritchie is a new addition with a similar one-year, $700K contract. He will be considered another depth option for now, as he likely behind Nordstrom at the very least.

Forwards out

Defencemen out

goalies out

So overall, this gives us the overview of every skater new to the Flames roster and every skater who’s since parted ways with Calgary. Next, we can look at each addition and subtraction’s contributions from past seasons.

Player evaluations

Without a doubt, there are a plethora of ways to see what gains or losses these changes bring for the Flames. One such method is to look at metrics that aim to quantify total contributions such as GAR, WAR, or SPAR, (Goals, Wins, and Standing Points Above Replacement). That way, all positions can be look at independently, but their contributions can be measured at the same scale.

A brief explanation of above replacement metrics is that they aim to measure how much more or less production a player creates over a replacement level player by looking at multiple facets of the game at once, including their offence, defence, and impact on their team getting power players or penalties.

Using data from Evolving-Hockey.com, we can look at all three metrics for each new Flame and former Flame alike. To get a larger sense of each player’s impact, each metric will show the total value for that player from 2017-18 through to 2019-20, regardless of the team they played for.

Additions

Player GAR WAR SPAR
Leivo 11.3 2.1 3.9
Simon 8 1.5 2.9
Nordstrom -1.5 -0.2 -0.5
Tanev 17.7 3.4 6.4
Valimaki* -2.9 -0.5 -1
Nesterov N/A N/A N/A
Markstrom 44.2 8.2 15.5

*Valimaki’s data comes from only the 2018-19 season with 24 games played that year.

Subtractions

Player GAR WAR SPAR
Frolik -8.3 -1.5 -2.9
Jankowski 5.7 1.1 2.0
Rieder -5.0 -0.9 -1.6
Rinaldo 0.2 0.0 0.1
Brodie 19.0 3.5 6.6
Hamonic 5.9 1.1 2.0
Forbort -3.9 -0.6 -1.2
Gustafsson 16.8 3.2 6.1
Stone -8.0 -1.5 -2.8
Talbot 17.1 3.2 6.2

Comparisons

From here, we can compare the changes in the roster based on the roster positions.

For their forwards, the additions of Leivo and Simon are net positives while Nordstrom is a detriment. However, the subtractions of Frolik and Rieder removes two net negative players, compared to Jankowski who contributed more on ice than they did. Overall, it could appear as though the forward group got better.

On defence, Tanev and Brodie almost cancel each other out. With little data for Valimaki and no data for Nesterov, it’s hard to fully get a sense of what impact the new defensive corps will have. However, moving on from Hamonic and Gustafsson saw two impactful players leave, whereas subtracting Forbort and Stone does more good than harm for the Flames.

Lastly, the addition of Markstrom and subtraction of Talbot is a no-brainer. While Talbot had a stellar year with the Flames, it’s undeniable that Markstrom’s impact will be much more appreciable.

What this all means

On a whole, there’s lots to look at from the Flames’ roster changes. Early in the season, there’s indication already that the Flames will have some flashy seasons coming from the likes of Dillon Dube and Andrew Mangiapane, in addition to their already established stars.

Further, Valimaki this year will not be the same Valimaki as in 2018-19. His loan in Europe was a good indication that he’s playing at a completely different level compared to two years ago.

Looking at replacement metrics can provide a small glimpse into what changes can be expected at the team level. There are caveats all across the board, particularly considering that the additions all came from other teams, so their metrics with the Flames are not yet known.

Also, looking at the two groups of players isn’t exactly an apples to apples comparison, given that the number of players and total games played differ, which means the replacement metrics don’t offer one to one comparisons, but more so provide context into what to expect.

The benefit of using these metrics is that the high-level glance is sometimes all you need to make informed evaluations and set realistic expectations for the team. As the Flames figure out how to best optimise their roster, we can then start evaluating whether they are meeting these expectations.

Calgary is set up for more success this season than the last; the acquisition of Markstrom instantly makes it so. On top of that, there’s evidence to suggest that the retooling of their forwards and defencemen can end up bringing large dividends throughout the season.

Whether the Flames reach their goals come season’s end is yet to be determined. However, with all the changes in personnel, the Flames’ brass might even have higher expectations of the team than fans do. Whatever happens much later down the line, that’s another story for another time. At least for this season, Brad Treliving knows that he took the necessary steps to elevate the Flames to the next level for the immediate future.


Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images