September 18th, 2002 Number Crunch

A Recipe For Goal Scoring

by D'Arcy McGrath

Goal scoring.

The sizeable dent in the Calgary Flames armour, the thorn in their paw, the single biggest reason that few if any hockey publications give the team a snow ball's chance in heck of making the playoffs this season.

So how bad is it?

That all depends on how you look at it.

Best of the Worst















Last season, the Calgary Flames scored less goals than any of the 16 playoff bound hockey teams. Five teams that finished out of the playoffs also managed to out score the hometown crowd.

Clearly some work needs to be done, some scoring sources uncovered, for the Flames to have any designs on a playoff spot this season. No matter how much success can be mined in their own zone, it's hard to argue the above when it comes to offensive futility. The team must make gains against the league average goal total of 215.

As a whole, Flame forwards finished 21st in the 30 team league, with a season total of 175 goals. Seventeen different players contributed to that number. The NHL average last season was 183.

The defencemen were even worse, managing only 25 goals, a number that had the group ranked 24th in the NHL. The league average was 31.

Can the Flames add eight goals up front, and six on the blueline? will endeavor to set out the recipe required to do exactly that.

The Forwards

A healthy serving of the futility focus has been directed at the club's second line, or in last season's case, the third line that was taking the second line's role, sans talent.

The first line clearly did its job contributing half of the team's offence, and becoming one of the league's most feared top lines.

But then things fell off ... considerably.

A typical pit fall with training camp enthusiasm is to start with the following assumption - every player that played well last year will continue on their merry way.

Things don't always work that way.

Jarome Iginla, Dean McAmmond and Craig Conroy all had career years last year. They didn't do it with mirrors, so a repeat isn't out of the question, but a slight dip might be a safer bet. You can only squeeze so much water from a single sponge.

An interesting way to attack the question is to look at goal scoring across the league last season.

For the sake of analysis, lets assume that each team's top three goal scoring forwards make up each team's first line; the next three offensive threats make up the second line and so on.


The average first line for a playoff bound hockey team had an output of 87 goals last season, led by the Boston Bruins with 113. Those 87 goals break down to a first line average of 29 per player. The comparable number for non-playoff teams was 75, four goals per player less than their playoff counterparts.

The Calgary Flames first line clearly didn't fit the above analysis, as they counted 100 goals, five goals greater than their closest non playoff competitor, the New York Rangers.

The Flames first line would sit +13 against league playoff team averages - clearly not the source of the team's woes.


With talent spread throughout 30 NHL rosters, one would suspect a marked fall in production from the first line to the second line, and that proved true in the National Hockey League last year.

Playoff teams had an average second line production of 54 goals (18 goals per man), down 33 goals from the average first line output. The Boston Bruins also led in this regard.

The second line average for non-playoff teams was 41 goals, or an average of 13.7 goals per player.

The Calgary Flames second line group (made up of production, not actual player roster line combinations) featured Marc Savard, Chris Clark and Scott Nichol. Their production of 14, 10 and 8 goals respectively netted the team 32 goals, nine short of the non playoff team average, and 22 goals short of the playoff team average.

Clearly the second line was a crucial headache to the team's on ice success last season.


The San Jose Sharks are often heralded as the club with the NHL's best third line ... a statement backed up by our analysis.

The Sharks led the way with 45 goals coming from their third trio of forwards. The average out put from playoff destined teams was 34 goals.

The non-playoff team average for third lines was a production level of 26 goals, and the group was led by the Tampa Bay Lightning with 37 markers.

The Calgary Flames third line, made up of Dave Lowry (7), Steve Begin (7) and Rob Niedermayer (6) counted only 20 goals, a number good for 2nd last in the NHL. The group finished six goals behind the NHL average.

The sad state of Flames offence is best depicted in the seventh through ninth highest scoring players, as Lowry is likely on his last legs with the Flames, Steve Begin is better suited for the fourth line, and Rob Niedermayer a huge disappointment.


Assessing a club's fourth line is a little more difficult given the in and out movement of players from the press box to the final trio of forwards.

For the sake of argument, this analysis will use the remaining forwards for each team as a total when looking at bottom end depth in goal scoring.

Under this assumption, the playoff bound teams had an average of 26 goals, led by the Montreal Canadiens with 39.

The non-playoff teams had an average of 23 goals, and were led by the Pittsburgh Penguins with 41.

The Flames depth group matched their group's average, by scoring 23 times. Those 23 goals were amassed by Clarke Wilm (4), Jamie Wright (4), Craig Berube (3), Jeff Shantz (3), Blake Sloan (2), Blair Betts (1) and Jason Botterill (1).

The group sat only three goals behind the playoff clubs.


The Flames forward group had the following gains and losses on a line by line basis.

























The second line is exposed to be the problem that many have suggested, but the third line emerges as a huge black hole as well.

Has the team made inroads in these areas? Can any optimism be added to the mix for the upcoming season?

Yes and no.

The Flames have made changes. Players added that are suited to fill holes on the second and third lines include; Martin Gelinas, Chuck Kobasew and Swedish veteran Mathias Johansson.

The relative success of this trio can have a very positive effect, both in their own right and in pushing other players down the roster into roles more suitable for their talents.

For example, a productive Chuck Kobasew will likely push last year's second line right wing, Chris Clark down to the third line.

Similarly, the addition of a rock solid vet in Martin Gelinas, should result in last year's second line left wing (Dave Lowry, Jamie Wright, etc) moving down the roster. Should Mathias Johansson line up on the left wing, last year's second line player keeps on trucking down to the fourth line, or off the team altogether.

Mapping Out Production

Left Wing


Right Wing

D. McAmmond


C. Conroy


J. Iginla


M. Gelinas


R. Niedermayer


C. Kobasew


M. Johansson


M. Savard


C. Clark


C. Berube


J. Shantz


B. Sloan


R. Petrovicky


B. Betts


S. Begin


The accompanying table is a rough picture of the type of scoring the Flames could see this winter, should a lot of incidentals fall into place.

With this plan the Flames forwards score 187 goals, up 12 from last season. The schedule plans for a sag from the top line (-17), but sizeable steps forward from the second (+13) and third lines (+13).

The gains still put the Flames' forward group 13 goals behind the performance of the average playoff team last season, shifting the onus to the defenceman.

The Defencemen

Teams that have the additional threat of offence from the blueline hold all the cards in the National Hockey League. It's very difficult to defend against clubs that have that fourth or even fifth man jumping up to create odd man rushes.

On paper, the Flames have two and maybe as many as three defencemen (four this season with the possible addition of rookie Jordan Leopold) capable of creating offence from the blueline, but for whatever reason, the group has struggled to produce in the past.

That can't be the case again this season if the Flames wish to enter the playoff picture come April.

Like the forwards, defencemen were ranked within their teams across the National Hockey League.

For the sake of analysis the top two defencemen are assumed to be the first pairing to help in pinning down the production from the back end.


At first glance, it appears the difference between playoff and non-playoff teams is much tighter when it comes from scoring from the defence.

The playoff group's first pairing had an average of 18 goals, and was led by the Maple Leafs and Canucks with 27.

The non-playoff group had an average of 17 goals, and was led by Washington with 34, seven more than the playoff leaders.

The fact that Derek Morris wasn't even in the club's top two in defenceman goal scoring says a lot about their on ice fortunes last season. Toni Lydman scored six goals to pace the Flames; Denis Gauthier was next with five. That's right ... Denis Gauthier. The combined 11 goals was tied for 27th in the league, six goals behind that of the playoff team average.


Traditionally there are less defencemen charged with creating offence than that of forwards, and fact that becomes very evident in our analysis.

The average second pairing for playoff bound hockey teams had a combined total of only nine goals last season, compared to seven for the non-playoff clubs.

The Flames second pairing; Derek Morris and Igor Kravchuk each scored four goals, placing the Flames only one goal short of playoff group.


Like the forward group, the bottom of the depth chart is much harder to pin down for defencemen. Some teams use only six players, others use seven, eight or even nine players cycling into six spots.

For the sake of analysis, once again, we use the total for this group.

The average depth scoring for defencemen on playoff teams last season was six, while the similar group for the golfing teams had four.

The Calgary Flames group; Bob Boughner (2), Robyn Regehr (2), Petr Buzek (1) and Steve Montador (1) had six goals, matching the average for the playoff teams.


The Flames defence group had the following gains and losses on a pairing by pairing basis.





















The onus for defensive scoring clearly sits on the shoulders of the Calgary Flames top end defencemen.

Looking at the Flames roster, the key will be to find seven or eight more goals from the combined efforts of Toni Lydman and Derek Morris.

Is that an unreasonable demand to place on these players?

Is shouldn't be.

For Derek Morris, it amounts to staying healthy, he has averaged eight goals a season based on 82 games played through is career.

Can Toni Lydman jump from six to nine or ten? It likely depends on powerplay time this season.

Mapping Out Production


R. Regehr


D. Morris


D. Gauthier


B. Boughner


P. Buzek


T. Lydman


J. Leopold



The table to the right includes a proposed break down of Flame defencemen scoring based on probable pairings.

The proposal moves the group from 25 goals last season to 32 goals this season, two goals shy of the league average for playoff teams.

In this plan the group is held relatively constant, save the move of both Lydman and Morris.

Pressure Points

With the forwards gaining 12 goals, and the defencemen group adding seven, the Flames push to 219 goals for the season, four goals above the league average, but still 15 short of the playoff team average. On paper it makes a lot of sense, but clearly a lot has to go right in order for that plan to bare fruit. First off the team has to stay healthy, something the club has been unable to over the past decade.

Cleary the onus for success will rest on a very specific group of players, players key in either maintaining the offence from last season, or in rediscovering lost scoring touch and making a more sizeable contribution.

Below we lay out the pressure points, and the degree of pressure for each player for the Calgary Flames this season when it comes to goal scoring.

  • The entire top line has to produce at least to an 85%
  • Rob Niedermayer must bounce back to his career average in goals.
  • The three new comers, Martin Gelinas, Mathias Johansson and Chuck Kobasew must force players down the roster through their play.
  • The Flames top two offensive blueliners; Toni Lydman and Derek Morris must bounce back or continue on in their development.

Is that too much to ask, or is it an obtainable goal for the club as a whole?

Time will certainly tell, as training camp moves to preseason games, and then on to the games that count.

Let the games begin.

  Back to
Read other Stories
Talk About it!