Calgary Flames

About This Season: Flames crumble under heightened expectations in an inexplicable season

It seems like ages ago now when the Flames were entering the 2017/18 season with such joy and excitement towards a potential cup run. The team had just acquired a bonafide starting goaltender in Mike Smith, traded for Travis Hamonic to boast one of the best bluelines in the league, and were able to add to an established core without relinquishing any roster players or top prospects. On paper, this team looked phenomenal and was ready for an extended season lasting at least a playoff round or two. Unfortunately, their look on paper was much better than the product on the ice.

Now, with a feeling of failure all around, the Flames were forced to hold locker cleanout day much earlier than expected. Finishing with a 37-35-10 record, the Flames missed the postseason by 11 points and ended the season 11th in the Western Conference. Their 5-13-1 record after the trade deadline, second worst in the league over that time, is an indication of the team’s collapse down the stretch.

The playoffs are underway and now the feeling has shifted to one of confusion and surprise by what happened over the past six months of regular season hockey. There were plenty of highlights, such as finally breaking the Honda Center curse and witnessing Jaromir Jagr in a Flames jersey. But, ultimately, this season was a missed opportunity.

Just like at the start of the season, this team’s production on paper matches that of a contender. Placing in the top five across CF%, SCF%, and HDCF% in the entire league, the Flames look like they dominated the majority of games they played. The narrative this season was that some way, somehow, they found a way to lose games. Whether it was out-shooting their opponents by wide margins, winning the possession battle the entire game, or simply having their mistakes compounded against them, the Flames were comically unable to win. Eventually it ended up costing them a playoff spot.

The Flames also suffered in terms of timing. Key injuries to star players during important stretches impacted the team’s roster composition. The times in which the bye-week and All-Star breaks came were inconvenient for a team struggling to find their identity. Scoring opportunities during crunch time, either on the power-play or 5v5, were seldom capitalized on. In addition to timing, scoring depth, questionable coaching decisions, and a beyond inexcusable home record are also on the list of antagonists that sunk the Flames’ season.

Frankly, there are almost too many shortcomings that led to Calgary’s elimination, each one playing a crucial role in their inability to fulfill pre-season expectations as the season progressed. The entire Flames organization will have a long and painful off-season. Not only because their hunt for the cup ended early, but also because a long and thorough evaluation of this team needs to be conducted before any decisions are made. If conducted properly, the Flames may or may not need as many changes as other teams that missed the postseason.

Calgary was right there all season, until they simply weren’t. They may or may not have deserved to play in the postseason, but not having playoff hockey this time of year is just unacceptable. This doesn’t mean it’s time for a complete restructuring, perhaps just a small renovation would be best for this squad. The core of players on the team will be motivated to right the ship, and that should be cause for excitement for the 2018/19 season.

Statistical Breakdown

Season Advanced Stats (League Rank in Parantheses)

All Situations 5v5 SVA 5v5
CF 53.1% (2nd) 53.5% (3rd) 53.2% (3rd)
SCF 53.0% (3rd) 53.5% (3rd) 53.2% (5th)
HDCF 54.2% (4th) 55.1% (2nd) 54.9% (4th)

Season Team Stats (League Rank in Parantheses)

Result  16.0%














On Ice 5v5 Player Stats

Individual Skater Stats

  • Johnny Gaudreau led the team in points (84), assists (60), P/GP (1.05), and PPP (25).
  • Sean Monahan also had a strong season before being shut down, leading in goals (31), GWG (11) and shot percentage (15.3%).
  • Jagr posted the highest +/- rating on the team at +6 in 22 games, Micheal Ferland close behind at +5.
  • Hamilton took the most shots on the team with 270, 43 more than his nearest teammate, and also tied for the league lead in goals by a defenseman (17).
  • Giordano led the team in TOI/GP with 24:47, with TJ Brodie in second at 23:40/GP
  • In terms of faceoff percentage, with players who took more than 200 draws, Sam Bennett led the team with 54.3% in 219 FO taken.
  • Backlund and Monahan took 1410 and 1407 FOs and posted 50.4% and 50.0% respectively.

Goalie Stats

  • Smith finished with 55 GP this season finishing with a 25-22-6 record. He posted a .916 SV%, 2.65 GAA, and three shutouts.
  • David Rittich played in 21 games, starting in 16 of them, and finished with an 8-6-3 record, .904 SV%, and 2.92 GAA.
  • Jon Gillies held a 3-5-1 record, .896 SV%, and 2.88 GAA.
Stats courtesy: Natural Stat Trick

Player of the Season

During the ebbs and flow of the tumultuous season, there were a few candidates that made cases for the team’s best player. Early on it was Smith who, before his injury, was easily the team’s backbone and MVP. He unfortunately couldn’t keep up the same level of play down the stretch. Hamilton, Monahan, and Tkachuk also put up quality performances at key times during the season, but the winner is Johnny Gaudreau.

In addition to his team leading stats mentioned above, Gaudreau was the first Flames player to score 80+ points since Jarome Iginla in 2010-2011. He contributed to 38.9% of the Flames’ offence this season, and finished 18th in league scoring. These numbers are impressive to begin with, but they came after he scored only 11 points in his final 15 games when the Flames began their slump. This placed him T-140th in the league over the same stretch of time, and he could have finished even higher in the scoring race if it weren’t for the Flames’ collapse.

Still garnering some Hart mentions even after the disastrous end to the season, Gaudreau’s brilliance will most likely be forgotten due to the team’s lack of success. Rather than focusing on the Flames’ failed campaign, appreciate that they have Gaudreau locked up for four more seasons at a bargain cap hit. He was, and will continue to be, the Flames’ best player for years to come.

Thoughts on the Season

It is difficult to sit here today and say in any capacity the Flames achieved success this season. Sure, some individual performances can be admired, but in the end it is always more important to focus on team success. This is something the Flames did not experience at all. Many will point the finger at individuals, and in some cases rightfully so, but in the end no one person is responsible for what happened this season. Each person in the organization shares the blame.

If we take a look back to the opening 20 games of the season, the Flames never drastically changed anything in their play. They consistently struggled with many areas of their game, and in some cases never improved them. They always committed costly turnovers, played a possession heavy game, and struggled on the PP. I always look back to the Dallas game in November as a key point in the Flames season. The team lead multiple times, coughed it up on dreadful turnovers, and ended up losing big time. This was a game where they easily outplayed their opponent and found a way to lose. This is a phrase I have used ad nauseam this season, but it encompasses everything you need to know about this year’s Flames.

More often than not, a game would finish and we would find ourselves searching for some sort of justification to support what had happened. Calgary had the 29th ranked SH% in the league this season at 7.8%, which proves their inability to capitalize on their 6th ranked 33.6 shots per game. Their PP was miserable all season long, displayed easily by their 16.0% success rate. They had their chances night in and night out, but were never able to fully realize their potential.

The Flames were able to improve upon certain aspects of their game over the 2016/17 campaign, such as CF%, SCF%, and HDCF%, in comparison to the previous few seasons. Unfortunately the team was unable to translate these improvements into wins.

I always try to remain optimistic and am going to continue that this off-season. Without a doubt, moves need to be made, but the Flames looked to be on the wrong side of luck every single game. Not saying karma is bound to correct itself, but the Flames should be in line for a rebound after such an unfortunate season.

Looking Ahead

Brad Treliving likely has a long to-do list for the upcoming months. Depending on how he handles the evaluation period, it could grow even larger as we enter the long days of summer.

On his coaching staff, the last few weeks have caused me to lean more towards retaining Glen Gulutzan and Paul Jerrard. Dave Cameron on the other hand should be out the door as soon as possible, with Martin Gelinas possibly following suit.

This is a complete change of thought compared to what I’ve said over the past month, but hear me out. You can place around 40% of the blame on his shoulders, which is a fair amount, but ultimately the players and management hold the rest. Making a knee jerk reaction and firing the head coach would be too much of a rash decision for Treliving. One could easily say “he lost the room”, but frankly the players collapsed during crunch times throughout the entire season. You can’t really blame bad goals, turnovers, and low shooting percentages on the head coach. That being said, I also wouldn’t be shocked if the entire coaching staff was dismissed in the next few months. That is simply the state of the team at the moment.

From a player perspective, Treliving has a few interesting signing decisions. It’s not a question of when certain players will resign, but more a question of should they resign. Out of their RFA crop, Jankowski and Brett Kulak look to be the only two guarantees, with both in the line for moderate raises. One would assume Gillies and Rittich would also appear on this list, but with the goaltending picture always being uncertain in Calgary there never is a guarantee with that position. Certain farm hands are also in need of new deals, and with a lack of draft picks the majority will probably be qualified.

On the unrestricted front, Stajan and Versteeg could provide a veteran presence to next year’s squad, but will most likely be let go in favor of younger talent. Players such as Chris Stewart, Tanner Glass, and Bartkowksi should be excluded from the Flames’ plans. In fact, Calgary should be looking to move out a decent portion of their bottom six, and fill from within or acquire depth pieces at value prices. Spencer Foo, Andrew Mangiapane, and Dillon Dube look to be prime candidates to make the jump to the NHL if they can perform during training camp.

Looking at what the Flames should target this off-season, their main priority should be a top line RW with PP prowess. This position has always plagued the team and needs to finally be addressed. As well, someone with PP experience could be used on the first or second units, which is bound to improve next season. The free agent market is extremely thin for right shot wingers, which makes an acquisition via trade more likely.

In Conclusion

The Flames were simply not consistent enough during the 2017/18 season to warrant a playoff spot. Entering with such optimism, this season was easily a missed opportunity for a team that saw the next three years as a window for success. At the top of their game this year, the Flames were very strong and dangerous and could have made an extended playoff run. With the proper amount of tinkering the Calgary Flames should be able to retain that strong play throughout next season. Blowing up this group of players would be the incorrect move on management’s part. The past 82 games may have been forgettable, but if they rebound successfully we could be in store for something unforgettable.

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