Sunday Census: Best regular season performance, the 6th defenseman, and the optimal third line

Welcome back to The Sunday Census. Throughout the week, The Win Column will be posing topical and intriguing polls on Twitter (@wincolumnblog) to gauge the fan-base’s stance on pressing issues. Want to make sure your opinion is taken into effect? Vote in the polls, start a debate, and propose alternative suggestions on the polls!

That is a wrap on the regular season! After game 82, the Flames finish with the second best record in the NHL, and are the number one seed in the Western Conference. Safe to say no one saw that coming in September.

Hockey is a team sport, and there is no doubt the Flames are in this position due to the sum of their parts. That being said, during this season there were a few individual performances that should be remembered even more based on their impact on the team as whole. There is no doubt that without some of these individual performances, the Flames would be nowhere near this position.

We wanted to see, out of the four options presented, which performance had the most impact on the teams’ success. We thought of four key ones that matter most: Johnny Gaudreau‘s career season, Mark Giordano‘s Norris caliber year, David Rittich‘s emergence, and Bill Peter’s coaching. There were of course other that could have been chosen, but we opted for these four.

Coming in fourth was Gaudreau’s offensive dynamite of a season. Finishing with 99 points on the season, Gaudreau was the gasoline that lit the Flames’ offense. Garnering a ton of Hart consideration at the half way mark, Gaudreau hit a bit of a snag over his final two months. While he will still earn himself some MVP votes, I would think his quiet spell after the trade deadline made some voters here think of the other options.

Next up in third was the arrival of Big Save Dave. Rittich was a revelation this season, posting a 27-9-5 record with a 2.61GAA and a .911SV%. A main reason why the Flames were able to jump up the standings so quickly was because Rittich kept the team afloat after Mike Smith stumbled out of the gate. Smith has been better of late, which perhaps caused Rittich to be lower down the list. It remains to be seen who starts the first game of the playoffs, but it’s safe to say that Rittich will be around the Flames for a while based on this season.

Placing second in a bit of a surprise option was Bill Peters’ coaching. It is almost the age old “chicken or egg” debate, do the Flames players have as much success if the coaching staff doesn’t set them up for it? Peters arrived under massive expectations, and he has been able to live up to all of them. It looks like his hire was a smart move, and it’s a shame he isn’t getting enough Jack Adams buzz as some would like. That being said, his impact on the team could be felt after a few games and he is a huge reason they are standing where they are.

Even all of those performances don’t come close the the winner here. Giordano should, and will, be the Norris winner this season, and is the backbone to everything the Flames’ have achieved. Being the captain of this team, his example has set the template for what players want to follow. He has been on a two-way tear every single game, and has willed his team to victory on countless occasions. There is no doubt now that he is the teams’ MVP this season and is the biggest reason for the Flames’ success.

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The Flames have an absolutely amazing group of blue liners at their disposal. It’s a good problem to have when there are four or five players to choose from for one final spot; a predicament the Flames find themselves in for the playoffs. It is safe to say the top five of Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Travis Hamonic, Noah Hanifin, and Rasmus Andersson are set in stone, but the sixth man is much more interesting.

For that one position, there are a number of suitable candidates. Oscar Fantenberg , Oliver Kylington, Dalton Prout, Juuso Valimaki, and Michael Stone are all available for the final defensive position. At this point, a case could be made for either one of them as they each bring something different to the lineup. We wanted to see which one fans thought would start in that position come game #1. We excluded Stone from the list of options due to the fact that he hasn’t played a ton of hockey and is coming off a serious injury.

Prout received very few votes, and that is entirely predictable. He may bring a physical presence to the group, but he is a massive liability when it comes to the defensive end of the ice. He just simply isn’t the best option here.

Kylington is next up, with only 8% of the vote. He shone earlier in the season, but with the arrival of Fantenberg has become a third stringer in a sense. He hasn’t been bad in any way, but he also hasn’t gone above and beyond the others on this list.

Valimaki places second on this poll, with a strong 31% of the vote. Missing a ton of time due to injury, but playing lights out in Stockton, Valimaki was officially recalled to the team last week. He may be missing some experience, but he sure doesn’t play like it. I would think the coaching staff would want to lean on experience for the playoffs, but Valimaki makes that decision much harder.

Speaking of experience, the winner here with 56% of the vote was Fantenberg. Acquired at the trade deadline, Fantenberg has been the definition of consistent. He may not be the flashiest of players, but he gets the job done, and done well. Him and Andersson have formed quite the pairing over the last month or so, which makes him the clear choice here for fans and the team.

Out of all of the lines this season, the third has easily been the most altered and debatable line the Flames have had. The same sentiment exists after game 82, when there is still no clear picture as to who will be making up that line come the first round. In fact, with the way the fourth line of Garnet Hathaway, Derek Ryan, and Andrew Mangiapane have been playing, this line might actually be considered the fourth in some circles.

James Neal, Mark Jankowski, Austin Czarnik, and Sam Bennett are the most likely culprits to make up that unit; there is just no telling in which order they will be in. With Neal and Bennett missing time over the last quarter of the season, it’s hard to think of a time where all four players have been available down the stretch. We wanted to see which potential line fans think will be on the ice for game #1.

There wasn’t much of a debate on this one, as fans think that a Bennett – Jankowki – Neal deployment makes the most sense, and I’d have to agree. Although there still exists some Neal skeptics, there is no doubting he will be playing every single playoff game. The Flames acquired him for his post season prowess, and you better believe with his improved play as of late he isn’t going anywhere. Jankowski remained constant for all three deployments, as he is the only real C of the bunch. Although Bennett could slot in, doing so for the playoffs would make little to no sense. Bennett would then slot in as the final winger over Czarnik, because it makes the most sense.

Although Czarnik came flying out of the gates after Neal’s injury, there is no question he has been quieter as of late. He is able to generate scoring chances much better than some of the forwards, but he is simply the odd man out. The playoffs were built for Bennett and Neal, and having them in the lineup gives the Flames the optimal deployment.


Want to be a part of the conversation next time around? Follow us on Twitter @wincolumnblog and be sure to keep a look out for our polls throughout the week.

Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images

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