Sunday Census: Looking at the Flames’ strengths, weaknesses, and the blueline

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!

The journey of the 2018-19 Calgary Flames has been talked about at length leading up to this season. They had the second best regular season in franchise history, but were dreadful in the first round of the playoffs and bowed out at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche in five short games.

The question heading into this season was which version of the Flames is the real one? Is it the dominant powerhouse that could beat any team on any night in the regular season? Or was it the shell of that team we saw in the playoffs?

After a strong showing last night against the Vancouver Canucks that saw David Rittich post a shutout, it does look like the Flames will be a good team once again. Out of the 123 people who responded to our first poll, most believe the Flames will be among the best teams in the West this season and will have home ice in the playoffs.

Right now, it seems like the class of the Pacific is the Vegas Golden Knights. With two straight convincing victories against another strong team in the San Jose Sharks, all signs point to Vegas being the team to beat in the division. However, 31% of voters expect the Flames to win the division for the second straight year. It will definitely be fun to see how this season plays out.

Our second poll was split almost right down the middle. Mark Giordano is in the highest tier of NHL defenders. Finally, the league took notice last season and awarded him his first Norris Trophy after a solid campaign highlighted by scoring 74 points. It’s an expectation that Giordano will be the team’s leading scorer from the blueline again this season, but who will be second?

It’s an interesting question because of the Flames’ defensive depth and wealth of weapons on the back end. The two leading contenders in the poll were Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson, receiving 44% and 46% of the vote respectively.

It’s really difficult to choose between the two. From their career trajectories to date, it does seem like these two are the most likely to follow Giordano in scoring.

Hanifin could be considered a veteran with over 320 games played in the NHL, but is only 22 years old. He has steadily increased his point total in his four full NHL seasons from 22, 29, and 32 point campaigns with the Hurricanes, and 33 points with the Flames last season. He does look poised for a breakout year, and even he’s stated how much more comfortable he feels in jumping into the rush and making offensive plays heading into this season. He was a dynamite offensive defenseman in junior and has the tools to be a high scoring defender, and maybe this is the year we’ll finally see that happen.

Andersson is definitely not a veteran; this is his second full season in the NHL. However, he’s rocketed up the Flames’ depth chart, passing basically every other prospect in the organization. He was promoted to the top pairing last season at times and was even trusted to play a highly offensive role when the Flames were trailing late with their goalie pulled. It’s really incredible how quickly Andersson has established himself as a go-to option for Bill Peters. This season, he’s been given second powerplay duties, and many believe he’ll end up being on the top pairing by the end of the year. With all the trust and opportunity he’s getting, there’s a serious reason to believe he’s due for a big year.

The Flames are lucky to have two strong contenders for second highest scoring defensemen, and neither play on the top pairing. That’s pretty cool.

Our final poll of the week was in a bit of a different light, asking what the weakest link was for the Flames heading into the season. There were a few options, mostly based on storylines from the offseason and the playoffs, and all three options received a significant portion of the vote.

Our first option was goaltending, and earned 24% of the vote. The Flames overhauled their whole crease in the offseason, promoting Rittich to starter and signing Cam Talbot to be the backup. It feels like outside of Calgary, nobody really has any faith in Rittich to be a quality starter in the NHL. The injury that derailed his season last year is rarely talked about, and if he can stay healthy, there’s no reason to believe he can’t be a steady option for the Flames.

Talbot is coming off the worst season of his career and is definitely the wild card in net, but still, his full body of work indicates he can be a quality backup at the very least. Personally, I don’t think goaltending is the biggest issue for this team. Rittich has looked rock solid through two games so far and with a high flying Flames offense in front of him, he’ll be just fine.

Option two was the bottom-six, with 33% of voters picking it as the Flames’ weakest link. There were also big changes to the bottom-six this year, most notably the deletion of James Neal and addition of Milan Lucic. The Flames were almost entirely reliant on the top-six for offense last season, so it does seem fair to call out the bottom-six as the weakest link. However, with progression from players like Sam Bennett, Andrew Mangiapane, Derek Ryan, and even Mark Jankowski, the Flames could have an even better bottom-six than last year when it’s all said and done. Who knows!

The final option was special teams, receiving 36% of the vote. The Flames had the second highest scoring offense in the league last season but had the 18th ranked powerplay and 21st ranked penalty kill. Special teams was not a strongsuit for the team last season. With the only changes to the powerplay this year being Lucic for Neal on the second unit, there’s no reason to believe the powerplay will be any better. It’s tough to say though, especially with so much firepower on that top unit, you’d expect them to have a bouceback year. One can hope.

A couple write-in answers were both funny and valid. @Ziggy1893 said the second line RW was the biggest weakness for the team and Peters might agree. Mangiapane actually skated on the second line during the home opener against the Canucks in the second half of the game, bumping Frolik down to the fourth line.

And finally, @Despo_Hockey said discipline was the weakest link. Hard to argue with that one as the Flames currently lead the entire NHL in total penalties with 16 and minor penalties with 14. They’ll need to clean that up.

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.

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