While most teams have reached their mid-season break, a trio of Calgary Flames and the rest of the NHL All-Stars prepare for their weekend in St. Louis. Now’s a perfect moment to pause and reflect on the half season that was. The Flames go into the break sitting at 26-19-5, good for third in the Pacific, although their position changes seemingly daily in the packed division.
Overall the start will be one for the team to forget. Coming off one of the best regular seasons in franchise history, the club stumbled out of the gate, and was kept afloat for most of the first half by excellent goaltending and a stout penalty kill.
Then, out of nowhere, the Bill Peters allegations surfaced, and the team faced a fire storm of criticism and negative PR. Eventually they got rid of Peters and installed Geoff Ward at the helm, beginning a bit of a turn around.
Since Ward took over, the team is 14-7-1, back in the playoff race, and at times has shown potential to be a dangerous team. Still at other times though, the team lacks emotion, and has had some bad defeats mixed in with the promising wins. The break should be good for everyone to reset and get ready for an important second half.
Bloggers don’t rest though. We must continue to produce important content for the world like hypothetical hockey awards. It’s hard, but someone has to do it. So let’s get to it, the mid-season Calgary Flames awards!
These awards are going to be a mix of real awards and ones that I completely invented. Perks of being a blogger, you get to make stuff up. Here we go.
Most Valuable Player
Winner: David Rittich
Honorable Mention: Matthew Tkachuk, Mark Giordano
It has to be Big Save Dave right? If it wasn’t for the (recently named) all-star’s performance, the Flames could have found themselves in a much worse position than they are now. Given the recent play of Cam Talbot, there has been ongoing conversation about who the Flames’ starter should be going forward.
In fact, Talbot has played so well recently that he actually deserves to be in the conversation, but that does not change that for nearly the whole first half of the season, Rittich was spectacular.
Rittich was sixth in the league in wins, and fourth in the league in saves. His percentages have taken a hit in the last couple weeks, and he now sits at 0.913 SV% with a 2.77 GAA. Those numbers don’t jump off the page, but Rittich shouldn’t be punished for a bad week or two recently, especially when most of his teammates have had sustained cold spells throughout the first half.
Giordano hasn’t had the same Norris-calibre year as he had last season, but he’s still the Flames ‘best defenceman. Tkachuk has been slow recently, but carried the team in the early part of the year.
Winner: Matthew Tkachuk
Honorable Mention: Elias Lindholm, Sean Monahan.
Tkachuk is cold right now, that much is obvious. What that hides is that for a big part of the early season for the Flames, he was pretty much carrying the offence. At the break, he is tied with Johnny Gaudreau for team lead in points with 38 in 50 games, and that’s with the aforementioned rough patch as of late.
He also finds a way to make himself useful to the team even when he is not scoring, and is sometimes one of the only Flames playing with emotion. They need him to bounce back, but all signs point to him doing that.
Lindholm has 20 goals at the break and Monahan has been good since Ward took over. Still, NHL All-Star Tkachuk has been on a different level.
Winner: Mark Giordano
Honorable Mention: Noah Hanifin
Sure, Gio is not scoring at his levels from last year, but that’s why Norris seasons are hard to come by. Throughout all situations, he is still the Flames’ best defenceman. His CF% of 52.3% is third best on the team, so he is controlling play at 5v5, something very few Flames can say.
Giordano’s offensive numbers are also better than people are giving him credit for. He has scored 22 points through 50 games, easily the most among the Flames’ defensive corps, and for that matter pretty similar to many of the Flames forwards. Others have been okay, but the captain is still the man on the blue line.
Most Improved player
Winner: Dillon Dube
Honorable Mention: Noah Hanifin
This was a toss up for me, and I think Hanifin has been outstanding this season on a good second pairing with Travis Hamonic. But I’m going with Dube who went from a guy who couldn’t find a spot in the NHL to a guy who jump started the third line, and has been a nice spark for the club this season.
Dube has 10 points in 26 games playing mostly in a dreadful bottom six that had failed to spark much offence at all. That’s a huge transformation for a player to make in one year. The Flames are lucky this is the case, because a thin farm system has produced several prospects with few misses. Dube could be another hit for the club.
Most Underrated Player
Winner: Derek Ryan
Honorable Mention: David Rittich
Ryan has been really good this season, seriously. Who is the leading scorer on the Flames after the big four? Is it Mikael Backlund, the much talked about star two-way centre? Is it Sam Bennett, the highest draft pick in Flames history? Is it Milan Lucic? Okay so most of those aren’t surprising, but the Backlund one is, and Ryan deserves more credit for finding some scoring punch. He has 25 points in the first 50 games.
Looking for a stat to wow you? Ryan is tied for the team lead in even strength points with 19, tied with Monahan and Gaudreau. Repeat. Ryan is tied for the team lead in even strength points. Now that probably says more about Gaudreau and Monahan’s woes than Ryan, but still Ryan has been found money. On top of it all, he makes Lucic look like an NHL hockey player. Big bonus points for that.
Most Disappointing Player
Winner: Johnny Gaudreau
Honorable Mention: Sam Bennett, Mark Jankowski
Unfortunately, this category had quite a few possibilities. Ultimately, it has to be Gaudreau. Even the most skeptical Flames fan couldn’t have predicted how bad the team’s star has looked at times in the early going. He is scoring 1.57 points/60 at 5v5, good for sixth on the team. In the past five seasons, his points/60 have been the following, in order of most recent to oldest: 2.84, 2.61, 2.23, 2.25, and 1.75 his rookie year.
He has picked it up a bit recently, but the club relies on his line to be producing at a superstar level. When that doesn’t happen, their depth issues show, and their offence gets much worse. Gaudreau is tied for leading scorer, but he is also the most disappointing Flame thus far.
Bennett has been injured for a big stretch and hasn’t found his way onto a scoring line. Jankowski, well, hasn’t done much. But hey he scored last week! Flood gates are open!
Best Former Edmonton Oiler
Winner: Cam Talbot
Honorable Mention: Milan Lucic, Tobias Rieder
This was a surprisingly deep category this year. In truth, Lucic and Rieder have both probably exceeded the extremely low expectations that fans had for them. But neither of them have made the impact of Talbot, who has saved the Flames in the last two weeks or so.
Talbot’s numbers are actually slightly better than Rittich’s, as Talbot has a crisp 2.54 GAA and a 0.922 SV% in just under half the games. The Flames have had well documented goaltending issues the last couple seasons, but Talbot has found his game just when Rittich stumbled, a lucky coincidence for the team. Thanks Edmonton!
Best left winger named milan
Winner: Milan Lucic
Honorable Mention: None, Lucic was that good
I considered calling this the “best player who has some value explicitly because he is not James Neal” award but I thought that was too wordy. This one felt better, and as a member of the Lucic fan club I had to find an award for him.
Lucic is what he is, but at times he has looked good along with Derek Ryan and at least he gives the team some physicality. The playoffs will be a good test (assuming the team gets there) to see if having some more edge and some protection for the stars makes a difference. Until then this award will have to suffice.
And that wraps up the midseason awards. Stay Safe! Stay Warm! Enjoy the break and see you (and the Flames) soon!