Calgary Flames

Sunday Census: Big blueline decisions, and potential playoff seeds

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 Flames didn’t make the biggest moves at the trade deadline this year, but they did bring in two new players, both of them defensemen. With injuries to Mark Giordano and Travis Hamonic, the Flames were a desperate group on the back end, and the additions of Erik Gustafsson and Derek Forbort have done wonders for the team so far.

Thankfully, Giordano has returned from injury which bumped Michael Stone back to the press box, but with Travis Hamonic back at practice, more changes are due on the Flames’ blueline, one that has been pretty solid the past few weeks.

As it stands now, the pairings are:

Giordano – Brodie
Hanifin – Andersson
Forbort – Gustafsson

This week, we polled Flames fans on what could change when Hamonic is cleared for duty:

Hamonic plays more of a shutdown role on the team, so naturally it makes sense that his return to the lineup would bump a similar type of player to the sidelines. Forbort does fit that description.

So far with the Flames, Forbort’s underlyings have been a mixed bag. He’s below 50% in CF% and SCF%, but over 50% in HDCF% and xGF%. The key stat with Forbort is his work on the penalty kill, though. In the six games he’s played for the Flames, he leads all defensemen in TOI on the penalty kill with 13:28. Only Elias Lindholm has more minutes on the PK out of all skaters on the team. Forbort has no goals and no points, but has also taken zero penalties and has been reliable defensively, including a brilliant play to save the game on the goal line against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Forbort is the easy choice, but it might not be the right one. The other easy option is the other newcomer, Gustafsson. Gustafsson has been used on the top powerplay unit to some success, but has not been great defensively for the team. He does provide prolific offensive ability from the back end, but can be a liability in his own end. he could be a candidate for replacement as well.

Usually it’s easy to pick a frontrunner to come out of the lineup when a regular is ready to return from injury. In this case though, it’s not that simple. It’ll be interesting to see what the Flames do.

Every decision they make at this point of the season is critical, as they need to keep pace in the Pacific to hold onto their playoff spot. The Vancouver Canucks, who once led the division and looked to be a lock for the playoffs, are now barely hanging onto a wild card spot. The Vegas Golden Knights, who looked unstoppable the last few weeks, have all of a sudden lost two of their past three games and gave up first place in the Pacific to the Edmonton Oilers last night. Things are tight, and every point matters.

Our second poll of the week asked fans where they thought the Flames would finish at the end of the regular season.

A resounding majority of people thought the Flames would finish in one of the Pacific division slots, but not repeat as division champions.

This is definitely the most broad answer, as the Flames have been in this position for about a week now, but it’s not even close to being a guarantee yet. Things are so tight that one winning streak or one losing streak could completely change the look of the Western Conference.

The Flames currently have a three point edge on the Canucks for the third spot in the Pacific, but the Canucks have two games in hand. The other team within striking distance of the Flames in the Pacific is the Arizona Coyotes. They’re five points back, which seems sizeable, but a couple games could change the tide in this matchup as well.

One thing that helps is that the team’s destiny is very much in their hands. Of the remaining 13 games on the schedule, the Flames have six against division rivals and another two against other Western teams. Nine are at home, there is only one back-to-back, and seven games are against teams below them in the standings. If the Flames somehow don’t earn a playoff spot, they have only themselves to blame.

Ideally, finishing in one of the top three spots in the Pacific is where the Flames want to be. The Pacific is definitely one of the weakest divisions in the league, and despite the Golden Knights being legitimately terrifying and the Oilers being such a wildcard with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the road to the finals does look to be easier through the Pacific than the Central.

Finishing in a wildcard spot makes things a little more complicated, especially if it’s the second spot, as that team will likely play in the Central side of the bracket come playoff time.

At the end of the day, the focus should just be on earning a spot in the postseason. It’s been a turbulent season, and with the way the Flames have played the past month or so, they look to be much closer to their top form than they did down the stretch last season. It looks like they’ll make it to the postseason for the second straight year, and who knows, maybe they’ll even win a round this time.

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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