The NHL looks to be on the cusp of returning, according to reports this week. ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski announced the NHL was looking at a 56 game schedule for the 2020-21 season to begin on January 13th.
The Athletic’s Pierre Lebrun followed up with a report that a temporary realignment would happen as well, including the long rumoured all-Canadian division.
How will the new rules affect the Flames?
The Calgary Flames will not be in the Pacific division in the upcoming season, rather in the all-Canadian division against Edmonton, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa.
As the recently completed MLB season proved, a lot of randomness can occur in a shortened season. A 60 game season in baseball represented just 37% of a normal regular season, and that is a much more significant drop from the 68% we’re dealing with for a 56 game NHL season. Still, randomness will play a role and the shortened campaign will definitely reward teams who start hot, leaving little runway for teams who don’t to catch up.
Whether the Flames will be able to capture a playoff spot in their new division will depend heavily on how quickly they can rebound from what can only be described as a disappointing regular season one year ago.
Current Flames era History
The current era of the Flames basically began when Johnny Gaudreau played his first season as the top line LW for the team in 2014-15. Since that season, this has been Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mark Giordano, Mikael Backlund, and now Matthew Tkachuk‘s hockey team.
Looking back at this era of Flames hockey can help shed some light on how the Flames will perform in a 56 game season. Taking a 56 game rolling average during all six seasons in the era helps show that the Flames have been very inconsistent.
To facilitate this analysis, the rolling points percentage of the team is calculated. This means we take the points percentage for the first 56 games of the 2014-15 season (games 1-56). Then again for the next set of 56 games (games 2-57), and so on. We repeat this for each season and stop at game 82 each time. That set of data points is the rolling average.
Overall season results
The Flames had varying degrees of success in the past six seasons.
|Season||Season Points Percentage|
The Flames’ best season was, of course, their Western Conference winning season in 2018-19 at 0.652 P%, and their worst was in 2015-16, the year before they drafted Tkachuk sixth overall.
56 game rolling averages
Let’s break down the seasons using a 56 game rolling average. In chart form it’s easy to see the trend of how the Flames’ points percentage fluctuated throughout each season.
From the above chart, it’s clear to see that the Flames have been a very consistently inconsistent team over the past six seasons
In 2014-15, the Flames’ points percentage remained relatively steady throughout the season, though it did take a bit of a tumble from the 13th to the 15th segment of 56 games. The team managed to work its way back to the ~0.550 range in the next few weeks, but there was a noticeable drop-off midway through the year. The range of 56 game rolling points percentage was 3.57%, or six standings points (standings points are just points in the standings; the Flames had 79 points in the standings in 70 games last season, aka 79 standings points).
In 2015-16, the Flames again remained relatively consistent, but between the ninth and 17th 56 game segments, they dramatically improved, going from a terrible 0.464 points percentage to a 0.509 points percentage over that period. Then they cooled off, dropping back to around the 0.470 range. The range of 56 game rolling points percentage was 4.46%, or seven standings points.
In 2016-17, the Flames were completely different. They started off downright terribly, and then surged as the season went on. They were 0.527 team through the first 56 games, then caught absolute fire going up to a season high of 0.670 over the 17th set of 56 games, before eventually settling down around the 0.630 range. The range of 56 game rolling points percentage was 14.29%, or 23 standings points.
If 2017-18, it was the opposite story of the year prior. The Flames started off hot, and then cratered as the year went on. They went from a 0.589 team through the first 56 games to 0.473 team through the penultimate 56 game set, a very substantial fluctuation. The range of 56 game rolling points percentage was 11.61%, or 19 standings points.
In 2018-19, The Flames went back to being relatively consistent, this time with a high points percentage all year long. This was the year they finished atop the Western Conference, and they really didn’t miss a beat the whole season. The range of 56 game rolling points percentage was 5.36%, or nine standings points.
Finally, in 2019-20, the last season that was shortened due to the pandemic, the Flames experienced another steady season, this time not in the gutter, not in the clouds, but somewhere in the middle. Due to the team only playing 70 games, only 15 sets of 56 consecutive games exists. The range of 56 game rolling points percentage was 3.57%, or six standings points.
fewer games means greater randomness
For a team like the Flames, the degree of fluctuation in their performance throughout the season can drastically affect their results over a 56 game span. Even in their most consistent years, their points percentage over 56 game segments varied at a rate that reflected six standings points.
Last season, the Flames wouldn’t have made the expanded playoffs if they had six fewer standings points. It’s a significant margin, and the it’s on the low end of fluctuations.
In the most fluctuating season, 2016-17, 23 standings points was the range of rolling 56 game points percentages. That margin was the difference between the Stanley Cup winning Tampa Bay Lightning and the cellar dwelling Ottawa Senators last season.
56 games might seem like a healthy chunk of a normal NHL season, and it is at 68% of the normal games played, but teams are subject to significant performance streaks throughout the season, and 56 games can open the door wide open for every team to contend.
If the Flames want to stay in the playoff picture in 2020-21, they need to come out of the gates strong, and ensure they stay rolling all season long. A cold streak of any length could greatly jeopardize their playoff chances, but a hot streak could cement them as a playoff team.
Fewer games means greater randomness, and there just isn’t enough time this year for the Flames to “find their legs”. They need to be strong from game one and carry that momentum all the way to game 56. If not, they could find themselves out of it early on, and run out of runway to make up those points.
How do you think the Flames will do over 56 games this season? Will they be able to start hot and stay strong? Let us know in the comments or on social media.