Calgary Flames

Flames Sunday Census: Getting a sense of where the Calgary Flames stand in the North Division

The Calgary Flames are expected to be right in the pack fighting for playoff positioning all season long in the North Division. It’s arguably the NHL’s tightest division, with a handful of mid-pack teams all north of the border. To see how Flames fans view the team this season, we asked a few questions all about the North Division.

Sunday Census has been revamped the 2020-21 season, where we’ll be posting polls on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram revolving around a central question or theme. Be sure to check out all three platforms to participate in each week’s set of polls!

Number of series wins

One thing to watch for is how well the Flames play against each team in the North. Pushing for a playoff spot will mean a handful of series wins are a must have. They don’t necessarily need to win all six, but they can’t afford to lose their footing against more than a few teams at all. Given that everything is tied to one division, if you’re losing, someone else is winning and rapidly getting ahead.

Many models and pundits alike have the Toronto Maple Leafs finishing first in the division, and second will be wide open. We’ll see how that plays out over the season, but if the Flames want that spot, then winning at least four to five series is a going to be a must. That’s where a majority of vote have placed the Flames.

Perhaps it’s tied to reasonable expectations that yes, the Flames should be a playoff team, but no, they’re not the best in the division. Given that the top four in the division will make the playoffs, that four to five series wins benchmark will be a good tier that Calgary to aim for.

Western Canadian showdown

Ten rounds of the Battle of Alberta will take the top spot for best series to watch as a Flames fan. That leaves the Vancouver Canucks and the Winnipeg Jets as the other two Western Canadian teams that will build upon their rivalries with the Flames.

The Canucks will play the Flames ten times as well, while the Jets have one less meeting with Calgary at nine games. There’s reason to believe both these series will lead to great storylines and hockey throughout the season.

The Flames and Canucks have a storied history against each other, and with the Flames picking up a handful Canucks including Jacob Markstrom, Josh Leivo, and Chris Tanev, as well as the Canucks bringing on Travis Hamonic, these two teams will have a lot of players to watch for each and every game. Most fans are more excited to see this matchup, doubling the excitement over the Flames/Jets series.

That being said, the Flames’ intensity with the Jets picked up recently with the 2019 Heritage Classic and their 2020 playoff series quickly adding to the history between them. There’s bad blood between them and some players might feel like they have a score to settle.

On top of that, there’s the immediate comparisons between Connor Hellebuyck and Jacob Markstrom being top-end goaltending talent and those battles between them will be a sight to behold throughout 2021.

Best in the West

Lastly, to tie the two topics above together, something to watch for is how the Flames look when comparing them to the microcosm of Western Canada. Again, the Flames don’t have to win every series to make the playoffs, but winning them against the Western Canadian teams will be mighty helpful in building confidence and momentum.

The Flames are slotted to play 29 games against the Oilers, Canucks, and Jets, so 15 wins gives Calgary a winning record against their Western Canadian counterparts. While each series can seemingly go either way for any team, it all falls back down to where the Flames are expected to finish.

A whopping 97% of voters think the Flames have it in them to emerge as one of the best teams in Canada’s West. Flames fans are solidly bullish on Calgary this season, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Flames can in fact secure 15 or more wins over these three series.

Being the best in the West (within the North) comes with likely good playoff positioning. Of course, the Flames’ record against the Eastern Canadian teams will be just as critical, as the difference between 29 games and 27 games is marginal. Calgary just won’t have that much wiggle room, and they’ll have to treat every opponent seriously.

This holds true for honestly every NHL team this season, where every series carries more weight, with each game presenting opportunities for four point swings in the standings. Whether the Flames are able to handle their own business will be seen, but focusing on the trio of Western Canadian teams can help them set them apart early on and hopefully carry it into late season.

Set your sights on the north

Making the 2021 NHL Playoffs with the current structure will be taxing for any team. There’s very little room for mistakes, and a cold streak or two could mean missing the playoffs. The inverse of that is true too. Play solid, consistent, and high quality hockey, and the postseason seems mightily within reach.

The Flames retooled and got better in the offseason. The expectations of the team are high. Given the unique structure of the season, it’s truly hard to predict what will happen, but the consensus here is simple: The Flames should be in the playoffs, and the rest of it will be up to the team to fulfill.

Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

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