Calgary Flames 2021 first quarter report cards

With the first quarter of the season officially over, it’s time to look at how the Flames roster has fared 14 games into the year. We’ll assign a report card grade for each Flames player with over 100 minutes TOI. The grade will take into consideration the 14 games the Flames played from opening night on January 13th to February 13th. The Flames went 7-6-1 over this stretch and currently sit fifth in the division, one spot out of the playoffs.

The Flames have put up some decent underlying numbers through the first quarter, sitting ninth in the league for xGF% and 13th for CF% at 5v5, score-and-venue adjusted (from NaturalStatTrick.com). It has been a couple weeks of ups and downs, as is tradition with Calgary Flames hockey. Let’s get to the rankings and see who had the best first quarter of the season for the team, and who struggled.

How Do These Rankings Work?

A reminder that these rankings are based on a model that evaluates 5v5 play. In order to grade players, we will be using the TWC Player Offensive Evaluation Tool (POET).

The model operates similarly to the power rankings model we update on a weekly basis. The player model takes specific on-ice statistics including CF% at various danger levels, xGF%; individual statistics including goals, assists, offensive contributions, and penalty differentials; and includes an adjustment for time on ice, PDO, and offensive zone starts.

Each player’s statistics are put through the model and combined to produce an overall TWCScore. These scores are then compared to the rest of the league to determine what letter grade they fall into. If their TWC score is above 0 on their player cards then they are above average compared to all other players of the same position (forwards or defencemen).

It is important to note that the model is based on player performance at 5v5. This is not meant to diminish the efforts of the Flames work on special teams, but to be more representative of a players form against equal opposition. Only players with over 100 minutes at 5v5 were given grades. Let’s see who ranks where on the Flames squad.

Forwards

A+

Andrew Mangiapane

Still the most underrated player on the Flames in my opinion, Andrew Mangiapane has put up some sparkling numbers to start the year. His numbers so far are crazy. He ranks first among Flames forwards for xGF, xGF%, HDCF and HDCF% and is second for CF%. He also starts over nearly 55% of his shifts in the defensive zone, making these numbers even more impressive.

Mangiapane has been elite at even strength and has made any line he plays with better. He deserves to get more ice time as he’s averaging the sixth most among forwards on the team with only 16:04. 

His point totals aren’t super impressive, with 7 points in 14 games. However, he’s finally started to get the points to go with his strong play recently as he’s put up 5 points in his last 5 games. His six 5v5 points are tied for third on the team. Mangiapane has been a monster to start the year and if the points start coming too (which they should), he is poised to be a bigger key player for the team than he already is.

A

Johnny Gaudreau

This looks like the Johnny Gaudreau we all know and love. Gaudreau has led the charge on offence for the Flames, including starting the year on a nine-game point streak. He’s also up to eight goals on the year in 14 games after having just 18 in 70 last year.

On his current pace with 15 points in 14 games, he’d best his point total from last year of 58 in 14 less games. He leads Flames forwards with an on-ice total of 9.95 GF (5v5 SVA) and ranks third for xGF. Even more encouraging is his team-leading nine points at 5v5. 

One of the reasons for Gaudreau’s bounce back year is his sky-high shooting percentage. He’s shooting 28.6% right now after shooting just 8.6% last year. That number will come down eventually but it’s encouraging to see the pucks go in for him after he had terrible luck last season.

His possession numbers leave something to be desired as he’s eighth among forwards for CF% at 49.5, but he’s racking up the points right now. If the Flames hope to make the playoffs in a tight North Division, they’ll need Gaudreau to be producing, and so far through a quarter of the season he’s doing just that.

Milan Lucic

Probably the most shocking grade, Milan Lucic has actually been pretty good this year. He certainly had some rough moments at the beginning of the season but once he was put on a line with Backlund and Mangiapane, he’s been playing some solid hockey.

A large part of that is having two elite possession line mates of course, but you can’t completely discredit Lucic. He sits third among forwards on the team for CF% and xGF% at 55.3 and 58.7, respectively, second for HDCF% and fourth for HDCF.

He has just six points in 14 games, but all six have come at even strength which is tied for third on the team. Lucic is playing like a legitimate middle six winger right now which I don’t think anyone expected before the season started. On an unrelated note James Neal cleared waivers yesterday. 

A-

Mikael Backlund

As usual, Mikael Backlund has been one of the most dependable Flames forwards, and the first quarter of the season has been no different. Playing in a smaller role as the team’s third line centre this year, Backlund has still managed to put up some impressive underlying numbers as he always does.

He leads Flames forwards with a CF% of 57.3, and sits second for xGF, xGF%, HDCF, and HDCF% behind his line mate Mangiapane. The duo has been exceptional since being put together. He’s also started just 38% of his shifts in the offensive zone so his numbers are very impressive considering his usage. 

To go along with his impressive underlying numbers, he also has eight points in 14 games which puts him on pace for 32 over 56 games. Backlund has once again been a key contributor for the Flames at even strength at both ends of the ice. The Flames would take a huge hit if he were to miss significant time. 

Matthew Tkachuk

It’s been an interesting start to the season for Matthew Tkachuk. He started the year on fire, but since the first few games of the season he hasn’t looked like himself at all. Tkachuk’s numbers aren’t actually that bad which is the strange thing. He’s fourth on the team with 10 points in 14 games and sits fifth among Flames forwards for CF%, and xGF%, third for HDCF, and fourth for HDCF%. He also leads regular Flames forwards with a whopping GF% of 73.5. 

But the fact is he just hasn’t looked effective the last couple weeks at even strength. His line with Lindholm and Dube has not been good at all recently and seems to get hemmed in their own zone a lot. For a guy who typically exudes confidence, Tkachuk doesn’t seem to have any right now. Could it have stemmed from the players only meeting after his incident with Jake Muzzin? Is he dealing with an undisclosed nagging injury? Perhaps we’ll find out eventually, but Tkachuk is one of the Flames’ most important players and they are a much worse team when he is off his game. 

B+

Elias Lindholm

Elias Lindholm has had an interesting start to the season as well. Points wise he is lighting it up, with 14 points in 14 games, good for second on the team. Only six of those points have come at even strength though. He’s currently averaging the most minutes per game among Flames forwards with 21:24 as the teams’ new first line centre.

Here’s the thing though, his underlying numbers are just okay. He’s just above water with a CF% of 50.3, good for sixth among Flames forwards. Among regular Flames forwards he sits seventh for GF%, and eighth for xGF% and HDCF. Not exactly the type of numbers you’d want to see from your first line centre. For a good chunk of games his line with Tkachuk has seemed rather ineffective at even strength. It’s great to see him racking up points, but the Flames need more from Lindholm at even strength going forward as their number one centre.

b

Sean Monahan

Sean Monahan looked to have bounced back from last year’s awful season at the start of the year, although his play has tailed off in recent games. He sits third on the team with 11 points in 14 games but started the year on fire with seven points in his first five games and has cooled down considerably since then. He has just four points, all assists, in his last nine games. He hasn’t scored a goal since January 24th against Toronto

Monahan hasn’t been terrible by any means, but he hasn’t been great either. Like Gaudreau, he has struggled in the possession game and sits seventh on the team among forwards for CF% at 49.7. He ranks fifth for xGF, and seventh for xGF%.

On a more positive note, he is second on the team among regular forwards with a GF% of 69.0, and second for points at even strength with seven. It’s been a mixed bag to start the year for Monahan but his point totals are definitely promising. 

c+

dILLON dUBE

It’s been an up and down first quarter for Dillon Dube. He looked great, and was arguably the Flames best forward in their first four games, but an injury forced him to miss the next three and it seems to have thrown him off his game. He’s struggled big time at even strength since his return. He sits ninth among forwards for CF% and xGF%, and seventh for HDCF%. He does have an excellent GF% of 63.6 though, which is fifth among forwards.

Dube also has just five points in 11 games, and zero goals at even strength. Perhaps he isn’t fully back at 100% yet, but the Flames need Dube to be much better going forward if he wants to stick on the top line.

C-

Josh Leivo

Newcomer Josh Leivo has played up and down the lineup so far, not really sticking on one single line and has put up okay results across the board. Possession wise he’s been solid, sitting fourth among forwards for CF% at 52.68. He hasn’t offered much of anything on offence though with just two points in 13 games while sitting dead last on the team with a GF% of 29.8. 

He does rank fourth with an xGF% of 56.2 though, which points to some seriously bad luck for him. He’s currently shooting zero percent with 16 shots and no goals. All things considered, he’s been an okay depth option over some of the other choices and will hopefully get some bounces as the season goes on to boost his point totals. 

Sam Bennett

The only noteworthy part of Sam Bennett’s season so far has been his trade request as he’s playing some bad hockey right now. He sits last among regular Flames forwards for CF%, xGF% and HDCF%, and second last for GF% and HDCF. He isn’t above 50% in any category. He also has just three points in 13 games. After being scratched for a game, he was promoted to the top line which is undoubtedly to showcase him for a potential trade. He’s scored two goals in four games since being promoted but his underlying numbers remain terrible.  

Look, Sam Bennett is not a very good hockey player and it clearly isn’t going to work in Calgary so the best thing to hope for going forward is that Gaudreau keeps feeding him goals on a silver platter while he’s still around.

Defence

A

Noah Hanifin

Noah Hanifin has been exceptional to start the season. The Flames must be very pleased with the 24-year-old’s campaign so far. His HDCF% is best on the team among defencemen at 58.4% and sits right below Tanev in the other major categories, ranking second for CF%, xGF% and HDCF. He hasn’t put up many points, just three in 14 games, but he leads all Flames defenceman with 24 shots at even strength. All this while starting over 56% of his shifts in the defensive zone.

His pairing with Tanev has been incredible to start the year and has carried the load defensively for the Flames through the first quarter of the season. After putting up average numbers for most of his time in Calgary, seeing Hanifin play to his potential to start the year is great to see. 

A-

Chris Tanev

After many doubts about his big contract, Chris Tanev has so far proven everyone wrong in a huge way. He’s been absolutely incredible on the back-end playing some elite defence. The Flames didn’t surrender an even strength goal against with Tanev on the ice until February 2nd, nine games into the season.

Among Flames defenders he ranks first for CF%, xGF% and HDCF and second for HDCF%.He doesn’t offer much in the way of offence with only three points in 14 games and 12 shots at even strength which lowers his grade a bit, but his role is defence and he’s been great.

With the first pairing of Rasmus Andersson and Mark Giordano struggling to start the year, Tanev’s pairing with Noah Hanifin has been the steady presence the Flames need. He has rediscovered his form from his prime when he was one of the best shut-down defenders in the league. If he can continue to play even close to how he did in the first quarter, it makes the Flames much better on defence.

Whatever happens with the contract down the line is yet to be known, but early returns on Tanev have been nothing short of spectacular. Here’s to hoping he plays well years into the contract with a good bill of health and continued chemistry with Hanifin.

Juuso Valimaki

There’s been some blunders along the way, but Juuso Valimaki has had a solid start to his first full season in the league. He’s given the Flames some much needed dependable depth on defence. He sits third among defenceman on the team for CF% and HDCF% at 50.7 and 55.0, respectively, and fourth for xGF% and HDCF.

Pretty solid numbers for a rookie who’s expected to be your number five option on the back-end. He has five points in 14 games, all of which have come at even strength which leads Flames defencemen.

It was assumed Valimaki may have a slow start as he hadn’t played an NHL game since April 2019, but he’s already been great for the Flames and should only get better as the year goes on and he gets more comfortable. The future looks very bright for the Flames’ 2017 first rounder.

D+

Nikita Nesterov

Nikita Nesterov was brought in this off-season to provide some depth on the Flames back-end and he’s done his job so far this year to a degree. His results aren’t great but as the number six guy he’s been solid enough. He sits third among defenceman for xGF% and fourth for CF% and HDCF%.

He does rank fifth for GF% though at 42.9 and has no points through 13 games which really hurts his score. However, considering the number six options on defence the past few years, Nesterov has certainly been an upgrade over them, which is all you can ask.  

Rasmus Andersson

In what was supposed to be a breakout year for Rasmus Andersson taking over as the team’s number one option, the first quarter of the year didn’t exactly go to plan. The 24-year-old has struggled across the board. He sits last among regular Flames defencemen for CF% and HDCF% at 46.0 and 46.4 respectively and second last for xGF% and HDCF.

Andersson has struggled big time at even strength and spends a ton of time in his own zone which is obviously not ideal for what is supposed to be your number one defenceman. He does have seven points which is tied for first among defencemen on the team, but his overall play has left much to be desired. The Flames need him and Giordano to figure it out in the second quarter or they could be in big trouble come the half-way point of the season. 

D-

Mark Giordano

In any other year you’d think that player card is upside down, but Mark Giordano has really struggled this year. He hasn’t looked like himself at all, and it seems as though his struggles from the playoffs have continued into this season. Giordano is last among defenceman on the team for xGF% at 48.0 and second last for CF% and HDCF%.

Like Andersson he has seven points in 14 games, but his play as a whole has been pretty bad on a nightly basis. One positive however is his GF% of 68.9 which is first among defenceman and second overall on the team.

It looks like age may have finally caught up to the long time Flames captain and he may no longer be able to be relied on to play heavy minutes every night. You obviously want to give him the benefit of the doubt, but it may be time to consider dropping him down the lineup if this keeps up into the halfway point of the season,

setting the tone for the next quarter

All in all, the Flames have been okay. Their 7-6-1 record reflects that. They’ve had some good games here and there, but they’ve been buoyed multiple games by Jacob Markstrom. He has earned his contract so far, through and through.

In the relatively weak North Division, the Flames need to make statement wins against the weaker teams, and play competitive hockey against the top teams. Failure to do that will lead to them either missing the playoffs entirely or have yet another early exit.

There’s plenty of time left to turn the season around for much of the roster, but you’d want to see some players avoiding these C and D grades as the season goes on. Kudos to those who’ve been stellar so far, let’s hope their teammates start putting in the work to carry their own weight sooner than later too.

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