Change is afoot for the Calgary Flames in the upcoming offseason. The 2021 NHL season was not kind to Calgary, and as the regular season finishes up, the Flames will be on the outside of the playoffs and looking to figure out what went wrong for this team. While it’s uncertain how the roster will look like for the 2021-22 season opening night, we wanted to see which current forwards, assuming they’re still around, needs to have rebound seasons. We asked, you answered.
No offence, Calgary
With just a handful of games remaining in the 2021 season, the Flames sunk to a new low as of yesterday: The Ottawa Senators have more standing points than Calgary. Sure, the Senators played more games, but to string together that sentence like that at the beginning of the season, virtually everyone would be calling it satire. A big reason that the Flames failed to secure wins was the sheer lack of offence.
The players they needed to find the scoresheet on a regular basis instead made fluttering appearances that left much to be desired. While there are many more that struggled, there were a few names that needed to be looked at:
Between Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk, they all had their share of hockey hardships over this season. In addition, a player that also saw a downward trend in his play was Mikael Backlund. These four consist of a core group of forwards that the Flames rely on to produce, and when they all drop off in production like they did this past year, on-ice woes can easily spew over into other aspects of the team’s game.
The four players make up the Flames’ second to fifth highest point scorers this season, behind just Elias Lindholm. Yet, they all have areas in their game that could use a turnaround season for next year.
Gaudreau’s woes are forgivable
Gaudreau has been the team’s best player for the past few seasons, and truth be told, he’s still had a fairly respectable year in terms of points. However, for a player that was just two seasons removed from a 99 point season, his point production has really tumbled in the North Division. There was no reason to expect that Gaudreau would be anything less than a point-per-game player facing off against Canadian teams only, but he’s well below that mark.
Turning to some of his on-ice stats (all stats at 5v5, score-and-venue adjusted from NaturalStatTrick.com), he’s posted 50.6 CF% and 53.1 xGF%. Not a bad stat line by any measure, but the pity here was the failure to wreak more havoc in the league’s weakest division. Gaudreau could have easily had a career year but instead just was not able to elevate.
However, the polls suggest he isn’t really someone to worry about in terms of rebounding. With just 5.0% of all votes, his less-than-stellar season by his metrics were still passible at the end of the day.
Monahan lack of scoring stems worry
A perennial top goal scorer for the Flames, Monahan’s season has lined itself to be the worst of his career, period. With just 10 goals on the season, the scoring essentially evaporated for Monahan. Similar to Gaudreau’s issues, the weak division led many to expect Monahan to at least be one of the division’s better scorers, but he’s behind the likes of J.T. Miller, Blake Wheeler, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. All of these players are of course good, but they all share something in common: none of them have ever scored 30 goals in a season, something Monahan’s done three times in his career already.
To say that Monahan putting up just 10 goals is worrying is an understatement. It brings a lot of concern as his 5v5 shooting percentage is at a meagre 7.35%, making it two seasons in a row that it’s been under 10% (a mark he’s never fallen under prior to 2019-20). On top of not being able to score, he’s not supplementing it with shot volume either, with just 104 CF at 5v5. For context, every other season he’s hit at least 200 CF except his rookie season where he had 198. The 104 mark is a rate that’s far, far lower than he should be at, and it’s a big reason his numbers are so poor.
As for on-ice stats, Monahan has a 49.4 CF% and a 51.2 xGF%. Again, it’s not awful, but it’s not great. He accounted for 28.3% of votes as a player needing to rebound, and that much is undeniable. His shooting can not remain this bad, plain and simple. Chances are he’ll regress to something closer to his career average, but two straight seasons of poor results will start to raise some flags no matter what.
Tkachuk had no luck
As a player with one of the most baffling performances in recent memory, Tkachuk has had an awful season on the scoresheet. He’s the highest paid Flame and yet his play this season doesn’t even come close to reflecting that. He also has just 10 goals just like Monahan, clocking in for another shockingly low output. Getting 65.8% of all votes for a rebound season, it’s clear that he’s the player that everyone needs to see step it back up to the same Tkachuk he’s very capable of being.
Tkachuk’s issues this year has been perplexing. While everyone watching him play can easily tell you that he’s not looked like himself at all, his on-ice stats still suggest that he shouldn’t be this bad either. Posting numbers of 54.4 CF% and 53.2 xGF%, he’s still been an effective overall player, despite not being an effective Tkachuk.
But that’s the problem, the Flames need Tkachuk to be Tkachuk. It’s one thing for him to rebound on the scoresheet, as any player with his level of skill will likely be able to do so with relative ease. The bigger issue is that he needs to start looking like the Tkachuk that’s seen tormenting other teams, getting under the skin of their opponents, instead of being just a high-skill player. If he can’t be effective on the scoresheet, Tkachuk has the exact set of tools to be effective elsewhere, but he’s just not displaying it. We’ve covered this before, but this might be a problem with the Flames leadership.
Backlund’s troubles aren’t his fault
One of the Flames’ best possession players year after year, Backlund had kept that up despite having significantly worse linemates. With Calgary restructuring their forward lines for the season, Backlund manned the third line with Andrew Mangiapane and Milan Lucic as his most common linemates. To replace his regular linemate of Tkachuk with Lucic is a significant downgrade for Backlund, as even Lucic knows he’s no Tkachuk.
However, there’s a strong case that Backlund continued to elevate his linemates as he always does, as Lucic has seen a bit of an increase in his on-ice stats this year compared to last. The problem with Backlund was that his offence took a huge hit. He is the type of player that will elevate anyone around him. Good players become better, bad players become good. To see Backlund’s offensive numbers to where they should be, surrounding him with good players is the easiest way to get him going.
This season’s been more of a short-end-of-the-stick type one for Backlund though, as while he’s still been great with 53.5 CF% and 56.3% xGF%, the scoring just isn’t there for Backlund. How the Flames choose to deploy him next season will be telling. If he’s placed in the top six with competent linemates, betting on a rebound is a given. Yet, if he’s bumped down to the third line with a linemate or two that doesn’t carry the play, he’ll be stuck spending more of him time not scoring and essentially playing to not get scored on instead.
With just 0.8% of the votes, his rebound season isn’t one that many people have eyes on at all. If anything, he’s proven that despite a dropoff in scoring, he’s still as reliable as ever everywhere else.
Scoring problems for everyone
The Flames have spent most of the 2021 scratching their heads as to why and how they were collectively stymied on offence. Up and down the whole roster, no single player really elevated their offence to take advantage of the North Division. The Flames’ top scorer in Lindholm has 43 total points.
Connor McDavid just posted his 100th point of the season last night, while Auston Matthews reached the 40 goal threshold a few days ago. While no one is expecting the Flames to match up point-for-point or goal-for-goal with the league’s best players, the concern lies more in the discrepancy between other players in the same division compared to Calgary’s.
It’s hard to exactly pinpoint what went wrong for Calgary, and pointing fingers isn’t exactly going to do much good for them either, but by the time the 2021-22 season rolls around, their best players can’t afford to be playing at the same calibre that they did this season.
The Flames have to figure themselves out first, or else they risk being their own worst enemy. Once play resumes with games against the whole league, Calgary’s struggles could easily go from bad to worse when assessing them against the other 31 teams.
Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images