Calgary Flames

Flames Sunday Census: Using the preseason to gauge the outlook on Calgary

The Calgary Flames officially wrapped up their eight-game preseason schedule with a win against the Winnipeg Jets. Now the NHL is turning its gears to start the regular season on Tuesday, October 12, but the Flames have a week off from games before opening up their season on the road against the Edmonton Oilers. With the slate of preseason games complete, a lot can be said about the Flames. How did it affect the outlook on the team? We asked, you answered.

Calgary’s preseason performance

The Flames went 3–4–1 over their eight games against the Oilers, Canucks, Kraken, and Jets. Of course, as the preseason progressed, the roster shaped up from barely being formidable in the AHL towards being as NHL-ready as it could be. That said, the Flames haven’t truly iced an all-out NHL roster yet—there were always one or two players rested instead.

So with the preseason going the way it did for the Flames, how did that affect sentiments on the regular season?

The preseason is meaningless

Often, team performances in the preseason are shadowed by line combination, defence pairing, and individual player evaluations. It’s mean to be used as a litmus test of what will work for the upcoming season in terms of player deployment and coaching systems. Nothing else really matters in the preseason and that option gathered the most votes with 39.4%.

The most memorable example of how the preseason doesn’t matter would be the 2016–17 Colorado Avalanche. After going a perfect 6–0–0 in the preseason, they finished with a league-worst 22–56–4 record, good for just 48 standing points and were 21 points behind of the 29th place Canucks. Looking at preseason records could be fruitless, and at times even dangerous for setting expectations.

For the Flames, the preseason was meant to usher in a new era of Flames hockey with Mark Giordano, test the waters on their numerous new faces, and get their top players warmed up for the season. That was more or less accomplished and the Flames can spend the next week tweaking their roster before they set out to snap their season opener losing streak.

More negative outlooks

Coming in second on the poll, 28.8% of voters feel more negative on the Flames after the preseason. There’s good reason for that too. Their on-ice product is questionable right now, as there are some pretty major gaps in the defence and the fourth line.

Between all of the Flames’ new offseason additions, most of them are subpar. With the exception of Blake Coleman and Dan Vladar, the rest are both questionable and expected to play far too many minutes than they should be. The biggest irk right now probably goes to one of Nikita Zadorov or Erik Gudbranson, both defencemen.

On one hand, Zadorov is a defensive defender, which goes well with what the Flames’ system right now. On the other, he is awful pretty much everywhere else. Bringing no offence but rather a penchant for taking penalties, Zadorov is going to be earning more groans over the season than anything else. Gudbranson is worse, with little quality to his game anywhere. Given Oliver Kylington‘s play, which shows an upward progression this preseason, Gudbranson would be an anchor and a liability.

For their forwards, their bottom-six looks bleak, and doesn’t really provide too much reassurance as a contending team. It’s true that the depth forwards are all going to be at least more defensively responsible, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Flames brought in players that were definitely not the best available, and are instead are expected to have bad seasons unless otherwise proven.

Over five games and nearly 70 minutes of ice time, Trevor Lewis hasn’t scored a point. Brad Richardson has one primary assist in similar ice time. It was unfortunate that Tyler Pitlick was injured so early in the preseason, as he could have been a guy to be a bit better in the scoring side of the game. Lewis and Richardson are near the bottom of the roster in terms of expected goals against, which doesn’t really inspire many to believe their defensive prowess is on their way.

The Flames are fighting an uphill battle which starts at their roster composition—all the preseason did was verify this.

More positive outlooks

With a much less optimistic proportion, 15.9% of voters feel better about the Flames. They did show some flashes of brilliance and it stems from various factors.

Calgary’s top-six could be among one of the league’s best. Similarly, their top defencemen are more than formidable. The presence of Vladar provides a steady safety net. There’s lots of good that comes out of this Flames roster and the preseason validated plenty.

Aside from the obvious top-heavy presence of the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, and Matthew Tkachuk, the Flames are also seeing a resurgence from Sean Monahan, a bona fide top-six player out of Andrew Mangiapane, and of course, have Coleman in the helms too.

On defence, Chris Tanev looks as great as he did last year, seemingly fully recovered from his injuries. Despite a few unknowns in the rest of the defence, the abundance of internal competition is going to force players to be their best—having Darryl Sutter as head coach gives little margin of error for any player.

And lastly, lots can be said at length about Vladar, but the simple take on it is that he’s solid. He’s shown that his trajectory to being a starter for the Boston Bruins prior to being traded was a reasonable bet. As he settles into the backup role for Calgary, he’s exactly what they need to complement Jacob Markstrom.

The Flames have the tools to get the job done night in and night out. Sure, not all tools in the toolkit will be used as effectively as others, but Calgary has high-calibre players ready to take the brunt of the minutes and give Calgary a fighting chance for the playoffs.

Meeting expectations for Calgary

Also with 15.9% of the votes, the preseason has shown some that the Flames are exactly what they expected. With an uninspiring three wins over eight games, the Flames turned expected mediocrity to actual mediocrity. As one free agent signing after another was announced for Calgary as the offseason wore on, hope dwindled for this team and diminished into nothing.

There’s no telling how good or how bad this team might be, and being perfectly average could be an outcome that many are hoping won’t happen for the Flames. The Flames will decide their fate, but they should hope to classify themselves as either playoff or lottery contenders as soon as possible, as middle of the pack performances has kept Calgary from achieving their potential for seasons on end.

Hockey is back

The regular season is set to start and the Pacific Division makes its return with both of the latest expansion teams. While the Kraken are unknowns at this point, the Vegas Golden Knights are back as favourites in the division. The Flames will have to navigate this division tactfully as there’s a lot of coin toss games that could go either way for Calgary or their opponent.

For now, we can enjoy the return of real hockey and being enamoured with the Flames as they kick off their 2021–22 campaign.

Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

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