The Calgary Flames have officially begun their 2021–22 NHL regulars season campaign. With Game 1 of 82 going against their favour, they got off on the wrong foot. Sure, it’s just one game, but for a team like the Flames, losing their season for the umpteenth time is both equally laughable and disappointing. Now that the Pacific Division is back, the Flames will extend Canadian rivalries against the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks, light a new one against the Seattle Kraken, as well as face off against the trio of California teams and Vegas once again in divisional games. How many of these series might the Flames win? We asked, you answered.
Back in the Pacific
The Pacific Division is back in the NHL—and it has a new look to it. With the addition of the Kraken, the Arizona Coyotes departed from the Pacific and are now aligned in the Central Division. A brand new expansion team is now the mix and they replace a team that clearly signalled throughout the offseason that they weren’t exactly going to be competitive.
For the Flames, the mission remains the same no matter the opponent: make the playoffs with this core. Under a full season with Darryl Sutter, they are going to be in a much more advantageous position than they were last year with a midseason coaching change. Sutter brings with him a proven track record that is enviable for many other coaches and it’s expected that he can get the best out of this Flames group.
That said, getting to the playoffs will be different this year compared to the last, with heavy emphasis on divisional games. For the Flames to have a fighting chance, they must do well against Pacific Division rivals.
They’ll play seven series against Pacific teams with the following breakdown:
|Opponent||Home Games||Away Games||Total|
Throughout the season, the Flames will play a total of 26 games in the division. Five series consist of two home and two away games, while two series will see just three games—the Flames have home ice advantage over the Golden Knights; the Kings have home ice advantage over the Flames.
So how many series can Calgary realistic win? For all intents and purposes, a win in a series comes from the result of emerging with more standing points than their opponent. So in a four-game series, if both teams have two wins apiece but the Flames earned extra points in overtime, that can be considered a win. After all, those points are worth plenty against divisional foes.
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Middling in mediocrity
Winning three or four series would be the most Flames-like result and over half of the votes went this direction. This outcome essentially splits wins and losses against the Pacific in half, puts the Flames in a very average position. They’d probably be good enough to chase a wild card spot or luck into the third seed, but that’s where the problem lies. They’d find themselves chasing the spot rather than controlling it.
This isn’t a season where being a bubble playoff team will inspire any of the Flames’ brass. Not to put more pressure on the team, but Sutter isn’t here to coach a bubble team. While it’s all true that anything can happen in the playoffs (and Sutter knows this adage quite well being the eighth seed during the Kings’ run to winning the Stanley Cup back in 2011–12), it’d still be a failure of team execution.
The Flames don’t want to be chasing the playoffs, plain and simple. The clock is ticking on the Flames and their core needs to reestablish itself as a perennial force to reckon with. Let’s hope if they do end up winning just half the series, then at least some could come via sweeps against their opponents.
The distant second place option, 17.5% of voters think things could take a turn for the worse for Calgary. If the Flames end winning just one or two divisional series, it’s not necessarily doom and gloom—but it is far, far from ideal. The return of full league play opens up huge opportunities to earn points outside of the division, and this is true for any team.
If other Pacific Division teams completely stumble when facing off against non-divisional opponents, then the Flames’ record within the division won’t be as detrimental. That said, the outcome of being bad within one’s own division while still performing elsewhere isn’t exactly a sound strategy when it comes to getting into the playoffs.
Of course, there are many more uncontrollable factors that can affect the Flames’ standings spot if they were to just win one or two series, but it’d be devastating for the team to end up at this result. To circle back on what’s expected of the team, a full season with coaching under Sutter should elevate the team well beyond what Geoff Ward was able to do.
If being average in the division is a failure to execute at the team level, the being at the bottom of the division—knowing what we know about the strength of each team—would be even more disappointing that all that transpired last season in the North Division.
Among the top looking down
With no expectations of perfection, a total of five or six series wins would still put the Flames in a good spot and 15.8% of voters think this outcome is possible. If they lock in these series and make it hard for Pacific teams to claw back, it’d make securing a top-three spot in the division by season’s end a lot more fathomable.
The Western Conference could easily see five Central teams in the playoffs this season with both wild card spots void of Pacific teams. So as long as the Flames focus on securing a divisional seed, they should end up in good standing—winning five or six divisional series should be good enough for them to do so comfortably.
As the season progresses and the Pacific standings shape up, getting wins on the board early and gaining separation from the pack will be largely advantageous for Calgary. The closer to the top of the division the are, the more teams end up chasing them. Being in control of their own playoff outcome is a perfectly reasonable goal after the upsetting finish to last season where they were mathematically eliminated by Montreal despite not playing against them.
Complete Pacific dominance
Just 13.3% of voters think taking a clean sweep against the Pacific could happen.
This outcome would put the Flames pretty much right at the top of the division and potentially the conference too. It’d take a lot of things going right for the team, but it would validate that Calgary’s offseason moves were fruitful and made with competing against the Pacific in mind. Designing the team to be focused more on defence could bode well in facing off against the likes of Edmonton, Vegas, and Vancouver.
It’d also require the Flames being able to figure out the Kraken. While early expectations of the Kraken are that they won’t exactly be as successful as the Golden Knights in their inaugural season, the Kraken are still icing a solid team. It wouldn’t be surprising if they made a big splash and build a reputation of being hard to play against.
Looking at it from a high level and expecting at least five points out of a possible eight with the four-game series, and four points out of a possible six with the three-game series, it doesn’t seem unreasonable.
Especially against the weaker Pacific Division, this outcome—as high reaching as it is—seems entirely possible for the Flames. It’s just a matter of executing.
Fuelling the Flames
The Flames have a lot to prove with this roster. With upcoming contracts to the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, and Andrew Mangiapane, the outcome of this season will be pivotal in setting up the next few years of Calgary Flames hockey.
Finally back to an 82-game season, it’ll be a long year of hockey with ebbs and flows, changes in standings, and a rollercoaster of emotions en route to the playoffs. The Flames’ success will come from their defensive style of play, their on-ice strategies across all situations, and whether or not they can execute. This starts first and foremost with the team itself, but what better place to test their prowess than against the Pacific Division.
Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images
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