The Calgary Flames are officially good again. After a disastrous 2021 season that saw the team finish outside the playoffs in the league’s weakest division, the Flames now look like a juggernaut at the quarter mark of the 2021–22 season. They posted a 12–3–5 record this quarter, and currently sit first in the Western Conference and third in the NHL.
With the first 20 games of the season officially in the books, that means it’s time for TWC’s first quarterly report card grades for 2021–22. Each quarter mark of the season we will assign a letter grade from A to F to each Flames player who logged over 100 minutes TOI in the quarter. These grades will take into consideration the 20 games between October 16 to November 23.
As a team, the Flames were dominant this quarter. They ranked second in the NHL for CF% at 56.83, and first for both GF% and xGF% at 69.29 and 55.74 respectively. Darryl Sutter has turned the Flames into an analytical force.
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.
Johnny Gaudreau is doing Johnny Gaudreau things this season. This is the best Gaudreau has looked since his 99-point season in 2018–19 that saw him finish fourth in Hart voting. His 333 TWC score ranks second in the NHL among forwards behind only Timo Meier.
Finally playing with capable linemates, Gaudreau is lighting up the scoresheet. He leads the Flames in even strength points and assists and is second for goals. Overall his 23 points rank sixth in the NHL.
His underlying numbers have also been impressive. He sits fifth for CF% among forwards, fourth for xGF%, and third for HDCF%. As well, his GF% is tops on the team as like Tkachuk he wasn’t on the ice for a goal against at even strength until last weekend.
Gaudreau has been at his very best this season and with each passing game the price tag on his next contract goes up. Like Tkachuk, the Flames need to do whatever they can to lock him down long-term.
After a down season by his standards last year, Matthew Tkachuk is back and more dominant than ever this season. Any concern about his play after last year should be in the past as he has been incredible for the Flames to start the season.
Tkachuk currently sits tied for third on the team for even strength points with nine, while his five primary assists at even strength rank second. Overall his 18 points rank fourth on the team and top-30 in the NHL.
What really does the talking for Tkachuk is his dominant underlying numbers. He currently leads all Flames forwards for CF% and xGF% and ranks second for HDCF%. League wide his CF% is third in the NHL and his xGF% ranks eighth. Also worth noting is his GF% of 93.84 which sits second in the NHL behind only linemate Johnny Gaudreau. It’s worth repeating: the duo didn’t allow an even strength goal against until last weekend.
Tkachuk is a pending RFA at the end of the season and the Flames should be working to lock him down long-term regardless of the price tag. After a down season he is once again their best and most important player.
Andrew Mangiapane has officially arrived. After flying under the radar for the past two years as one of the Flames’ best even strength forwards, Mangiapane had garnered the attention of the league with his blazing start to the season.
Mangiapane currently sits with a team-best 10 goals at even strength, a number that also ranks him third in the entire NHL. His 15 total goals rank tied for second in the NHL behind only Leon Draisaitl.
As usual, Mangiapane has been dominant at even strength. He ranks first among Flames forwards for HDCF% and second for both CF% and xGF%. Across the entire NHL, his CF% and HDCF% both rank seventh, while his xGF% ranks 11th.
Mangiapane has not only been one of the Flames’ best forwards this season, he’s been one of the best forwards in the entire NHL. If he can keep this up through the next quarter of the season he could be on a flight to Beijing come February to represent Team Canada.
Because of how incredible the Flames top-six wingers have been to start the season, Dillon Dube has flown under the radar in a bottom-six role. That said, he’s off to a great but unlucky start to the season.
Dube currently sits fifth among forwards on the team with seven even strength points, with five of them being primary points. His overall point total of nine also ranks fifth on the team.
Dube has also been putting up some great underlying numbers this season, something that he struggled to do last year. He sits seventh among Flames forwards for CF%, sixth for xGF%, and fifth for HDCF%. Those ranks may not seem great, but when measured against the league his totals are very strong as he ranks above 55% in all three metrics and inside the top-50 league wide for each one.
It’s worth noting that Dube is shooting an ugly 4.4% right now, less than half of his career average. Once that number starts bouncing back the points should come as he’s playing some very solid hockey right now on the Flames third line.
Now fully settled into the top line centre role for the Flames, Elias Lindholm is currently in the midst of the best season of his career to date. He has firmly established himself as one of the league’s top centres this season with the help of two of the best wingers in the NHL at his side.
His nine even strength points rank third on the Flames among forwards, while his overall point total of 22 is second on the team and currently 10th in the NHL. What knocks him down a peg below his linemates to the A- grade is the fact that almost half of his even strength points are secondary assists as he has four of those.
Lindholm has never put up elite underlying numbers, but he’s still putting up impressive numbers this season when ranked against the rest of the league. He sits sixth on the Flames among forwards for CF%, third for xGF%, and fourth for HDCF%.
Lindholm is off to the best start of his career, and regardless of how much that has to do with playing with two elite wingers, the Flames should be ecstatic with his play as their top line centre.
The Flames biggest move of the offseason, Blake Coleman has kicked off his Flames career with a good but not great start.
Offensively Coleman has struggled, as he’s been bounced up and down the lineup in various combinations. He currently ranks eighth among Flames forwards for even strength points with six, and sixth for goals with three on the year so far. Overall his nine points rank ninth on the team among forwards.
As expected though his underlying numbers are where he shines. Coleman ranks third on the team among forwards for CF%, fifth for xGF%, and sixth for HDCF%. For a player tasked with taking on the toughest shifts every night, he’s fared very well.
Coleman may not have the point totals just yet, but his strong two-way play has come as advertised. With an elite first line carrying the load offensively, Coleman has done his job very well in a shutdown middle-six role and is earning every penny of his new contract.
Mr. Reliable Mikael Backlund once again grades out very nicely possession-wise as he has consistely does every season. That said his offence has begun to dry up as he ages and that’s evident this season.
Backlund’s six even strength points rank seventh on the team among forwards, while his eight points overall also rank seventh. Not the best totals from a second line centre.
In terms of underlying numbers however Backlund has been pretty strong as usual. He ranks fourth for CF%, and seventh for both xGF% and HDCF%. Again like Dube, his overall ranks may not seem great, but when put against the rest of the NHL his numbers are strong.
Backlund is clearly showing signs of age this year, but he’s still provided the team with some solid play in the middle-six at centre. Now locked in full time alongside Mangiapane and Coleman, his numbers should only go up from here.
I don’t know how he does it, but despite looking terrible by the eye test, Milan Lucic grades out decently when looking at his numbers. He’s provided the team with their only source of scoring in the bottom-six so far this season.
Lucic currently ranks sixth among forwards on the team with six points at even strength, however it’s his goal totals that do the talking. With five goals at even strength, Lucic sits third on the team behind only Gaudreau and Mangiapane. His five even strength goals are more than the rest of the entire bottom-six combined.
In terms of underlying numbers Lucic has been just okay. His CF% sits ninth among forwards, while his xGF% and HDCF% both sit below 50% and ninth as well.
Lucic is nothing more than a fourth liner, however his goal scoring has been surprisingly impressive this season and the Flames are lucky for it as they’re getting nothing else from their bottom-six group.
As mentioned, after Lucic it goes downhill for the Flames’ forward group. As expected, they’re getting nothing offensively from their bottom-six right now. Brad Richardson has probably been one of the better contributors which isn’t a good thing.
Richardson currently sits with a surprising two goals at even strength, adding one assist for three points. That total ranks ninth among Flames forwards. Overall his three points rank 11th when looking at all situations.
No one expects him to put up big points, but the problem is Richardson’s underlying numbers aren’t good either. He sits 10th among forwards for CF%, and dead last in 12th for xGF% and HDCF%. He has however only been on the ice for one goal against this season, sitting tied with Tkachuk and Gaudreau in that area. Evidently the minutes played don’t match, but it’s impressive for Richardson nonetheless.
Richardson was never brought in for offence, but the issue is he’s also getting caved in whenever he’s on the ice. At the very least he’s only been on the ice for one goal against so far this season although I wouldn’t expect that to keep up.
It’s frankly shocking how far Sean Monahan’s offence has fallen. Once a lock for 30 goals a year, he’s now not even a lock for 10. He has yet to score a single goal at even strength this season, as he has just two assists at 5v5 so far.
His two points ranked tied for second worst on the team among forwards. In all situations the story is much better, as Monahan has two goals and nine points, which ranks sixth among Flames forwards.
Monahan’s underlying numbers have similarly been unspectacular. His CF%, xGF%, and HDCF% all rank eighth among Flames forwards. They’d also be much worse if it wasn’t for his time spent playing with Mangiapane.
With Mangiapane Monahan’s numbers are great, and all well above 60%. Away from him? They’re all below 50%. It’s fair to assume Monahan’s total numbers from the first 20 games got a big boost from playing with 88.
On one of the more head scratching moves by Brad Treliving in the offseason he paid a fourth-round pick for Tyler Pitlick. It hasn’t worked out at all so far. Pitlick has been one of the team’s worst forwards at even strength.
At even strength Pitlick has a grand total of one point, a secondary assist. In total in all situations Pitlick has two points, both assists. Both totals rank last on the team among forwards.
His underlying numbers haven’t been pretty either. He ranks 10th among forwards for both CF% and xGF%, and 11th for HDCF%. His GF% of 46.15 is worst on the team as he’s been on the ice for seven goals against and only six for.
Pitlick was a risky bet from the get go, and so far through one quarter of the season the bet has been a colossal failure.
For a player like Trevor Lewis, offensive report cards can be harsh considering the role he plays. That said he has been far from good this season and has earned his F rating.
Lewis currently has two points at even strength, both assists which ranks him 11th on the team among forwards. His four points in all situations ranks 10th on the team.
His underlying numbers have been equally as bad. His CF% and xGF% both rank 11th, while his HDCF% ranks 10th. All three totals are below 50%.
Lewis was brought on board simply to play fourth line minutes in an eraser type role. So far though he’s been failing at even that.
If someone would’ve told you just two months ago that Oliver Kylington would be the Flames’ best defenceman at the quarter-mark of the season you would’ve called them crazy. Yet here we are.
Kylington has been outstanding since entering the lineup for the Flames. He’s currently leading the Flames defence in scoring by a massive margin at even strength as his 11 points are six more than second best on the team. At all situations his 12 points are also tops on the team.
His underlying numbers have also been great. He leads the Flames defence in CF% and HDCF% and is third in xGF%. League wide his CF% and xGF% both rank seventh, while his HDCF% ranks fourth.
Just a year removed from being placed on and clearing waivers, Klyington has developed into the team’s most important defender 20 games into the season. He’s taken full advantage of the opportunity he’s finally been given by the organization.
As is typically the case with our offensive report cards, Chris Tanev’s grade is a little harsh considering the role he plays as a strictly defensive player. That said he still comes out looking solid.
Tanev actually sits fourth on the team among defencemen for even strength points with four. His three primary assists are tied for first. In all situations his five points rank fourth. Not bad for the typically defence only Tanev.
Tanev’s underlying numbers have also been strong, although not as strong as usual. His CF% ranks fifth on the team, his xGF% ranks third, and his HDCF% ranks second. Along with Kylington he is the only Flames defender with a HDCF% above 60%.
Tanev is continuing to do Tanev things this season. He’s been exceptional defensively and even chipping in a bit of offence too. Along with Kylington, the duo has formed one of the best pairings in the NHL so far this season.
After his impressive 2020–21 season, the hope was Noah Hanifin could continue that form into this year. So far that has been the case as Hanifin has been solid in the top-four.
Hanifin has never been a big point producer, however he has four even strength points on the year which ranks tied for third on the team among defencemen. His eight points in all situations he sit third on the team.
His underlying numbers have also been solid. He ranks third on the team among defencemen for CF%, xGF%, and HDCF%. By all count he’s been the team’s third best defenceman after the pairing of Kylington and Tanev.
Hanifin has continued his strong from last season as he has developed into a dependable top-four defenceman for the team.
After his disastrous 2020–21 season, there were major question marks facing Rasmus Andersson going into this season, so far he has quieted most of the doubters although he has still struggled at times.
At even strength Andersson has five points on the year which ranks second on the team. His 11 points in all situations are second among defencemen on the team as well, while his 11 assists rank first.
His underlying numbers have been strong although his possession totals have lagged behind a bit. His CF% ranks sixth on the team, while his xGF% ranks second and his HDCF% ranks fourth. He has struggled with shot generation though as his 34 iCF are last among regular Flames defenders.
Andersson has looked much better than last season, although the team could still get more out of it him.
Treliving’s big acquisition on defence in Nikita Zadorov has fared decently to start the season and much better than expected after a rough start.
Zadorov is never going to get a lot of points—his three points at even strength proves as he sits last among regular Flames defenders. In all situations his four points rank second last, although his two goals actually rank second among Flames defencemen.
In terms of his underlying numbers, Zadorov has struggled a tad. His CF% ranks fourth on the team among defencemen, however his xGF% and HDCF% both rank dead last.
Zadorov is nothing more than a third pairing option, but thus far he has provided the team with strong enough play to not hurt them and that’s all you can ask of him.
The controversial signing of journeyman defenceman Erik Gudbranson has worked out better than just about everyone could have hoped.
Gudbranson currently has four points at even strength which sits tied for third on the Flames among defencemen. Those are his only points however as he ranks tied for fifth for points in all situations. No one is expecting offence from him though so four points is impressive for his standards.
Gudbranson actually sits second among all Flames defencemen for CF%, sitting behind only Kylington. His xGF% and HDCF% both sit sixth however. He is above 50% in each metric though which is impressive given his history.
Gudbranson looked like a disaster in the preseason, however so far after 20 games he’s played much better than expected.
An incredible start
There’s no question that the Flames have gotten off to one of their best starts in recent memory. The team is playing their best hockey since their historical 2018–19 season and looks like a lock for the playoffs. However, there is still plenty of hockey be played this season so the team still has a long way to go before they earn the full trust and confidence from the fan base.
That said, if Darryl Sutters first full quarter start with the team is any indication, the Flames are set to challenge for the top seed in the Western Conference this season and not just a playoff spot.