In two short months the Calgary Flames have gone from a suspected playoff bubble team to a Western Conference favourite and dare we say it Presidents’ Trophy contender. The team’s sudden 180° this season under Darryl Sutter after last year’s disaster has been nothing short of extraordinary.
The Flames now sit with a 13–4–5 record and 31 points, good for fifth in the NHL and first in the Western Conference. At this pace, the Flames would finish the season with 115 points and 49 wins, which would be the second best regular season in franchise history behind only the 1988–89 season. We all know how that season ended.
So where does the Flames hot start in 2021–22 rank among the best 22-game starts in franchise history? Let’s take a look.
1988–89 (15–4–3, 33 points)
As mentioned, the Flames’ best 22-game start came during their most successful season in franchise history. After relocating to Calgary in 1980, the Flames were a true juggernaut throughout the 80s. The team had advanced past the first round five times in eight seasons in Calgary before the 1988–89 season.
Entering the season, the team was coming off a second round exit at the hands of Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers. In response to that defeat, the team went out and acquired Doug Gilmour from the St. Louis Blues prior to the season in one of the best trades in Flames history. It obviously paid immediate dividends.
The newly acquired Gilmour led the Flames to their best start ever with a ridiculous 25 assists and 30 points over the Flames’ first 22 games. The team would claim 15 wins which is still stands as the most wins through the first 22 games of the season for Calgary. In that span, the Flames would go on a winning streak of four games two times, and a winning streak of six games once.
The Flames would score 97 goals across their first 22 games, for a goals-per-game rate of 4.4. This included putting up 11 goals in one game and nine goals in another, as well as six goals in a game on four occasions. Simply put, the team was a force to be reckoned with.
Season finish: 1st Western Conference, 1st NHL, Stanley Cup Champions
The early season success wouldn’t end there either as the Flames would continue to dominate for the rest of the season en route to what remains their best regular season in franchise history. The team would finish the year with a 54–17–9 record for 117 points. The 54 wins and 117 points are both still Flames records, as are the all-time low 17 losses (in a full season).
From there the team would go 16–6 in the playoffs as they would claim their first and only Stanley Cup.
2001–02 (13–3–4–2, 32 points)
At the beginning of the new millennium in 2000, the NHL implemented the overtime loss point structure for the first time. However, the league still allowed ties as shootouts did not exist yet, meaning the record for teams would be divided into wins, losses, ties, and overtime losses. The Flames 2001–02 record looks a little convoluted when looking at it, but it is a fact: the team had the second best start in franchise history two decades ago.
The Flames would play in a total of seven overtime games to start the year, winning one, losing two, and tying four with a point for both ties and overtime losses. Added to their 13 wins it gave them a total of 32 points in 22 games, the second best total they’ve seen. Their three regulation losses through 22 games to start the year is still the lowest total in franchise history.
The main reason for the team’s hot start was budding superstar Jarome Iginla who was in the midst of what would be the best season of his career. In the Flames’ first 22 games, Iginla posted 19 goals and 36 points which led the entire NHL. Iginla put a weak Flames roster on his back and led them to one of their best starts in franchise history.
Season finish: 11th Western Conference, 22nd NHL, missed playoffs
In a shocking collapse midway through the season, the Flames managed to turn a 13–3–4–2 start and the best season of Iginla’s career into a 22nd place finish in the NHL. After losing just three games in regulation over the teams first 22 games, the Flames would lose 32 in regulation in their final 60 games.
They would finish the year with a dreadful 32–35–12–3 record and miss the playoffs by 15 points. In the end, Iginla’s superstar talent could only keep a weak Flames roster afloat for so long.
1993–94 (14–5–3, 31 points)
In the early 90s after winning the Stanley Cup to close out the 80s, the Flames had some very successful regular seasons. In particular, their start to the 1993–94 season was something special.
The team was coming off of a first round exit in the previous season after finishing ninth in the NHL. The Flames were desperately trying to hang on to the core that won them the 1989 Stanley Cup, and their start to the 1993–94 season gave the franchise a glimmer of hope the core could carry them to another cup.
The Flames would win 14 of their first 22 games—those 14 wins still stands as the second best in franchise history, although they didn’t acquire as many overall points. Over the 22 games they would go on winning streaks of four games and five games and would score at least five goals six times.
Defensively, the Flames allowed two goals or less nine times over the 22 games. Leading the way was goaltender Mike Vernon who posted a 10–2–1 record along with a .911 save percentage and 2.54 GAA.
Season finish: 5th Campbell Division, 9th NHL, eliminated 1st round
Unfortunately in what has become a trend for the Flames, the team was unable to transfer their regular season success to the playoffs as they would be eliminated in the first round in seven games by the Vancouver Canucks. It would be the second of four straight first round exits for the Flames.
2021–22 (13–4–5, 31 points)
This brings us to the current 2021–22 season, as the Flames’ start ranks as the fourth best in franchise history, and tied for third in terms of overall points gained across 22 games.
This seasons start is perhaps the most surprising one on the list other than the 2001–02 season. Entering the 1988–89 season, the Flames were elite and had been for years; before the 1993–94 season, the team finished ninth in the NHL; however, going into this year the Flames were coming off a disastrous season in which they finished outside of the playoffs and 20th in the NHL.
Almost no one could have predicted the Flames would stand where they do after 22 games this year. Led by veteran coach Darryl Sutter, the Flames have completely altered their play style and system and it has paid off in huge ways. Sutter has transformed the Flames into the best two-way team in the entire NHL.
The Flames currently sit eighth in the NHL for goals per game and first in the NHL for goals against per game. They are the only team allowing under two goals a game. They also lead the entire NHL in shutouts with seven. Goaltending has been a huge reason for this as starter Jacob Markstrom currently sits second in the NHL among goalies with at least 10 starts for save percentage and GAA and ranks first for shutouts with five.
Offensively, a big reason the team has been so successful is because their best players are their best players again as Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk all sit top-50 league-wide in scoring.
Season finish: To be determined
There is still plenty of hockey to play before the playoffs begin, however as it stands the Flames are on pace to have their second most successful regular season in franchise history. As Flames fans know all too well, regular season success is never a guarantee of playoff success. However under Sutter the Flames look to have their best shot at making a deep playoff run since… well, the last time Sutter was coach of this team.
Calgary’s work isn’t done yet
The Flames are currently in the midst of one of their best starts to a season in their four-plus decade history, however as we’ve seen in the past that is not a guarantee of future success. In only one of the other top four starts in franchise history did the Flames make it out of the first round of the postseason.
The good news is the Flames have put themselves in prime position to lock down a playoff spot this season with their hot start. The real work starts now though as the team enters the midseason grind to keep pace at the top of the Western Conference.