After an incredibly successful start to the 2021–22 season, the Calgary Flames have hit their first big rough patch of the year. Not only has the team lost their last four games for their longest losing streak of the season, the team has also been shutdown indefinitely due to a COVID outbreak within the organization.
The major concern right now is the health and safety of the players, coaches, staffers and their families but once everyone is back healthy and the team is playing again, the Flames will have some major issues to address going forward. Coming into the season many questioned Brad Treliving’s offseason additions at forward and voiced concern over the teams lack of scoring depth.
After a torrid start that disguised those issues, they’ve reared their ugly head in a big way over the past couple weeks. It’s gotten to the point where something has to be done if the Flames want to consider themselves true cup contenders. Let’s take a look at how bad it’s been so far this season as well as some potential solutions.
An alarming trend
Despite the Flames’ hot start to the season, the team has continued a worrying trend over the last few weeks. It seems like more and more often the Flames are dominating a game, dominating the chance and shot share, yet failing to bury their chances and giving up points.
We’ve seen it twice now against the San Jose Sharks. Games in which the Flames were the better team for large portions of the game, but fail over and over again to build up their lead and put teams away.
In this current four-game skid, we’ve seen this same story happen three times. In their second game of the losing streak, the Flames outshot the Sharks 43–27, had more expected goals, and posted a dominant xGF% of 62% yet lost 5–3.
We saw it again against the Carolina Hurricanes the next game as the Flames dropped a 2–1 decision in overtime. The Flames were the better team for most of the night as they won the xG, CF%, and xGF% battles but ended up scoring just one goal and losing the game.
Yet again in their last game before their season was paused, the Flames lost 4–2 to the Bruins despite outshooting them 42-27 and posting 4.19 expected goals versus the Bruins 2.87 expected goals.
In each and every one of these games the Flames were the better team more often than not, yet could never get that extra goal needed to put a team away or take the lead. When the team’s top-six isn’t scoring they aren’t getting any offence.
The Flames are getting nothing from the bottom-six
As it stands, the Flames are currently getting an extremely small amount of offensive production from anyone other than their big four forwards. Like an insanely low amount. As the season has gone this has been more and more evident and it’s become a major concern for the Flames going forward this season.
Here’s where the current bottom-six of the Flames sit in terms of points and point pace.
|Player||Games Played||Goals||Assists||Points||82-Game Pace|
As it stands the team is currently on pace to have no players in the bottom-six eclipse 40 points, and only two even over 30. As well, after Milan Lucic’s current 21 goal pace which is boosted by an unsustainable shooting percentage of 19%, the next highest goal pace in the bottom-six in Sean Monahan with just 11 points. Yikes.
In terms of each player’s 82-game pace it doesn’t look much better. Monahan, Dillon Dube, and Tyler Pitlick are both on pace for the worst seasons of their careers, Brad Richardson is pace for his third worst, and Trevor Lewis is on pace for his fifth worst.
In terms of goals-per-game, Dube, Pitlick and Monahan’s current goals-per-game is the worst of their careers. Outside of Lucic, the team is on track to get just 35 goals from the bottom-six. 35 total goals across 82 games is a pitiful pace for a group of five players combined.
To put it into perspective, if we takes the Flames’ goal scorers from last season ranked 7-12, they combined for an equal total of 35 goals in the shortened 56-game season.
As of right now the Flames have scored a total of 87 goals on the season, meaning the bottom-six forward group and their combined 18 goals across 28 games has scored just 20% of the teams goals. A number that is far too low for a team that expects to be a contender.
Struggling veterans in the top-six
The story for two of the teams veterans in the top-six isn’t much prettier.
|Player||Games Played||Goals||Assissts||Points||82-game pace|
Two players playing in your top-six on pace for less than 30 points isn’t exactly a good sign. Outside of the bottom-six, the newly signed Blake Coleman and veteran Mikael Backlund have both struggled in a huge way to put up points.
Backlund’s 26 points pace would be the lowest point total of his entire career across 82 games. His 12 goal pace is the third worst of his career with his first two seasons in the NHL between 2009–2011 being the only two that are worse.
Coleman meanwhile is on pace for his lowest point total since his rookie season in 2016–17. His four goal pace is tied for the second worst goal pace of his career placing ahead of only that same 2016–17 rookie season. He’s been stellar defensively, but his offence needs a boost sooner rather than later.
Getting limited scoring from the bottom-six is one thing, but getting just eight goals through 28 games from two players on the team’s second line making nearly $11 million a year combined is simply unacceptable. It’s clear this team needs some help when it comes to scoring goals. So how could they solve these problems? Let’s take a look at some options.
The team needs more than AHL call-ups
So how can the Flames improve their depth scoring going forward? There are two main routes the team can take however if they truly fancy themselves as a cup contender one option is much better. The team can either call up reinforcements from the high flying Stockton Heat, or go out and acquire another top-six forward.
Sure the team could call up Jakob Pelletier, who is off to a historic start in the AHL so far this season, but would that be in the best interest of his development? It’s easy to forget that this is just Pelletier’s first professional season. He’s playing some of the best hockey of his young career right now in a big role on a Heat team that looks like a surefire Calder Cup contender.
The organization may be better off letting him continue to tear up the AHL for the rest of the season instead of calling him up and expecting him to fix the team’s depth scoring issues. Pelletier could certainly help the Flames, however given his age and how well he is playing in the AHL right now it’s likely best to keep him down there.
It’s time to finally go all-in
Given the current state of the team, the age of their core, and the contract status of some of their best players, the best route for the Flames to fix their scoring issues is to go all-in and acquire a legit top-six forward.
Mikael Backlund and Blake Coleman are simply not doing enough for this team right now in the top-six. By adding another legit top-six forward, it bumps guys like that down the lineup and bolsters the entire depth chart.
Two main options the Flames should be targeting are Filip Forsberg and Kevin Fiala. We talked about Fiala as a potential trade target last month and since then Fiala has continued to struggle and get pushed down the lineup in Minnesota. The longer that continues the lower his price drops and the more likely Fiala gets moved.
Forsberg meanwhile is an upcoming free agent in the last year of his contract on a Nashville team that is at a crossroads. With an aging core and far from a playoff lock, the Predators may look to blow it up if they aren’t in a playoff spot come the trade deadline. Forsberg could be a picture-perfect addition to the Flames roster. Here is his RAPM chart from this season courtesy of Evolving-Hockey.com.
Forsberg is a solid player at both ends of the ice, and is also a great option on the power play. To make it even more of a fit, Forsberg shoots right and can play the right side which is the team’s biggest need. Adding Forsberg to the lineup would give the Flames second line a massive boost offensively, and in turn improve the bottom-six as well.
This season Forsberg is off to one of the best starts of his career as he sits with 13 goals and 21 points in just 20 games. Before last season in which he only played 39 games, Forsberg had scored at least 20 goals in six straight seasons, including scoring over 25 goals five times and over 30 goals twice.
Even though Forsberg is technically a rental and on an expiring contract, he will be far from cheap. There will be a ton of suitors for a 27-year-old winger with 30 goal potential playing at a point per game pace. That said the Flames should spare no expense. Adding Forsberg to the second line would certainly fix the teams scoring issues on the second line and also provide a boost to the bottom-six group by bumping Coleman down the lineup.
Now or never
As it stands right now, yes, the Flames look like a playoff lock and a team that can win a round or maybe even two. However after seeing them get beat by contending teams like Vegas and Carolina it’s fair to say the Flames are still not a true cup contender as they are outmatched on paper.
As we saw in those games, the biggest difference between the Flames and the true top teams in the league is the depth in the bottom-six. While teams like Vegas and Carolina can get consistent scoring from their bottom-six forwards, the Flames are relying solely on their top-four—not even top-six—forwards. As the Oilers have shown us for years, that is never a long-term sustainable way to win and the Flames are finding that out the hard way.
As we’ve said a million times before, Brad Treliving needs to go all-in once and for all. With Darryl Sutter behind the bench and the Flames’ top players lighting up the scoresheet the organization has their best chance ever with this core to win a Stanley Cup. Without some additions to support the teams top players though, the Flames will most likely fall short again come playoff time.