It’s been a while since the Calgary Flames have had a talented, competent coach. Darryl Sutter is one of the best coaches in the NHL, he’ll contend for the Jack Adams this year and he’ll deserve every vote he gets. He knows how to win and he has turned the Flames into a playoff team backed with great on-ice numbers.
However, last week was a wakeup call of sorts for the team. They still sit second in the Pacific Division in terms of points percentage so no need to sound any alarms like their friends up the QE2, but it was a telling week for the Flames.
It was the toughest week on the schedule by a fair margin with the Flames facing three of the top five teams in the NHL in the span of just four days, all on the road. They lost all three games in regulation, were outscored 16–6, and showed the world that they are not among the league’s elite.
And, honestly, that’s okay. I didn’t expect them to win a single one of those games because the Panthers, Lighting, and Hurricanes are all elite teams. They’re built so solidly top to bottom that it would have taken a lot of things lining up for the Flames to come out on top. The Flames aren’t a bad team all of a sudden, they’re just not elite. On a more general level, they’ve actually done fairly well against teams ahead of them in the standings.
They need a few pieces to truly be a contender and, now that there is a competent coach behind the bench, we know exactly what the Flames need. Sutter’s media availability ahead of the Hurricanes game last week said it all:
[The Hurricanes] don’t give up much. That’s what these teams do here. We’ve seen it in Florida and we’ve seen it in Tampa and we had a lot of opportunities against Florida quite honest, did a good job there, didn’t finish. And last night we didn’t have a lot of opportunities and we didn’t finish. They’re three really similar teams to be quite honest. They have little changes system wise a little bit but they’re real similar teams in how they play.Darryl Sutter
The full video of the availability is here:
Even going back to the previous night, Sutter explicitly talks about depth being a key part of a championship team, something the current Flames are lacking.
The Flames rely heavily on their top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, and Matthew Tkachuk; plus Andrew Mangiapane, to get the job done offensively. The roster always features several of Brad Richardson, Trevor Lewis, and Tyler Pitlick. Milan Lucic and Brett Ritchie have actually played fairly well this season on the whole so they can have a pass, the the former list of players are not ones you want filling out your bottom six. You need scoring depth and above-replacement level players in your rotation if you’re truly going to contend.
Sutter is telling the entire world what this team needs: more finishing talent, and more depth.
So far this season, the Flames have scored 102 goals in total (all situations), and they’ve generated 105 expected goals. The best teams in the league outperform their expected goals and usually by a wide margin. For example, the Panthers have scored 13 goals above expected, the Lightning 12 above, and the Western Conference leading Colorado Avalanche have scored a whopping 40 goals above expected. The fact that the Flames are underperforming their expected goals is essentially a giant “help wanted” sign.
Not saying it’s easy to be a general manager, but when your coach is telling you exactly what he wants, it has to make things easier. Treliving’s job up to the trade deadline will be to address these areas.
Watch for the Flames to part with a top prospect or high pick to add a finisher to their top-six, and add more depth on the blueline and even bottom-six forward group this season. The team is good enough to make some noise in the playoffs; it’s now up to Treliving to fill the holes and help Sutter out.