The Calgary Flames are set to play their 41st game of the season, which officially means they are at their halfway point of the season. After a hot start, COVID hiatus, and a brief losing streak, the Flames look to be back on track entering the latter half of the season.
Currently sitting at 21–13–6, the team is fourth in the Pacific Division, but have a boatload of games in hand that easily could put them in first place once they catch up. They are being led by the Hart Trophy level performances from Johnny Gaudreau and Jacob Markstrom, with Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane also putting in outstanding seasons. Not bad all things considered after an offseason with mixed results.
The Flames only made a handful of moves in the offseason, but they weren’t all that illustrious at the time. The team signed Blake Coleman, Trevor Lewis, Brad Richardson, and Erik Gudbranson, while also trading for Tyler Pitlick, Nikita Zadorov, and Dan Vladar. It wasn’t supposed to work, but it kind of has for the team as a whole.
That being said, how has each player performed individually at the halfway mark of the season? Let’s take a look at who stood out, or is falling behind.
Flames 2021 offseason signings
Signed to a massive six-year, $29.4M contract worth an AAV of $4.9M, Coleman was the Flames prized acquisition of the offseason. Coming off two back-to-back cups, Coleman was brought in to bring some stability to the top-six.
Coleman has had a somewhat mediocre start to his Flames career so far. He is a strong driver offensively in terms of possession and generating scoring chances, but has lacked a bit of scoring touch. His shooting percentage only sits at 6.5% which will surely regress closer to his career average, but he does a lot of things right on the ice that benefits the team overall.
Interestingly enough, Coleman sits 12th on the team in terms of average time on ice among regular skaters. He has recently found his way back on the second line with Mikael Backlund and Andrew Mangiapane, but it would almost seem as if he is underutilized. Fun fact, Coleman also sits third on the team in terms of PIMs, which will not impress Darryl Sutter.
I’d say that Coleman is the type of player the Flames want on their team in terms of how he drives play for his line, but in order to be even more impactful, his offensive numbers can edge slightly upwards down the stretch. His defence on the other hand has been outstanding with little room for complaints.
The classic Sutter signing in the summer, Lewis was given a one-year, $800K contract by the Flames to play on their fourth line. That is pretty much what Lewis has done this year.
Lewis has scored three goals this season, two of which were empty netters. He is averaging low time on ice per night, but most of that comes on the PK where he plays bigger minutes. Unfortunately, his defensive game for which he was signed for has not been up to par. He is ranked in the bottom five, if not mostly the bottom two, among regular skaters across CF%, xGF%, SCF%, and HDCF%. Most of the time he is on the ice, Lewis is getting out-chanced and often plays in his own zone.
Not the most ideal outcome for the veteran.
Similar to Lewis, Richardson was an old Sutter stalwart that took the same deal as Lewis to join the Flames’ bottom line. His performance so far has been worse than Lewis’:
Richardson plays less than Lewis does on average, but has put up worse stats in every single category noted above. In fact, in the case of SCF% at 5v5, Richardson is last on the team. He is often losing his on ice battles, and not contributing much on the offensive end.
He has only been able to register two goals and two assists in 24 games of action, but hes miraculously shooting at 14.3%. Clearly he doesn’t take many shots, as through 24 games he just has 14 which puts him well at the bottom of the Flames roster. Of course Richardson was not truly signed to put up a 20 goal season, but since his defence has also been shaky, it’s a bit of a question mark as to why he has not been waived yet.
Somehow late in the summer, Erik Gudbranson was able to secure a one-year, $1.95M contract from the Flames to be their sixth defenceman. Surprisingly, it hasn’t turned out to be the disaster most were predicting:
Appearing in every game for the Flames this season, Gudbranson has been a surprising addition for the team. With eight points on the season, he is well past the production of the likes of Richardson, Pitlick, and Brett Ritichie, and in fact has the same amount of points as Trevor Lewis. The only real issue is the number of penalties that he has taken this season, sitting second on the team in PIMs.
On the defensive side, he hasn’t been the black hole that he was previously in his career. In fact, he and Nikita Zadorov have done a half decent job as the third pairing. That is of course until you realize the third pairing is making $5.7M combined. Alas, a different argument for a different day.
Gudbranson is sitting on the positive side across the numbers noted above, and finds himself in the middle of the pack for Flames skaters on quite a strong underlying numbers team. He may not be everyone’s favourite, but he has held his own so far this season.
Ahead of tonight’s Flames contest, the bookies have predicted a Flames edge, with Betway Sports pricing the Flames at +125 and the Stars at +165 to win the game in regulation, with an overtime decision being priced at +320.
Flames 2021 offseason trade acquisitions
Pitlick was acquired from the Seattle Kraken shortly after the expansion draft for a 2022 fourth-round pick, after being the choice from the Arizona Coyotes. To put it plain and simple, that move didn’t make a lot of sense then, and doesn’t make a lot of sense now.
Pitlick has been dealing with a number of injuries this season, having now missed two decent stretches of games, but when he was in the lineup he did not provide much while being given a prime opportunity to succeed. Playing with Coleman and Backlund for a number of games, they were often on the right side of the play, but Pitlick’s offensive game has fallen completely stagnant. Through 25 games he has yet to score, and has only contributed two assists.
He’s ranked near the bottom for each statistical category that we looked at here, and after being labelled a defensive-minded winger with some offensive upside, it’s hard to imagine just what exactly he does on the ice. Similar to Ritchie, had it not been for injuries I’m sure for some reason Pitlick would still be being inserted up and down the lineup on a nightly basis.
Spoiler alert: that would not be the best idea.
Acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks for Toronto’s 2022 third-round pick the Flames got from trading David Rittich, Zadorov was immediately signed to a one-year, $3.75M contract as an RFA. On the ice, it’s been a total mixed bag of results:
At the start of the season, Zadorov was painful to watch play hockey. A ton of defensive miscues and often looking like he was constantly a second behind the play, it was a disaster on paper and on the ice. That being said, over the last month or so Zadorov has actually been decent for the Flames bottom pairing. Often jumping up in the rush, and scoring a few goals, Zadorov has moved from a liability to half capable defenceman. Even that surprises me.
What is even more surprising is the fact that Zadorov currently has the highest CF% at 5v5 among Flames defenceman, and is actually third among regular skaters in the same category.
You read that right.
Although he may fail the eye test once in a while, Zadorov has some strong numbers to back up his play and is a main reason why he has been in the lineup consistently over the last few months after a few healthy scratches.
Oh Danny boy. Acquired with the Flames’ own 2022 third-round pick this summer, Vladar was a massive bright spot to start the season, but now has a missing persons report out in his name.
Vladar started the season 5–0–1, but has since gone on to lose his last three starts. His last start came in a pair of back-to-backs against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes—where he was put in a tough position with Jacob Markstrom battling a small injury.
Both those losses were not on Vladar by any means, with the team not playing well in front of him, but since then it has been all Markstrom all the time. Even this past week with a back-to-back situation, Vladar remained on the bench.
There are a wealth of games coming up in February and March which we are bound to see him again. Frankly that is good, because Vladar has been one of the Flames best backup goaltenders in a long time.
Most of the players that joined the team this offseason have been less than spectacular, and in fact have taken up significant roster spots that could be used to promote from within. Although this was to be expected under Sutter, his propensity to use Richardson, Lewis, and Pitlick may end up costing the team down the stretch.
It’s not all bad, as Coleman has been the player the Flames expected to get, and there are some underlying surprises for the new defenceman and goalie.
All in all, seems like a pretty typical set of Flames roster moves.