The Calgary Flames have had an impressive season to this point. They sit at the top of the Pacific Division and are second in the Western Conference, and more importantly are just one win away from sealing a playoff spot.
While the team’s top forwards Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, Matthew Tkachuk, and Andrew Mangiapane have gotten most of the headlines, the team has gotten a ton of exceptional production from their depth players and blueliners. So much so that nearly every player on the team is on track for a career year this season.
Here’s who has done it already, who’s on track for it, who may still break a personal milestone, and who is still a ways away:
Flames already with career years
While one pundit suggested that 99 points was his ceiling, Gaudreau was more than up for the task of proving him and the doubters wrong. With nine games remaining, Gaudreau has hit the 100 point plateau and is the first Flame to hit this since Theoren Fleury did so in 1992–93. While he may not reach Kent Nilsson‘s 131 point mark set back in 1980–81, he could top second place Joe Mullen with just nine more points this season.
The mark of 92 points is the highest Tkachuk has put up so far in his NHL career, and the second highest number of points he has put up in any season in any league—just 15 shy of his total in the OHL with the Memorial Cup-winning London Knights. With these numbers it’s going to be interesting to see what Tkachuk does this offseason. He can accept his qualifying offer, but may want to cash in on a big long-term contract now on the back of this season.
Despite having slowed down substantially since the start of the season, Mangiapane has still set a career-high in points this season with 49. This is also the most number of games Mangiapane has played in a season, topping his previous high of 68 in 2018–19. Records all around.
Rasmus Andersson has quietly been one of the Flames’ breakout successes this season. He has always been a reliable defenceman playing big minutes, but few expected him to be flirting with 50 points this season after putting up just 21 last year. He has also improved substantially defensively, and he and Noah Hanifin have been among the best defence pairings in the entire league this year.
Hanifin has had his detractors through his career, with his sometimes sloppy defensive plays and positioning being particularly vexing for fans. He has cleaned this up substantially this year, and has been among the Flames’ top blueliners. While he has only beat his points record by eight to this point, his two-way game has taken an enormous step forward and for that the Flames are eternally grateful.
How much more praise can we heap on Oliver Kylington? He has been a breakout success for the Flames after being a pressbox/taxi squad staple for most of last season and has looked excellent at both ends of the ice. While his play has dropped off a touch since the beginning of the year, he deserves tons of praise for developing into a very good NHL blueliner. It’ll be up to him to prove this season isn’t a fluke, but he has thrived with significant and consistent improvements to his game this year.
Dillon Dube has been a bit of an odd one to figure out for the Flames. He has had great looks, but has struggled to finish his chances. While he has taken a step forward this year, particularly with his mobility, he hasn’t really found a defined role or sustained success in the Flames’ system. That being said, he has still put up decent numbers and has set a new personal best with 24 points on the year. Not bad!
Raise your hand if you had Chris Tanev putting up strong offensive numbers this year? The Flames blueliner has beat his point total with 24 on the year, and could beat his all time record of 28 from his season with the Rochester Institute of Technology in 2009–10. Not known for his offensive production, Tanev has set a new NHL career-high in assists, and is one goal shy of tying his career-best with six goals on a year from 2013–14.
Erik Gudbranson has been in the NHL since 2011–12, but this is only the second time he has put up double-digit points. His previous high came way back when he was with the Florida Panthers who drafted him third overall in 2010. His +15 this season is also a career-high, and is the first time he has been over +10 since his sophomore year in the OHL with the Kingston Frontenacs.
Technically Adam Ruzicka is also having a career year, but given he had played just three NHL games prior to this season, it probably isn’t as meaningful as someone like Gaudreau or Tkachuk. That said, a career year is still a career year, and getting into 25 NHL games is still an accomplishment for a prospect.
When he signed with the Flames in the offseason prior to the 2020–21 NHL season, everyone knew that Jacob Markstrom was a good netminder. It was a surprise that he could be even better at the ripe age of 31. The Swedish netminder is two games off of his career high of 60, and has put up a career-best save percentage, GAA, and number of shutouts. He should be in the Vezina conversation this season.
Just like Ruzicka, Dan Vladar is technically on track for a career year, but after just five starts last season, this isn’t going to be cause for champagne. The bigger victory here was that Vladar was a bit of an unknown quantity coming into the year, having proven himself well in the AHL and Czech ExtraLiga, but not in the NHL. That said, he has developed into a serviceable backup at this level and has allowed the Flames to give Markstrom the night off from time to time.
Flames on track for a career year
While his two most common linemates are having career years already, Lindholm still has a few more points to tally before he can say the same. The 78 points he put up in his first season with the Flames was remarkable, and set a very high bar for him this year. With nine games remaining, expect him to hit this mark. Lindholm is on pace for 83 points.
Flames with milestones in sight
The 2013 first-round pick was always seen as a defence-first shutdown blueliner, and has just one 20-point season which came in 2017–18. This season, Nikita Zadorov has already put up his second best season with 16 points. He is on pace for 18, but with a push, he could bump that up to 21 to break his own record.
The long-time Nashville Predator and short-time Seattle Kraken has never been known as a goal-scorer, but rather as a steady two-way forward. Calle Jarnkrok‘s career-high in 2017–18 also saw him put up a career-high +20 while shooting a whopping 15.2%. Since the trade deadline, he has struggled to stay in the Flames’ lineup with some misfortunes being out with an illness, and as such has just two assists in eight games. It’d be a bit of a push to get eight more points this season in a sheltered role, but it’s not completely out of the realms of possibility for Jarnkrok given how he drives the play when on the ice.
Tyler Toffoli has been very good for the Flames, both at 5v5 and on the power play—where he has earned a role on the top unit. While he is a bit of a ways from breaking his record from six seasons ago, anything is possible given his role on the team. He can easily surpass his assist total at the very least. A big reason for his success with the Flames is definitely tied to familiarity with Sutter’s system.
Just like with Ruzicka, this is simple a factor of games played for Connor Mackey. The Minnesota State Mankato product has featured in half as many games as last year and has a third as many points. It looks like Kylington is back in the lineup, leaving Mackey to likely spend much of the rest of the season in the pressbox. However, if he does draw back into the lineup a few more times, he may just break that record despite the limited sample size.
As with Jarnkrok, Ryan Carpenter is a new addition to the team after not being known as a scorer in his previous seasons, His career high came in his second of two seasons with the Vegas Golden Knights. If he can stay in the lineup and convert on opportunities, there is a chance he breaks that mark, but it seems unlikely at this point.
Flames who won’t have career years
The players who won’t set career years broadly fall into three groups. The first is players over 30 years old who have already likely had their best seasons pass by. This includes Milan Lucic, Mikael Backlund, and Trevor Lewis.
The next group includes just one player finding his groove this season in a new system, and had he been with the Flames all season, a larger total wouldn’t be ot of the question. This is just Toffoli. He is just 12 points from his career-best of 58 points set in 2015–16, but spending half the year with the basement-dwelling Montreal Canadiens probably didn’t help those numbers.
Finally there are the guys who just haven’t played much. This includes injured Sean Monahan, well-rested Michael Stone, AHL based Juuso Valimaki, and also Brett Ritchie. Monahan isn’t the player he once was, and may never get back to being that guy. How the Flames handle him this summer should be done with grace for all he has done for the team. Stone and Valimaki just didn’t get into enough games this year. Ritchie was a mix of playing far too many games with incredibly poor finishing. He has just two goals on the year—22 points less than his career-best.
A defining season for Calgary
If all goes well, the Flames could have 22 of their 30 players setting career years—which equates to a whopping 73%. This bodes really well for the team heading into the playoffs, but may add additional complications to their salary cap situation heading into next season. The team also has numerous prospects setting career years, which is a good sign that there is a lot to be optimistic about with this team.