Calgary Flames

Flames Sunday Census: Where Calgary will finish in the Western Conference

Heading into the 2022–23 NHL season, the Calgary Flames look set to a team that competes for the Stanley Cup. Whether they even get to the playoffs or not is yet to be decided, but virtually everyone following the moves the Flames have mustered this offseason believes they should at least be playoff locks with a deep run very much in the books.

Assuming they are playoff locks, how might this new and improved Flames club fare in the regular season? We asked, you answered.

Want to take part in Sunday Census polls? We send them out every week on our Twitter at @wincolumnCGY. Follow along or send in ideas for the next poll!

Where Calgary fits in the standings

The roster the Flames have at this point isn’t one that should have any business being a bubble team for the playoffs. If all goes well, they should comfortably lock down a playoff spot. That said, anything can happen in the NHL and other teams around them have improved as well.

While it may be expected that the Flames finish somewhere in the top three in the Pacific, or even more realistically top two, their position in the Western Conference is much more up in the air. Again, making the assumption that they do indeed make the playoffs, where do people think the Flames might slot into the playoffs come the end of the season?

Our Sunday Census poll this week looks to see where the Flames are expected, with options being split into ranking groups of two, from first and second, third and fourth, fifth and sixth, and finally seventh and eighth.

This becomes makes for a fun look at the poll, as it becomes a thought exercise of how likely the Flames are to win the Pacific but still be behind the Colorado Avalanche? Or would the Oilers take the top Pacific spot and instead have the Flames drop to third, or even fourth behind another Central team?

Or even worse, what if the Flames take far too many games to find their footing and end up with a slow start that dooms to be a lower-seeded team or even a bubble team? The paths that the Flames may go on are definitely vast, and only time will tell what might happen.

The best of the West

The most popular option has the Flames being one of the top teams in the Western Conference. Half of the votes went towards a top-two finish in the West. This would have Calgary lineup with the Avalanche as the most realistic combination.

After all, if the Flames are going to be Stanley Cup contenders, they should be right up there with the defending Stanley Cup champions.

The Flames built their identity last year as being one of the toughest teams to play against in terms of seeing all opponent offence suppressed. Playing with Darryl Sutter as head coach puts a strong emphasis on checking and puck possession, and that should not change no matter who’s on the roster. Nevertheless, let’s see what the newest Flames faces bring to the table.

While Jonathan Huberdeau historically has a weaker defensive side to him, he was not heavily relied on with major two-way responsibilities. This could all change this season as no one on the Flames roster will have a free pass to be offensive dynamos with no defensive tasks. Just like how Johnny Gaudreau elevated his backchecking with Sutter, so too may Huberdeau.

Then there’s Nazem Kadri who’s already a great two-way centre, and whose addition makes the Flames’ centre depth among tops in the league. If you want deja vu, read this: There’s also MacKenzie Weegar, who’s already a top-end defensive defenceman, whose addition makes the Flames defence corps among tops in the league.

Repetition aside, the Flames are objectively going to be a nasty team to play against, and this is exactly what Sutter wants to see out of his team. This level of skill and emphasis on checking can really put the Flames at the top of the conference—at least on paper. So really, it’ll be up for to the players to turn theory into reality.

In the top half

The Flames are a great team on paper. If a vote didn’t have the Flames coming in first or second, chances were it was for them to finish third or fourth.

One of the best defence corps in the league is complemented with a very new-look group of forwards. The Flames took their offseason losses in stride and turned themselves into a team that looks ready to rebound. Through the eyes of many, Calgary might be better than ever before.

But as mentioned above, there are risks involved with being way too bullish on a team that hasn’t melded as a cohesive roster yet. The chemistry might not be there yet and time must definitely be given to the group before their true talent level can be revealed.

That’s a plausible outcome which can have the Flames slightly stumble in the standings. Many teams start out slow but are still contenders. Just last season alone the Tampa Bay Lightning finished third in their own division after a slower start. That said, the stacked Atlantic Division has many top dogs and potential contenders.

In the Pacific, the Flames should still finish high up. They’re expected to do so, and they expect it themselves too. However, there’s the Central Division in the picture. Last season, in the final stretch of games before the playoffs, the Flames dropped out of second in the West behind the Minnesota Wild. The St. Louis Blues were also not far behind.

It’s entirely possible that the top teams in the Central Division end up taking the top spots in the West. This is especially true with some of the league’s weakest teams hailing out of that division. The Pacific may be a little more competitive, as there’s teams like the Vegas Golden Knights who are still in their annual win-now mode, the up-and-coming Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings, and even the Vancouver Canucks—a team that thrived under a half season with Bruce Boudreau now set to have him as a full-time head coach.

So even if the Flames do end up a top team in the Pacific Division, their point totals may not be as high as some Central teams who have more bottom feeders to wreak havoc upon.

Suffice to say, finishing third or fourth in the West is not a bad place to be at all, and it’s very much plausible given some of the circumstances described above.

A weaker finish

If the Flames end up fifth or sixth in the West, this may spell trouble for the team already. If they want to be competing for the Cup, a finish in this range suggests something went wrong with the systems or with the players.

It’d be disappointing for the team to see themselves in this position and there’d be a lot of questions that pop up about the competitive ability of the team. While anything can happen in the playoffs, the Flames have big expectations of not just making the playoffs but emphatically proving they’re not letting this offseason be a turning point for the worse.

The moves they made this offseason was indicative that it was indeed a turning point for the franchise, but the only direction they were willing to go was up.

Alluded to above, the Lightning went to the Final despite being fifth in the Eastern Conference. However, they were a team that were just coming off back-to-back Cup victories and their dominance in the playoffs comes as a virtual guarantee.

The Flames on the other hand will have a lot to prove to themselves, the league, their fans, and everyone else that they can compete, and setting the mark during the regular season will go a long way.

So long story short, a finish in this position—while not impossible and not necessarily a bad outcome if they have a strong playoff push—would cause a few alarms to sound as it pertains to the Flames actually being capable of being contenders.

A bubble finish

The last option for the Flames to make the playoffs would see them in a wild card spot racing against the bubble teams. This if well far away from expectations, but hubris is highly dangerous and if the Flames go into the season taking their skill for granted, it can still happen.

Now, playoff teams don’t get fazed by their standing positions. Being an eighth seed is a far cry from a guaranteed early exit—something Sutter knows very well. However, contenders don’t often let themselves get into these positions.

Everything that the Flames have done this offseason suggests that even just finding themselves in a spot like this by season’s end would be a head scratcher for the ages. Given the scenarios of other teams in the West, this outcome just does not seem likely, and the poll suggests that very few people would even see this happening.

The Flames are out to prove themselves

The keyword of the poll was “realistically.” The Flames are fully expected to be contenders, and that comes with expected regular season success. A whopping 90% of votes have the Flames finishing somewhere between first and fourth in the West.

That would definitely show the hockey world that the Flames are a force to reckon with. Let’s see if they live up to these expectations.

How are you feeling about where the Flames might finish this season? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @wincolumnCGY.

Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire

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