Calgary Flames

Where the Calgary Flames stood going into the new year compared to previous seasons

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you the Calgary Flames’ start to the 2022–23 season has been incredibly underwhelming. The team was expected to contend for the Pacific division title once again this year but instead finds themselves fighting for a playoff spot. The Flames just barely snuck into one right before the 2022 Christmas break.

Despite what many would describe as a borderline disastrous start to the season, the fact remains that the Flames still found themselves in a playoff spot as the calendar turned over to 2023. With that in mind it’s worth taking a look at where the Flames stood going into the new year in previous seasons to get a better idea if the 2022–23 Flames are behind the eight ball or in a familiar spot. Let’s take a look.

2022–23 season

18–13–7 .566 (3rd Pacific Division, 6th Western Conference, 15th NHL)

GF/GP: 24th GA/GP: 14th

The most current season can be perfectly described as average thus far. The Flames were quite literally middle of the pack in everything when 2022 ended. They finished the year holding the third and final Pacific playoff spot, near the middle of the Western Conference, and dead centre of the NHL standings. Mediocrity at its best.

Perhaps what’s the most concerning is the Flames complete lack of scoring coupled with very average defensive play. After finishing last season top 10 in both goals for and goals against, the Flames rank an ugly 24th for goals for per game. Defence is supposed to be their strength, but they’re just barely in the upper half of the league at 14th for goals against per game.

Things weren’t looking good after a five-game losing streak heading into their game on December 18, but as mentioned they snuck into a playoff spot before the Christmas break by going 5–1–1 to close out the year. They jumped into third in the Pacific with wins over Seattle and Vancouver on December 28 and December 31 right before the end of the year.

We all predicted there would be some growing pains with all the turnover in the offseason, however those struggles continued for much longer than most would’ve predicted. The fact the Flames were able to dig themselves out of their seven-game losing skid in November shows this team has what it takes to make the playoffs.

Despite a potentially season-ending seven-game losing streak in November, the Flames were able to right the ship and climb their way back into a Pacific playoff spot before the end of 2022. Here’s hoping that sets them up for more success in 2023 as they’re still far from a lock to make the playoffs.

2021–22 season

16-7-6 .655 (3rd Pacific Division, 6th Western Conference, 13th NHL)

GF/GP: 12th GA/GP: 2nd

The 2021–22 season seems like a lifetime ago. The Flames dominating playing like the best defensive team in hockey, Jacob Markstrom putting up Vezina-calibre results, and Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk lighting up the league. Good times. Last season’s regular season was something special and the team was just getting started at the end of 2021.

Before digging into the numbers it’s worth noting the Flames’ record and rank in the standings before the calendar turned over to 2022 comes with a major asterisk. The team was shutdown from December 12th to December 29th due to a massive COVID-19 outbreak. They only played one game between December 12th and the end of 2022. For that reason combined with a late start to the season they had only played 29 games played by the end of December, which was the lowest total in the Pacific division.

Despite the Flames sitting in third in the Pacific by point totals, if we consider points percentage they ranked first in the Pacific. They also ranked third in the Western Conference and ninth in the NHL by points percentage. Not too shabby. By December 31, they had only lost six of 29 games in regulation. Unsurprisingly they were getting it done at both ends as they ranked 12th for goals for per game and second to only Carolina when it came to goals against per game.

They would continue their success in the new year finishing first in the Pacific, third in the West, and sixth in the NHL. As well they’d finish the year eighth for goals and fourth for goals against. It’d be the only time in the past decade they finished top 10 for both.

2020–21 season*

16–19–3 .461 (5th Canadian Division, 23rd NHL)

GF/GP: 24th GA/GP: 19th

Due to the 2020–21 season starting in January 2021 because of COVID-19, I’ll consider the Flames’ first 38 games here, the same amount they played this season before the new year. This chunk of the season was mostly a part of the infamous Geoff Ward era. The Flames were bad, very bad. Their record across their first 38 games shows that as they were amongst the worst teams in the NHL despite playing in the incredibly weak Canadian division.

Under Ward the Flames started the season 11–11–2, and then went 5–8–1 under Darryl Sutter to round out their first 38 games of the season. They finished the segment sitting 24th in the NHL in goals per game. The Flames were actually tied with the tanking Ottawa Senators for least goals per game in the division after their first two and half months of games. Defensively they were a tad better, sitting 19th in the NHL for goals against per game.

In terms of point percentage, they ranked 26th in the NHL and second worst in the Canadian division. To find the last time the Flames had a points percentage under .500 after their first two and a half months of the season you’d have to go back to 2015–16 in the middle of their rebuild. To no one’s surprise they would miss the playoffs that season after their awful start to the year.

2019–20 season

20–17–5 .536 (4th Pacific Division, 9th Western Conference, 18th NHL)

GF/GP: 24th GA/GP: 15th

The opening two and a half months of the 2019–20 season were a roller coaster. The Flames had a disastrous start to the year including a six-game losing streak, fired Bill Peters, hired Geoff Ward, and then went on a seven-game winning streak all before Christmas. Thanks to that seven-game winning streak they were able to stay above .500 going into the new year and kept themselves in the playoff bubble.

In what seems like a common theme, the Flames could not score many goals to start the year in 2019–20. They ranked a dreadful 24th in goals for per game going into 2020. As well, despite Ward attempting to deploy a defence first system, the Flames were average at best defensively and ranked 15th in goals against per game.

Perhaps saved by the regular season getting ended early due to COVID-19, the Flames managed to barely squeak into the playoffs as the number eight seed by points percentage when the regular season was halted in March. Without the seven-game winning streak before the new year, there’s no way they would’ve made the playoffs.

2018–19 season

24–12–4 .650 (1st Pacific Division, 1st Western Conference, 3rd NHL)

GF/GP: 4th GA/GP: 7th

Like the 2021–22 season, the 2018–19 season is a much more distant and glorious memory now. Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm, and Gaudreau lighting up the NHL, Mark Giordano dominating every night. Those were the days. To start the 2018–19 season the Flames came out flying out of nowhere and put themselves in a great position when the calendar switched over to 2019.

Bolstered by a stretch of eight wins in nine games at the beginning of December, the Flames would finish 2018 as an essential lock to make the playoffs already. A rarity for the Flames over the past decade. They would go into the new year sitting first in the Pacific, first in the Western Conference, and third in the entire NHL. To find the last time the Flames led the Western Conference going into the new year you’d have to go all the way back to 1992.

They also finished 2018 top 10 in both goals for per game and goals against per game, a feat they didn’t even achieve last season. The last time they had done that going into the new year? Also in 1992. The Flames start to the 2018–19 was something special that has been a massive rarity with this franchise.

The Flames would continue their stellar play into 2019 as they would finish first in the Pacific and West, as well as second in the NHL. Given how strong they closed out the first half of the season, it would’ve been a shock if they didn’t carry their start to the playoffs.

2017–18 season

19–16–4 .538 (4th Pacific Division, 10th Western Conference, 19th NHL)

GF/GP: 22nd GA/GP: 16th

The 2017–18 season was supposed to officially end the Flames’ post-Iginla rebuild. As we know now that wasn’t the case. The Flames were essentially holding onto their playoff hopes by a thread going into 2018 as they sat right on the playoff bubble with no room for error.

They finished 2017 right outside the playoffs, sitting fourth in the Pacific, 10th in the West in 19th in the NHL. As usual they couldn’t score and were bottom half of the league for goals for per game. Defensively they were bang average sitting 16th for goals against per game. The best way to describe their start to the 2017–18 season was complete mediocrity. Their longest winning streak was three games, and their longest losing streak was also three games.

Going into 2018 the Flames put themselves in a decent spot to sneak into the playoffs, but those hopes evaporated by separate losing streaks of six and seven games in the second half of the season. In the end the Flames would finish fifth in the Pacific, 11th in the West, and 20th in the NHL and Glen Gulutzan would lose his job. Their play before the new year was a good predictor that they weren’t a playoff team.

2016–17 season

20–17–2 .538 (4th Pacific Division, 7th Western Conference, 15th NHL)

GF/GP: 16th GA/GP: 20th

The start to the 2016–17 season was eerily similar to the 2017–18 season, albeit a bit more promising. The Flames were in their first season of the post Bob Hartley era and expectation were high for their young core. Despite a disastrous 5–10–1 start to the year, the Flames would go on a 15–7–1 run including a six-game winning streak at the start of December to close out 2016 in a wild card spot.

What seems like the case every season, the Flames were either middle of the pack or in the bottom half of the league when it came to goals for and against. They were league average at 16th for goals for per game, and in the bottom half at 20th for goals against per game. Perhaps most notable is the fact the Flames didn’t have a single player close to a point-per-game going into the new year. Gaudreau’s 25 points in 29 games were most on the team, with Mikael Backlund’s 24 in 39 sitting second.

In the second half the Flames would go on their infamous Brian Elliot-fueled 10-game win streak which powered them into the playoffs. They’d finish the year exactly where they were going into the new year, fourth in the Pacific, seventh in the West, and 15th in the NHL. Average start, average finish.

Breaking down the numbers

StatAverage at New Years2022–23Best season
Goals for per game18th24th2018-19
Goals against per game13th14th2022-23
Pacific Division Rank3rd3rd2018-19
Western Conference Rank7th6th2018-19
NHL Rank15th15th2018-19

The Flames found themselves going into the new year in 2022–23 in pretty much exactly their average spot over the last seven seasons. Despite the doom and gloom to start the season, the Flames first two and a half months have been far from disastrous but instead par for the course for them in recent years.

What is concerning is their lack of scoring. Their rank of 24th in goals per game is well below their average spot. In fact at 24th overall it’s tied with the disastrous 2019–20 season as well as the disastrous 2020–21 season. Unsurprisingly both seasons had Ward behind the bench, so it’s a tad concerning the Sutter-coached Flames are producing at the same rate so far as a Ward-coached team.

Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire

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