Depending on who you talk to, a lot of Calgary Flames fans may describe this season as very doom and gloom. A team that looked very capable to win the Pacific Division is currently fighting for a wild card spot. But on the other hand, the team is not far off at all from still taking hold of the top spot in the division, and the Flames just played an excellent game against the Buffalo Sabres.
There are absolutely things that need to be better, and there are concerns about the team, however, there are many bright spots about this team as well. There are some good options to choose from, but what has been the best story to come out of this Flames season? We asked, you answered.
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Lots to cheer about
It’s safe to say nobody would have predicted all the things that have happened so far during this Flames season. During the offseason, I firmly believed that Jonathan Huberdeau would be in the top five in the league in points, Jacob Markstrom would be having another Vezina-calibre season, and the team would be performing the same (if not better) than last year.
Though none of this has developed to be true, there are some great storylines which I definitely didn’t see coming either. From Tyler Toffoli‘s incredible play, Dan Vladar looking like number one goalie, Jakob Pelletier proving he belongs in the NHL, and Rasmus Andersson becoming an elite top defenceman in the league, which story line has been the best?
Rasmus Andersson’s ascent
To say Andersson has improved his game would be an understatement. For so many years we have heard the narrative that the Flames have a great defence group, however they lack a true elite #1 defenceman. Sure, Andersson isn’t a Cale Makar, Victor Hedman, or Erik Karlsson, but it is clear that he has entered the group of the elites.
Andersson is currently averaging 24 minutes of ice time a night and he is one of the top 20 defencemen in the league in points with 34 points in 51 games. According to MoneyPuck, He and Noah Hanifin have an xGF% of 54%, and an xGA of 2.45 per 60 min, both of which is top 10 in the league in comparison to other defensive pairs who have played 550 minutes or more. Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic has Andersson playing at a $10M market value, which is pretty good considering that he only gets paid $4.6M.
Holy moly, Tyler Toffoli
Tyler Toffoli has been the Flames’ best forward this season. Who thought we would be saying that during the offseason? It’s true though, as he currently has 21 goals and 46 points in 53 games played this season. The Flames’ leading goalscorer has shown no signs of slowing down, and his performance is making the trade that the Flames made with the Montreal Canadiens look much better, as last year he seemed to reach a bit of a slow point after the trade deadline. If he can keep this up past this season, his $4.25M contract is going to look like a steal by the end of the 2023–24 season.
Dan Vladar has 11 wins, a 2.68 GAA, and a .905 save percentage as the Flames backup. In a season where Markstrom isn’t playing his best hockey, Vladar has come in and given the Flames stability in net whenever needed. Whether the Flames have been given the tandem enough defensive support is another story (spoiler alert, they haven’t), but Vladar looks as confident as ever whenever he is between the pipes.
Treliving awarded Vladar with a two-year $2.2M contract extension during the season, and he has absolutely earned it. It’s going to be very exciting to see how Vladar develops and how much better he will be in the future.
Pelletier finally got his first NHL goal during the game against the Sabres, and you could tell it was about to come. Ever since he has been called up, Pelletier has provided great speed, and he has been getting chances every single game. Sutter clearly took notice of Pelletier’s effectiveness, moving him from the bottom-six to a line with Nazem Kadri and Hubderdeau.
At 5v5, the line has a CF of 61.04%, 85.71% SF, and an xGF of 77.23%. The top players of Kadri and Huberdeau are slowly but surely starting to get the chances and are starting to look more dangerous because of Pelletier’s contributions to their line. Pelletier is clearly an NHL calibre player, and he should stay up on the roster for the remainder of the season.
Capitalize on the positives
If one thing is a must, it’s that the Flames must build off the positive aspects of their team, and use it to become a more dangerous team in the league. For a team that had—and should still have—Stanley Cup aspirations, there is a long way to go, but these positive storylines can be big building blocks for the team to reach the potential that they have on paper. There are only two months until the end of the NHL season, and it is up to the Flames to decide if they will be able to turn these positive storylines into positive results come the playoffs, or if it will be another Cruel Summer.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire