Another season, another year in which the Calgary Flames are stuck squarely in no man’s land in the Western Conference standings. Not good enough to be a playoff team, and nowhere near bad enough to get a high draft pick or good lottery odds. It’s one of the worst spots for a team to be in, and it has become synonymous with the Flames at this point. You don’t get to play in the playoffs and you don’t get a high draft pick. A wasted season essentially.
Over the years the Flames have been the definition of mediocrity, as they continually fail to be really good or really bad most years, and instead find themselves in the mushy middle. Once again this season, the Flames are in that exact spot. They currently rank ninth in the Western conference and 18th in the NHL. Since the turn of the century, the Flames have found themselves in this spot more often than most Western conference franchises. Let’s take a further look at the Flames history of mediocrity since the 2000-01 season.
Finishing in no man’s land
As mentioned the Flames have a long history of finishing outside the playoffs but not low enough for a high draft pick, otherwise known as no man’s land in the standings. Since the 2000-01 season, they are among the Western conference leaders when it comes to finishing the season here. I’ll consider any finish in 9th, 10th, or 11th place in the conference in these standings as those are the spots where a team is typically still not in a position for a high draft pick despite missing the playoffs.
I won’t include the 2019-20 or 2020-21 season as both were impacted by COVID-19 and either ended abruptly or had unique divisions.
|Team||9th/10th/11th finishes since 2000-01||Percent of finishes since 2000-01|
|St. Louis Blues||4||21%|
|Winnipeg Jets||4||44% (Only 9 seasons)|
|Vegas Golden Knights||1||33% (Only 3 seasons)|
If it weren’t for the Dallas Stars and Arizona Coyotes, the Flames would claim the title of most finishes in no man’s land since the turn of the century. The Flames have landed there in 32% of eligible seasons since 2000-01. In other words pretty much every third season the Flames have finished outside the playoffs, but not far enough outside for a high draft pick.
Here’s the thing though, the other top teams on this list have at least had some other type of success to balance things out. The Stars have made a trip to the second round six times during the same span, have been to the Conference Finals twice, and the Stanley Cup Finals once. They’ve also picked inside the top-10 three times. The Coyotes meanwhile have only been to the second round or Conference Finals once over that span, but have picked in the top-10 of the draft 10 times.
Meanwhile the Flames have been to the second round just three times, the Conference Finals only once, and the Stanley Cup Finals once. They’ve also only picked inside the top 10 six times with three of those occurrences coming before 2004. So they’re not experiencing a ton of playoff success and also not picking high in the draft.
The Flames are almost a lock to add one more season to their list and go into a tie with Dallas and Arizona after the 82 games are over. Neither of those teams will fall into the 9-11 range at this point, while the Flames are all but guaranteed to finish there unless they defy the odds and get into the playoffs.
If we were to include the the 2020-21 season the Stars, Coyotes, and Flames would all add one to their tally as they finished in 5th and just outside the playoffs in their respective divisions that season. The Flames have also had some very close calls over the years as well.
During the aforementioned 2019-20 season, they were barely in eighth place by points percentage when the season ended early. They sat with a points percentage of .564 while the Jets were at .563. Had that season finished as normal, there’s a strong chance the Flames would’ve finished in 9th place in the conference.
As well they also finished in eighth in 2006-07 by just one point, and then again in 2014-15 by just two points. In other words that’s three more seasons that the Flames were eerily close to finishing in no man’s land.
So how about playoff success? The Flames have frequently finished just outside of the playoffs, but when they get in do they at least go deep? No. Here’s a list of the total combined playoff series victories from each Western conference team since the 2000-01 season. I won’t include Seattle as they have just one season under their belt.
|Team||Playoff series wins since 2000-01|
|San Jose Sharks||17|
|St. Louis Blues||12|
|Vegas Golden Knights||7 (Since 2017-18)|
|Winnipeg Jets||3 (Since 2011-12)|
So even when the Flames do sneak into the playoffs, they aren’t doing much with the chance. Across 21 seasons, the Flames have won a grand total of five playoff series, which is the 12th highest total among 15 eligible teams. If we don’t include the Jets who only have 12 seasons to work with, the Flames are third worst ahead of only Minnesota and Arizona.
It’s also worth noting that three of those five series wins came in one year in 2003-04. Since that run 19 years ago, the Flames have won a total of just two playoff series, one in 2014-15 and one last year in 2021-22. In total they’ve made the playoffs in 10 of 21 seasons since the turn of the century, and have turned that into five series wins and two since 2004.
Perhaps the most depressing stat on here is that the Vegas Golden Knights, who came into the league in 2017-18 and have just five seasons under their belt, have more playoff wins, more Conference Finals appearances, and the same amount of Stanley Cup finals appearances as the Flames in 16 less seasons.
Let’s take a look at overall playoff victories now.
|Team||Playoff wins since 2000-01|
|San Jose Sharks||99|
|St. Louis Blues||68|
|Vegas Golden Knights||38 (Since 2017-18)|
|Winnipeg Jets||16 (Since 2010-11)|
The Flames look a tad better when it comes to overall playoff wins, but still incredibly mediocre. They rank 10th among 15 teams for playoff wins since 2000-01 and it’s only a matter of time before Vegas passes them too. If we remove Vegas and Winnipeg who haven’t been around every seasons since 2000, the Flames rank fourth worst in the conference ahead of Edmonton, Minnesota, and Arizona.
Overall across 21 seasons the Flames have managed to win just 41 playoff games, with 15 of those coming in 2003-04. Since they went on that run they’ve won a grand total of just 26 playoff games across 17 seasons and 19 years. League wide since 2000-01 they’ve won the 23rd most playoff games in the NHL.
So we’ve determined that the Flames regularly finish in no man’s land, and when they do make the playoffs they typically don’t go very far. So have they been able to at least bottom out at times and pile up high draft picks over the years? Also no. Here’s a look at how many bottom 10 finishes each Western conference team has since 2000-01.
|Team||Bottom 10 finishes since 2000-01|
|San Jose Sharks||5|
|St. Louis Blues||4|
|Winnipeg Jets||4 (Since 2010-11)|
|Vegas Golden Knights||0 (Since 2017-18)|
Now obviously you don’t want a ton of bottom 10 finishes, but when you do miss the playoffs you want it to be a bottom-10 finish. If you’re able to balance successful seasons with bottoming out in the other years and finishing in the bottom-10 you’ve hit the jackpot. For example since the 2000-01 season the Blackhawks, Kings and Avalanche have all won multiple Stanley Cups but have also finished in the bottom 10 more times than Calgary. They also all have more playoff wins and more playoff series wins than the Flames over that span.
The Flames of course despite not having much success in the playoffs, have also only finished bottom-10 the ninth most times in the West with three of those times coming before 2004. With those picks they landed Brent Krahn, Eric Nystrom, Dion Phaneuf, Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk. All said they really didn’t do much the rare time they did end up picking in the top 10. Tkachuk looks like the only real long-term superstar and he’s not even in the organization anymore.
If we dig even deeper and look at the total amount of lottery picks made by each Western conference team since the 2000-01 season, it gets even more depressing for the Flames.
|Team||Lottery picks (top-3) since 2000-01|
|St. Louis Blues||1|
|Winnipeg Jets||1 (Since 2017-18)|
We all know about the Flames’ storied history with lottery picks. They’re never once picked inside the top three of the NHL draft, and have only picked inside the top five once with the Bennett pick. Needless to say the draft has not been their friend through their history. If we look at the total amount of lottery picks made by Western conference teams since 2000 it tells an interesting story.
If you want long-term success you need to really bottom-out during your off years, something the Flames pretty much never do. The Blackhawks despite winning three Stanley Cups since 2000 and having the second most playoff series wins and fourth most playoff wins have also picked in the top three four times. Among those picks were Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane who were integral in their cup wins. They’re well on their way to drafting another franchise player top three in this draft to start their next window.
Another great example is the Avalanche, who picked Nathan Mackinnon, Gabe Landeskog and Cale Makar in the top three, all three of which played massive roles in their recent cup win. The Kings are no different, as they drafted Drew Doughty top three who then helped them win two cups. They’ve since drafted Quinton Byfield not too late after their window closed to help kickstart a new era. The Ducks window closed after years of playoff runs, and they landed Mason McTavish top three as a key piece in their rebuild.
Among teams who have not picked top three since the 2000-01 season, you have the Flames, Sharks, Canucks, Wild and Predators. The Sharks have arguably been the most successful team in the West since 2000 not including cup wins as they have the most playoff wins and playoff series wins over that span. The Predators and Canucks meanwhile both have more playoff series wins and playoff wins than the Flames over that span, and more recent trips to the final.
Really the only team who has had it worse than the Flames when it comes to not picking in the top three is the Wild who have less playoff series wins and overall playoff wins than the Flames while also not picking in the top three. At least the Wild will likely be in the playoffs this season while the Flames will once again be in the 9 to 11 range.
So how do the Flames stack up across all four categories? Let’s tally it up.
|9th/10th/11th finishes since 2000-01||2nd of 15|
|Playoff series wins since 2000-01||12th of 15|
|Playoff wins since 2000-01||10th of 15|
|Bottom 10 finishes since 2000-01||9th of 15|
|Lottery picks (top-3) since 2000-01||T-last of 15|
The Flames continually finish right in the mushy middle in the 9 to 11 range in the Western conference, don’t experience a lot of playoff success when it comes to both playoff series wins and wins overall, rarely pick inside the top-10, and literally never inside the top three.
To make matters even worse the Flames are likely going to add another no man’s land and non bottom-10 finish to their record this season. If they do miss the playoffs, they’ll officially be tied for the most seasons in the 9 to 11 range in the Western conference across the last 23 years.