Hope springs eternal during the initial part of the NHL season. Each franchise comes into the campaign thinking that they will be able to come together and make a run for the Stanley Cup. As the NHL calendar wears on, certain organizations hold on to those dreams, while others start to think more realistically about their future.
The Calgary Flames enter the second half of the NHL season with the possibility of being in either category mentioned above. We’ll take a look at three themes fans and the front office should keep in mind as we head down the home stretch of the hockey season.
Establish a direction
The Flames are in an intriguing spot in the final two months of the campaign. NHL Stanley Cup odds predict that Calgary is an extreme longshot to win the title this year, and an awful lot would have to go right for them if they were able to keep playing until May or June. Luckily for the Flames, there’s still time for the team to coalesce and make a run.
Perhaps more than any other sport, the NHL leaves the door open for fledgling regular season teams to sneak into the playoffs and defeat heavily favored organizations. It’s not crazy to think that Calgary has as good a shot as anyone of being the lower seeded team that no one wants to face in the playoffs. With a raucous home crowd and a couple of breaks, the Flames could spring an exciting upset.
They also might have to be realistic about where their season will most likely top out. Calgary could opt to begin developing players for next season, as they look to get some of their younger players some more time on the ice. The Flames may have found something in 30-year-old center Tyler Toffoli, who will continue to put the team on his back regardless of which direction they head in.
Evaluate the head coach
The Flames have one of the most accomplished NHL coaches of all time leading their franchise. Darryl Sutter has been an NHL head coach for 21 seasons, compiling over 725 wins during that time frame. He’s just about seen it all, including two Stanley Cup championships on his resume, and another Final appearance.
This is actually Sutter’s second stint as head coach of the Flames, as he also led the team from 2002 to 2006. It’s clear that the front office trusts Sutter’s experience and feel for the game, but the team should also ponder whether he’s going to be the right man for the job long term. He’s 64 years old, and has spent a maximum of six seasons at any one particular stop in his NHL coaching career.
It’s also fair to wonder whether some of Sutter’s magic has worn off. Since winning it all with the Los Angeles Kings in the 2013–14 campaign, Sutter’s teams have only reached the second round of the postseason once. The Flames had a very respectable season last year, but it’s possible that they may need to assess whether Sutter will be able to replicate his past success.
Metrics to build on
There are a lot of statistics that indicate the Calgary Flames are a very average team. The most obvious metric would be their win-loss record, but they also land smack dab in the middle of the league in other important categories. That can be viewed as a good thing, if one were to conclude that they don’t have very far to go if they want to take the next step in their development.
There are actually a couple of numbers that very much break in the Flames’ favor though, that might make it seem like they might actually be better than their record indicates. Calgary is very close to the top of the NHL leaderboard in shots on goal per game, which is a solid indication that the offensive attack puts itself in a good position to find the back of the net. This figure has been achieved without exemplary numbers in the power play department as well, meaning that the Flames manage to get shots on goal at even strength as well as anyone.
It would seem counterintuitive, but the Flames are also among the league leaders in fewest shots allowed per game. That’s a pretty remarkable feat, considering that their relentless offensive attack doesn’t prohibit them from getting back on defence to thwart breakaways that could change the momentum of games. If these trends hold true for the remainder of the year, and Calgary experiences a little bit more luck on the offensive side of the ice, they could be a sneaky team if they’re able to qualify for the postseason.