NHL Season Review: Calgary Flames
Welcome to NHL season review: a brand new series that will breakdown every NHL team this offseason. You can expect to see new posts all summer, starting from the 30th place team, and finishing with the Stanley Cup champions. With so many changes coming in the offseason, some teams will be improving dramatically, while others will be forced to make some tough decisions for the future. It’s going to be a fun summer of hockey talk, so sit down, hold on tight and enjoy the ride.
Year in Review
- Record: 45-30-7 (97 points)
- Goals per game: 2.89 (7th)
- Goals against per game: 2.60 (17th)
- Power play: 18.8% (13th)
- Penalty kill: 80.6% (20th)
- Shots per game: 27.5(28th)
- Shots against per game: 29.2(12th)
Outside of Calgary fans, no one expected the Flames to be a playoff team. Considering the team hadn’t made the playoffs since 2008-09, expectations for a rebuilding team weren’t high. Yet come April, not only were the Flames in the playoffs, but they made a splash by advancing to the Western Conference Semifinals. They really were the surprise of the season and the underdog that just wouldn’t go down without a fight.
What makes their run so surprising is how they were able to be a good team despite advanced stats telling us otherwise. On the surface, the Flames were a terrible CorsiFor team—finishing 28th in the league, per Stats.hockeyanalysis.com. Add that to the fact that Calgary averaged only 27.5 shots per game, and it becomes almost impossible to believe this team was able to have any success. Despite those numbers, the Flames finished 7th in goals per game (2.89), ahead of teams like Anaheim (2.78), Pittsburgh (2.65) and Chicago (2.68) to name a few.
The most important factor that helped Calgary make the playoffs is one you can’t teach or coach. The Flames had a great deal of luck last season, including finishing with the second highest team shooting percentage.
Here are the top six shooting percentage teams from last season:
Of the six teams listed above, only Calgary had less than 2400 total shots last season. The only two teams to total less shots than the Flames were New Jersey (2009) and Buffalo (1984), and neither team was even close to making the playoffs. Most teams get hot for stretches during the season, but for a team to go 82 games and defy the laws of statistics, that’s just pure luck. As the old saying goes: it’s better to be lucky than good sometimes.
Offseason Game Plan
The Flames have one of the best defensive cores in the entire league, and it got even better over the summer. Calgary acquired defenseman Dougie Hamilton from the Boston Bruins in exchange for three draft picks. The team then locked up their new defenseman to a six-year, $34.5 million deal. The 22-year-old joins an already impressive defensive group with Dennis Wideman, T.J Brodie and captain Mark Giordano. Throw in Kris Russell and Ladislav Smid, and you’re looking at the best top-six group of defensemen in the league. Expectations for the group will be high, but with a defense this good, the sky is the limit.
Offensively, coach Bob Hartley did what many though was impossible; he turned the Flames into a top-ten scoring team. Call it luck or good coaching, Hartley took this team and made them believe that they could compete with any team, any night, and come out on top.
One player who benefited greatly from Hartley’s coaching was Jiri Hudler. The 31-year-old set career highs last season in goals (31), assists (45), points (76) and game winning goals (5). Hudler has always been a steady source of production in previous seasons, but to produce at a point-per-game rate is not something even Calgary fans though they would see. His 76 points was good enough for 8th in league scoring and his plus-17 was second best on the team. It may be hard to expect Hudler to repeat his performance this upcoming season, but with little change over the offseason to the offence, it wouldn’t be a shock if he were able to better his career bests.
Hartley also benefited from two of his young players taking on major roles with the team. Both Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan had exceptional seasons—finishing 2nd & 3rd in team scoring. Gaudreau led all rookies in assists with 40, while Monahan finished third in the league in game winning goals (8). Both players were key in helping the Flames score goals and will be counted on to produce at the same level next season if Calgary wants to return to the playoffs for the second year in a row.
The goaltending position is where this team has the biggest issue. Jonas Hiller came into last season as the number one goalie but lost his role multiple times due to poor play and injuries. He struggled in the first round of the playoffs and eventually lost his spot to backup Kari Ramo in the second round. Ramo didn’t fair any better, but the Ducks were truly the better team in that series. Even good goaltending wouldn’t have made much of a difference. Both goalies finished with decent numbers at the end of the season, but neither goalie was able to run away with the job.
With both goalies in the final year of their contracts, one will come out on top. In order for the Flames to be a playoff team again next year, someone needs to establish himself as the true top dog in the crease and hold the job for the entire season. Assuming Calgary isn’t as lucky next season—and let’s face it, they probably won’t be—they will need their goalie to be the best player on the team every night. My early money is on Hiller, but he’s shown that he is vulnerable to prolonged stretches of poor play. If Ramo becomes the team’s starter, I expect Calgary to try very hard to move Hiller to another team and get any sort of value back for him. It should be another interesting season in the blue paint for Calgary.
As I mentioned earlier, the Flames were the luckiest team in the league. To expect that trend to continue again next season is wishful thinking. They’re a good team that got even better over the summer, so it’s not crazy to think they’ll compete for a playoff spot again next season. If they have another successful season, then we can say that this team is legit, but if they struggle, last season may have just been exactly what it was…a lucky season.