Realignment and the Flames

Ryan Pike
August 26 2013 08:36AM

 

- image via SportingNews

 

The 2013-14 campaign will be full of changes for the Calgary Flames. In addition to the many, many roster changes for the club, they'll also be in a new division. After 14 years in the Northwest Division, including one division win and four playoff appearances, the Flames will return to the reformed Pacific Division as part of the NHL's realignment.
 
But will this new divisional scheme help or hurt the Flames?

THE OLD DIVISION

From 1998-99 until 2012-13, the Calgary Flames resided in the Northwest Division with some familiar faces. For the first two years, their division-mates were the Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and Colorado Avalanche. They were joined by the Minnesota Wild in 2000.

Looking at the last three seasons, here's how the Flames fared against the Northwest:

11-5-0 against the Oilers
11-4-1 against the Avalanche
8-5-2 against the Wild
5-9-3 against the Canucks
 
Overall, the Flames went 35-23-6 against the Northwest over the last three years, accumulating roughly 59% of available points. That's pretty good. If they got 59% of available points over a full season, that'd put them at around 96 or 97 points (or 56 points in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season). Good enough to make the playoffs most seasons.
 
Under the old scheduling scheme, the Flames played their divisional opponents 24 times, so that points% would translate to 28 points on average.

THE NEW DIVISION

Starting this season, the Flames are toiling in the Pacific Division. Their six division-mates are split into two groups: old friends (the Oilers and Canucks) and new enemies (Anaheim, San Jose, Los Angeles and Phoenix). It won't be a shock to learn that the Flames struggled against some (or all) of their new divisional opponents.

Here's the last three seasons against each of their Pacific Division foe:
 
11-5-0 against the Oilers
5-9-3 against the Canucks
4-5-2 against the Coyotes
4-5-2 against the Sharks
3-4-4 against the Ducks
3-6-2 against the Kings
 
That's pretty ugly. The Flames cleaned up against the perpetually terrible Oilers (who are finally poised to take a step out of the basement) and got beat up by everyone else. Keep in mind, this is the pre-rebuild Flames we're talking about.

Overall, Calgary racked up a 30-34-13 record against the teams that'll be in the Pacific Division, earning approximately 47% of available points. Over an 82-game schedule, that amounts to around 77 points, or 45 points during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 year. If we take the NHL-worst Oilers out of the equation, their wins total drops to 19 out of 45 games and the points percentage plunges to just (19-29-13) 42%.

Either way, that's not good enough for the playoffs. It's not quite “Oilers during the last three or four years” bad, but it's close.
 
Under the new scheduling scheme, the Flames play 29 games against divisional opponents, and that points percentage (47%) would translate to around 27 points. Let's drop things back a bit to control for Edmonton's improvement and the Flames devolvement and assume they'll be closer to 25 points at best against the Pacific. If the expected playoff cut-off is 10 games over .500 (and that may be underestimating things), they'd need to go 14 games over .500 in their remaining 53 games to make the post-season (roughly 33-19-0).

OUTLOOK

If you're somebody who's hoping that the Flames will be competitive this year and make a run at the playoffs, we've got some bad news for you. The roster turn-over will make that a rather steep challenge, and the scheduling and realignment will further stack the deck against the local hockey heroes...
 
There are three dedicated Pacific playoff berths, and then another pair of “at-large” Western Conference berths. Vancouver and San Jose are all good teams coming off good seasons, while LA is elite. The Oilers are not going to be as bad as they were in years past thanks to the development of their kids and under the aegis of new coaching and management. Phoenix and Anaheim will be, at least, fairly competitive. Right now it appears the Flames are the weak sister in the Pacific Division.
 
If you're hoping for playoff action at the Dome this season, the Hitmen are probably a safer bet. The Flames are in tough. But if you're hoping for Calgary to continue their rebuilding approach and hope that the youngsters get to battle in close games, the new divisional arrangement may be exactly what you ordered.
 
Now, let's just hope the Flames can finally win a game in Anaheim.

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Now in his third full season covering the Calgary Flames and the NHL, Ryan Pike is a Calgary native and FlamesNation's managing editor. He's trying to keep his head up, his stick on the ice and is giving it 110% every shift. You can also find his work at The Hockey Writers, the Wrestling Observer and Tough Talk MMA.
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#1 Subversive
August 26 2013, 11:28AM
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It's so ridiculous that Winnipeg, which is a 2 hour plane ride from Calgary and requires no cross border travel, is not in the same division. Also, the division names... Atlantic, Pacific, Central, and.....Metropolitan???

I cancelled cable a few weeks ago, this is feeling like a good decision for this winter.

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#2 Jeff In Lethbridge
August 26 2013, 10:32AM
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is thete anyone that even WANTS the flames tp compete for a playoff spot? the real goal should be 2 years picking top 3 in the draft.

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#3 PrairieStew
August 26 2013, 12:06PM
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I am among the optimists. As good as the departing players were (or used to be), I think the culture change will be huge. Key players are playing for contracts, the goaltending will be better and I see slides backwards by Vancouver, Anaheim, and San Jose.

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#4 They're $hittie
August 26 2013, 09:57AM
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Bettman is going to announce at the end of the year that Seattle is getting an expansion team and will have the first overall pick in 2015, winning the McDavid Sweepstakes.

No better way to sell a new franchise than with a generational player.

Let the trashes begin.

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#5 Kent Wilson
August 26 2013, 10:54AM
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@Jeff In Lethbridge

I've interacted with some folks who think the Flames won't nearly be as bad as is commonly thought. I haven't bumped into anyone who calls them a contender or anything, but there is a minor groundswell of optimism out there I think.

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#6 Kent Wilson
August 26 2013, 09:11AM
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It's a pretty tough division. The Kings and Sharks are probably going to be good for awhile and the Oilers could develop into a contender as long as MacTavish is competent. The Canucks are a club who could fall off the pace eventually, although I don't think that will be soon.

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#7 SmellOfVictory
August 26 2013, 09:15AM
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Woo, McDavid '15!

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#8 Kevin R
August 26 2013, 09:42AM
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Well I'm not going to get too worried about Sven, Knight, Cundari & a few the other young guys getting bashed in this year. We could go & sign the remaining best UFA's & get to watch them get their heads bashed. McDavid & Ekblad here we come.

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#9 coachedpotatoe
August 26 2013, 10:15AM
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It is a tough division but we are in a rebuild anyways. Eventually some of these teams will trend down while we will be trending up beginning this season (tiny little steps but there will be progress)As for Seattle we will see if that happens. the NHL either needs to expand to 32 and make two conferences of 16(4 divisions of 8) or contract to 28 to make two conferences of 14 (4 divisions of 7) (I don't see that happening although there are teams in real trouble)

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#10 RexLibris
August 26 2013, 11:10AM
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With regards to the Flames' draft position as a result of this new divisional play, it isn't simply their division, or even the Western conference that will decide that.

With every team playing every other team the Flames would need to be worse than Buffalo, Florida, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Columbus, Winnipeg, Colorado and New Jersey (wait, scratch that last).

The Flames on paper are slotted as being in the bottom third of the league, but there are a number of teams that could find themselves there as well, not to mention the perennial surprise underachiever.

As has been repeated here often, if this roster can find even average goaltending then they might find themselves in a mirror image of their position these past ten years - not quite bad enough.

Divisional play, the expanded draft lottery and the possibility of expansion is going to wreck havoc with traditional rebuilding plans these next few seasons.

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#11 ChinookArch
August 26 2013, 01:23PM
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@RexLibris

Dream on Rex, average goaltending puts the Flames at 25th, by my estimation. It would take a Kipprusoffian venzina performance to elevate the Flames into bubble territory.

In looking at all the rosters across the league I can only count on 3 teams that might be worse than the Flames this year and they're all in the east (Florida, Tampa and Columbus). If I'm right the Flames will be a Western Conference punching bag, while the other 3 will at least steal points from each other and a few other ugly teams in the east. Things will be so tight in the west that the Flames will face steep competition every night.

Sorry, the Oilers reign of the basement 1st overall pick is over.

***and hangs his head down in shame***

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#12 ChinookArch
August 26 2013, 10:15AM
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The Flames are a virtual lock for a 25-30th finish this year. There are too many western conference teams that are in the playoff fringe looking to make the playoffs as a 6,7,8 seed. They will need every point they can collect. Those teams will look at the Flames as a must win, and I expect there will be few opponents 'taking the night off' this season, as well as next season.

**Face-palm and slow exhale**

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#13 Opcon
August 26 2013, 10:16AM
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They're $hittie wrote:

Bettman is going to announce at the end of the year that Seattle is getting an expansion team and will have the first overall pick in 2015, winning the McDavid Sweepstakes.

No better way to sell a new franchise than with a generational player.

Let the trashes begin.

Why does that thought give me a horrible sinking feeling in my gut... Probably because it's true.

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#14 Kent Wilson
August 26 2013, 02:05PM
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@Parallex

All those guys are probably going to get better next year, except for maybe Parenteau. The Flames, as a team, are getting worse. If they succeed in selling off some vets before the year ends, significantly worse.

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#15 Parallex
August 26 2013, 02:21PM
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@ChinookArch

How did you come to your estimation?

I mean the average save% in the NHL was about .910ish last year the Flames last year on average were about .890... by my rough calculations that would have netted the flames a 28G difference with average goaltending. If you go with the presumption that that 10G = 1 win then I'd have the Flames at around 21 with average goaltending.

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#16 ChinookArch
August 26 2013, 10:17AM
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They're $hittie wrote:

Bettman is going to announce at the end of the year that Seattle is getting an expansion team and will have the first overall pick in 2015, winning the McDavid Sweepstakes.

No better way to sell a new franchise than with a generational player.

Let the trashes begin.

Wouldn't they get entered into the lottery like everyone else?

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#17 Parallex
August 26 2013, 02:29PM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

All those guys are probably going to get better next year, except for maybe Parenteau. The Flames, as a team, are getting worse. If they succeed in selling off some vets before the year ends, significantly worse.

Sure, sure... but so much better that they could bank on it? I wouldn't say so... I mean it's probable but not something I'd bet the farm on.

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#18 DieHard
August 26 2013, 02:53PM
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As an Oiler fan that went through all the hell of the last few years, I have advice. Do not promote any prospect until really really ready. You should not be in any hurry. You'll need a few 1OV's to become competitive in this new division. Stay patient.

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#19 RexLibris
August 26 2013, 03:13PM
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@Kent Wilson

I'm not counting Carolina, Colorado or Winnipeg to do anything either positive or negative. They've both been somewhat frustrating to predict and/or watch these past few seasons.

The Avalanche look better on paper, but I'm going to wait and see how Sakic and Roy do off the ice. The Jets have brought in some better players, but that organization is kind of an enigma right now and even having good players isn't always enough to overcome internal issues.

All I'm suggesting is that there are far too many variables right now to know for certain where the Flames will land. They could be the 2010 Oilers or the 2013 Blue Jackets.

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#20 Hamburgler
August 26 2013, 08:50AM
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Thank the good lord it is an olympic year, and we will at least have other things to look forward to and cheer for.

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#21 Baalzamon
August 26 2013, 10:18AM
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@ChinookArch

I'm pretty sure the expansion team always gets the first pick. Unless there are two expansion teams, then they have their own lottery.

Of course, the last expansion was a couple CBAs ago...

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#22 Jeff In Lethbridge
August 26 2013, 10:27AM
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They're $hittie wrote:

Bettman is going to announce at the end of the year that Seattle is getting an expansion team and will have the first overall pick in 2015, winning the McDavid Sweepstakes.

No better way to sell a new franchise than with a generational player.

Let the trashes begin.

Ive been worried about this as well... but wonder how they can sell an expansion when there are so many teams losing big bucks and flirting with bankruptcy

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#23 Kent Wilson
August 26 2013, 11:15AM
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@RexLibris

I fully expect CAR, COL and WPG to be better than the Flames, absent some sort of calamity (swath of injuries, terrible luck). The Canes were sunk by goaltending injuries last year like Calgary, but they had better underlying numbers. The Jets are also fundamentally better while the Avalanche can bank on Duchene, Landeskog, O'Reilly, PA Parenteau, MacKinnon making sure they're at least Calgary's superior.

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#24 Parallex
August 26 2013, 01:56PM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

I fully expect CAR, COL and WPG to be better than the Flames, absent some sort of calamity (swath of injuries, terrible luck). The Canes were sunk by goaltending injuries last year like Calgary, but they had better underlying numbers. The Jets are also fundamentally better while the Avalanche can bank on Duchene, Landeskog, O'Reilly, PA Parenteau, MacKinnon making sure they're at least Calgary's superior.

But they couldn't bank on Duchene, Landeskog, O'Reilly, PA Parenteau making sure they're at least Calgary's superior? I mean... is Nathan MacKinnon's probable rookie contribution really the difference maker here? I dunno man.

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#25 RexLibris
August 26 2013, 03:08PM
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@ChinookArch

The Oilers reign of 1st overall ended last year. They drafted more or less where I expected - somewhere in the top ten. I didn't predict they'd overtake the Flames last season, though, that was a surprise.

I do think, though, that it will be more difficult for any team to have a solid lock on a 1st overall in this new setup as opposed to previous years. If the Flames can manage one 1st overall in the next five years they should count themselves lucky, two would be quite a feat given the many variables at play now.

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#26 beloch
August 26 2013, 03:35PM
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This division reminds me a bit of Frank Herbert's dune. In that book, the emperor keeps the galaxy under his boot with an army recruited from a brutal prison planet. The only way to defeat his troops is to raise an army toughened by life on an even more brutal world.

In a tough division, teams have fewer opportunities to fool themselves into thinking they can contend for the cup. A team that scrapes into the last slot in an easy division would miss the playoffs by multiple slots in a tough division. If, a few seasons ago, the Flames had finished more than one slot out of the playoffs and worse than 2nd in the Northwest, perhaps the rebuild would have started sooner.

I'm just trying to be optimistic here, but maybe being in a tough division will be good for the Flames. It may be good for the Oilers too, although they could be in for a shock this season...

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#27 RexLibris
August 26 2013, 05:15PM
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@beloch

So what you are saying here is that the Oilers are the Fremen and Taylor Hall is their Muad'dib.

I like it.

I've always thought of the Flames as the House Harkonnen.

;-)

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#28 Parallex
August 26 2013, 01:09PM
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Don't care. We were going to suck regardless of realignment. What's important isn't now it's the outlook 4+ years from now...

I think it's a pretty good outlook from that perspective when the Flames next theorhetical competative window opens most of the other teams should be declining. Edmonton obviously not but the rest won't be staring at a core comprised of guys with unrealized upside.

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#29 Avalain
August 26 2013, 01:56PM
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Subversive wrote:

It's so ridiculous that Winnipeg, which is a 2 hour plane ride from Calgary and requires no cross border travel, is not in the same division. Also, the division names... Atlantic, Pacific, Central, and.....Metropolitan???

I cancelled cable a few weeks ago, this is feeling like a good decision for this winter.

The whole point was for teams to fall in the same time zones as much as possible, and the whole reason for that is for scheduling games. It's not exactly fair for people from Winnipeg to have to stay up for games in Vancouver that would start at 9pm for them.

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#30 They're $hittie
August 26 2013, 02:27PM
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ChinookArch wrote:

Wouldn't they get entered into the lottery like everyone else?

I dont know. I have not read the CBA in full but when it comes to expansion I am not sure they would have a clause in there. Is this an issue even in the CBA?

I think Bettman will do what he wants. How do you even put them in the lottery. Where would they slot?

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#31 ChinookArch
August 26 2013, 02:53PM
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@Parallex

It appears that you assume the Flames to maintain last season's goal output (I don't), I also expect that this crop of defensemen will leak more shots (and more importantly chances) than last seasons d-men. In short, more goals against and less goals for. It's my only my opinion, but this is going to be a very hard year to be a Flames fan. So to Hamburgler's first post here. Thank God, it's an Olympic year.

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#32 T&A4Flames
August 26 2013, 03:49PM
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RexLibris wrote:

The Oilers reign of 1st overall ended last year. They drafted more or less where I expected - somewhere in the top ten. I didn't predict they'd overtake the Flames last season, though, that was a surprise.

I do think, though, that it will be more difficult for any team to have a solid lock on a 1st overall in this new setup as opposed to previous years. If the Flames can manage one 1st overall in the next five years they should count themselves lucky, two would be quite a feat given the many variables at play now.

You probably didn't predict that Iggy and more likely Jbo would be moved at the deadline. Or that Kipper would be so sub par.

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#33 RexLibris
August 26 2013, 05:18PM
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@T&A4Flames

I thought they'd re-sign Iginla and perhaps move Bouwmeester this off-season to get under the cap.

While I did expect some regression for Kiprusoff I wasn't predicting him falling so far.

At the same time, nobody was giving the Blue Jackets much of a chance last year so there was one more spot in the Western Conference that was taken away.

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#34 beloch
August 26 2013, 06:28PM
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RexLibris wrote:

So what you are saying here is that the Oilers are the Fremen and Taylor Hall is their Muad'dib.

I like it.

I've always thought of the Flames as the House Harkonnen.

;-)

Hey, cut Feaster some slack! He's lost weight! A little... I think. I hear he's been going back for seconds at the salad bar at least...

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#35 RexLibris
August 26 2013, 08:07PM
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@beloch

Nah, Ken King is the Baron Harkonnen.

Feaster might be a good Piter De Vries, a corrupted human computer.

;-)

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#36 Baalzamon
August 26 2013, 08:22PM
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RexLibris wrote:

Nah, Ken King is the Baron Harkonnen.

Feaster might be a good Piter De Vries, a corrupted human computer.

;-)

So who are Feyd-Rautha and Rabban? Sven and ... Breen?

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#37 RexLibris
August 27 2013, 08:17AM
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@Baalzamon

Feyd and the Beast Rabban? Not sure, but if we're sticking to admin types then maybe Weisbrod and Button? On ice, yeah I suppose Baertschi could be Feyd and both Breen and Kanzig could be good stand ins for Rabban.

That being said, one could argue that the Flames of late have had something of a David Lynch storyline - and I say this as a fan of Lynch.

Now, let's wait and see how long it takes before someone pens an article for FN titled "Naked Lunch".

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#38 negrilcowboy
August 27 2013, 08:37AM
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think i need a double shot of intellectual honesty with a chaser of wate

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