Realignment and the Flames, Part 2

Ryan Pike
August 27 2013 04:47PM

 

- pic via SportingNews

 

The obvious secondary off-shoot of the Calgary Flames being part of the NHL's recent realignment is the changing composition of the Western Conference. Not only is Calgary part of a re-constituted Pacific Division, they're also now part of a Western Conference that has changed fairly drastically as well.

Here's a brief look at the rest of the Western Conference and how things have changed for the Flames.

THE OLD CONFERENCE

Aside from the (since-disbanded) Northwest Division, the old Western Conference also involved the old Pacific Division and the old Central Division. The ten West-but-not-Northwest teams the Flames faced on a regular basis were Anaheim, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Nashville, Phoenix, St. Louis and San Jose.

The Flames record over the past three seasons against these teams varied quite a bit:

7-2-2 against the Stars
6-5-0 against the Predators
6-5-0 against the Blues
5-4-2 against the Blue Jackets
5-4-2 against the Red Wings
4-5-2 against the Coyotes
4-5-2 against the Sharks
4-6-1 against the Blackhawks
3-4-4 against the Ducks
3-6-2 against the Kings

Collectively, the Flames went 47-46-17 against the remainder of the old Western Conference, earning just over 50% of their available points. Half of the available regular season points over a full season would be, duh, 82 points, which would put them well outside the playoff picture, but decently outside the draft lottery picture as well.

Under the old scheduling system, the Flames played each of their conference opponents four times apiece, so they accounted collectively for 40 games. On average, the Flames would be expected to get about 40 points out of their conference/non-division opponents.

Oddly, Calgary posted identical records against the Red Wings and Blue Jackets, and they're both off to the Eastern Conference.

THE NEW CONFERENCE

The new Western Conference contains just two divisions and 14 teams. The other main division, aside from the Pacific, is the new Central Division, comprised partially of members of the old Central Division.

11-4-1 against the Avalanche
8-5-2 against the Wild
7-2-2 against the Stars
6-5-0 against the Predators
6-5-0 against the Blues
4-6-1 against the Blackhawks
1-0-0 against the Jets

On the whole, the Flames put up a 43-27-6 record against members of the realigned Central Division, which accounted for just over 60% of their points. While they're unlikely to keep that pace up this year, that would translate into 99 points over a full 82 games. Optimism!

Under the new scheduling set-up, the Flames will play just 21 games against the Central – three games against each – and a 60% points percentage would generate 25 points. Again, that's probably reaching a bit given where the roster is at this point. 

OUTLOOK

The Central Division has three playoff spots of its own, and shares in two “at-large” berths with the Northwest. The Blackhawks and Blues probably have two spots locked down, and the Wild made the playoffs last season. The Avalanche are bound to be better. In short, the Flames will be hoping to get one of the two “at-large” berths – as getting one of the three Northwest Division spots will be tough – but they face similarly tough sledding in terms of those berths, too.

The realignment of the Central Division helps the Flames chances, but considering the team's heading into a rebuilding phase, it'd be unrealistic to expect them to get 60% of the available points against an entire division for a whole season. Heck, it'd be a pretty good accomplishment for a team in the state that Calgary is in to go .500 against a division for a season.

If 97 points is the playoff cut-off – and recent history suggests that it is – the projected points total for the Flames via their 50 games against their conference opponents would give them 52 points. They'd need 45 points in their remaining 32 games against the Eastern Conference to make the post-season.

Of course, that is likely all moot, but it gives you some context heading into the new season and new format. 

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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 McRib
August 27 2013, 10:44PM
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@beloch

Agree, I also think the next two city's to get NHL teams are Seattle & Portland. Quebec will get a failing franchise once they have a new rink but the NHL wants two teams out west to make an even 16 & 16. Both Pacific Northwest teams would also be instant rivals with Vancouver/California and each other and both are booming cities right now with hockey fans via major junior. Portland is actually more likely for me with such a rich owner and an amazing rink. The Rose Garden would become a Top. 3 rink in the NHL as its easily already one of the nicest NBA arenas. Seattle is next then Quebec. Kansas City is never happening neither is Las Vegas. KC stated multiple times recently that they make more money off of the arena for concerts/NCAA than they would off a regular tenant. Markam will get the next Ontario team once they have the GTA arena. That's at least my thought but from everything the NHL has said they seem very high on Sea/Por. Daily said they could get expansions as early as next year recently, plus any excuse to go to Seattle & Portland is fine with me.

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#2 beloch
August 27 2013, 05:24PM
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I have a feeling the new division/conference organization won't last very long. There's a lot of interest in moving teams or even creating teams.

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#3 The Last Big Bear
August 27 2013, 06:17PM
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Realignment is going to hit the Flames like an aluminum baseball bat to the jaw.

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#4 RexLibris
August 27 2013, 09:11PM
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I suspect that this new playoff alignment is going to be a wake up call for some franchises. Some may well find themselves farther down in the standings than they are otherwise used to.

In that regard it is perhaps too bad that this is happening now to the Flames as perhaps if they had had a more underwhelming season a few years' earlier ownership could have realized the futility of their efforts and changed tactics.

If we were to break down the Eastern Conference for example, it is hard to see how Toronto is going to beat out Boston, Detroit, Montreal and Ottawa, never mind keep ahead of Tampa Bay. One wonders, if they do struggle or finish sixth or seventh in their division, whether such a result will have any impact on the team's perspective.

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#5 Parallex
August 28 2013, 08:44AM
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@Rockmorton65

I really have to disagree here. The Capitals are going to make the playoffs. Comfortably make the playoffs I imagine.

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#6 RKD
August 27 2013, 07:14PM
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@beloch

I think they are here to stay because this allows for the perfect distribution that Gary wants. The NHL wants to expand to 32 teams, whether its Seattle, Las Vegas, Kansas City, Quebec or Southern Hamilton. Two more teams balances everything out. Each new division/conference will have exactly 8 teams each. With an even playing field, no one can complain about not having a fair chance to make the playoffs. Right now, it's skewed. Actually, the NHL could have had 6 divisions with 5 teams each with the top 3 teams making the playoffs so you still have 15 teams making the playoffs and then have one wild card berth.

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#7 Rockmorton65
August 28 2013, 08:22AM
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@RexLibris

I agree. One of the teams I see getting hit hard with re-alignment is Washington. They may have won a bunch of division titles the past few years, but they've been a big fish in a ridiculously small pond. When faced with better than average competition (Winnipeg), they didn't clinch until the last week of the season. Looking at the division, They're in tough. The Pens, Flyers, Rangers are all ahead of them, and the Isles are on the upswing. Throw in the Bruins, Wings, Habs, Sens and Leafs from the other division and I can easily see the Caps missing the playoffs, and could be drafting top 10 with a key injury or slump.

I do think that this could actually help the Flames rebuild. Realignment is going to change the way teams are structured. How it will affect things, i dont know, but while many teams already have a foundation in place, the Flames are just finding/developing theirs. Might as well build for the new alignment.

The beauty part about this new alignment is that the Flames can have a good season (relative term), and still pick top 5. I don't think it's going to take an 0-82 season to be in a position to draft high. I think 10-15 games below .500 could do it. I just hope the Flames are a better team at game 80 than they are at game 20.

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#8 Rockmorton65
August 28 2013, 09:07AM
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@Parallex

Gee, I don't know...instead of playing TB, Fla, and Wpg 8 times each, they get Pit, Phi and NYR.

Something else to consider, too, is that I think Ovechkin is probably going to be more concerned with the Olympics than the NHL this year. He's known to slump at the best of times.

I'm genuinely curious. Who misses in your opinion? Bos, Det, Ott, Tor, Mtl, Pitts, Phi, NYR, NYI, NJ, Car? For Wash to make the playoffs, 3 of those teams will needs to miss.

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#9 Parallex
August 28 2013, 11:08AM
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@Rockmorton65

Toronto, NJ, and Carolina. Easy.

Philly and NYR have been such a cluster-youknowwhats of an organization the last few years so I'm not even sure about those guys.

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#10 RexLibris
August 28 2013, 01:25PM
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I'm not sold on the Capitals making the playoffs against their conference.

The Islanders surprised many with their improvement last season, and Carolina has been up and down since 2006, but the Capitals seem to be steadily losing ground.

All it would take is for Columbus, the Islanders or Carolina to be better than Washington, and that is only the direct competition within their division.

Add Florida, Tampa Bay and Ottawa as teams fighting for those wildcard spots and I think Washington is going to be vulnerable.

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#11 Parallex
August 28 2013, 02:20PM
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@RexLibris

Florida and Tampa Bay? AKA two of the teams that actually managed to be worse then the Flames last year?

Washington has a very strong group of forwards that will be even better with full years from Erat and Laich along with a maturing defense... their goalies are just average but average is all you really need.

When I look at that conference/division/whatever they call them I only see one team that is clearly better then Washington (Pitts).

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#12 RexLibris
August 28 2013, 04:15PM
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Florida gets better with the maturation of Huberdeau and the possible inclusion of Barkov.

Tampa Bay is beginning to turn the corner with the help of Stamkos, Connolly, St. Louis and perhaps even Drouin this year.

Both Tampa Bay and Florida were worse than the Flames last year, true, but they are both loaded with more talent and are likely to start gaining traction whereas the Flames may well lose ground on where they were last year.

I like Hotlby, and Alzner and Carlson are good defensemen. Oates seems like a good coach as well and I respect what he did with Ovechkin, but how many times have we said that Washington will be a powerhouse only to see them fail.

I guess we just see the teams in that division differently. But that is the intriguing thing about this season, with new alignments we are even less certain of potential than we were in previous years.

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#13 Parallex
August 28 2013, 07:32PM
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@RexLibris

C'mon man, Rookie Barkov + a year older Huberdeau is not going to take Florida from worst team in the NHL to playoff team and Tampa is basically the same team minus Vinny who was still a good player (just a bad contract). Those two teams aren't contending for anything except Jack and squat... And Jack left town.

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#14 RexLibris
August 28 2013, 08:09PM
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Oh, I'm not saying they'll necessarily make the playoffs. Like the joke about two guys running from a grizzly, they don't need to outrun the bear, they just need to stay ahead of the other guy, in this case Washington.

The way I see it, there may only be three teams from that division making the playoffs and I'm giving them to Pittburgh, Philadelphia and either the Rangers or Islanders. I think the other of the New York teams as well as Ottawa, Tampa Bay and maybe even Columbus could (emphasis there) beat out Washington.

All in all we're not debating the moon landing here, this may be decided by the slimmest of margins, but looking over their forward lines the talent drops off somewhat.

Ovechkin, Backstrom, Laich, Erat, Grabovski, Brouwer in the top six then it goes to Brouwer, Chimera, Fehr, Volpatti, Ward, Perreault, Beagle and Johansson.

Then we go to defense and again, some nice things to start with in Green, Carlson and Alzner but it moves quickly to Erskine, Hillen, Kundratek, and Olesky with Neuvirth and Hotlby in net.

That group needs to eke out points against the usual Eastern suspects with the inclusion of Detroit, and then the rest of the West this year.

I'm not bullish on their prospects.

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#15 Parallex
August 29 2013, 09:37AM
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@RexLibris

I think we're going to have to agree to disagree because you and I see that roster way to differently... I look at that forward group and I see an incredably strong, deep, and versitile group, the goaltending is at least average, and a perfectly fine top 3 D and average bottom pair.

Really the only "hole" I see in their line-up is at #4D (because I'll grant you hardly want Erskine eating those kind of minutes). There have been so many teams that made the playoffs with far less.

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