It should be established that the Calgary Flames aren’t a bad team. In fact, aside from their back-to-back 10th places finishes in the Western Conference, there are lots of measures and facts that suggest they’re actually pretty good. Mitch Smith of M&G recently looked at the various metrics in which an individual Flame finished top-five in the league last year. And despite what you might hear about Calgary’s on-going offensive woes, the team finished top-10 in terms of total offense with 241 goals for and top-10 in terms of goals for at even strength (163 GF). After stumbling out of the gate, the Flames PP also finished in the top-third of the league (19.5%).
Calgary’s offense wasn’t merely smoke-and-mirrors. The Flames were one of the better outshooting teams, in part because they limited the opposition to 28.5 shots against per night on average – the fourth best rate in the NHL. The club made strong advances in terms of moving the puck north and keeping it in the offensive zone this season relative to last, no doubt because Brent Sutter has steadily improved since he was installed behind the bench. Whether this is due to natural trial-and-error or because he’s no longer taking dictation from above is moot at this point. The bench boss’ decision making has sharpened over time. Remember Steve Staios in the top-four, Ian White skating with Robyn Regehr and the Jokinen/Iginla pairing being used as if they were Zetterberg and Datsyuk? Those sorts of blunders have gone away. The Flames second-half surge was partially a bounty from the hockey gods, but it also wasn’t wholly illusory either.
In my estimation, the Flames were somewhat unlucky to miss the post-season the last couple of years. Objectively inferior clubs like the Anaheim Ducks this season and the Colorado Avalanche the one before made the dance in lieu of the Flames thanks to the bounces and one or two unrepeatably good performances by key players.
So why then are the Calgary Flames a mediocre club? What are the key facets holding the club back? Despite the points listed above, there’s no question Calgary remains outside of the league’s upper echelon, even if we grant they are closer to a true playoff team than a weak sister. In the coming weeks, Flamesnation with investigate in detail the myriad reasons the Flames are better than the worst clubs in the league but remain cannon fodder before the big guns. We’ll examine some individual players, different sections of the roster, the Flames salary structure, the goaltending as well as results against different segments of the league during the 2010-11 season. We will not only reveal some of the Flames enduring weaknesses, but also the various strengths that keep them from falling into the basement.