Summer Series – Examining the Flames Mediocrity



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%).

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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.

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Stay tuned.

  • SurfacetoAirMissile

    October 18th, 2011 two worlds collide. A solid, veteran (some would say stale) Flames squad vs. A young and exciting (less skilled) Oiler Squad…… Can’t wait

    Flames fans get ready to be “posterized” again… thank you Eberle!!!!!

  • On the second half surge, I dont know man, they played a lot of teams who were not great, and they had the stigma of being out of it, so teams would coast on top of that.

    I go back to the teams record against good teams, top 4 teams, and it stinks. Smoke and mirrors would be how I would describe the surge.

    To me, you either think, like me, the team isn’t good enough talent wise, which this offseason didnt fix, or you believe that the Flames took the first half of the season off, and then played in the second, which would imply, to me, there is a lack of urgency in the players, which this offseason didn’t address.

    • On the second half surge, I dont know man, they played a lot of teams who were not great, and they had the stigma of being out of it, so teams would coast on top of that.

      I go back to the teams record against good teams, top 4 teams, and it stinks.

      Examining their record against the top and bottom end will be part of the analysis.

  • smtorsch

    That graphic is odd. The paths to excellence and mediocrity are basically the same. No wonder the Flames have been optimistically headed in this direction for so long.

  • smtorsch

    Anaheim Ducks inferior?? Yeah, sure.

    4th in the West while missing Getzlaf and Hiller for extended periods. I guess it’s also 1 or 2 lucky bounces that the MVP managed to score 50 goals.

    That’s exactly why the Flames missed the playoffs. Nothing to do with being the 2nd oldest team in the league with the worst young talent in the league.

      • Michael

        My bad. The Ducks are clearly the inferior team compared to the Flames.

        To predict a top 4 in the West is pretty hard to do these days, especially with the parity in the NHL. But I’ll gurantee that the Ducks finish ahead of the Flames. And it won’t be by the so called “1 or 2 lucky bounces” that you proclaim happened last year.

        How have the Flames improved from last season? Seriously. Exact same team but a year older, and missing their best shut-down D-man.

        • I know I shouldn’t bother, but:

          the Ducks scored 23 less goals that the Flames at ES, had a worse goal differential and one of the worst shot differentials in the league (-3.8/game). They survived on a top-3 PP and Jonas Hiller standing on his head when he was healthy.

          The Ducks have a great top-end (Perry, Getzlaf, Visnovsky, Ryan and Teemu) but are laughably shallow beyond that.

          I doubt they’ll finish above the Flames next year, but it will be close. One thing we can agree on, however: both teams will be better than the Oilers.

    • You seem to forget, like the Flames, most of Anaheim’s surge came late in the season. They got hot at the exact right time and, unlike the Flames, didn’t cool off right at the end. It resulted in a nice playoff position, but alas, no playoff run.

      You’re either an awfully punchy Ducks fan who strangely enough found himself here, or an Oilers fan who loves to throw out the same old cliches, ignoring that the Flames had one of the highest scoring top lines (really just Tanguay-Iginla), one of the highest collection of 20 goal scorers, and was one of the best teams in the league from January on. And using Perry as an example, Iginla came on at the end as well, scoring 43. Needless to say, Kent’s comparison is actually pretty decent.

      And can we cool it with the ‘worst young talent’ talk already? It’s fun to say, rolls right off the tongue, but no one can state that for a fact because we don’t actually know. Darryl Sutter never gave the young guys a chance. I mean, if you look at junior numbers and things like that, guys like Wahl, Cameron, Howse, Reinhart, Bartschi, Byron, Brodie, Bouma, Nemisz, Ferland all have the credentials to make a leap. Now under Jay Feaster, they’ll actually be given the chance to do so. The one guy who has been given a legitimate shot, Backlund, is poised to become our top line center. Whether it’s for lack of options or truly deserved is debatable, but he has become a very well-rounded young player who, in his 2nd full season, will be looking to translate that into big time points and big time minutes.

  • Derzie

    I think the Flames will be above mediocre this year. The 2nd half was better coached and managed and that momentum should continue with the same key leaders in place. The defense has regressed with Robyn gone but maybe some hungry young-ins will rise to the challenge. This will likely test the goaltending but if we go more to a tandem that may help a lot as well.

  • Dr. Nick

    Everyone says Jay Feaster will give the young guns (kinda reminds me of that era) a chance, but isn’t it up to Brent Sutter to make that call? If Sutter wants vets on all 4 lines, or wants Backlund to be on the 1st or 4th line, it’s really his call right, since he is the one on the ice giving the minutes? What is the Feast’s role in giving the prospects a chance to play significant minutes? I suppose he is Sutter’s boss, but is Feaster like Lou Lamerrello and really the head coach behind the scenes?

  • Michael


    You really have to wonder how ‘different’ things are going to be under Feaster. We all ready have 13 forwards with one way contracts, so unless Feaster makes some moves, none of the younger guys really have a chance.

    Even if Feaster sends Hagman down (and I don’t expect him to) we only really open up a fourth line spot… it might give Bouma another chance, but a year in the minors is probably better for most of the guys you listed than a fourth line, limited ice time role in Calgary.

    I almost hate to say it, but based on Feasters signings to date, it looks like another year of the same old, try and be competitive and play your vets.

    Hopefully things open up a bit next season when some of the current contracts expire, but I wouldn’t bet against Feaster signing older free agents next year…

    • Michael

      The difference is the mentality. Every single player in training camp has a shot to make the Calgary Flames. That did not happen under Darryl Sutter. If, for example, Max Reinhart comes in and is completely lights out, Feaster will make room on the roster for him. He’s made that quite clear that there are no restrictions with this team. I think if Feaster had been in charge last fall, Brodie would’ve remained on the squad and Mikkelson wouldn’t have been picked up on waivers. Instead, Darryl took a rare and abnormal gamble on a young guy, he made a couple rookie mistakes, and down he goes to be overcooked in the oven for a few more years.

      Also, I don’t think there’s a single fan who actually believes Hagman is coming back. And now with Morrison re-signed, a lot of us don’t think Stajan is coming back either. The summer is still young my friends. 80 days until the regular season.

  • Michael

    Glad you can finally see the light as opposed to painting the entire team under water daily Mister.

    Can’t wait to see Babchuk out perform Phaneuf again too.

    This team is finally gonna perform out of character because the whiney complainer (Regher) is finally out of the dressing room and some team bonding can finally ensue.

    Are you gellin? I know they will be.

  • One would hope that the bench management has improved. Kent isn’t lying when he said that Sutters decision making has sharpened over time. Beyond that in my opinion at least two of the divisional teams got worse relative to the start of last year (The Ave’s and the Wild) in general I think that the west got weaker compared to the east. Honestly, I think the only bubble team in the west that got significantly better is the Kings.

    Around the middle of last year he (B. Sutter) seemed to stop tricking himself into believing that he could roll his players out in a Power v. Power strategy and be successful (He even stopped doing what I thought was his most annoying habit… always putting on the 4th-ies after an Oppo icing call).

    The Flames roster has, IMO, been horribly mismanaged the past two years. Now there’s always the possibility that he’ll have a relapse (and stubbernly insisting on having a goon doesn’t bode well). We’ll just have to wait & see.

    • Michael

      I remember when Brent got here, the thing everyone said was that it will take a long time for his system or message or whatever you want to call it to kick in. However, once the team buys in, he tends to enjoy a great deal of success. I think we saw that 2nd half of last year, and I hope we continue to see it.

      As for “It’s Hall Over”, let me get this straight, Calgary is a team that never changes and continually gets older, yet you’re criticizing the move of Regehr, leaving room for young guys Butler and Brodie to make their mark? Which is it then, get younger and give young guys a shot to live up to potential, or continually keep the same core and get older every year? It can’t be both. Newsflash presumed Oilers fan: improving doesn’t always mean blowing it up, doing horribly for 5 years, drafting infinitely, and hoping & praying that one day it all gets better. Cogliano is the first of what I’m sure will be many examples of the Oiler master plan backfiring.

    • Around the middle of last year he (B. Sutter) seemed to stop tricking himself into believing that he could roll his players out in a Power v. Power strategy and be successful (He even stopped doing what I thought was his most annoying habit… always putting on the 4th-ies after an Oppo icing call)

      Those were two big ones for me during Sutter’s first year or so. The team came out ultra conservative when he arrived and then played Jarome as if he was Datsyuk. It killed their attack. But Brent has been figuring things out every since.

      I kinda hope he does the AV thing this year and gives Iginla/Tanguay even more o-zone face-offs.

  • Looking forward to it. I agree that the Flames seemed a bit unlucky to miss the playoffs but I’m eager to see your analysis on how they did against top teams. To my recollection it wasn’t pretty.

    I predict now that your goaltending piece will cause some tension. I’ve got one of my own in the queue for M&G in a few weeks.

  • RexLibris

    Quickly, I’ll agree with Hall ONLY in that I think the Ducks could finish higher than the Flames. Fowler is a year older, Perry-Ryan-Getzlaf are what they are, Hiller might be back and healthy, and they have a half decent puck-moving defence. Koivu and Selanne are good to great complimentary talent. Yes I’m an Oilers fan but no, I don’t think Cogliano is going to light it up for 30 goals. And in regard to what Eric said about the master plan backfiring with Cogliano’s trade: Cogs was a good draft pick at 25 and should have been put in the AHL his first year. But the old regime of Lowe and Prendergast rushed prospects and that’s been covered. It’s a new ownership, administration, and development system, so the Cogliano trade actually means that the master plan is working as we moved out a young guy because he is duplicated through the lineup and can be replaced with stronger options in the short-term (Belanger on the FO) and younger options in the long-term (Lander).
    And no, improving doesn’t mean blowing things up, but when a team is gridlocked in mediocrity as the Oilers were and, no offense meant, I think the Flames are now, it is an option. What I’d like to know is, because we aren’t the Canucks and therefore due for abuse and taunting, why all the mockery of tearing it down and rebuilding? It comes across as jealousy and that’s the last thing I think most Flames fans want to convey.

      • RexLibris

        Fair enough on the dynasty payback. I think many Oiler fans feel like we got our Karmic balance sheet in order after the years (read: decade and a half) of horrible-ness and pathetic drafting to boot. That and nearly losing the team, but those experiences are all local and don’t do anything for fans of other teams that grew up hating us. So I get the hate thing. Just like I’ll never forgive Pee-Wee Therman for catching a late TD in the Western Final that sent the Eskimos packing.
        I’ll say in advance of any Oiler trolls though, while my wish is for the Oilers to rack up another 5 cups before the Flames win their second, I look forward to a proper rekindling of the BOA and until then I’ll save my vitriol for the narcissistic and morally-bankrupt Canuck fans.

    • SmellOfVictory

      The mockery kind of goes both ways. I’ve only ever used it in retort to the Oilers fans who come by and rabble about “old, slow, bare cupboard” crap about the Flames. To be honest I don’t mind the Oilers – I see the Battle of Alberta (once it heats up again) as being more of a friendly rivalry as opposed to the one with the Canucks, whose fans can jump off a cliff for the most part.

  • For those of you who say, “Well look at how they played since January!” This is what i call the Toronto effect. There were a couple reasons why they played this way:
    1. All pressure was off – No one thought they could do it, they had nothing to loose. Darryl was gone, which was a hard thing on the players. This happens with all T.O. teams. They effectively are eliminated from the playoffs and play out of their mind.
    2. Winning begats winning. When you win 5 of 6 or there abouts your confidence grows.
    3. Everything started to click (of course the question is why). Why didnt it work for a year and a half then all of a sudden did?

    In order for them to play like this again, and trust me its almost the same team (don’t give me the ‘If this young player plays his brains out in the pre-season Feaster will find a way.’ That’s not the Calgary way and you cant just get rid of a one way contract. Plus there are so many “IFS”. What if Langkow, doesnt come back to what he was? What if (and i believe this) last year Morrison was a fluke? What if he cant play anywhere near where he was? (coming off another major knee injury) What if Moss cant play back and only gets 9 goals again? What if Glencross shows his true colors and pouts when he’s not put in certain situations? What if Kipper begins to show his age? What if it’s finally revealed that Iggy IS human? What if Tanguay is just another guy who had a good season last year? What if Bourque is who he is, a player with upside who gets injured alot and never plays to his potential?

    With that many ifs, I dont see a lottery pick in the 2012 draft but another top 10.

  • Was fun to see the spin at the Feaster/King feedback session today. They do talk a mean game. Feaster acknowledged bad contracts are impossible to get rid of in todays NHL & I must say, I like his contracts so far with Tanguay(a little long but reasonable cap hit for a top 6 player), Gio(which he was involved in) is a friggin steal and GlenX is very well priced for a 3rd liner who can play 2nd line if the situation called for it. I like having P3L, Feaster claims Iggy & other players wanted this & look at what the Oilers loaded up on. 5th rounder, meh. & please dont give me this violence hockey manure. These guys can make your top players play better in some games when things get out of hand. Sounds like the team is pretty committed to Iggy for life & he wants to be here, question will be will he take a cap friendly hit his next contract & will he feel that way if the team is in a lottery position next Christmas again & the guns & vultures are circling him. Its gonna be entertaining:)

  • RKD

    The Flames suffer because of inconsistency. The way they played in the second half to me is more of an indicator of how the team is.

    Year after year, the Flames stumble out of the gate, except many years ago when they came out 12-2.

    Iggy takes a while to get going. Last season was bad b/c we dressed veterans in the pre-season when we went 7-0.

    After pre-season ended we were hit with a slew of injuries to Jokinen, Bourque, Stajan, Pardy, and Kotalik. Also, no Langkow meant trouble.

    Glad Sutter took Jokinen off the top line b/c he and Iggy are both shooters not passers. The Glen-X, Joker and Moss line found great chemistry. Joker became a north-south player instead of an east-west player and became more consistent.

  • Good read Kent. I have to think the Flames are one, maybe two injuries away from becoming a lottery team.

    If I may, the Oilers were a boarder team for years it seemed like, then one player went down and another, then the train went completely off track! Point is the team was always a mediocre club, dare I say even with Pronger.

    The prospect slim to none,no way to properly develop them and the depth in the Orginization sucked and players sufferd for it.

    I see the same thing happening to the Flames, old players, nil prospects, week defense and a inability to make a solid trade due to NMC. IMO the Flames still have very valuable assets that need to be moved and rebuild this club.

    I really dont see the Flames getting better this year or the next, and thats playing in a week division already, at what time do you say mercy as a fan? The Flames front office needs to make hard choices.

    In the mean tiime I hope the Oilers and Flames can one day meet in the playoffs again

  • the-wolf

    Fans who think the the Flames January surge is the norm are dreaming. I agree with Domebeers and Nolan Moore. Once it mattered again and the competition level was turned up Calgary went back to their old ways.

    @ Marcus – As far as the comment about Regehr being a whiner, please, give me a break. That’s who should’ve been the captain of the Flames the last 10 years, not Mr. too good to play the system and lead by example, too good to backcheck, just set me up for the 1-timer Iginla. Just another true leader that’s been jettisoned so that this team can truly be Iggy’s. Dissention will not be tolerated. So far, it’s worked out real well. Perhaps if Mr. too good to play in the WC (while other players who actually play in the playoffs still go) actually played the system and showed up for the first 20 games of the season Calgary could do something.

    As far as prospects go, I’m a big believer in the Detroit model. That said, you do need a legit shot and once called up the ice-time. But this idea that a bunch of kids barely out of junior are somehow impact prospects who could skate into the top 6 today and drive this team to dizzying heights is just pure b.s. and wishful thinking.

    Fact is that Calgary just hasn’t had the talent to come in and do that outside of Phaneuf (traded for magic beans), Erixon (also traded) and Backlund (better served last year if he’d played first line minutess/pp/pk on the Heat).

    Brodie had his shot and wasn’t nearly as effective as he’d been pre-season. He needed the development time for his game and maturity level.

    When it comes to prospect talent the real issue is that the Flames trade too many picks for vets in order to stay mediocre, draft poorly and develop players even worse – bringing in players too soon to have fully developed their game at a lower level and then (the part that I do agree with) burying them as 3rd/4th liners forever.

    • Prairie Chicken by-the-Sea

      Blasphemy! We don’t speak that way about Iginla around here.

      @RexLibris – let’s hope the bad old days of losing Canadian franchises are long behind us. I love to hate the Oilers and would miss them dearly.

      Along that line, I believe the Jets’ last playoff series win came against the Flames – it’s payback time…

    • Prairie Chicken by-the-Sea

      Geez dude, tell us how you feel about Iggy.
      Backlund needs to be pushed, throw him in the deep end & let him tread. The clock is ticking on the Iggy decision & Kipper for that matter. Lots of time yet but now I can see the countdown ticking in the periphery.I think serious consideration should put in going after that #1 overall pick if that Russian kid is that good.

      • Prairie Chicken by-the-Sea

        @Kevin R – agree, now that he’s here, he needs to play top 6 and the team needs to live with his mistakes in order for him to develop.