(Kevin posts regularly as sincity1976 here in the comments. A little while ago he posted a comment and I asked him to follow-up with an entry into the blog-off. He obliged. This work dovetails with the "why the Flames are mediocre" series here at FN)
By: Kevin Hatch**
Prior to December 23 the Flames were dreadful. To that point they had managed a record of 15-19-3 and were flirting with the Oiler’s in the bottom of the Western Conference. The most optimistic Flames supporters were polishing their pitch forks preparing to run the Sutter’s, King, and most of the Flame’s star players out of town.
Likely in self preservation Ken King asked Darryl Sutter to step down. The music started and like munchkins the Flames players started singing and dancing around the house that fell on their departed GM. They also started winning. Whether it was the change in leadership or just dumb luck from December 23 on the Flames posted a record of 26-10-9. Undeniably elite numbers.
So started the debate. If the Flames can play like that for 45-games then surely we don’t need to make significant changes! It must have been Sutter after all!! That darn Sutter willing our players to play so poorly. In Feaster we trust! Yay. But what about the first 37-games? Don’t they count for something? Rather then fight the good fight and point out that an NHL season is 82-games, that the Flames have missed the playoffs for two seasons in a row, or that we were first round exits for the four seasons before that, I thought I would instead look at the run itself and see if we were truly playing at an elite level.
To evaluate the run I looked at the Flames record against teams that finished in the top 4 in each division. I also looked at their performance against both playoff and non playoff teams. I did this for the periods before and following December 23.
I considered both win percentage (% of total games won) and point percentage (% of total available points earned). The assumption is that the Flames are returning with a nearly identical roster to their 2010 team. Therefore if we evaluate the Flames performance against the top teams last season we should have a fair reflection of their likely performance in the upcoming season.
(The data can be found here for those interested)
Period Prior to December 23:
Top 4: W 18%, P 27%
Playoff Teams: W 33%, P 38%
Non Playoff Teams: W 50%, P 53%
As I said above, the Flames pretty dreadful. The club clearly struggled against playoff teams, particularly the top seeds. However, Calgary was also barely marginal against the non-playoff teams.
December 23 and On:
Top 4: W 9%, P 32%
Playoff Teams: W 27%, P 45%
Non Playoff Teams: W 87%, P 89%
The Flames saw a dramatic improvement against non-playoff teams, taking a staggering 89% of the available points when playing against them. In 23-games they lost only 2 times in regulation and once in OT! Unfortunately they didn’t see much of an improvement when facing playoff teams. In fact, they actually saw a reasonable drop in win % (and last time I checked there were no ties in the playoffs). They played 22 games against playoff teams during this period so the sample size was reasonable.
Even at their best the Flames really struggled against playoff teams. Against the top 4 seeds in both conferences the Flames won only 3-times in 22-attempts! I say it again, against the top teams (WSH, PHI, BOS, PIT, VAN, SJS, DET, ANA) Calgary manged to win just 3 our of 22 games. Not exactly an endorsement for the club to beat any of them 4 out of 7 times.
Its not all bad. Anyone who watched the games can tell you the Flames upped their level of play in the final half of the season and made a decent showing on the ice against the NHL’s top teams. But as their record shows, it wasn’t good enough to amount to wins. If the Flames can get off to a decent start next season, I have no doubts they will probably make the playoffs. If they draw the right team they could even win a round. However, their inability to win against the NHLs top team really limits their chances of going deep in the playoffs or ultimately walking away with a cup. As Darryl Sutter will tell you, anything can happen in the playoffs. But a 1 in 16 chance is already low enough without making the attempt with a roster that has proven incapable of beating the elite squads.
Kevin is an avid Flames and hockey fan living in Calgary. This is his first attempt at writing an analysis based hockey blog so feel free to give him the gears. Kevin works in the pre-hospital medical profession managing an emergency call centre, but he is also a full time hockey nut and opinionated ass. Feel free to tell him how it is at email@example.com.