The Calgary Flames haven’t clinched a playoff spot yet. If they do, however, they’ll be playing the Vancouver Canucks. There can be no other scenario for the Flames if they return to the postseason for the first time since 2009. For Calgary, they either play the Canucks in round one or they miss. Assuming they get in, having their opponent locked in isn’t an awful thing, specifically because of who that opponent is.
For the sake of this article, the Flames will serve as Sub-Zero because he’s badass and the Canucks can be Scorpion, because only the kids who didn’t know how to play used him. And for the record, this is not an inflammatory article about how Calgary is better than Vancouver and how they’re going to go on a two month run. I’ll be the first to admit the Flames are fortunate to be where they are. When you’re one of the worst possession teams in hockey through 80 games, to be a divisional playoff team requires a little bump from the percentages.
But that doesn’t really matter at this point. The Flames are very likely going to play postseason hockey for the first time since 2009. And the team Calgary has the best chance of beating in a seven games series is Vancouver.
For as much flack the Flames have taken about punching out of their weight class this season, it’s not as if you can consider the Canucks a heavyweight either. Much like Calgary, Vancouver is a sub-50% possession team, currently sitting 19th in the league with a CF% of 49.6. They don’t generate a ton of shots, nor do they do an overly great job at limiting them. Sure, they’re a better possession team than the Flames, but not dramatically. To think the Canucks are a sure bet to walk all over Calgary is slightly presumptuous.
I don’t mind Vancouver’s high end at all. In a playoff series, I think I’d lean slightly towards the Sedins and Radim Vrbata over the trio of Sean Monahan, Jiri Hudler, and Johnny Gaudreau. The former are just as dangerous offensively as the latter, but they also have a better, and more proven, ability to control things in all areas of the ice. A quick glance at their underlying numbers would prove that claim.
The same can be said when you look at the blueline. Vancouver’s top pairing of Alexander Edler and Chris Tanev is probably more desirable than Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman. If Mark Giordano was healthy and still playing with TJ Brodie, things are different. But Gio is hurt and isn’t coming back anytime soon, so you can only compare healthy bodies.
Where I’m not sold on the Canucks is when you scan deeper down the lineup, and it’s the area the Flames might be able to exploit. Vancouver’s third line centred by Linden Vey is a bit of a possession sinkhole, while their blueline depth leaves something to be desired, especially where Luca Sbisa is concerned. That’s not to say Calgary’s depth is far and away better, because it’s not. But it’s also not a complete mismatch like it would be against teams like St. Louis, Chicago, and Minnesota.
There are still some questions about goaltending where the Canucks are concerned. I like Eddie Lack and firmly believe he’s better than Ryan Miller. But who knows what we see from Lack come postseason time. His grand total of zero NHL playoff games make it hard to know what we’ll see. Again, that’s not to say the situation is far and away better for the Flames. Jonas Hiller hasn’t inspired a ton of confidence in recent times, and we have no idea when Karri Ramo will be healthy again. But this article isn’t necessarily supposed to compare the teams.
Instead, my point is Calgary stands the best chance in a series against the Canucks. The Flames are going to be in tough to advance in any situation. Short of a 2004 repeat, a first round date with the Blues or Blackhawks just wouldn’t go very well. But, in terms of Western Conference opponents, Vancouver really is the least intimidating. The Canucks aren’t overly deep and their possession game just isn’t at the same level of other potential foes.
We don’t know if Calgary is postseason bound yet, but if they are, we know for sure their on a collision course with the Canucks. If that’s the case, the Flames can be pretty sure they’re drawing the team they’ve got the best chance of beating four times.
To wrap up, I’d just like to say it’s pretty cool to be back writing at FN. Writing here is how I started learning about advanced stats and how I got my skin thickened up. So to Kent, Drance, and Ryan, thanks for having me back once a week. I’ll suck, but not as much as ‘Floob.