What is a successful season for the Flames?

Not much was expected out of the 2014-15 season. It was the second year of a much overdue rebuild, and really, just about anything that came out of it would have been great. A high draft pick? Awesome, that would help the Flames’ rebuild. A challenge for a playoff spot? Not bad, give the kids some confidence.

… An actual playoff spot? Winning a round? You really couldn’t have asked more of the team. That wasn’t just success, that was pure majesty.

Did it raise the stakes for this season, though? Or are the expectations for the still-rebuilding team the same as before?

Are playoffs a requirement?

We weren’t expecting the playoffs last year – they just happened. Since the entire point of a rebuild is to show progression, does that mean it’s a step back if the Flames fail to qualify for the postseason? In order to be a success, does this season have to build directly on the previous one?

Or, since the Flames are still very much in a rebuild – half of their top six consists of guys who are 22, 21, and 19 years old, it’s still a rebuild – is simply continuing to grow enough? Is the season still satisfactory if the team can’t match their position in the standings from 2014-15, as long as they seem to be playing better hockey? 

What if the Flames miss the playoffs, but guys like Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, T.J. Brodie, and Dougie Hamilton post career years? That’s part of the future core of the Flames, and in order for this team to have continuous success, in all likelihood, they’re going to have to continue to develop.

Making the playoffs is great! Making the playoffs is preferable to not. But making the playoffs isn’t the ultimate goal – winning the Stanley Cup is. The 2014-15 Flames were a pleasant surprise, but only the hardest of diehards thought they would actually have a realistic chance at the Cup.

You can’t simply aim to make the playoffs at all costs. That’s what previous management groups in, and that’s what finally forced the Flames into a long-delayed rebuild: the idea that simply placing eighth in your conference (which is really a terrible goal to aspire towards; who takes pride in being eighth?) would lead to success is foolhardy.

Success is regularly being the best in the league. The Flames are still building towards that. They’re still in a position to grow. And they still may grow yet – even if they take a step back in the standings.

Is just growing enough?

All that said, it’s still undeniably going to feel like a step back if this team doesn’t make the playoffs. They did everything they needed to in the offseason to improve, and set themselves up for success in both the short and long term.

At absolute minimum, the Flames failing to qualify for the postseason would be disappointing, for fanbase and players alike. Players building on career years and the team improving its possession metrics are all desirable outcomes, but without the tangible step forward of at the very least making the playoffs again, it will probably feel somewhat hollow.

Yeah, you flirted with scoring a point per game; yeah, your corsi was above 50% throughout the year – what does that matter if you have nothing to show for it? Where’s the thrill in taking a step forward if you don’t get to play bonus hockey into the months of spring?

Last year’s Flames were a serious corsi anomaly relative to where they finished, especially with their second round appearance. If their possession stays exactly as it is, you can’t realistically expect another second round appearance. Since the stat started being recorded, the Flames are the first of 240 different team incarnations to have that terrible a possession metric and actually win a playoff round. You can say they’re the exception to the norm, but when you have a case of one vs. a case of 239, it’s just common sense to go with the latter.

If, however, you are a positive possession team, your chances of advancing through the playoffs are higher than not. And advancing through the playoffs is more important than simply making them; setting yourself up to win rounds for years after is even more important.

Basically: making the playoffs is important. Growing as players and as a team is more important.

What constitutes as growth?

Improved corsi, for one thing. Winning as a team and scoring goals even without a shooting percentage at the top of the league. Learning to suppress shots against and take less of a beating by not being forced to block so many shots. 

In 2014-15, the Flames were the 28th team in the league in shots per game with just 27.5. (The Chicago Blackhawks were at the top with 33.9.) You need to score goals to win, and the Flames are going to need to get more shots on net to keep up their goal scoring pace.

The Flames were also the 12th best team in the NHL in shots against per game with 29.2. But: they were the second worst corsi against team in the league, giving up 51.13 shot attempts per game. A lot of those shot attempts came as a result of blocked shots. And while blocking shots is all well and good, what’s even better is not having to block shots. A drop in all types of shots against, period, is absolutely crucial for this team to grow, and have a hope of being a perennial playoff team, let alone contender.

Finally, simply seeing the young players on the team get better is essential. Sean Monahan went from 34 points in his rookie season to 62 in his sophomore: where can he go from there? Johnny Gaudreau scored 64 as a rookie: how much does he improve on that? What does Sam Bennett have in store?

You need evidence your young guys are developing into elite players. With that, improved defence and more reliable offence should come, and with that, meaningful playoff runs – even if they don’t formulate as soon as 2015-16.

Would you be happy with that?

No playoffs would suck. Especially when you take into consideration that the Pacific Division is not great, and the top three teams in a division automatically qualify for the playoffs, the Flames failing to make the postseason would really, really suck.

But – seeing the future of a core develop is always exciting. No matter how disappointing your season ends, as long as there’s promise for the future, it’s not a complete loss; after all, that’s how the Flames’ 2014-15 season ended.

You always prefer playoffs to not, and it’ll definitely hurt if they don’t make it. But they weren’t expected to last year. They aren’t expected to be favourites just yet. 

As long as the future still looks bright, though, we’re probably good. The 2015-16 season should be a successful one based on that alone.

  • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

    Progress.

    Ortio starts to look like an above replacement goalie.

    Gillies dominates the AHL like he did College.

    Monahan keeps pace with his progression and starts to be able to make others better (not Johnny etc…) Faceoffs…

    Gaudreau leads team in scoring starts to lead and sets an example

    Bennett approaches Gaudreau’s rookie year stats and show’s that he will be our #1 eventually. Shows the compete level he is known for.

    Brodie makes Russell or Wideman look great so we can get something good for them, and tops the 40 point mark.

    Hamilton tops 45 points and plays “BIG” against the big boys of the West.

    Giordano plays the whole season.

    Kulak sticks and plays well.

    Ferland uses what he has to offer and puts up 35+ points and plays an aggressive game without taking penalties

    The team still makes an effort to develop players in the correct roles moving forward so that they can be successful.

    That Management remembers that the rebuild isn’t over yet.

    We continue to hammer the Oilers and long may it continue.

  • ClayBort

    My hopes:

    Flames playoff bound..win 2 rounds of the playoffs

    Johnny-Mony-Huds all in the top 15 in NHL in point production.

    Bennett wins Calder!

    Huds re-signed to 3 year contract.

    Jones, Bollig expendable with the improved play of Boums and Ferland.

    We never see Raymond with the Flames again!

    Paul Byron finds his scoring touch and has a 20 goal season…..grrrr BT this is no way to manage the salary cap!

  • supra steve

    Playoffs are a requirement.

    Regression would equate to failure.

    I’m not to worried about it .There seems to be great leadership amongst this group and they seem to fight for each other.Thats a cliché, I know, that’s often used but seldom seen. This team has it.

  • supra steve

    I would rather Byron had passed through waivers and remained a Flame, but this is an opportunity for him and I wish him well.

    Having said that, his value in trade at this time was apparently close to zero, or they would have moved him. Would any of you be at all shocked to see his name on the waiver wire again this season? The club will survive his loss.

  • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

    All good and better than last season for the Flames:

    From last year’s opening day roster:

    Bennett, Ferland, Frolik, Hamilton, Jooris, Kulak, Ortio were added!

    Byron, Diaz, Glencross, McGrattan, Setoguchi are gone! Glencross, Seto and Diaz out of work…

    You gotta admit the additions are upgrades!

  • RKD

    Would love to see them make the playoffs but for me progress is huge. I want to see: Bennett have a great season, Gaudreau duplicate last season or become a more 200 foot player, Monahan keep rising as a #1C, Hamilton the next stud on d. Less relying on big saves and giving up too many shots, less third period comebacks. Being able to play a full three periods, getting a lead and playing with it. Love to see Backs get more offense and play a full season. Gio to make it to the end of the season without a freak injury and finally get his Norris. Ortio given a shot to prove that he is capable of being a starter.