Pacific Division preview: Can the Flames be in the top three?

All the Flames need to do to return to the playoffs is be one of the top three teams in the Pacific Division. Just beat out any four of the Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, or Vancouver Canucks, and they’re in.

It certainly worked in 2014-15: only the Canucks and Ducks had better records.

Well, it hasn’t been just a busy off-season for the Flames; a lot of Pacific teams have seen turnovers as we transition between seasons. Let’s take a look at what’s gone on for the Flames’ main opponents.

Anaheim Ducks

2015-16 record: 46-25-11, 103 points, first in the division

2015-16 record against the Flames: 5-0, +13 goal differential

Additions: Head Coach Randy Carlyle, F Mason Raymond, F Jared Boll, D Jeff Schultz, G Jonathan Bernier

Subtractions: Head Coach Bruce Boudreau, G Fredrik Andersen, F Brandon Pirri, F Chris Stewart, F David Perron, F Jamie McGinn

The Ducks had a rough start to the most recent season, but came alive in the second half to completely demolish the entire division, the Flames included. That said, this off-season has, on paper, appeared to be disastrous for them. Losing Perron for nothing wasn’t great, but they also downgraded in goaltending, and especially in the coaching department. If there’s any year for the Flames to win a game in Anaheim…

Arizona Coyotes

2015-16 record: 35-39-8, 78 points, fourth in the division

2015-16 record against the Flames: 4-1, +5 goal differential

Additions: GM John Chayka, D Alex Goligoski, D Anthony DeAngelo, F Jamie McGinn, F Ryan White

Subtractions: GM Don Maloney, F Jiri Sekac, D Kevin Connauton, F Sergei Plotnikov, F Alex Tanguay, G Anders Lindback, F Viktor Tikhonov

The Coyotes had a surprising season in 2015-16. It wasn’t necessarily a good one – but it was more than was expected out of them. The future looks bright in Arizona now, although the only major on-ice addition thus far appears to be Goligoski (though that’s definitely a good one), with minimal losses from last year’s group.

Edmonton Oilers

2015-16 record: 31-43-8, 70 points, seventh in the division

2015-16 record against the Flames: 2-3, -4 goal differential

Additions: F Drake Caggiula, F Jesse Puljujarvi, D Adam Larsson, G Jonas Gustavsson, F Milan Lucic

Subtractions: D Adam Clendening, F Luke Gazdic, F Taylor Hall, F Lauri Korpikoski, D Eric Gryba, D Nikita Nikitin, F Rob Klinkhammer

Larsson upgrades the Oilers’ defence. Here’s the problem with it, from a rivalry perspective: the Oilers traded away one of the best wingers in the world in Hall for a guy who would be a fourth defenceman on their closest geographical rival. Lucic and Puljujarvi should be exciting additions for this season, but removing Hall from that forward corps for a modest, at best, defensive boost? Good luck, I guess.

Los Angeles Kings

2015-16 record: 48-28-6, 102 points, second in the division

2015-16 record against the Flames: 4-0, +8 goal differential

Additions: F Michael Latta, G Jeff Zatkoff, F Teddy Purcell, D Tom Gilbert, D Zach Trotman

Subtractions: F Vincent Lecavalier, G Jhonas Enroth, F Kris Versteeg, D Luke Schenn, F Milan Lucic 

The Kings have mostly added minor complimentary pieces this off-season, while losing a couple of bigger names. They only got one season and five playoff games out of Lucic, and both the players they acquired from the Flyers – Lecavalier and Schenn – are now gone. This could be seen as an overall downgrade to their roster, but the Kings have been a good team for a while now, and there’s no reason to think they aren’t still a major threat, particularly with how they dominated the Flames last season.

San Jose Sharks

2015-16 record: 46-30-6, 98 points, third in the division

2015-16 record against the Flames: 3-1-1, +2 goal differential

Additions: D David Schlemko, F Mikkel Boedker

Subtractions: F Dainius Zubrus, G James Reimer, F Nick Spaling

Breaking: team with somewhat limited window (Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau remain amazing, but they’re like 37 years old) that just made Stanley Cup Final barely make any changes. This isn’t a surprise – and though the Flames fared relatively well against the Sharks in 2015-16, San Jose is still going to be a really tough opponent, assuming they can carry on as they did in the playoffs.

Vancouver Canucks

2015-16 record: 31-38-13, 75 points, sixth in the division

2015-16 record against the Flames: 1-3-1, -7 goal differential

Additions: D Erik Gudbranson, D Tom Nilsson, D Olli Juolevi, D Chad Billins, F Jayson Megna, F Loui Eriksson

Subtractions: F Jared McCann, F Chris Higgins, F Linden Vey, F Brandon Prust, D Dan Hamhuis, D Matt Bartkowski, F Radim Vrbata, D Yannick Wever, 

The Canucks are doing… something. Just what they’re doing, I’m not entirely sure. They addressed areas of need in Eriksson and Gudbranson, but giving up a promising player like McCann might not have been the best way to go about it. They got nothing for Hamhuis or Vrbata at the trade deadline, and outside of Juolevi, did basically nothing at the draft. They haven’t made any really significant upgrades, and for a team that actually fared poorly against the Flames, I wouldn’t say there’s a lot of hope for them in 2016-17.

Can the Flames finish in the top three?

Among their divisional opponents, I’d fully expect the Kings and the Sharks to finish above the Flames in the standings. They’re two very good teams who didn’t change too much over the off-season, and should still have the personnel in place to hurt Calgary.

I’m not sure if I can say the same for the rest. The Flames finished above the Oilers and the Canucks this past season, and I don’t think either rival has done enough to leap them; especially not with Calgary’s massive upgrade in net (to say nothing of the potential upgrade to be found in the coaching change).

That leaves two wild cards, of sorts: the Ducks and the Coyotes. The Ducks have had what looks like a pretty awful off-season, but only time will tell. The Coyotes, on the other hand, appear to be trending upwards, but it’s not clear if they’ll see immediate results just yet.

At this point in time, though, I’d expect the Flames to be in contention for a top-three spot in the Pacific Division. They could probably get there by the sheer upgrade in goaltending alone – but if Matthew Tkachuk, Hunter Shinkaruk, Daniel Pribyl, or any other additions click with any of the Flames’ top forwards, and especially if they can find a way to clean out a little bit of the bottom half of their defence, then the Flames will start to look more like an actual threat.

  • Baalzamon

    The Flames can finish top three, but it’ll take a disappointing season from somebody. Anaheim and Los Angeles got worse, but not massively so. Hard to say with the Sharks… Schlemko was a good add, Boedker wasn’t. Adding Eriksson was huge for the Canucks, but so was losing Hamhuis. Their top six forwards are a mess. They have like four, maybe.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    Ari, I agree with your summation based on the evidence presented.

    LA and SJ will be better than us. Edm and Van will be worse (YAY). Ana won’t be worse enough for us to catch them. Ari(zona) won’t improve enough to catch us, particularly with our improvements (at G and F).

    I could be wrong about not catching Ana though. Johnny and Sean and Sam will all be better next year. We’re better at G by a lot, probably. It could happen.

    I predict losing a tight race for 3rd to Ana.

    ’17-’18 though? Look out. We’re gonna be good.

    • cberg

      I think the premise laid out by Ari was very good, and on paper she pretty much hit it on the head. With the coaching change in Calgary and a major culture change in Edmonton I believe those are the two wild cards and both could be in the mix for playoffs. I expect ALL of the California teams to decline this year, and none are a lock for playoffs.

      It will be a very interesting year and likely something unpredictable like injuries will end up being very significant in the end. If the starting goalie gets injured on any team the ones best positioned to stay strong are Calgary and I believe Vancouver. Not liking the back-ups as much elsewhere. SJS are aging and they probably will have an attitude expecting to be strong, but really a lot of things had to happen for them last year and I don’t see it again. Edmonton is still a work in progress with the D, and I’m not sold on their change-over/additions, seems like they have to figure out their identity and it hasn’t happened yet. We shall see.

      With the Flames its all about the coaching and gelling as a team which may take some time. I expect a modest start and gradually improving over time. But if we’re still in it at Christmas I expect a dogfight right to the end. Of course, they could come out like gang-busters and surprise even me, but when does that ever happen? Looking forward to the season.

      Over the next 3 years I expect all the California teams and Vancouver to go into significant decline, with maybe the exception of the LAK, Calgary and Edmonton to rise and Arizona to improve to comfortably respectable.

  • I think our success really comes down to whether or not our top guys continue their progression and carry the team or whether guys like Bolig Bouma, Smid, Engelland, Wideman and Brouwer weigh us down. We had a legitmate chance to improve this summer and we kinda blew it imo by adding brouwer at 4.5 even if we did nothing else after draft and left brouwer to STL I feel like we’d have been better off for it.

    We’ll see I guess. Maybe Tre can find a way to still move out some dead salary. Fingers crossed.

    • cberg

      Pretty much agree except the Brouwer comment. I think he’s a great add, like Frolic the year before. I guess we’ll see. The other BIG factor is some new youngsters coming to the fore and establishing themselves as solid+ NHLers.

        • cberg

          Let’s see, three spots to join three pairs:

          Shinkaruk, Ferland, Bouma….. FHamilton, Vey, Chiasson….. much less Tkachuk, Jankowski, Poirier, Pribyl, Pollock, Mangiapanne…..

          No, I’m pretty sure we’ve got three players in there and signing another is the last thing we need.

          • everton fc

            I, for one, keep forgetting Pribyl. He could be a real steal. We shall see.

            I like Shinkaruk, but he’s young and yet proven. Ferland could be a low-scoring 3rd/4th line guy his whole career – or, he could score 15-20 goals next season, with the right linemates. Next year will tell us a lot about Ferland.

            Bouma was hurt often. Perhaps this is who he is, as a player? If not, and he rebounds…

            Chiasson and Vey – I have this feeling both will do well here. Will Chiasson play RW w/Bennett? I wonder sometimes….

          • cberg

            Yes, still lots to be determined, though I fully believe we have the pieces. It just remains to see who is going to be able to grab the opportunity and not look back.

            So far since the hire, we have heard virtually nothing from GG. That’s not overly surprising except that the last few years we’ve gotten used to BH’s regular, and funny comments.

          • freethe flames

            A murders row of either reclamation projects{number beside there name is their average goals after 3 years} (Bouma 8,Chiasson 11 and Vey 4), rookies(Tkachuk, Janko, Pollock, Mangiapanne) or guys who have yet to break out(Ferland, Shinkaruk,Pribyl,Hamilton, and Poirier). I am hopeful that some of these guys pan out but the Flames need 3 of them to average @15 goals. I think a lot of these guys have the potential to be good NHL players but at this point I can’t write in pen that any of them will score 15 this year let alone 3 of them.

            Adding a forward who is likely to score 15 goals this year would help this team be in the hunt as well give the rookies more time to develop.

          • cberg

            I get your point, in that a “proven” consistent scorer isn’t on that list, however I would counter that everyone on that list is capable of scoring 15 goals, and several already have. GG’s task is finding out which are going to be the best and plugging them in to the respective spots.

            We are building a team and you can’t afford all proven players at every spot if you have high-end, expensive talent. If that was the case we would have kept Cammalleri, Hudler and Colborne and the team’s Top9 would be set.

            However, that’s not how it works in a Cap world. You need look no further for the spectacular example of that than the Chicago Blackhawks, who are no doubt the extreme. They are regularly forced to dump/trade very good to excellent players and replace them with up-and-comers to make the dollars work. We need to do the same though on a lesser scale.

            On my list are some very good players, some likely excellent players, and even some elite players, potentially. The thing they all have in common is they are younger and less developed, and haven’t either found their consistency yet or had the opportunity yet. And the one thing that is needed for them all is an opportunity and some patience as that develops. Will all make it? Certainly not, at least not with the Flames, but there is a very high probability that there are 3 guys in there to more than fill out the Flames’ Top9 and then some.

          • freethe flames

            When you say “everyone on that list is capable of scoring 15 goals a year” I question it. My question is when? The article is about making the playoffs and in order to do so we need more NHL skill upfront. I’m not saying chase an old former 15-20 goal scorer. Pirri as mentioned in many articles seems like a good target, K Hayes had been mentioned frequently by lot’s of people on this site as well. The problem is we have over $11m tied up in 3 defenders and only one real spot for them.

            As for the idea that there is a “very high probability” that 3 of these guys will score 15 each next year I hope you are right but I think it’s wishful thinking. From your list I think Chiasson has the best chance of the reclamation projects to score 15, from the rookies I’m not even sure any of them will make the big club out of training camp although I suspect that Tkachuk will be given his 9 game look, and from the other grouping of not yet proven I think Shinkaruk might be close and until we see Pribyl in preseason I am skeptical.

            I like many of the same players you have listed but have chosen to temper my expectations. BT has made some very good moves. We now have at least 2 NHL averae to above average goalies and that will help things a great deal. Brouwer will help the top 9 and the PP. Chiasson I am hopeful about but am stay cautious about. I still believe if BT is able to move Wides and create cap space to add say a Pirri and another defender say Nakladal I would like our chances better than relying on the ? marks and needing to play both Engs and Wides on most nights.

            Regardless I will still be hoping these guys exceed my expectations and cheering for the Flames.

  • Prototype369

    2016-2017 will be an interesting year. It will be a great indicator as to where the flames are headed. Is Gaudreau an elite winger with a big contract that can play like how he did in his rookie years. Can Monahan be a #1C that can handle both defensive and offensive responsibilities? Will Gio still be a Norris caliber defenseman, or will age fake it’s toll? Will Dougie be able to handle a full 82 game workload and still be a #1/2 defenseman. Brouwer, Prybil, Elliot. And then more importantly Bennett and Poirier and Tkachuk. And lastly, dead cap space coming off in the form of Wideman, Engelland, Bollig, Smid, Bouma, and can someone update me on Stajan? But yeah 2017-2018, I’m honestly expecting a conference final.

  • RKD

    Well having Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson back there gives me much more confidence. Elliott can win us games that we have no business being in. We must clean up defensively and improve special teams drastically to not only make the playoffs but to be top 3. They have to get back to winning on the road consistently.

  • The GREAT Walter White

    I wish Jeanshorts would write some articles on Flames Nation.

    The Oilers Nation write up he did: “facts: Adam Larson” is pure gold!!!!

    WW

  • Stu Cazz

    I think you can play the “rebuild” card for only so long….perhaps one more year at most…regardless as a fan my expectations is that they will indeed finish in top 3 and go beyond the 1st round of the playoffs….entirely different discussion next year at this time…much higher benchmark and expectations….

  • smatic10

    I’m not so sure the Sharks are going to be better than us. Is it likely? Yes. Set in stone? No.

    Their top players are a whole year older (Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski, Ward). They could still experience fatigue from a deep playoff run.

    Adding Boedker and Schlemko doesn’t exactly improve the whole teams speed problems.

    But yea, other than that, they have pretty good depth and goaltending.

    So who knows?

    • The Beej

      The team im thinking about here is LA. They just missed the playoffs two seasons back. I know I know they played a lot of hockey the previous three seasons but here is my rationale for them falling off a bit:

      1. Brown and Gaborik are getting older
      2. Their Dcore is not that deep anymore and they way they lean on Doughtycan he keep playing 30+min without any cracks
      3. Kopitar is one of my all time faves but he and Carter are getting a little older… not that old but old enough thay maybe they start to decline just a little. Toffoli and Pearson arent enough to counteract the aging process
      4. Lack of org depth. If someone like Quock doughty or Kopi get hurt. They wont overcome it.

  • Bikeit

    Goaltending (which should be good) and power play will be the deciding factor of playoffs or not. Hopefully GG and Cameron can refine the power play. Ten extra pp goals will be the difference.

  • jupiter

    New Coach. New system.
    It usually takes a while to adapt to 3 new coaches. This division is too strong for a team to falter in Oct/Nov. We will need to come out of the gates with a strong start.

    If GG is a Brent Sutter type coach, we could be in for a rough start.

  • MWflames

    Mostly agree with the article.

    I don’t think the sharks are a lock for a top 3 finish. Most of their impact players are another year older which would suggest a decline. They were playing amazing in the playoffs, but over the course of all of next season, j see them being only pretty good. Might have to eat my words later this season, we’ll see.

    Anaheim, has gotten worse, but they still have a very, very good team. I still see them finishing top 2 in the division.

    I will be very disappointed if the flames aren’t ahead of Vancouver, Edmonton or Phoenix. None of them are legitimate playoffs teams on paper. Calgary should be close, if not there, on paper.

    Calgary’s biggest hurdle will be to not sacrifice to many points at the begging of the season while adjusting to the new coaching staff and their systems.

  • Styxx

    Babcock always said just looking at GF / GA is the easiest way of telling where a team is in the standings. Last year is a good example, where the top 16 GF/GA ratios were owned by the 16 playoff teams.

    Last year the Flames were okay in Goals For (231 – 11th) but dead last (250 – 30th) in Goals Against.

    The improvement in goaltending plus having Hamilton more comfortable and TJ healthy should see an improvement to at least 18th in goaltending, a reduction of 24 goals.

    Brouwer, Shinkaruk, Tkachuk(9 games), Chiasson should more than offset the goals provided last year by Colbourne, Jooris and Hudler.

    Assuming the same offence, this would result in a GF/GA of +7, good enough for 16th place and the last playoff spot.

    So in a very realistic manner…if this goaltending duo and the defence perform as expected then I expect the Flames will be in the hunt for the final playoff spot this year.

  • Hockeyfan

    Does MR make the ducks? Yes on strong camp play. Are the kings in a down turn? I say yes. Can the Oil do SOMETHING? Hell no, finish 25th.
    Top 3 for Flames? Don’t see it, BUT i figure they will challenge for wildcard to the bitter end. I will bet Janko & Chiasson have surprisingly strong seasons. GFG!!!

  • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

    I think Calgary has addressed their goaltending issues,so we will wait and see if that was the problem and or the system they played.
    They added a little size in Brouwer but lost some size in Colbourne . This is still a group of forwards that is a little on the smaller side in regards to the other teams in the western conference , so I think it’s a matter of being able to match the size.
    The lack of size showed last year against the bigger teams and its was the main reason they lost the year before against Anaheim.
    Overall some good additions to the team.

    • The Sultan

      Why do you even post here? Seriously. Size is becoming a thing of the past. Look at Pittsburgh. Look at Chicago. Johnny Gaudreau. Size isn’t the problem, it wasn’t the problem last year, and any more talk of this “getting bigger” jazz or sacrificing skill for size is pure heresy in 2016. Our problem last year was our league worst goaltending, our league worst power play, and the absolutely terrible coaching deployment/player usage by one Bob Hartley. All of which I expect to be remedied this year on our way to yet another higher place finish than the Edmonton Oilers.

      • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

        Quit being a tit . There is nothing wrong with my post . You say big teams are a thing of the past . You really think San Jose and St. Louis were small teams that were in the western conference final?
        The top teams in the west are still the biggest teams .Save for Chicago!

    • The Beej

      Size wasnt the reason we lost to ANA in the playoffs. Calgary overachieved that year. Anaheim was just the better team all around. Better goaltending defense forwards coaching. They were just plain better.

  • Seabass

    @#27Train

    Agreed that goaltending was addressed and I think our system did have a lot to do with our failures defensively last year. However, this should also be addressed by the coaching change. As for the size, while I liked Big Joe, Brouwer uses his smaller frame (relative to Joe) more effectively, especially in the sense that you seemed to be getting at.

  • Seabass

    As for finishing top three, that will be a tough fight. We had huge improvements in goal this offseason, but I don’t see LA falling off as much as some others do. I do believe having TJ from the start of the year and the Hamilton we saw from mid November on will be big factors. I also think the coaching change will end up being positive, but there is also an adjustment period needed. Luckily most of this team will not be at the World Cup and can hopefully get some extra practice time with the new systems. (Not really sure if there is any crossover of dates for training camp and World Cup) My estimation would be a wild card spot battle till game 82.

  • FoE

    Good article, good comments. I have a feeling the Oilers are a bit better than most are giving then credit for though. They have holes but they have the kind of players who could make up for it. If they’re in the mix at Christmas they’ll be in it till April, if they’re struggling… Well, we know what’ll happen.
    SoCal teams are waning but still all good enough to take seriously.
    Arizona is a wild card, if they play well they could challenge like we did a few years ago.
    My only concern for the Flames is how long will GG’s system take? I was glad we picked him up this year so it’s in place for 2017/18, but, I think it’ll cost us a slow start and is the reason I wouldn’t bet on us just yet.
    I bet we’re considred out at the end of November but start to look like the team we all hope to have by Christmas. Pull into the mix by the TDL but ultimatey lose out to a central team for the wildcard.
    LA
    SJS
    EDM
    CGY
    ANA
    ARZ
    VAN

    • Styxx

      Well thought out and reasoned.

      However I am not sold on the Oiler’s rising as quickly this year. Lucic will bring sorely-needed leadership and intensity. And Larson will help stabilize the defensive core, however lopsided (and bone-headed) the trade was. However their goal-keeping isn’t proven yet, the Oiler D has no puck-movers and was the lowest scoring defence in the league last year, the forward group will miss Hall’s scoring and their bottom 6 leave much to be desired.

      Anaheim is still much better than the Oilers and will be a real challenge for the Flames to beat. ANA has size and skill whereas the Flames will need to be at the top of their game to use skill and speed, cutting 25+ goals against while maintaining (or improving?) on their 11th best goals for with a better power play.

  • Bills Bills

    The only ones that say size doesn’t matter are small. Pittsburg has Kessel, Malkin, Crosby up front. Malkin isn’t small and both Kessel and Crosby are over 200 lbs.

    Are you comparing Gaudreau and Bennet to Kessel and Crosby? Giving up about a combined 100 lbs? Even pound for pound the flames flicker and die.

    Maybe Monahan to Malkin…… Um no.

    Goaltending has upgraded for sure but assuming everyone is just goin to be better got the oilers to ten straight years of suck. Good luck with that.

  • Druds

    lets see….your two top players are UNSIGNED…the rest of your team is made up of third liners….your coach is Dallas Eakins..or his NHLE ….

    and you say you will be third in the conference…LOL!!!!!

  • daryl

    Here is a thought from an Oilers fan. The Flames have some problems, first the coaching change is going to take time and that implies a slow start. Second your defense though very good offensively is not good at keeping pucks out of the net. Here is the good news you have seemed to solved your goal tending quite nicely,(this will address your defense to a degree) your coaching staff has improved and your young forwards should be even better this yea. I look forward for meaningful battle of Alberta games and hope both clubs attain the form we used to have. I still remember that teams coming to Alberta would leave with no points and bruises.