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.
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…
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.
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.
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.