What’s a successful season for the Flames?

So. This season, eh?

In their first 10 games, the Flames were a 4-5-1 team. Not particularly good, as it was a brief three-game stretch that redeemed them for just a moment before they completely fell off the wagon once again. The season was effectively over; you can’t be that bad to start and expect to really go anywhere.

In their most recent 10 games, the Flames are a 7-2-1 team. That’s actually extremely good, and the majority of those games came on their longest, most gruelling road trip of the season. That’s a playoff caliber team. That’s a team that might actually be able to do some damage.

There are still 53 games to go in the season, though. That’s a lot; almost anything can happen. The Flames could fall back in a hole, bottom out, and give us nothing but the draft to look forward to. Or they could play meaningful games in April and, dare I suggest it, beyond.

What’s better for them?

Where is this team?

Either the Flames are bad and their number one priority has to be getting top talent, they’re good and their number one priority has to be proving they deserve to play more than 82 games, or they’re somewhere in between.

If they’re bad, then the solution is easy. If they’re good, then the solution is obvious. But they’re probably more in between than anything else, and that’s where things get complicated.

What’s more important: getting another high draft pick and waiting until next year to hopefully take that next step forward, or taking that next step forward now? If that step forward cannot be taken, is it better to fall off completely or to continue to make movements towards the playoffs, even if unsuccessful?

How much of a benefit to the Flames has Matthew Tkachuk been? How much stronger will the lineup be with another young player of his caliber?

On the other hand, Mark Giordano is 33 years old and not getting any younger. The core itself is overall pretty young, though, and one of the biggest benefits to having a good, young core is a longer window. The longer the window is open, the more fun hockey is, period. And how much really needs to be added to it?

So where is this team? Is it worth forgoing more potential young top talent to take a shot at the postseason, even if they likely won’t get very far in it this year? On the other hand, how much did that taste of the playoffs in 2015 help?

This is a team that’s growing

Presently, according to Natural Stat Trick, the Flames are a 49.47% 5v5 CF team. Spit on fancy stats all you want, but fact is, the 2014-15 Flames were an anomaly; typically playoff teams – and Cup-winning teams – have excellent corsi numbers. If you want to go anywhere, you’ve gotta be above 50%.

The Flames aren’t there yet, but they’re close. With so much of the season left, and the way their play has improved as of late, they could very well clear that hurdle. Right now, they’re 18th in the NHL; a little over 50% gets them into the upper half.

Last season, the Flames were a 47.97% team. That’s bad; they were 22nd in the NHL in that stat and finished with the sixth overall pick. Since then, at least for now, they’ve shot up 1.5% – a very important step forward.

This, to me at least, would indicate a team that needs to be taking that next step forward – with caution, because they aren’t even close to being out of the woods. If the Flames are getting noticeably better, then they may be at the point where another high pick isn’t their most pressing priority; this current group – and specifically, its core players – proving they can take things to the next level is far more important.

But it’s going to have to be on their backs to prove it. In 2014-15, Brad Treliving wasn’t buying the teams’ success; he was right not to, because that mild selling at the deadline netted them the extra picks they needed in order to trade for Dougie Hamilton and draft Oliver Kylington. The former is a crucial piece, the latter has the potential to be. That was worth far more than a couple of extra games with Curtis Glencross ever would have been, even in the midst of a playoff push.

And as much as the Flames look to be improving this year, and as much as we’re running out of time for this current group to take that next step forward, they still don’t look like a surefire playoff team. The 2014-15 approach is probably going to be the correct one again: sell off what you can, and tell the group that isn’t going anywhere that it’s up to them to prove whether they’re taking that next step forward or not.

Whether they can or not will be what determines if this season was a success. Even if they don’t make the playoffs, as long as they at least look like they can next season, then they should be in a good spot.

    • Stu Cazz

      Yup…have to agree. Combination of improved goaltending and weak division means no excuses for not making the playoffs! If not the upcoming draft is one of the weakest in recent years and not much beyond the top 3 selections….

    • al rain

      I used to say that all tanking was stupid because it wrecked your culture and sold your soul. But the Oilers showed that if you tank extra hard, like epically, generartionally hard, then with some amazing luck and a decade of embarrassment you might, just might have it pay off.

      So if the question is whether to try hard and keep your soul, or focus on the slim chance of landing some saviour, then it’s not much of a question, is it?

      Stay the course, focus on the long game, sell expiring assets at the TDL and still push for the playoffs.

      Oh, and dump a bunch of resources into scouting and swing for the fences in the later rounds. Increasing your odds of picking the next 4th round Gaudreau or 5th round Benn is a better move than hoping for a McDavid or Matthews to fall into your lap.

    • Rockmorton65

      Push for the playoffs. Regardless of where they are, trade as much of the dead weight as possible (Wideman, Engelland, one of the goalies, etc) and let it ride. If we crater, so be it. The team will take a significant step forward this offseason.

      Wally, I’m assuming you’ve being facetious

    • MontanaMan

      Haven’t seen your “Fire Gulutzan” rant for two weeks Walt. Coincidentally, the same time period that the Flames are turning it around and the players buying into his system. Interesting. Guess it’s time to move on to another cause.

    • piscera.infada

      Man, am I happy this old argument is back. As if it’s some sort of conscious choice: “oh, no Cup this year? Might as well finish dead last, then…”. “Oh, we can’t finish last? Stanley Cup it is then…”.

      This everything is black and white nonsense, is exactly that: nonsense. I understand the point that’s being made, but it really is the lowest common denominator. And sure, I’ll get the same trite, uninspired responses: “I guess you’re happy with the team becoming a middling non-contender”, “you can’t win a cup without x, y, and/or z”. Simply put, you’re wrong. You know you’re wrong. Be better.

      Do I see this organisation as a cup contender right now? Of course not. Do I think the current organisational epoch can become that? I do. There definitely needs to be some tweaks, and certainly much of the young talent still needs to take a step forward. But as we all knew coming into a “rebuild”, it’s a process. It’s far more than this garbage take that “you accumulate assets, sit back, and it magically works once you decide to flip the switch”. If you finish out of the playoffs this year? Make that pick count–whether it’s in trade, or by drafting someone there. It’s clearly still important. But to say “cup or first-overall” is disingenuous to the Nth degree, and you know it.

      • BurningSensation

        “I guess you’re happy with the team becoming a middling non-contender”, “you can’t win a cup without x, y, and/or z”. Simply put, you’re wrong. You know you’re wrong. Be better.

        This is perfect

  • Prototype369

    As a fan, nothing is more exciting than playoffs hockey. But realistically, a crash and burn in the first round is not wise. And neither is making a push to just fall short of the playoffs and picking outside the top 10, probably in the 13-16 range.

    Once this season ends and the flames lose dead cap space, the question is who fills in the necessary holes? Who’s going to be our 4th top 4 dman? Kulak, who has maybe 25 NHL games under his belt? Or do one of Wotherspoon or Andersson step up?

    We have 4 1st round picks, and 4 2nd round picks playing in the AHL. The 4 1st rounders being all forwards, does one of them step up and become a top 9 forward? F. Hamilton and Hathaway aren’t long term answers.

    And finally, the goalies. Does Elliot play like the top 10 goalie he played as in St Louis and we resign him? Do we resign Johnson as our number 1? Gilles and Rittich are still at least another year away from NHL action.

    • Avalain

      I disagree. Crashing and burning in the first round is fine as long as it is as a result of improvement in the players instead of just good luck. It’s too much to expect to win the lottery one year and win the cup the next. Going from picking 6th overall to first round playoffs in one year is a great sign that the current players are improving. Since they are also mostly young, we can hope for an even greater improvement next year. I’d take improvement from all our current players over a better draft pick this year, especially since it is supposed to be a weak draft and Vegas is taking a spot.

    • trox

      Agree. I hope that we are in the playoff race AND that we still sell some assets e.g. Wideman, Engelland).

      As frustrating as this team can be, they are miles ahead of where they were when BT took over. We have a good young core and should be able to add some nice pieces after this season as cap space frees up.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    For me, It’s business as usual.

    Trelliving has over the past 2 seasons sold off his expiring assets (Glencross, Hudler, Jones, and Russell), regardless of the Flames playoff aspirations. That was the right thing to do, and it will be again for the next few seasons. If guys aren’t part of next years plans, sell them off and don’t allow those assets to go for nothing. This year Wideman, Engelland and a goalie are prime candidates. The Las Vegas draft complicates things further this year and you have to be concerned about loosing a guy like Ferland or maybe Kulac, so they need to be considered too.

    The point is, the Flames aspirations for the playoffs in 2016/17 should have no bearing on the long term plan for this team. Until they’re truly ready to challenge for a cup, maximizing on assets is a must.

  • dontcryWOLF88

    Success for this year is building a strong, winning, team culture. Going to the basement is just going to make everyone doubt their potential, which for a young team is a potential killer.

    Not even a worthwhile year to go for a draft pick. Vegas is guaranteed, what is it? A top 3 pick minimum? Not much depth in there, and nobody NHL ready past Nolan Patrick- even he might not be.

    Then there is the most important consideration. There are too many guys on the Flames hungry to prove themselves. They wont tank on purpose. Tre cant force it on them by trading the feet from under them….at this phase of a rebuild thats no longer possible.

    I think there are two big gaps on the team right now. A 1-2nd line RW, and a 2nd pairing D-man. These are things they can hopefully pick up in free-agency once their cap space opens up at years end…or ideally luck out on the waiver wire. Free agency is usually a bit pricey to do, but I think if the right players can be found at the right price then there is a real chance the Flames can start getting some consistency in post-season appearances.

    Showing strong potential, and turning some heads, will attract better players at lower costs. I have enough confidence in what this group has shown recently this year to give them a chance on this. I hold judgement until the final game, but things are looking up at this time.

  • The Real Slim Brodie

    If we are in the playoffs. Keep engelland because we need his grit for the playoffs. Then use him as bait for the expansion. We may be able to sell his rights to Vegas before free agency.

  • Lucky 13

    I was reading this informative article the other day about how goal differential has played a integral part in not only making the playoffs but being successful.

    The study(s) made the observation that in the last 20 years, no team has ever hoisted the cup, without being in the top 10 in goals differential.
    There was no exception to that rule.

    Many of the teams that made the playoffs, the ones with the least advantage in GD, were quickly ushered out, generally didn’t make it pass the 1st round.

    While the Flames have made great strides in the last 12 games, I believe we need to still be a better possession team and need to generate more goals for.
    Great goaltending has been the difference and I don’t think we can safely say that will get us post season alone.

    • Derzie

      Goal differential all day long. Corsi and the like are fine tuning stats. If 2 teams have similar win/loss & goal differential, look to scoring chance differential or corsi to help break the tie. Looking at Corsi before goal differential is like fine tuning your tire pressure when you only have 3 wheels on your truck.

      • Nick24

        To a degree. Corsi is a better descriptor of how a team has a good goal differential. Some teams can have incredible factors that make their goal differentials look good. It’s better to look at a few of those stats so that you can figure out what kind of team you have.

        As a good Corsi rating leads to a good scoring chance differential, which in turn drives goal differential.

        • Ole YELLEr

          Team’s best players generally play a much bigger role in goal differential than corsi. While it is a team game top players should be key part of a team’s success, I’ll take differential.

          And I think that incredible factor you’re referring to is called Price. 😉

  • Ole YELLEr

    Of course they go for the playoffs, they probably just have to do it with what they have. If the flames are in the race I’m not sure if I’d move any one at the deadline. Maybe one of Wideman or Engelland if you can get a decent return. Even though I don’t really expect the flames to make too much noise in the playoffs, if they make it having 3 rookie D on the roster doesn’t sound ideal to me.

    I certainly wouldn’t acquire a rental player either. There could be some interesting deals available with the expansion draft which is the wild card. If a player around the same age as our core that fits a need is available then sure.

    While extra picks are nice as long as you keep all of your top 3 and most of the rest we should be fine. The Flames have drafted many players in the last 3 years only 6 or 7 this year won’t cripple our future.

  • Derzie

    When our goaltending trends back to average we will settle in as a bubble team. Likely Top 10 draft pick. Success is making the playoffs with average goaltending. In other words, to know we can make the playoffs with sustainable play.

  • Nick24

    We’ve likely got some help coming in the form of Mangiapane, maybe one of Klimchuck or Poirier, and Kulak. If a few of those players maintain thier play this season they’ll get chances next year, or maybe even near the end of this season.

    It makes more sense to me to let the team run. If you get offers on players like Chaisson, Versteeg, Bouma, Wideman, or Engellend sure, make a trade, but we’re past the point where we shouldn’t be actively tanking. There always seem to be high end players that fall into the late teens/early twenty’s, so I’m not overly worried about missing out on getting a good player.

    As for concerns about the strength of this draft, we don’t really need another Tkachuck, Gaudreau, or Bennett. I’d love to add a fantastic right-wing prospect, but we need more filling out of our line up than beefing up. Our top end players are pretty good, it’s just about making sure that when they aren’t on the ice that there isn’t as drastic a drop off.

  • jakethesnail

    The Playoffs….

    The Flames are starting to play half-decent even with some of the Flames not playing up to snuff. The schedule is now finally in the Flames favor..teams with games in hand will have to go thru some back-to-back and 3 in 4 nights….

  • Dayzz

    All season long I’ve seen this team, at times, absolutely dominate the opposition, be sharp in the transition, and play a defensively sound game. Other times, they have looked lost, been caught flat-footed, and had some goals scored against that leave everyone scratching their heads in frustration. Lately, we’ve seen more of the former, which is reassuring to say the least. Hopefully this means GG’s systems are finally settling in and the players are finally more comfortably settling into the rhythm. I’ve really liked the PK, the whole tight, aggressive checking is really exciting to see and we’ve all seen the SH goals piling up as a result. Goaltending has been much, much better lately as well. Even the PP has looked good as of late. I’ve always thought that we have more than enough talent to have an absolutely dominant PP, however the biggest problem for me has been the players overthinking things and not attacking fast enough; too many passes, and holding onto the puck for half a second too long. Again, with improved special teams and goaltending, we’re starting to see the team perform at the higher end of their capabilities. Now we just need them to be consistent, first, for the entire sixty minutes, and then for every game till the end of the season. Consistency is my key to a successful season…
    My two cents.