The Calgary Flames have completed 41 games of their 2016-17 regular season. (Well, 42, but these questions were answered when it was at 41.) Keeping with tradition, we have convened the illustrious FlamesNation roundtable to grouse about their results thus far and prognosticate how the remainder of the season shall go.
Participating this round are every managing editor we’ve ever had (Kent Wilson, Ari Yanover and myself), along with good content boy Mike Fail and prospect pundit Christian Tiberi.
Which player is the biggest surprise of the first half of the season?
Kent: I think it’s just how good Matthew Tkachuk has been as an 18-year-old.
Ari: Matthew Tkachuk. Coming into the season, we weren’t even sure if he was going to go beyond the nine-game mark; now, not only is he one of the Flames’ top scorers, but he has some of the best underlying numbers in the NHL. Nobody saw this coming; certainly not from a teenager.
Christian T.: Matthew Tkachuk because he’s so dang good.
Mike: Matthew Tkachuk. That boy just gets [most nights] what is required to play at the NHL level and produce exceptionally for his age.
Ryan: Everyone else went Tkachuk, so I’m gonna be different and say Matt Stajan. He’s been a consistent positive contributor almost every game and has scored a shockingly large amount thus far.
Which player is the biggest disappointment of the first half of the season?
Kent: Sean Monahan taking a big step back after getting a giant raise. Monahan’s offense has been relatively modest, but his two-way game seems to have stalled or worsened somehow. It’s made Glen Gulutzan’s life much more difficult than it should be.
Ari: Brian Elliott. Everything we knew about him heading into this season screamed number one goaltender, and not just a product of St. Louis’ defence, but someone who could legitimately handle the job on his own merits. He’s had his moments, but his penchant for bizarre goals to keep going against him has really hurt.
Christian T.: Sean Monahan. His flaws have been on full display this season which is scary because he just signed a seven year deal.
Mike: Sean Monahan – There hasn’t been much growth in his game at all and it’s sort of gone flat. I get the hype folks still have for him because he can score goals, but much of this season has been reminiscent of his rookie season.
Ryan: Have we had a good or dominant game from either Sean Monahan or Johnny Gaudreau this season? The Flames big guns have largely been silent so far.
Has the first half changed your opinion of Glen Gulutzan as a head coach?
Kent: I haven’t really formed an opinion yet, though I was initially rather down on the hire given how the team played out of the gate. He’s gotten back to zero basically with the rebound, so we’ll see how the second half goes.
Ari: I’d say so, yeah. You know you have to be patient with a new hire, but I don’t think it can be understated just how bad the Flames were to start the season. There’s bad, and then there’s just being completely unwatchable, which is exactly what they were. It was like – I can’t waste my time waiting for this to work out. There’s no enjoyment derived from this. Surely there must be better things to do with my time. But of course, as patience was necessary, it’s looking like it’s paid off. Firing Gulutzan immediately wouldn’t have made sense to begin with; now, it’s a hell of a lot easier to be optimistic for next season.
Christian T.: I didn’t really have much of an opinion on him to start because a) it’s still a team that is half crap so he gets a bit of lenience and b) because things take time. He’s quit a lot of the bad habits that hampered the team early in the year, but his usage with regards to certain players is still odd.
Mike: Yeah it has. I think that any time we come in with preexisting information about a coach it’s easy to build up a portrait of them with biases and unrealistic expectations. He’s made a lot of heinous mistakes in terms of player usage early on, but he’s adapted and found things that work. Not all of it is perfect, but he’s a country mile better than his predecessor in terms of finding things that work.
Ryan: I was a bit wary at first, but Gulutzan’s made a bunch of adjustments in the first half. The team’s still a bit too reliant on special teams for success for my taste, but I like what he’s done.
Do you expect the Flames to make the playoffs?
Kent: I think it’s a coin flip at this point. A major injury or cold spell in the second half will doom them, but if they can continue to improve and tinker, then they should have a shot.
Ari: Yes. It’ll be close, but yes.
Christian T.: Playoffs sound fun so sure why not.
Mike: I don’t know if it’s reasonable given the wild card situation in the west. I picked this team to be a bubble team at best, but I do love burning half my paycheck on playoff tickets so sure why not.
Ryan: It’s still going to be an uphill battle, but it’s doable. Think of it this way: they’ve clawed their way into the mix with Monahan, Gaudreau, Bennett and Brodie largely absent from the course of most games. If one or more of those guys wake up and the bottom six group keeps performing consistently, this team could actually make some noise.