The Flames face an uphill battle for a playoff spot

The Calgary Flames lost on Saturday at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers.

By the time you read this, there’s a non-trivial chance that the Flames may have fallen out of a wildcard spot in the Western Conference. [ed. Still clinging to that second spot, but 10th in the West in points percentage – albeit .02 back of that last spot.] You see, the Flames have played more games than almost every other Western team – particularly the teams chasing them.

Not all is lost in terms of Calgary’s playoff chances. But a glance at their remaining 33 games and the strength of the teams they’re facing reveals very little margin for error from here on out.

The Schedule

The Flames have 33 games remaining and have three fairly large gaps in their schedule:

  • The NHL’s All-Star Break (Jan. 27-30)
  • The “bye week” negotiated by the NHL and the NHLPA (Feb. 8-12)
  • A random three day gap between games in early March (Mar. 6-8)

In other words, when you take into account these gaps in the schedule the Flames will play an awful lot of hockey in a short period of time. It’s good because it doesn’t give them time to stew over efforts like we saw this past week, but it also doesn’t afford them with much practice time to fix things either.

The Flames have 15 home games remaining and 18 road games.

The Opposition

To contextualize how rough the next few weeks could be for the local sports team, let’s break the teams Calgary is playing from here on out into a few simple groups.

Playoff Locks: These teams have a 90% or higher probability of being in the playoffs according to Sports Club Stats. These guys are teams that are flat-out good and don’t give their opponents very many opportunities to gain points. 

The Flames play teams from this grouping 10 times – Minnesota, Washington, Pittsburgh (twice), San Jose (twice), Montreal, NY Rangers and Anaheim (twice). It’s worth noting, though, that both San Jose and Anaheim games are at the very near the end of the season so it’s possible, though not entirely likely, that the Sharks and Ducks could start resting their big guns late in the season to keep them fresh for the playoffs. 

The Flames have won seven times in 19 games against the Locks.

Playoff Probables: These teams have a larger than 65% but less than 90% probability of being in the playoffs. These teams are pretty good, but just not quite as consistently terrifying as the teams in the “locks” group. The Flames play teams from this grouping eight times – Ottawa, Toronto, Nashville (twice) and Los Angeles (four times). 

The Flames have won twice in four games against the Probables.

Bubble Teams: Teams with larger than 35% but less than 65% probability of being in the playoffs. These are teams that are about as good as the Flames are, give or take. The Flames play only one game against a team in this group: St. Louis. The Flames have won once in two games against St. Louis.

Playoff Pretenders: Teams with less than 35% probability of being in the playoffs. These are flawed teams. They might lack goaltending or scoring or just overall consistency. The Flames play teams from this group 13 times – Boston, Carolina, Vancouver, NY Islanders, Winnipeg, Dallas, Tampa, Philadelphia, Florida, Detroit, New Jersey, Arizona and Colorado. 

The Flames have won 14 times in 24 games against the Pretenders.

Setting Expectations

There are two relatively simple ways to project how the remaining 33 games will go based on past performances: how the Flames opponents have fared overall and how well the Flames have fared against similar opponents.

Expected Points: If you look at this season’s points percentages of Calgary’s remaining opponents and factor in that each NHL game this season averages 2.25 points handed out (and adjust the points percentages accordingly), the Flames project to get approximate 37 points and finish the season with 88 points overall. This method is tidy, but does ignore the fact that games will see the Flames get zero, one or two points, not a weird fraction in each game. It probably overestimates.

Categorical Results: If you take Calgary’s performance against each category of team and extrapolate their records across their remaining games, the Flames would win about 16 games to capture 32 points. They would finish the season with 83 points total. This method ignores the possibility of overtime or shootout losses for the Flames, but also lacks a bit of nuance because it presumes the Flames will win as much as they have all season – it assumes a level of consistency that probably doesn’t exist.

Using a method that probably overestimates performance the Flames will finish with 88 points (a 55% probability of making the playoffs) and using a method that probably underestimates performance they’ll finish with 83 points (a 3.7% probability) that leaves them with basically zero margin for error.

  • Gfountyyc

    As much as making the playoffs is important to the franchise, making the playoffs and being swept in the first round would be a worse situation.
    The next few weeks will help determine the legacy of BTs time here. If he can make deals like the one he did with Berra and Glencross with the likes of Bouma or wideman that would be a big win.
    I wouldn’t mortgage the future just to lose an asset at the expansion draft. Trade the 1st round pick for a blue chip forward prospect, and sign a #4 defensemen with the money coming off the books this summer.
    The state of the franchise is not far off.

  • Shredder

    Imagine if the Canucks make it in and the Flames are out…It’s very possible LA is out too. Of the “pretenders” 3 teams are especially bad (DET, COL, ARZ), and deserve their own category.

  • freethe flames

    I had posted something earlier related to this saying the Flames needed to be 50% against the playoff teams, 65% against the bubble teams and 80% against the non play off teams and since then they have lost to non playoff teams, bubble teams and as much as I hate to say it the playoff bound Oilers. This week they need 4 points from their 3 games. Can they do it? The players need to own their play.

  • jakethesnail

    I have no expectations of the Flames making the playoffs.

    I did expect the Flames to be better than 3-5-1 in their last 9 games, which was a soft spot in the schedule for the Flames to get some room between them and other teams trying to make the playoffs.

    Despite getting two goalies that were supposed to be much better than we had last year, that position is now a position of concern. If Elliott blows it tonight Tre needs to evaluate his goaltending options now.

    Right wing is also cause for concern. Brouwer is not the answer even though he was pumped up that way by Tre when he was signed. I don’t care about his salary because I don’t pay it; he is just not performing up to the hype by Tre.

    If the Flames make the playoffs, Yahoo! I am just not expecting it at this point!

  • Parallex

    Way I figure it the Flames are simply living up to expectations. The (reasonable) expectations were that the Flames would be a bubble team and that’s precisely what they are.

  • Big Cap

    What happened?!?!?

    I thought the Flames had the best D-Core in the league? We were lead to believe that Johnny Hockey and his monster contract would be a top 5 scorer? And where is this depth everyone spoke of??

    Let me break it down with the only stat you need to know. There is a ZERO PERCENT chance the Flames make the playoffs.

    GO OILERS!!

    • JoelOttosJock

      Anyone who truly believed the flames had or have a top d-core knows about as much as Craig t and Kevin lower know about hockey..which incase you didn’t catch the sarcasm is minimal. I really hope whom ever is making the decisions here..Ken king..Murray Edwards etc doesn’t extend BT and creates a winning hockey culture here..get rid of Brian Burke as well. We really look like the black and blue Alberta hockey..ha! This team is softer than baby shit. Very disappointed in this team. Go Kings.

    • Tundradog

      What Happened? 3 things

      1. Coaching
      2. Coaching and
      3. Coaching.

      In a season where the teams that have been good and the teams that they need to beat out to get a playoff spot – LA, Winnipeg, Nashville, St Louis, & Dallas are all having bad years, the Flames still can’t get a spot. Should have been a cake walk to make the playoffs with the way the Western Conference has performed. Instead they are likely out. They can’t even beat Toronto, Vancouver…

      This all falls on GG’s shoulders. He never had the resume to deliver on the possession game he promised to bring. Now the young players have lost their confidence.

  • Himynameistaylor

    Still plenty of room on the Oilers bandwagon, bros, you’re more than welcome. Just renounce your ties to the dumpster fire that is the flames and join the good guys

  • TheoForever

    Funny how all the oiler slugs are running about.

    Now, do the GG supporters still think it is the adjustment time?

    As I said from day one, this guy is not a good coach,

    He cannot motivate players and all our top players play like crap.

    Not sure what’s better, tank like oilers or fire Eakins.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    If the Habs start Price tomorrow, I can see the Flames getting goosed again. Then if Kid Condon gets the start for the Sens and he keeps playing lights out, the Flames could go goalless on this roadie.

  • Crakupov

    The only real problem with the Flames is goal tending. If they had a bit better performance in the net many of these games would be won.

    On the plus side Versteeg is turning out to be a good acquisition and Tkachuk is doing well.

    I think the flames slip into the last spot for the playoffs and do some damage in the post season.