Photo Credit: Sergei Belski / USA Today Sports

The Ducks have already forced big improvements for the Flames

In the 1980s, the Calgary Flames came a long way in a short period of time. They were a scrappy up-and-coming team when they arrived in Calgary in 1980, making it to the third round of the playoffs in their first season after relocation. The primary reason the Flames didn’t have more success, and arguably one of the big reasons they did have success, are the Edmonton Oilers.

The Oilers were a force to be reckoned with during the ’80s. Not only that, they were the most frequent roadblock for the Flames: three times during the decade the team saw their postseason end at the hands of Edmonton. But the Oilers’ primacy as Calgary’s most frequent roadblock led the Flames to beef up their team with offensive firepower in order to match Edmonton.

After two consecutive playoff runs ended at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks, it might be time to start thinking about the Ducks as a catalyst for the Flames’ future success.

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A tale of two seasons

In his end-of-season press conference, Flames general manager Brad Treliving described the 2015 Flames as “overwhelmed” in their second round series loss to the Ducks. He didn’t feel that was the case this season.

If you look at the numbers, they back up Treliving and Glen Gulutzan’s contentions that the Flames were very much improved.

2015 2017 Diff.
Corsi (%) 44.8 51.2 +6.4
Fenwick (%) 44.6 51.2 +6.6
Shots (%) 43.7 52.6 +8.9
Scoring Chances (%) 37.3 53.8 +16.5
High Danger Ch. (%) 47.0 51.1 +5.1
Shooting Pct. 5.4 1.9 -3.4
Save Pct. 90.8 90.3 -0.5
PDO 96.2 92.2 -4.0

Compared to 2015, the Flames did a very good job of reducing their Corsi Against (-55), Fenwick Against (-29), Shots Against (-27) and Scoring Chances Against (-41), while either increasing or keeping consistent their offensive raw numbers.

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It wasn’t good enough to win, but it was good enough to make the Ducks seem like they were the worse team.

Two years of changes

The Flames made a bunch of changes in-between the two Ducks series that, combined with their coaching change and move to a more structured playing system, seemed to provide better results.

  • Out: G Jonas Hiller & Karri Ramo; D David Schlemko & Kris Russell; F Joe Colborne, David Jones, Drew Shore, Jiri Hudler, Brandon Bollig & Josh Jooris (and head coach Bob Hartley)
  • In: G Brian Elliott & Chad Johnson; D Dougie Hamilton, Michael Stone & Matt Bartkowski; F Kris Versteeg, Alex Chiasson, Troy Brouwer, Freddie Hamilton, Curtis Lazar & Matthew Tkachuk (and head coach Glen Gulutzan)

Their on-ice changes have seemed to move towards more of a puck-moving style, particularly with the team upgrading their secondary players. The more significant change seems to have been the coaching change, as Hartley’s team played on their heels most of the time and let the game come to them – and that’s reflected in their underlying numbers – while Gulutzan’s team tries to dictate the pace much more consistently.

A look ahead

The 2016-17 Flames were still arguably figuring out how to play Gulutzan’s sytem and playing with each other. They out-played Anaheim but couldn’t quite beat them. With a summer of improvements ahead, and another year’s worth of team familiarity with systems and each other, it seems probable that the team can take another step next year. Hopefully it’s enough to beat Anaheim the next time they’re matched up.

  • Skylardog

    In the 80s the Flames improved against the powerhouse of the day, Edmonton. Anaheim is not a powerhouse, and today, is a mere shadow of the team they were 2 years ago. We are in the weakest division, and are struggling to be competitive with teams that are not amongst the NHL elite. The Ducks best days are behind them. They will need to retool to advance further in the coming years, much like LA is now realizing. San Jose too is growing old, but has under achieved over the past decade (until last year). Edmonton is growing, but still short several pieces before they are a legit cup contender.
    Yet these are the teams we are comparing ourselves to. The represent mediocrity, yet are ahead of the Flames.
    My point being that we are more than a few pieces short of competing in the division, but far short of being a cup contender. By the time we develop the kids on the farm, some of the key pieces we have now will be beyond their prime, Gio comes to mind. Backlund is a UFA after next season and will be a top commodity when his contract is due. He will be difficult to keep and near impossible to replace.
    We are all trying to figure out how to fill our holes now – goalies, bottom 3 D-men, 1st line RW and bottom 6 forwards, yet by the time we have them filled, the way it is going now, there will be even bigger holes to be filled 2 and 3 years out.
    I hate to say it, because Gio is a rock and the face of the franchise, but will be too old to be a part of a cup run when we are ready. JG is not a playoff performer – he proved it this spring. Hamilton is an offensive threat, but a defensive liability, and without Gio that weakness is even greater.
    We should be retooling for a cup run 3 years out. Ditching high end players that will not make a difference in 3 years, unloading their contracts to keep key pieces like Backlund, and adding top UFA’s. We are developing kids are the farm that we are all pencilling in in as 3rd and 4th line forwards and 5th and 6th defensemen. Players of this quality are a dime a dozen. They can be signed as free agents for $1 million a season. Jankowski comes to mind. We are hoping he will develop into a 4th line centre, maybe 3rd. But he is replaceable today in the free agency market.
    Remember that the Flames in 2015 had one of the best D-man cores in the NHL? Where is it now? We seem weak, we have holes at that position, yet we added Hamilton. But we also got old in that position.
    We need 2 premier lines, and 2 lines of fill ins that can do the job for low cost. We need 4 top end d-men, and a goalie that can make a difference. And we need them in 3 years. If they are not going to be ready, or will be beyond their prime in 3 years, then we need to let them go, right now before the draft, or at worst, at the trade deadline next season. Monahan, Bennett, and Tkachuk will be in their prime in 3 to 5 years and ready for a run. We need to prep for that period, and lay in place the pieces for then.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      That is a bit of “The sky is falling” mentality. To say that JG is not playoff performer is a bit premature. That’s like saying JG can’t play play in the NHL, can’t be an impact player in the NHL, can’t score on the road….sound familiar. JG had a rough time gaining any traction against Anaheim but the last I looked the leagues top scorer is having the same issues. JG needs to get stronger both physically and mentally but when has he not re- invented himself to take it to the next level.

      • Dr

        I agree with him. Prior to the ten game winning streak, the Flames were only 5 games above 500 (nothing special in the Bettman point era). After the win streak the went 6-7-0 to close the season. During the streak, they had 7 wins against non-playoff teams. Since December 5, they had only 4 regulation wins against playoff teams.
        They were a 500 team that made it to the playoffs on the strength of one hot streak. If they had gone 500 during that streak, they would’ve finished with ten fewer points, and the Jets would’ve made it to the playoffs.
        A mirage? A paper tiger?

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      Edmonton should not be the blue print for any organization. Hope you can win the lottery 4 times in 6 years so maybe you can get a generational player. A great goaltending performance can hide a lot of flaws. Toronto, Buffalo, Carolina, and Arizona will be teams to pay attention to.

    • jakethesnail

      Anaheim forced big improvements in the Oilers too! Kassian, Maroon and of course Lucic were acquired by the oil to provide some pushback to teams in the Pacific. (as opposed to the pushovers the oil were before Chicareli became GM)

  • The Sultan

    Figured they would’ve corrected this two years ago when it happened the first time. Having to sit back and watch the Oilers manhandle the Ducks is about the biggest slap in the face as a Flames fan.

  • Newbietwo

    We are doing exactly what we need to do in terms of controlling the play.. the problem is no one shoots! It if we don’t get a shooting mentality we should at the very least add a shooter to our top 6.. Backlund, Frolik, Chucky, Johnny, none of those guys are shooters

    • Tomas Oppolzer

      It’s not a problem of not shooting, 3 of the 4 guys you listed were in the top5 for SOG this season for CGY (Backlund, Frolik, Johnny). The problem was Gibson stopping everything.

      • Justthateasy

        Only reason Johnny is up there is because he gets so many chances. As a rule he does not shoot. He would rather pass to a guy that’s covered. Brody is another one. Everybody knows he’s going to pass. It has to be a balance so the defender doesn’t know what’s coming.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      The Flames player utilization is still questionable. Gulutzan seems to get it right eventually. After watching some other series You can’t help but be impressed with Nashville’s back end’ players like PK, Ellis, Ekholm, Josi have cannons. Our backend is noted for being one of the best, but no one is possesses an intimidating shot. We have some creative forwards but very few shooters. I think we need to draft and trade for shooters that complement our playmakers.

  • icedawg_42

    This is why – to me it’d be pure folly to not sign Treliving. Want to spend a decade rebuilding aka the Oilers? Fire a GM or coach every time you go out earlier than you want…So far I believe consistency has been the Flames’ ally.

  • Alberta Ice

    Yep, we need to make a team that can beat the Ducks next year and then like in the 1980’s, make an even better team to beat the ascending Oilers too. How to do that? That’s the big question over the summer this management will continue to tackle. Hunger, maturity, and discipline from the present core of players could be a huge part of that answer.

    • Thumper

      This. We need to some material change down our depth chart. The biggest area for improvement needs to be mental though. Gotta build in some consistency by working on the things you mentioned.

  • Florescent Oil Orange

    Since the 80s it has mostly the oil letting down the battle of Alberta. Edmonton and Calgary are both young and growing teams. I look forward to passionate intense rivalry hockey in Alberta for the next decade

  • Eggs Bennett

    That PDO of 92.0 is pretty telling of what happened. That implies Anaheim had a PDO of 108!!!! Now look where their puck luck has gone against EDM. 3 posts in the final 10 minutes when they’re down 2-1 in game 2. Sucks that it has to be against the Oilers where Ducks run out of puck luck…

  • freethe flames

    Rather than worrying about the Ducks it’s time to build a clear team identity and one that can compete with the up and coming teams including the Oilers. Let’s not forget that this is year 4 and most teams take longer than that to complete a rebuild that makes them competitive. Let’s look at our lineup and our prospects and discuss what we actually have and what we are missing. Johnny/Monny/Ferland if they continue to develop and have chemistry are a solid productive line. Tkachuk/Backs/Frolik had a good season but are they really a second line? Bennett needs to make major steps forward and be a top 6 forward and preferably a top 2 center. After that there is room for improvement and hopefully 2 or 3 of Lazar/Janko/Mangiapane/Shinkaruk/Hathaway can push their way into the lineup to replace some of the other guys. On D we have Gio/Hamilton/TJ and while good maybe not as good as we like to pretend. If we can resign Stone as a 5/6 and find a true number 4 maybe one of Kulak/Andersson/Kylington can be the number 6. Then of course there is the on going search for a starting goalie and the list is long but until we have one we will be watching the up and coming teams progress. Where would the Oilers be if they did not have Talbot? Goaltending that can and will steal a game here and there would be very helpful and we did not get it in the playoffs.

    If this team wants to progress and be competitive much of it has to come from within the organization. Sign or trade for a goaltender that works out and add a number 4 defender and this team can create it’s own identity and teams will have to figure out how to deal with us.