After years of wallowing in mediocrity, the Calgary Flames finally appear to be a legitimately good NHL team. Big, roster-changing offseason moves overhauled both the forwards and defense, and the new look Flames team has impressed through their first 38 games. So much so, that they currently sit fifth overall in the NHL after a big win against the Western Conference-leading Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night.
It’s no secret that the Flames are one of the top dogs in the West, but because of a weaker Pacific Division than in years past, and the drop-off of previous perennial elite teams in the Central Division like the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues of old, an important question arises: are the Flames actually a good team capable of contending for the Stanley Cup, or are they just better than most of the teams in a weak Western Conference?
The answer lies somewhere in the middle.
Over the course of the full 82-game season, the Flames will play 32 games against Eastern teams, a home-and-home against each team (39%), and the remaining 50 games against the West (61%). That breaks down to 29 against the Pacific (35%), 21 against the Central (26%), and 16 against both the Atlantic and Metropolitan (20%).
In terms of conferences, through 38 games, the Flames have played 27 games against Western foes (71%), and 11 against the East (29%). The Flames will have a couple more games against the West in the second half of the season at 23, and 21 to go against the East.
In terms of divisions, the Flames have faced Central Division foes the most with 16 games (42%), then the Pacific at 11 games (29%), the Atlantic six times (16%), and the Metropolitan five times (13%).
Fortunately for the Flames, it hasn’t really mattered much which conference or which division their opponents have come from. They’ve come out on top every time. They are the best against the Central with an 11-4-1 record for a 0.719 points percentage, then the Metropolitan with a 3-1-1 record for a 0.700 points percentage, then the Atlantic with a 3-2-1 record for a 0.583 points percentage. Their worst division so far has been their own Pacific Division, with just a 6-5-0 record and .545 points percentage.
This also happens to be the division that they have the most games left against, 18 (42%) of their remaining games. But this isn’t a big cause of concern. The Flames have two games left against the Coyotes whom they’ve defeated in their only matchup so far, another against the Kings where they’re also undefeated, and two against the Canucks and Golden Knights, both teams the Flames should have a leg up on.
Projecting their points percentages through the rest of the season, the Flames will end up earning another 55 points in their final 44 games. That would put them at an impressive 104 points to end the season, and comfortably in a playoff spot. Even if, for some crazy reason, the Flames end up losing every game they have against the Pacific Division, they still project to earn 45 points, good for 94 points and a (probable) playoff spot.
The Flames aren’t just beating up on weaker opponents. In fact, they have an excellent record against the powerhouse Atlantic and Central Divisions, and are no slouch against the Metropolitan either. Going forward, the only real area where they’ll need to work harder is within their own division. With so many games left against the Pacific, banking as many points as they can against their own division will be important.
This year’s Flames are for real. They have a real chance to beat any team they face and they’ve proved time and time again that they are not a team to take lightly. Don’t expect that to change in the new year.