The Calgary Flames begin the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs on Thursday evening when they host the Colorado Avalanche. One subject of concern regarding the Flames is their goaltending, while another mentioned has been a lack of playoff experience on their roster.
Yeah, the Flames have downgraded their level of playoff experience with some of their moves over the past few seasons. But they’ve also unquestionably become a deeper, better team.
Which Flames have playoff experience?
The following players are (a) expected to dress for Game 1 and (b) have played in the Stanley Cup playoffs before this season:
- James Neal: 100 games (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018)
- Michael Frolik: 42 games (2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017)
- Mike Smith: 19 games (2011, 2012)
- Travis Hamonic: 17 games (2013, 2016)
- Mikael Backlund: 15 games (2015, 2017)
- Sam Bennett: 15 games (2015, 2017)
- TJ Brodie: 15 games (2015, 2017)
- Johnny Gaudreau: 15 games (2015, 2017)
- Sean Monahan: 15 games (2015, 2017)
- Mark Giordano: 8 games (2007, 2017)
- Oscar Fantenberg: 4 games (2018)
- Matthew Tkachuk: 4 games (2017)
(Frolik won a Stanley Cup in 2013.)
The following players have zero NHL playoff games under their belts: Rasmus Andersson, Noah Hanifin, Garnet Hathaway, Mark Jankowski, Elias Lindholm, Andrew Mangiapane, David Rittich and Derek Ryan.
Swapping experience for hockey talent
Half the team has no playoff experience and as detailed above, the group has 269 games of playoff experience collectively – with more than half of that tied up in Neal and Frolik. The team has also retained just five members of that 2015 team that played two rounds (six if you want to include Giordano, who was recovering from an injury that playoff year).
But their downgrade in experience was fairly intentional, as Brad Treliving made several moves in the past year or so that saw playoff games go out the door but made the Flames a decidedly better hockey club:
- Rittich got the backup goaltending gig originally by wrestling away Eddie Lack’s (4 games) spot.
- Andersson earned Michael Stone’s (6 games) playing time with his performances while Hamonic was injured.
- Hanifin and Lindholm were acquired from Carolina for Dougie Hamilton (23 games) and Micheal Ferland (13 games).
- Adding Ryan bumped out Matt Stajan (17 games).
- The team parted ways with Troy Brouwer (102 games) and Kris Versteeg (93 games) so they could keep Mangiapane and Hathaway full-time.
- Heck, Dalton Prout (2 games) becoming the team’s seventh defender came at expense of Matt Bartkowski (19 games).
In precisely zero of these moves would an objection of “… but the playoff experience!” be a valid criticism. In all of the moves you can make a strong argument that the team upgraded in skill and versatility.
Experience is overrated
The Flames have less playoff experience than they had going into the 2015 or 2017 postseasons. But they’ve also, as a group, finished off the best regular season that the franchise has seen in three decades. They’re a much better, deeper, more versatile team than they were in either of those playoff years.
All things being equal, playoff experience can help in the sense that in a tight series a team that’s had experience making decisions and playing big games under the bright lights probably has a bit of an advantage in a close series. But all things aren’t equal, because an 82-game regular season reflects that the Flames were one of the top teams in hockey.
They’re a young group. They haven’t played a ton in the playoffs relative to some of the opposition they’ll face. But focusing too much on playoff experience is missing the forest for the trees; the Flames were a very good hockey team during the regular season, and they could be capable of big things in the next few months while they slowly amass playoff experience.