The Calgary Flames are laying a foundation, but likely not for success this year

Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
1 month ago
Over at The Fourth Period, my old pal Dennis Bernstein does a thing on his social media after every Los Angeles Kings game where he looks at the small, medium and big picture implications of that game’s results.
Following a February for the Calgary Flames where they won seven of 10 games, I will gleefully steal Dennis’ concept, with the appropriate hat-tip, because I think the unique situation that the Flames are presently in will become much clearer.

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The Flames went 7-3-0 in 10 games in the month of February. That broke down as 3-2-0 at home and 4-1-0 on the road. Their wins were over the Bruins (twice), Devils, Islanders, Jets, Oilers and Kings.
The Flames out-scored their opponents 36-29 (23-19 at five-on-five). Their special teams were out-scored, collectively, 8-5. (Their power play scored five and allowed a shorthanded goal. Their penalty kill allowed seven and scored zero shorthanded.)
Seven different Flames scored game-winners: Andrei Kuzmenko, Connor Zary, Yegor Sharangovich, Dryden Hunt, Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar and Nazem Kadri. 14 different Flames scored at least one goal. 20 different Flames, including Jacob Markstrom, registered at least one point.
Suffice it to say the Flames had a good month.

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In the context of the season, the month was good but the Flames didn’t gain much ground in the playoff picture. They began February five points back of St. Louis for the final wild card spot. They finished February five points back of Nashville for the final wild card spot, albeit with a game-in-hand.
So the Flames played some superb ice hockey and didn’t really gain ground – their rough October performance continues to haunt them in the standings.
The playoff math is definitely working against the Flames because of their opening 10 games. The Athletic has the Flames with a 20% chance of making the playoffs. Moneypuck has them at 13.2%. Sports Club Stats has them at 25%. And these models don’t factor in the inevitable departures of Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifin prior to the March 8 trade deadline.
If you want to be a pessimist – some would call these folks “realists” – they’re probably not making the playoffs.
I’ll retort with this: I don’t think the playoffs are the point of this season. They would be great, sure, but in a season where the Flames will ultimately part ways with four pending free agents in-season – and 2022-23 leading scorer Tyler Toffoli before the draft – this was seemingly always destined to be a transitional year where new and young players were evaluated.
Unless the wheels completely fall off after the deadline, the Flames will be very much in the thick of the playoff race – albeit likely below the cut line – until Game 82. That means that their young players will be getting consistent reps in meaningful games well into the spring, which will be providing Flames management with invaluable information about what they have on their roster (and what they don’t).

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Broadly speaking, the Flames have been in a weird place, identity-wise, since the departures of Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau and, to a lesser extent, Mark Giordano. Those three players were the difference-making stars of the Brad Treliving regime, the trio of guys that could be relied upon to steal games or hold onto close ones.
As a result, the vibe around the team involved a degree of confidence that they could go toe-to-toe with any team on any night because they had those guys. And when you remove those players, suddenly that confidence is gone and has to be rebuilt. Similarly, tactical habits that worked for years suddenly don’t, and those need to be rebuild.
The swagger of those past Flames teams, which won division titles in 2019 and 2022, were built over a period of years. And it feels like this season, even with the ongoing changing of the guard, they’ve been figuring out how to play – and win – as a team that doesn’t have those game-breaking stars on it right now.
Following the win over Los Angeles, Flames head coach Ryan Huska was asked by Sportsnet’s Logan Gordon if this was the best stretch he’s seen his team put together this season:
“Probably, yeah, because we’re doing things the right way and it’s not just one guy that’s contributing… It’s been a team game, where I think we’ve played with pace, I think we’ve played hard, and we’ve executed, which has allowed us to win these games.”
Answering a follow-up question from Postmedia’s Wes Gilbertson, Huska added that the game feels “more sustainable” because they’re not relying on a single line or player, and termed it more of “a joint effort.”
If your team lacks stars or superstars, guys that can steal games, you need to play a specific way in order to have success. The Flames have seemed to have figured that piece out, and they’ve put together a really effective month – and if you expand the lens of analysis longer, their 2024 in general has been quite promising.
If they can add the right players to the mix they currently have, this group playing this way doesn’t seem too far away from one that could make some noise in a future post-season.
When your hockey club is entering a transitional period, the goal of every season should be to try to do things that build to future success. If you can’t win a Stanley Cup immediately, you should be trying to do things to enable that to happen in the future. The Flames likely won’t raise the Cup this spring, but between the player moves they’ve made and the way they’ve been consistently playing on the ice in recent weeks and months, they seem to be laying a foundation for future success.
Get ready for the Daily Faceoff Live Trade Deadline Show, coming to you on March 8th LIVE from 11 AM to 3 PM EST!! Join Tyler Yaremchuk, Frank Seravalli and friends for 4 hours of non-stop action as they dive deep into the heart of the trade deadline. They will be breaking down every trade, discussing the impact on teams, predicting the playoff picture, and giving you the inside scoop on all the wheeling and dealing happening around the league. Tune in live on March 8th from 11 AM to 3 PM EST for the The Daily Faceoff Live Trade Deadline special you won’t want to miss!

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